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Essential Guide to Costa Rica’s Currency

Costa Rica currency is colon with code CRC and has been introduced in 1896, replacing the existing Costa Rica peso at par.

The name of colon comes from Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon in his native language, Spanish.

A short history about Colon

The colon was introduced in 1896 to replace the Costa Rican peso and today Costa Rican colon can be found under the following divisions:

  • colon banknotes: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 colones, 1,000 colones, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 colones
  • colon coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 céntimos, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones

If you put the coins one on top of the other you will get a cone and on the observe of the coins you will see the coat of arms of Costa Rica.

Actually, the first Costa Rica currency used was known as the peso and appeared in the 16th century when the Spanish people conquered the country.

Currency of Costa Rica currency
Currency of Costa Rica

In the beginning, the peso was produced in Spain and transported over the ocean in Costa Rica by the Spanish army.

Then it was produced in Peru from gold and silver and transported to Costa Rica to be used by people that inhabited the territories of this tiny country.

In 1821 Costa Rica gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and joined the Federal Republic of Central America and adopted its official currency.

By 1838 Costa Rica separated from the Federal Republic of Central America and the event was marked by the change of the currency design.

The symbols of the Costa Rica currency were at that time tobacco and coffee which were the main products exported by the country.

In 1948 the country gained its independence, an important moment from its history marked again with a new change in currency design.

This time the symbols used were a flag and a shield, symbols used for many years after the independence.

Another important moment in the history of the Costa Rican was 1993, the year when the process of printing had been updated and changed leading to a decrease in the manufacturing costs.

Starting with this year, the coins are made from coated steel or aluminum for 5 and 10 colones coins.

The last change in currency design took place in 2012 when on the banknotes appeared the most beautiful animals from the country: hummingbird, sloth, and a white-headed capuchin monkey, and morpho butterfly.

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Costa Rica currency: what is the exchange rates in Costa Rica

When we discuss what is the exchange rate in Costa Rica we have to split the analysis into two different parts:

  • before June 2014
  • after June 2014

Costa Rica Money October 2006- June 2014

During these years, the Costa Rican Colones to dollars was controlled by the so-called “bandas cambiarias” or exchange bands.

According to this system, the Central Bank of Costa Rica determined a floor level and a ceiling level and the colon can fluctuate just inside this interval.

The floor level was set up at a level around 500 CRC, while the ceiling level was around 865 CRC.

Costa Rica Money bills
Costa Rica Money bills

Costa Rica Money Starting with June 2014

Starting with June 2014 these levels disappeared and the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica use a new system, called “the dirty float” based on which the Central Bank will intervene just when they consider it is necessary.

Today the exchange rate CRC to Dollar fluctuates and it is around

1 CRC= 0,0016 USD

Here are some quick computations for you to be easier to keep an evidence of the expenses when you visit Costa Rica (CRC to USD):

1,000 Colones= 1.6 USD

2,000 Colones= 3.2 USD

5,000 Colones=  8 USD

10,000 Colones= 16 USD

20,000 Colones= 32 USD

50,000 Colones=  80 USD

How you can get Colones for your Costa Rican holiday?

There are a few ways to get some colones and pay when in Costa Rica:

  • exchange colones at a bank (Banco de Costa Rica for example)
  • pay with a credit/ debit card
  • withdraw money from ATMs
  • pay with dollars ( not very recommended)

Exchanging Costa Rica currency from USD

As soon as you arrive at the airport in San Jose or when you cross the terrestrial border, you will find many exchange offices on your way to the hotel.

We strongly advise you not to use them as the exchange rates practiced by these offices are extremely bad and you will lose a lot of dollars in the van.

If you really want to exchange money when in Costa Rica use a private bank as the exchange rate is better and you are sure that the money is not fake.

Money from Costa Rica
Money from Costa Rica

If you have US dollars you can change them in local currency at every bank; things are a little bit more complicated with British pounds or euro, but in the last couple of years more and more private banks are interested in buying these two currencies, too.

Most of the banks will ask you for a commission for exchanging your money and the amount asked might vary depending on the amount you want to change.

That is why I strongly advise you not to change many dollars in colones as there are plenty of other options to pay when in Costa Rica.


Credit cards and debit cards

When we talk about Costa Rica currency, we have to talk about credit and debit cards as both debit and credit cards are widely accepted in this country.

All big restaurants, stores, hotels, and national parks accept card payment and there is no extra commission charged if you pay by card.

Small shops and stores usually don’t accept cards so that is why you should have some colones with you to pay for your bottle of water or for your souvenir.

Withdraw money from ATM

You will find ATMs in most towns and villages from Costa Rica so withdrawing money from ATMs is as simple as in your home country.

In order to be able to use the Costa Rican ATMs, before you leave home make sure you have:

  • a 4 digit PIN number to use  when withdrawing money from an ATM
  • notify your bank about your trip in order to avoid being all your expenses abroad being considered suspicious and to have your card blocked

On some ATMs, you will have to pay a transaction fee on top of the fees applied by the bank that issued your card.

ATM Cash Currency in Costa Rica
ATM Cash Currency in Costa Rica

Make sure you read and understand all the taxes and commissions asked by that ATM before you exchange money and if you have time you might try ATMs from other banks to see if the commissions are the same.

Generally, the commission is flat and it is around 1 to 3 USD, especially for the ATMs that are outside of a chain ATM.

Pay with dollars

Dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica and Costa Ricans are glad to receive dollars instead of colones, but watch out at the exchange rate.

Generally, the exchange rate used by locals is lower than the rates used by banks and renowned exchange offices.

That is why I strongly don’t advise you to pay in dollars as you will end up paying more than the actual value of the good.

Currency of Costa Rica USD
Currency of Costa Rica USD

Taxes and tipping

The tax for each good you will buy from Costa Rica is 13%, while hotels add an extra 3% as a tourist fee.

Most of the restaurants will add on your bill a tip of 10% so you don’t have to give any extra money than you have on your bill.

The general tip value for drivers, maids, and bellboys is somewhere between 1 to 10 USD per day per person.

Conclusion – Currency in Costa Rica

No matter if you choose to pay by card, to withdraw money from an ATM, or to exchange those at a bank, Costa Rica money is easy to get once you reach this tiny country.

If you plan to pay with dollars, then you have to know that bills larger than 20 USD are not accepted.

In order to avoid any scams and to lose money without a reason, we strongly advise you to pay with credit cards where possible and to withdraw some colones from the ATM as it is faster and easier than going to the bank.

The ideal combination when in Costa Rica is to have with you some local colones, a few dollars in your pocket in 1 USD bills, and a credit card to pay for the hotel, tours, and food.

Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation
We always use as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money.

When we go for longer trips around the world we get Globelink Insurance as it offers a good cover for an affordable price.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected costs caused by medical events like illness, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.