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Managing Your Expenses Abroad: Costa Rican Currency

Costa Rican money is colones (code CRC) and it was named after Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon as the name is spelled in Spanish.

What is Costa Rica’s money called

Costa Rica currency, the colon as it is named was introduced in 1896 and replaced at par value the existing currency known as peso.

Today you can find the following banknotes and coins:

  • colon coins: 1 colon, 5, 10 and 25 colones as well as 50, 100 and 500 colones
  • banknotes or paper money: 1,000, 2,000 colones, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 colones

If you put the coins one on top of the other you will obtain a geometrical figure that resembles to a cone.

The coins which form the cone have in the obverse the coat of arms of Costa Rica that is very clear and visible.

Over the years, the colon has suffered three main design transformations as follows:

  •  in 1838- the new design adopted consists of coffee and tobacco symbol and was introduced when Costa Rica separated from the Federal Republic of Central America
  • in 1948- a flag and a shield was introduced on the banknotes to celebrate Costa Rica’s independence
  • in 2012 were the third design change and consists of introducing new figures on the banknotes, the most beautiful and famous animals from the country: a sloth, a white-faced monkey, a morpho butterfly, and the gentle hummingbird.

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Costa Rica money exchange

Things about the Costa Rica exchange rate and the US dollar should be split into two different categories:

  • exchanging money before June 2014
  • currency exchanging after June 2014

What happened in June 2014?

June 2014 was the moment when the so-called “bandas cambiarias” disappeared and the dirty float appeared.

The bandas cambiarias or the exchange bands is the name used for the system in place before June 2014 when there was a pre-determined floor level and ceiling level and the colon can fluctuate only between these limits.

The pre-determined limits were between 500 CRC and 865 CRC for 1 United States dollar and the exchange rate could be anywhere in-between these values.

But everything changed in June 2014 when the market has been liberalized and the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica starts using the new system.

In the new system, the Central Bank of Costa Rica intervenes only when they consider it is necessary and there are no limits for a minimum and a maximum level.

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

1 CRC= 0,0016 USD

Costa Rican Money: How to use your money wisely

The correct Costa Rica money mix to use when spending your money abroad is as follows:

  • credit cards and debit cards
  • cash withdrawals from ATM
  • buy local currency for a national bank and private banks


Credit cards and debit cards

I strongly encourage you to use your credit card or debit card when you are abroad and when shops, restaurants, and bars widely accept credit card  and debit card payments.

Luckily, most restaurants, shops, bars, hotels, and attractions from Costa Rica accept cte card payments, so you don’t have to worry about this thing when traveling here.

The good thing about paying with a card is that the exchange rate used when the conversion is made the rate used by your card owner which usually is very close to the official exchange rate.

In order to be able to use your cards when traveling to Costa Rica, you should tick the following boxes before you leave your home country:

  • you have a 4 digit PIN code which you will have to use when you pay with a car
  • notify your bank about your holiday and the period when you are abroad in order to validate your transactions and not report them as fraud and block your card

Check with your bank that you have a 0 commission card for operations abroad and if you don’t have one get one as soon as possible.

Cash withdrawals from ATM cards machine

Cash withdrawals from ATMs are the easiest, fastest, and more convenient way to get Costa Rican money while you visit this country.

Generally, there is a commission applied by the banks when withdrawing money at ATM, but the value of the fee is quite insignificant, somewhere between 1 USD to 3 USD.

The main advantage of withdrawing money in Costa Rica from ATMs is that you avoid the long queues from the bank, the bureaucracy, and the huge fees applied when using their services.

Costa Rica ATM

Costa Rica ATM

The good news is that you will find ATMs in most of the towns and villages from Costa Rica so you don’t have to worry about this method.

And there is another issue: most of the bank employees do not speak English so it will be extremely difficult to have a conversation with a bank employee, at least if you don’t speak Spanish.

Buy Costa Rican colon from local banks

If you don’t want to use your card to withdraw money from ATMs then the only way to get a colon is to buy it from a local bank, no matter if you choose a private bank or the National Bank of Costa Rica.

I strongly recommend you to go to the national bank as they have a good exchange rate comparable with the official exchange rate.

There are also many private banks in the country but check the official exchange rate before going to the bank.

Costa Rican Currency

Costa Rican Currency

When going to the bank to exchange Costa Rican money you have to be prepared for long queues, employees that don’t speak English, many papers and high fees for exchanging money.

For this reason, I left this option in third place as it is more costly and time-consuming than the other two.

Under no circumstance do not exchange money at San Jose International Airport as the rates are poor and do not buy colons from unauthorized sellers as you might end up with false colons for your USD.

Paying with dollars instead of Costa Rican colón

There is also the fourth option, not mentioned above and that is to pay with dollars in Costa Rica.

Yes, most of the vendors, restaurants, and hotels accept the payment in dollars but the exchange rates are poor and they don’t give change in dollars but in local currency.

If you choose to pay with dollars you have to bear in mind that you need to have small bills with you like, 1, 5 ,10 or maximum 20 USD.

Banknotes higher than 50 USD are not accepted by vendors and you have to go to the bank to change them into smaller bills or into Costa Rica money, but this implies payment of a fee and a lot of time waste.


Costa Rica money is very easy to obtain and to use especially if you are from the United States.

Most of the banks from the US have colones for selling and the exchange rate is generally more favorable than the ones used by the exchange offices and some of the banks from Costa Rica.

Keep in mind the following Costa Rican money exchange (currency conversion):

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

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.