Skip to Content

Currency in Costa Rica: Getting and Using Money

Money from Costa Rica is called colon and its name comes from the famous explorer Christopher Columbus who in Spanish is named Cristobal Colon.

The colon was introduced in Costa Rica in 1896 and replaced the peso at par, the currency which was introduced by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

What is Costa Rica currency

Costa Rica money or colones are denominated in 100 divisions called centimos and their exchange rate is strictly monitored by the Central Bank of Costa Rica.

In our days in Costa Rica you can find coins and banknotes under the following divisions:

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

An interesting thing about the coins is that if you put them one on top of each other you will get a cone, a geometrical figure.

Money from Costa Rica

Money of Costa Rica

In the obverse of the coins that form that cone, you will obtain the coat of arms of Costa Rica, something unique and not very often.

Some of the following links are affiliate links. When you buy something using the retail links in our article, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost for you. You can read our full disclosure disclaimer and privacy policy.

Money from Costa Rica- Colon Evolution

Over the centuries, the colon suffered multiple transformations but all are related to its design and appearance.

There are three main design transformations that should be remembered, each of them marking important moments in the history of the Costa Rican people.

The first change in design had been recorded in 1838 when Cost Rica separated from the Federal Republic.

This was the moment when on Costa Rican money appeared the tobacco and coffee, their main products exported to the whole world.

The second important moment marked with a change in design was recorded in 1948 when Costa Rica gained its independence.

This moment was marked with the introduction of a flag and a shield on the banknotes.

This design stayed in place until 2012 when the Government decided to change the design of the money for the third time.

This time they chose to put on the bills the most important and representative animals from Costa Rica: a white-faced monkey, a sloth, a hummingbird, and the beautiful morpho butterfly.

Money in Costa Rica and the exchange rate

When we talk about the money used in Costa Rica and the corresponding exchange rate, we have to take into consideration two periods:

  • before June 2014
  • after June 2014

June 2014 marked the moment when Banco Centrale de Costa Rica decided to give up to the bandas cambiarias or the exchange bands for a free market where the exchange rate is established based on what happened in the market.

Bandas cambiarias was a system used for many years which established a pre-determined floor rate and a pre-determined ceiling rate for the Costa Rica currency.

The floor rate was established at 500 CRC for 1 United States Dollar, while the ceiling rate was established at 865 CRC for 1 US Dollar.

The exchange rate might vary only between these two limits; it could not get lower or upper than the established rates.

But everything changed starting with June 2014, when the Central Bank of Costa Rica adopted the so-called dirty float.

Based on the new principles, the price of the Colon is established and influenced by the financial market and there are no upper and lower limits for it.

In the new dirty float market system, Banco Central de Costa Rica intervenes only when they consider it necessary and let things come from their own.

Costa Rican colon exchange rate

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

1 CRC= 0,0016 USD

To be easier for you when you travel to Costa Rica keep in mind the following parity:

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 to get Costa Rica colones for your trip

Money from Costa Rica can be obtained quite easily especially if you live in the United States as most of the banks sell colones.

If you could not find colones on your bank then here are the best ways to get colones or pay for your items on your trip to Costa Rica.

1. Withdraw colones from local ATMs
2. Pay with credit cards and debit cards
3. Exchange some money at a local bank
4. Pay with US dollars

Withdraw colones from local ATMs

One of the cheapest and fastest ways to get local money in Costa Rica is to withdraw from ATMs located in almost every town and village in the country.

There is a small fee, somewhere between 1 to 3 USD you have to pay when withdrawing money from most ATMs but it is simple, fast, and easy.

Most banks offer cards with 0 fees for any abroad transactions, so you should check with your bank this information before you go.

Costa Rica ATM

Costa Rica ATM

In order to be able to withdraw money from Costa Rica from ATM you need to check the following before you leave home:

  • make sure you have a 4 digit PIN set up which you need to withdraw money
  • notify your bank that you are abroad during a certain period to avoid any unpleasant surprise like the case of having your credit card or debit card blocked as the bank considers the foreign transaction as being suspicious.

And there is one more thing I want you to know: if the ATM machine looks suspicious to you don’t insert your card into it,  you’d better go and search for another one just to be sure that nothing wrong will happen.


Pay with credit cards and debit cards

You don’t necessarily need local money from Costa Rica as long as you have valid credit and debit cards and the ideal situation, with 0 fees.

The good news is that debit cards and credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica and most restaurants, bars, shops, and stores accept card payment.

The exchange rate used to convert colones into your currency is the one used by the company that issued the card and generally it is very close to the official exchange rate established by the Central Bank of Costa Rica.

Exchange Costa Rican currency at a local bank

The best exchange rate is the one from the national bank or banco nacional, followed by some private banks and some exchange rate offices.

If you plan to go to the bank you need to know that not all employees speak English and the queues are generally quite long and you need to book a lot of time for this operation.

Besides these things, you have to fill in a lot of papers and the commission asked by the bank is significantly higher than the fees taken by ATMs.

Costa Rican Currency

Costa Rican Currency

Before going to the bank or any exchange office you have to check the official rate published by the national bank to compare the rates from the banks with the official one and choose the best option.

We strongly recommend you to avoid exchanging money on San Jose International airport as there are extremely poor rates and high commissions.

Pay with US dollars

US dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Costa Rica, but only if you have small bills of 1, 5, 10 or even 20 USD.

Restaurants, bars, and stores do accept US dollars but they will give you a change in local currency and each place will have its own exchange rate, different than the official exchange rate.

The rates used by the stores are higher than the official rate so you will end up paying more for the same products.

It is advisable to pay in US dollars if the menu for food and drinks is in US dollars to avoid any losses from exchanging the currency.

Tipping in Costa Rica

You don’t have to tip for restaurants as the 10% service charge is automatically included in the bill.

If you are extremely happy with the food and services, you can tip extra from the bill as the salary is not very high for those working in restaurants and bars.

Bellboys and porters usually get somewhere around 1 or 2 dollars per bag and most of them expect to receive a small tip.

On the other hand, taxi drivers are not used to receiving tips but if you are very satisfied with the services you can tip a few dollars if you want.


Money from Costa Rica is easy to get especially if you live in the United States or once you get to the Costa Rican territory.

The most convenient way to spend money while abroad is a smart combination between cash, dollars, and card payments.

In order to get cash, we strongly advise you to withdraw cash from your credit or debit card, as it is cheaper, faster, and easier.

If you don’t have time to exchange some money used in Costa Rica you can use dollars as they are widely accepted.


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.