Money Matters- travel tips for your Costa Rica vacation
Credit/debit cards? Colones? Dollars? Traveler’s Checks—are those still around? The best way to manage your money and pay for your daily expenses while traveling in Costa Rica is always best considered before you go. Many tourist businesses accept U.S. dollars, but not all will give you the best value for money.
Here are a few travel tips for managing your money while on vacation in Costa Rica:
Order colones from your bank before you leave. Generally, U.S. banks have a fair exchange rate and charge reasonable exchange fees. Exchange enough money to last for several days’ worth of cab fares, snacks, drinks and small incidentals—places where cash is likely to be the only option. Never wait until you arrive at Juan Santamaría International Airport (or any other airport) to exchange money—the rates and fees are awful.
While you’re talking to your bank, tell them when and where you’re going. Also ask about overseas ATM transactions. You want to know what the bank fees are (usually US$5 per withdrawal) as well as any fees your bank charges when you withdraw money from a foreign cashpoint (ATHs in Costa Rica). Be sure to ask how the bank determines the exchange rate too.
Have enough cash to last several days. When you do need to top up your cash, take out the maximum amount allowed to minimize bank fees. Avoid insecure cashpoints, use ones that are on your bank’s network, e.g. Cirrus and PLUS. Be aware of your surroundings and use normal caution and security. Costa Rica’s ATHs close at 10 p.m. and inside, the banks generally have long lines; plan ahead.
If you plan to use dollars, be sure to have a back up supply of colones just in case. Carry $20 bills in new or good condition, merchants may be suspicious of larger denominations. Know the approximate exchange rate and do your math. Try not to carry large amounts of money and certainly don’t flash your bankroll. Your change is likely to be in colones.
Check with your credit card companies too: do you have cards that offer no-fee foreign transaction services. Again, give them your rough itinerary and ask how the exchange rate is determined. Do remember the rates vary depending on the currency market.
Credit cards are best for major purchases—hotels, restaurants, tours, rental cars and other high-value purchases or emergencies. Fees and exchange rates vary widely depending on the issuing bank’s policy, although since the biggies (VISA, MasterCard and AMEX) had to refund quite a lot of money to their U.S. customers a few years ago because of usurious fees and rates, the charges are more stable and predictable.
Debit cards affiliated with the standard interbank networks )PLUS and Cirrus) are almost universally accepted in Costa Rica. Traveler’s checks, on the other hand, aren’t; besides that, they’re expensive and difficult to use when they are accepted. And, of course, cash is king.
A little forethought and planning will help you maximize the fun and minimize the expense of your Costa Rica vacation.