A Traveler’s Guide to Understanding Costa Rica Currency

Prior to visiting any foreign country, it is advisable to conduct some preliminary research on the local currency.

Understanding the local currency ensures you won’t be caught off guard by exchange rates or unexpected fees. You can plan, estimate your expenses, and be better prepared to make the most of your adventure.

If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, let this blog guide you through understanding its currency so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest without any financial surprises. Let’s begin!

Learn about Costa Rica currency and get ready for your trip!

The Official Currency of Costa Rica: The Colón

Since 1896, the Colon has proudly been Costa Rica’s official currency, a historical homage to the renowned explorer Christopher Columbus, known as Cristobal Colon.

Costa Rican Colón bills come in various denominations. You’ll find them in 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 Colóns. These colorful bills feature some of Costa Rica’s most incredible animals, including sharks, monkeys, sloths, and butterflies, celebrating the nation’s breathtaking biodiversity.

In addition to the bills, you’ll find Colones in coins ranging from 5 to 500.

Should I Exchange Currency when Traveling to Costa Rica?

Yes! It’s wise to convert some money for Costa Rican colones, but moderation is key. Over the past few years, Costa Rica’s popularity as a tourist destination has led to widespread US dollar acceptance.

While visiting, you’ll notice that many tours, hotels, and dining options quote their prices in USD, making it unnecessary to swap money in advance if you already have US dollars. However, it’s essential to be aware of a few exceptions.

Let’s take a look:

  • If you plan to stay for an extended period, you can rely on credit cards and US dollar cash. However, depending on your destination, carrying more cash is essential.
  • Credit cards may not be widely accepted in certain touristy and remote areas like the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, Drake Bay, Santa Teresa, Samara, or Tamarindo.
  • If your stay is relatively short, such as one or two weeks, consider exchanging around $100 for Costa Rican currency.
  • If you need to exchange more, you can do so later at your hotel or the central bank or withdraw cash from any nearby ATM.

Where and when to exchange money for the best rates

When making the most of your Costa Rican adventure, understanding where and when to trade your money for the best exchange rate is essential.

Our beautiful country offers various options to swap your currency for the colon. As mentioned, some possibilities include local banks, hotels, or ATMs. We’ll now guide you on the optimal places and times to ensure you get the most favorable dollar exchange rate.

Currency exchange kiosks

If you’re arriving in Costa Rica at one of the main international airports, such as Liberia International and San Jose International Airport, you’ll notice a currency exchange counter either after immigration or right as you exit the baggage claim area. Despite being convenient, you might not get the best exchange rate at these kiosks.

Local banks

Local banks offer a more favorable exchange rate than airport conversion kiosks. If you have the cash and original passport, you can trade USD for Costa Rican colon at the Bank of Costa Rica, Banco Nacional, or BAC.


Hotels are another excellent option for exchanging USD for CRC. However, please note that only some hotels offer this service. Typically, you’ll find it available at upscale hotels or large chains like Marriotts or Hiltons.


Another excellent choice for converting dollars to Costa Rican colones is using your ATM card. It is important to check with your bank regarding their policy, the associated fees, and limitations before using a foreign ATM.

Convenience stores

Last but not least, you can swap Costa Rican currency at convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants. Ensure that they accept dollars so you can make payments in USD and receive your change in colones. It’s a good practice to check the exchange rate they use, which they usually have posted.

Practical Tips for Money Exchange in Costa Rica

After covering some of the most important aspects of exchanging money for Costa Rican colones, you may feel confident, yet we have some tips to make it even easier.

Consider the following:

  • The US dollar (USD) to colón exchange rate fluctuates, currently at around 612 colones to the dollar. To ensure you’re receiving a fair rate, check the exchange rate on the Central Bank of Costa Rica’s website or use an online currency converter.
  • Avoid paying a large bill for a small purchase, as there’s a chance Costa Ricans may prefer lower denominations to avoid handling too much cash.
  • It’s a good idea to request lower denominations of the colón to make your purchases more convenient.
  • When using ATMs, make sure you’re in a safe area and stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Keep in mind that Costa Rican currency denominations typically come in multiples of five.
  • Avoid traveler’s checks since they are not widely accepted as cash or credit card payments.

Learn everything you need about the Costa Rica colon with the help of our guides!

Secure Your Wallet and Enjoy Costa Rica!

We’ve seen that managing your finances is essential for a successful trip. In Costa Rica, keeping an eye on exchange rates and making informed choices will allow you to embrace the Pura Vida spirit without financial worries.

To ensure a smooth trip in every aspect, reach out to Find My Costa Rica. We can help you start your Costa Rican adventure and provide expert guidance during your journey!

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