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Changing Dollars to the Costa Rican Colón, When traveling in 2023

US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, making them a convenient currency for visitors. You can use US dollars to pay for most goods and services, including hotels, restaurants, tours, souvenirs, bus tickets, and snacks. This can save you time and hassle, as you won’t need to exchange your Dolllars for colones.

However, it’s important to note that some businesses may not accept bills larger than $20. It’s also a good idea to have some colones on hand for small purchases, as you may not get a good exchange rate for US dollars if you’re paying with larger bills.

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Here are some other things to keep in mind when using US dollars in Costa Rica:

  • Make sure your bills are in good condition. Bills that are torn or damaged may not be accepted.
  • If you’re paying for something that costs less than $1, you may want to use colones instead of dollars. This is because you’ll likely get your change in colones, and you may not get a very good exchange rate.
  • If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping, it may be a good idea to exchange some of your dollars for colones. This will give you more flexibility when you’re paying for things.

Overall, using US dollars in Costa Rica is a convenient option. However, it’s important to be aware of the limitations and to plan accordingly.

Here are some additional tips for using US dollars in Costa Rica:

  • Use smaller bills. As mentioned above, some businesses may not take bills larger than $20. If you have larger bills, try to break them down at a bank or ATM before you start shopping.
  • Be aware of the exchange rate. The exchange rate between US dollars and colones can fluctuate, so it’s a good idea to check the current rate before you travel. You can find the exchange rate online or at a bank.
  • Keep your money safe. It’s important to keep your money safe, especially when you’re traveling. If you’re carrying large amounts of cash, it’s a good idea to divide it up and keep it in different places. You should also avoid carrying your passport and other valuables with you when you’re out and about.

Costa Rican bills come in the following amounts:

  • $1,000
  • $2,000
  • $5,000
  • $10,000
  • $20,000

Costa Rican coins come in the following amounts:

  • $5
  • $10
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500

While it is true that the U.S. Dollars and Euros (bills and coins) don’t come in such high denominations as in Costa Rica, it is essential to familiarize yourself with these higher numbers in Spanish and get comfortable with the currency exchange.

Another critical thing to remember is to carry smaller bills as it can be challenging to get change for bills over $10,000 CRC in small towns and little shops. 

Be sure to pay close attention to the bills; some are very similar and can cause you to use the wrong denomination. For example, the $1,000 CRC bill is often confused with the $10,000 CRC bill as the USD doesn’t have this high Bill. 

Regarding coins, the easiest way to remember is that the bigger the coin is in size, the more it is worth. 

Periods replace commas

When you are shopping, pay close attention to the prices as in Costa Rica, periods replace commas when it comes to numbers. For example, $20,000 will be displayed as $ 20.000. 

What is the currency exchange?

Currency exchange is a legal and legitimate company that helps people exchange money from one country for money from another country.

Exchange rates vary depending on many reasons, including political and economic factors. While exchange rates change daily and sometimes by the hour, you can get an idea of what to expect by checking online or at your local bank.

Some US banks will let you order your foreign currency (money) online.  

Bank of America Foreign Currency Ordering: If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you’ll receive a discount off the published exchange rate as well as no fee on standard shipping ($7.50 value) with all orders placed in Online Banking or through the Mobile Banking app.

Wells Fargo Foreign Currency Ordering: As you start your trip, having local currency on hand lets you easily cover immediate expenses without needing to hunt down a currency exchange office. On your return, we can often buy back unused foreign currency cash at a Wells Fargo branch. We offer more than 70 currencies available for use in over 100 countries. Note: Our branches no longer have foreign currency cash on-hand available for over-the-counter same-day purchases. with all orders placed in Online Banking or through the Mobile Banking app.

Us Bank: Traveling to a foreign country requires planning and preparation. Make one of your to-do items easier. Log in to your U.S. Bank checking or savings account and order your foreign currency in advance.

Should you exchange Dollars before you get to Costa Rica?

As the US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, i dont think you need to but it depends on your comfort level. Before traveling to any foreign country, I like to exchange a small amount of money at my local bank here in the U.S. Over years of traveling, I have learned that travel day can be chaotic and could include a lot of unexpected situations. So, by exchanging a small amount beforehand, I can be sure to have cash in case I don’t get a chance to exchange money right away. Then, I can exchange more once I am settled in the new country.  

What do I need to exchange money?

To exchange money, you will need cash and a form of identification. Alternatively, you can use your ATM card to withdraw cash from an ATM. The ATM will figure out the current exchange rate, but you will probably have to pay fees for using the card overseas. So it’s worth checking with your bank before you go. 

How much are currency exchange fees when Changing US Dollars to Costa Rican Colón?

Currency exchange fees can vary depending on the method you use to exchange currency, the amount of money you are exchanging, and the exchange rate. However, in general, currency exchange fees can range from 1% to 5% of the amount you are exchanging.

Here are some of the most common methods of currency exchange and their associated fees:

  • Banks: Banks typically charge a flat fee of $5 to $10 for currency exchange, plus a percentage of the amount you are exchanging.
  • Currency exchange bureaus: Currency exchange bureaus typically charge a higher percentage fee than banks, but they may offer better exchange rates.
  • Automated teller machines (ATMs): ATMs that allow you to withdraw foreign currency may charge a flat fee of $5 or more, plus a percentage fee of the amount you withdraw.
  • Online currency exchanges: Online currency exchanges typically offer the lowest fees, but they may have lower exchange rates than banks or currency exchange bureaus.

It is important to compare fees before you exchange currency, so you can find the best deal. You can also try to negotiate a lower fee with the currency exchange provider.

Here are some tips for minimizing currency exchange fees:

  • Compare fees: Compare fees from different currency exchange providers before you make a transaction.
  • Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees: If you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, you can avoid paying the percentage fee that banks and currency exchange bureaus typically charge.
  • Exchange currency in advance: If you know you will be traveling to a foreign country, you can exchange currency in advance at your bank or credit union. This will give you the best exchange rate and you will avoid paying the high fees that ATMs and currency exchange bureaus typically charge.
  • Withdraw cash from ATMs: If you need to withdraw cash in a foreign country, you can use an ATM. However, be sure to use an ATM that is located in a bank or other reputable location. ATMs located in tourist areas or in remote locations may charge higher fees.

Where can I exchange money in Costa Rica?

Most tourists feel more comfortable exchanging money at the airport or hotel. Although they are safe locations to exchange money, the exchange rates tend to be higher due to the convenience offered to the traveler. In big cities, it is easy to find exchange offices at local attractions, tourist spots, etc., where you can exchange your money comfortably. They often offer better rates. In addition, you may find people approaching you to exchange money for you, but I would avoid those situations. Counterfeit bills can be an issue, or you may not get a fair exchange rate. 

Can I use my debit/credit card in Costa Rica?

Yes, most credit cards are accepted in big cities and are in most major stores. However, having said that, small towns and small stores may not accept credit cards. In addition, you must reach out to your credit card company beforehand to understand any traveling fees and alert them that you will be out of the country so they allow the transactions to go through. 

One of the credit cards I prefer to take while traveling is my Capital One Credit Card. Capital One does not charge extra foreign transaction fees. This is something worth considering. 

How much money do I need in Costa Rica?

We recommend budgeting about $50 to $100 USD /  day per person, depending on your needs and travel style.