The Costa Rica currency is the colón (CRC).
The plural of colón is colones and the symbol is ¢, i.e. rather than seeing price tags like “$15” you would see them as “¢15”. The current exchange rate for US dollars (as of May 2020) is around 560 CRC = 1 USD. For Euros, it’s around 620 CRC to 1 EUR.
Tips for Costa Rica Currency Exchange
Currency Exchange Tips on Arrival
After you arrive in Costa Rica and are all set to exchange cash, resist the temptation to do so at the San Jose or Liberia air terminals. The exchange rate will likely not be the best.
Instead, exchange your money at local banking institutions. Visit the state banks, most notably Banco Nacional or Banco de Costa Rica, which should give you the lowest exchange rates. (Keep in mind banks are open for business Monday to Friday.) A large number of hotels change money as well however the rate will likely be lower and they also may charge a fee (typically about 1%).
Other Costa Rica Currency Exchange Tips
Costa Ricans will usually take American dollars if you have no colones on you. You’re at the mercy of their “exchange rate”, however, and you will probably get your change back in colones.
My recommendation: charge any purchases that you can and have the credit card company determine the currency conversion for you. You’ll get the best rate that way.
Costa Rica Currency Denominations
Typical coin denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 colones. Bear in mind a ¢500 coin is around $1 in American dollars, so a ¢100 coin is about 20 cents US. Typical denominations for paper money are 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 20000 colones. The ¢5000 bill matches a US$10 bill, and ¢10000 is US$20. If you have these simple conversions in mind as you travel around the country, they will help you judge prices for things.
ATM Information and Tips
It’s a good idea to carry cash for small things such as snacks, bottle water, and tips. Don’t bring huge amounts of cash with you on your trip — withdraw smaller amounts as you need them using a local ATM.
It’s always a good idea to check with your bank before you go regarding ATM withdrawals abroad. Check on fees, surcharges, and the exchange rate. If using your ATM card is possible, it’s far more convenient than trying to get to a Costa Rica bank during business hours.
ATMs are everywhere these days, and providing the ATM is on the PLUS or CIRRUS system, you should have no troubles withdrawing money. Somewhat surprising is the fact that you can usually get colones and US dollars through Costa Rican ATMs.
It’s a good idea to have a spare ATM card just in case your main card gets stolen. Do keep it in a separate location, if possible.
Credit Card, Cash and Traveler Check Tips
Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in tourist areas, so in these locales having colones on your person is far less crucial. If you plan to travel outside of the typical tourist areas, make sure you have some cash on you. Small villages you may pass through usually aren’t able to handle credit cards. It’s not a big deal if you don’t have to stop, but if your gas tank is running low you’ll be in trouble without cash. Be safe: keep larger bills out of view and have coins and small bills at the ready.
Carrying travelers checks? There’s usually a flat fee (around $5 USD) and a 1% surcharge. if you can, make your way to a state bank to cash those in.
If you plan to be carrying your smartphone with you, download a currency converter app from xe.com. It’s a great app to have to convert Costa Rica colones into any other currency. You can get it for the Apple iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It’s also available for Android.