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Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

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Hillsboro, Oregon
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Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Just got back from traveling to San Jose and Cahuita on the Carribean coast for a few days and wanted to share our experiences with money while traveling.

Everywhere we went in Costa Rica accepted either US dollars or Costa Rican colones (even on the Carribean cost dollars were accepted).

We brought US dollars and planned on getting local currency (Colones) from an ATM. Cahuita has just one ATM and it was broken on a Friday. I thought we'd need to go to Puerto Viejo for the ATM, but the next day the ATM in Cahuita was magically fixed.

There is also an ATM in San Jose airport by baggage claim-- plan ahead how many colone you want to withdraw (i.e. figure out how many dollars to colone-- otherwise it is pretty scary saying you want to get 60,000 colone from an ATM and worrying that you'll overdraw your account!). There is a button to switch the language on the ATM to English.

In some situations it will be easier for you the traveler in many situations to pay in colones (farmer's market, grocery store, restaurant etc.). When you pay in dollars, your change is given in colones (only exception was at our hotel in San Jose). So you should practice translating colones to dollars and back so you can give the right size dollar bill and expect the correct amount of colones in return. That being said, we were not taken advantage of as you'd expect- people were very honest about currency exchange (except for one taxi driver who took an extra 100 colone-- 20 cents-- for his trouble to get our change from the hotel-- and even that seemed reasonable).

And this is easier if you have a lot of $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills. I brought $50 and $100 bills but those are only good for hotel or if you have a very big expense (like private shuttle service, or canopy tour for example). It was much easier to use the smaller bills (and then you don't get so much change back in colones).

How to quickly convert to dollars in your head: how many "mil" (thousand) colone is the price? The paper bills are all in mil (i.e. 1,000 colone = 1 mil colone; 5,000 colone = 5 mil colone etc.). Take that number of mil and multiply by 2 to get the approximate amount in US dollars (i.e. remove three decimal places then multiply by 2).

I wish I had practiced saying and listening to numbers above 20 pronounced in Spanish-- knowing how to say 1500; 5250, 10,000; etc would have been nice. Use a guide book, or google translate (type in "one thousand five hundred" for example and translate to Spanish) and make your own colone number flashcards to practice before your trip.

Most hotels seem to have safes in them, so plan on keeping your extra cash in the safe and only carry what you'll need for the day plus a little extra just in case you want that souvenir or need another meal. I felt too hot to keep a money belt on me-- money belt is just another layer of clothing to get sweaty!

About using up your colone at the end of your trip: Don't forget the $29 departure tax you will pay when leaving San Jose airport. There are also plenty of stores in the airport where you can buy extra coffee, t- shirts etc. and they will let you pay in colone and dollars (i.e. use up the last 4,860 colone and pay the rest in US dollars). However the airport store prices are much higher (i.e. on par with US prices in gift shops) so buy your coffee at the supermarket or a store in town instead.

32 replies to this topic
Hillsboro, Oregon
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11. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Yup. And most places will have a sign posted about their current exchange rate. The bus ticket office (boleteria) had a sign for 490 colone to the US dollar. The bus ticket office worker was a bit grumpy and rolled his eyes when we wanted to buy our bus tickets with dollars- eventually he gave in and quoted the price in dollars.

Costa Rica
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12. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

".........The bus ticket office worker was a bit grumpy and rolled his eyes when we wanted to buy our bus tickets with dollars- eventually he gave in and quoted the price in dollars......."

Yeah, I can't imagine why a guy at the bus ticket office in Costa Rica would get all grumpy when some gringa wanted to pay for a bus ticket in dollars when the other 3 million people who ride the bus use the currency of the country: colones.

It's really kind of rude to "force" a business to take currency they usually don't deal in. Hotels, tours, taxi drivers, supermarkets and some other stores will take dollars as well as many restaurants, but please, don't try to force dollars on a business that doesn't want to take them. It's really easy just to get some colones at the airport at an ATM before you exit the terminal.

Please...... have some respect.

Edited: 27 July 2013, 01:49
norfolk
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13. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Thanks for that Hattie

A little worried I was not getting a great deal or rate this end

But it is not that far off and I wont have to worry about getting any out at the airport,bank or ATM for a few days.

Just wanting to swing in my hammock !

Clearwater, Florida
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14. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

We are headed to CR in Sept. Will we clear US customs in Costa RIca or in the US? We are trying to plan our timing back to the airport.

Costa Rica
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15. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

You will clear US customs in the US upon your return to the US.

Riverside, CA
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16. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

We flew into LAX and it took about an hour and 15 minutes from the time we landed until we were through customs and out on the sidewalk.

Los Angeles
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17. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Great report. Any hidden spots in Cahuita? We are renting a rental for 4 days in November. Where can we buy groceries to cook at the rental, or would he have to travel to puerto viejo for that. And as far as heading back to san jose airport...which would be our best option. Thanks in advance for the help.

Cahuita, Costa Rica
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18. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Cahuita is pretty much a hidden spot! Playa Grande and Tuba Creek are deserted almost permanently and if you walk through the national park to Puerto Vargas, again the beach could be all yours! The walk through the park with monkeys, sloths, butterflies and tiny beaches to swim in and cool off is a joy. To cook the local supermarkets have bits at high prices but there is a very basic (walmart owned) supermarket heading to Puerto Viejo, Pali that has better pricing but not a wide selection of goods! The usual route to San Jose is Route 36 then 32.

Ledgewood, New...
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19. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

I found all of my hotels were willing to exchange 500 colones per $1. We ate most of our meals at the hotels as cab fare was so expensive, so just needed colones for buying things/food on our tours.

Charlotte, Michigan
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20. Re: Costa Rica money/cash advice (trip report)

Thanks so much for your helpful advice!

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