How much cash do I bring to Costa Rica?

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In my 50+ trips to Costa Rica I would always be concerned with how much money to bring and then exchange once I’m there. These are my recommendations. I would take down $300 in USD in twenties and some ones for tips when you get there. Then I use the cash and get change in colones. Be advised that it is 545.51 colones to one dollar (on March 11, 2023), but a restaurant or store may give you only 500. That is a little worse than the currency exchange at the airport. When I run out I would get more colones out of the ATM. The best exchange rate will be with the bank (you need your passport for that) and then the big grocery stores give the current rate.  The toll operators also give change in colones, but don’t give them anything larger than a twenty dollar bill.

A lot of stores will have a calculator and they decide on the amount in colones if you give them dollars. It is not worth arguing with them since they also may factor in the time and resources (gas) to get to the bank and exchange dollars back or deposit them. Some banks can be an hour away and the wait time in them could be hours.

Now some situations call for bringing a lot of cash, like paying for a house rental or buying a new surfboard. It is easier to get it the U.S. than using the ATMs in Costa Rica. First most ATMs have a max of $200 withdrawal daily. You are also getting charged the ATM fee there and at your home bank (in most cases – some credit unions give refunds). And if you get colones you already lose on the exchange rate as the buy and sell price is about 25 colones difference.

If you are bringing over $1000, make sure you hide it well. or make sure your room has a safe. Hide some of it in a different place. Get travel insurance that covers theft. I would not carry it on me when I am out. And I would rather pay the international wire transfer fee than carry a lot of cash in the first place. However each traveler has a different risk tolerance.

Contact us and I will tell you three of my favorite places to hide money. Safe travels!


  1. Steve H. says:

    You say you wouldn’t carry a lot of cash with you when you’re out, and you’ve been to CR over 50 times. In those 50 times, how many times have you been in an attempted robbery situation, where you would have lost the money you had on you?
    We’re traveling to CR in December and have already purchased Colones for the trip.
    Thanks in advance for some additional info..

    • Greg Gordon says:

      I have been pickpocketed once by a woman in Jaco and lost about $200. I was able to file a police report though and then file a claim with my renter’s insurance, which covered theft. Some travel insurance also covers theft, and as a travel advisor I would always recommend getting some.

  2. Madison says:

    Thanks for this tips! Will be travelling to Costa Rica soon to check out some international property – this is useful info – thanks again!

  3. Tatjana says:

    do you know if there is such obligation to have 500 USD dollars in cash on you for entering CR? Does the immigration at the airport require certain amount of cash to show ? Or certain amount of cash regarding number of days I want to stay in CR? Also can you recommend the insurance company to get theft insurance.
    also how it works to file claim with renter’s insurance?

  4. Ashley Foden says:

    Do they accept Canadian dollars in Costa Rica? Can I exchange Canadian cash at banks or at the Hotel?

    • Greg Gordon says:

      They do not accept Canadian dollars in stores, restaurants, or hotels, but you can exchange it at every bank Be sure to bring your passport with you. Possibly a few resorts can exchange some currency.

  5. Marc says:

    I’m planning to go to CR for 2 months with my wife and 2 kids. We are not sure how much to bring. We thought maybe $1000 US and equivalent of $500 in colones (around 270k at the time writing this). Would you say it’s too much?

    • Greg Gordon says:

      Hi Marc, It depends on how fast you need to spend that money. I can understand if you have to pay a rental home or hotel or sportsfishing trip in cash, but keeping it around for a longer time only increases the chances something happens to it. $300-400 max is what I bring for myself, and then when I need more I go to the bank, which usually has a 5% fee, or use the ATM and get colones at a decent exchange rate. A lot of stuff you can pay with a credit or debit card – food, tours, transportation, and lodging. Sometimes though you get a ‘deal’ if you pay cash, and if you go to community markets to shop then there is where you would be spending cash. Most will make change for you from dollars, but the exchange rate is from 0-50 colones less per dollar.

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