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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!