I am from the US and would like to know the easiest and least expensive way of changing money in Costa Rica. Years ago I just used travelers checks, but understand that nobody does that any longer. Should I change some here in the U.S. before I leave? What does one use now instead of travelers checks? Also, will my cell phone work in CR? Nobody here seems to know. ???? Thanks so much for helping.
Great questions. Here are our thoughts:
Money: There are a few different options. A lot of people use credit cards for bigger purchases- they are accepted at almost all hotels, restaurants, larger grocery stores, gas stations, and for tours. Just check with your card company about foreign exchange fees. They often charge 1-3% for all transactions.
It’s good to have some cash on hand for smaller purchases too. What we used to do is just bring US dollars and then we’d get local currency (colones) back in change. Don’t bring anything larger than a $20 because a lot of places won’t accept it. The best place to do this is at bigger grocery stores because you’ll get the correct conversion. You could also exchange US dollars when you get here- don’t do it at the airport because the exchange rate isn’t great. Go to the bank- I think Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) is favorable for exchange fees. Make sure to bring your passport. Another option is to just get local money right out of the ATM. Only thing to watch out for is fees- some of the US banks started charging “foreign currency conversion” fees on top of the usual fee for using an ATM outside their network, so give your bank a call. You have to use a debit card (not an ATM card) to take out money. Another thing that used to throw us off is that you only enter the first 4 digits of your debit card password to take money out of the ATM. Use a BCR ATM if you can because they don’t charge to use their machine.
Also, make sure you call your bank to give them a heads up that you’ll be traveling abroad so that they don’t put a freeze on your accounts, thinking they’re fraudulent charges.
Cell Phone: Your phone has to be unlocked to use it in Costa Rica, meaning that it can’t be tied to a phone carrier. If you currently have a service plan through AT&T, Verizon, etc. they probably won’t give you the code to unlock it. Some people buy a cheap Blu phone on Amazon for like $50 and then get a chip at the Kolbi desk in baggage claim at the airport for an inexpensive prepaid plan (Kolbi is one of the phone providers here). You’d need an unlocked quad band GSM. Your regular phone should work for Internet though if you want to use it that way by hooking up to free Wifi, which you can find at most hotels and some restaurants.
Hope that helps. Have a great trip!
– Jenn & Matt