The Costa Rica national currency is called the colon and has been used since 1896. Each decorative bill features a unique design, highlighting local wildlife, an historical figure, and a Costa Rican ecosystem.
It is used combination with the US dollar in Costa Rica. Colones are used in rural areas, food and craft markets and government institutions.
I am often asked about Costa Rica money and how to use the local currency. I tell them that the currency in Costa Rica is called the colon and that both the colon and dollars are commonly used.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, in this article I am going to explain what money to use either colones or dollars and when. Lets get started!
How The Costa Rica Currency Started
Before going to Costa Rica I think its important that you have an understanding of the currency in Costa Rica and how works for those going as tourists. I don’t want to bore you but let me start of with just a brief history lesson so you have just a little background information on the currency in Costa Rica.
Before the colon, the currency was the peso. Colón means Columbus, Spanish for Christopher Columbus the Italian explorer who “discovered” or explored the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in 1502 for Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the new world.
What is the Costa Rica Exchange Rate?
Ok. history lesson is over, told you it would be brief, so now lets talk about what the money, how it affects you during your time in Costa Rica and how to make it get the best exchange rate possible
Costa Rica’s currency is the colon, which for exchange rate purposes is identified as “CRC”. The symbol for the colon is a c with two forward slashes (₡). Bills are issued in the following denominations: ₡1,000, ₡2,000, ₡5,000, ₡10,000, ₡20,000 and ₡50,000 colon notes. The currency ranges in size from smaller to larger depending on denomination; coins are available in ₡5, ₡10, ₡25, ₡50, ₡100 and ₡500 colones.
Try to use these as much as you can before the bills as they are a bit larger and heavier then you may be used to and after awhile you might find yourself leaning to one side!
In order to find out what the current exchange rate is, you can use any one of a number of currency exchange websites or you can you go to The Banco Central de Costa Rica which sets the exchange rate for the US Dollar and publishes that rate on the bank website. To make it easier for you,
Here is a Costa Rica currency convertor for you so you can check out the current exchange rate:
How To Spend Costa Rica Money
When using dollars, I want to make things easy on myself so I carry $20 bills or smaller as its accepted a lot more readily than the larger bills.
Why do I do this you may ask? For a few reasons, one being that its alot easier for them to have change for smaller bills then larger, also because many “ticos” don’t have a lot of faith in $50 and $100 bills in large part because there have been counterfeit problems in the past (and currently) with those bills, and of course, there is a risk for anyone accepting them.
However and with this being said, you would be surprised by the number of businesses and individuals who will accept US currency in Costa Rica.
This would include most of the taxi drivers located outside both the airport in San Jose as well as the airport in Liberia. In addition, most major hotels and resorts, large restaurants, and chain supermarkets will accept US dollars.
Keep in mind that if you want to pay dollars in small stores, roadside vendors, and local markets they won’t always (basically never) be able to give you back change in dollars .
So remember that when you spend your dollars on something in places such as this. don’t expect to get dollars in return, as in almost every case they will give you your change in Colones and at that point you will, to a certain extent be leaving it up to them as to what exchange rate they will use to give you back your change.
What Do I Do with the extra Costa Rica Coins?
Pay attention to how many Colones you have toward the end of your trip and make every effort to spend them. If you don’t, you’ll need to get to the airport early to wait in line, pay a substantial commission, and get them converted back to US Dollars at a painful rate.
If you’re thinking that you’ll just take them home and convert them at your local bank, I would tell you that I would not do that as very few banks in the US are will accept Colones in which case you will have to make plans to come back to Costa Rica so that you can spend that cash! (not a bad deal).
Here are some suggestions:
- If you haven’t prepaid for your hotel, then when you go to check out pay part or all of your bill with the Colones you have left. If you don’t have enough to cover the whole bill just ask them to put the remaining balance on your credit card.
- If you go to Starbucks alot at home and have a Starbucks card then you can go to one in San Jose and add funds in-store in Colones. That will then convert to the currency of the country your card is registered in.
- Refill gas in your rental car. If you’ve rented a car in Costa Rica, you will need stop to refill gas on the way to drop off before you leave.(if not you’ll pay a fortune if they do it). Pay in cash, refill to the amount of cash you’ve got left and then do a separate transaction to get the tank full by paying with a credit card.
- This is may be the most enjoyable: Spend the remaining cash in Duty Free!