Exchanging money any place is usually tricky. Most of us are accustomed to our own currencies and not dealing with flexible exchange rates, so it’s easy to get confused and taken advantage of.
For the typical traveler, confusion is almost a certainty. Many are so eager to travel, they want to be fully prepared before reaching their destination. Hitting the currency exchange at your departure or arrival airport might seem like a good idea. Well, that, for sure, is not the case. Less favorable exchange rates at airport sites, often with commission fees tacked on, can make a difference of 20% or more when it comes to whittling away your pura vida trip money. (That means less to spend here on souvenirs emblazoned with Pura Vida.)
When traveling, I try to use my credit card as much as possible because the exchange rate will match what the banks reflect. This is also a good way to keep track of your spending.
Costa Rica is widely a cash society. The money is pretty and it sure seems to be spent faster than other money imprinted with bad hair presidents. Wait … I think almost all money around the world depicts bad hair presidents or other ancient rulers. Costa Rica’s money is beautiful, with designs incorporating monkeys, sharks, birds and more.
Once situated at the place where you’ll be staying in Costa Rica, it’s a good idea to visit a bank or ATM to exchange your money for colones. You will be assured of the best exchange rate at that point. Keep in mind that U.S. dollars are accepted here, but your change will be in colones. Legally, establishments are required to post their exchange rate visibly. Most times, however, this is not the case.
Smaller places love to give you an exchange rate of c500 when the actual bank rate is c570 or so. This makes a big difference when making larger purchases. It might not seem like much at first until it starts to erode your vacation travel funds. On the other hand, many establishments come close to the bank rate when you pay for something in U.S. dollars. I have recently seen some at 550 or 560. I certainly would not waste time changing your money at the bank to save a difference of that amount. Changing $100 at the bank is a reasonable amount; for sure, you will spend that much in colones.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the local coins are actually worth something here. At today’s spot rate, the value of the 500 colon coin is about 88 cents.
Knowing where to change your money and the current exchange rates keeps you in check if you are on a budget. For those who are not on a budget, I will gladly help you exchange your money for my fee.
Happy travels to all. Enjoy the wonderful people, places and items to purchase in Costa Rica. This is a special place on the planet.