Banking in Costa Rica

This is what you need to know!



Banking in most North American and European Countries is a rather routine and uneventful activity, especially with the introduction of on-line banking services which render most prior bank visits unnecessary. It is not that easy in Costa Rica.
 
Banking in General
 
Unfortunately, banking in Costa Rica can be quite an ordeal. Opening a bank account for a corporation requires an attorney to assemble the necessary paperwork.  It is not uncommon to have to make multiple visits between a bank, an attorney, and/or accountant to get matters accomplished. So, you need to be prepared for delays when dealing with financial matters and just be more patient with the convoluted systems here.
 
Before you arrive to live here, you will need to open a bank account.  If you use a state-run bank, your money on deposit will be fully insured no matter how much you deposit. Of course, there will always remain the question of whether the government would ever be able to pay claims should a bank fail.  The good news is that no state-run bank has failed in over 30 years.     Many of the state-run banks will not many English speaking personnel available so, unless you become proficient in Spanish, you will need to bring your patience and/or an interpreter.
 
Another consideration is using a “Ex-Pat friendly” private bank. These private banks will have English-speaking personnel available and will be more courteous and understanding of the needs of the Ex-Pat population. The downside is that your deposits are not insured.
 
The good news is that once you have opened your account, most large transactions for services are done electronically with no need to use checks, credit cards, or, most importantly, make banking visits.
 
All bank accounts in Costa Rica are responsible for reporting income of U.S. Citizens to the Internal Revenue Service.
 
You may wish to open dual accounts, one holding your home currency and the other holding Colones.  As your home currency is more stable, you run less of a chance of devaluing your money in Colones. The bank allows you to transfer from one account to the other for greater ease of use.
 
Moving Money to Costa Rica
 
Costa Rican banks take an active role in preventing money laundering in accordance with the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism signed in 2006. For this reason, you will need to certify the source of income when transferring large sums of money.  For deposits less than $10,000.00, no such inquiry is usually required.
 
There are several ways to move money to Costa Rica, with some being easier than others.
 
BEFORE YOU MOVE HERE, CHECK WITH YOUR BANK CONCERNING YOUR ABILITY TO TRANSFER FUNDS FROM YOUR FOREIGN ACCOUNT TO A COSTA RICAN BANK ACCOUNT WHILE IN COSTA RICA.  I can’t stress this enough. What you will learn is that many banks require you to sign wire transfers in person to move funds to Costa Rica.  This does not work when you are here.  For this reason, you may wish to find another bank to handle your accounts if you move to Costa Rica.
 
If you are able to meet the investment requirements, investment banks can wire money for you anywhere with you only making a phone call to authorize.  It is an amazing convenience if you can afford to use an investment bank.
 
You can write checks to your Costa Rican bank account (again, try to keep them at under $10,000.00 each). There will be a 7 – 10 day delay until the funds become available to your account.
 
Paying for Goods and Services
 
It is advantageous to use a credit card for most purchases. Make sure you acquire a credit card with no foreign currency transaction fees for this reason.  Request that charges be done in dollars and not Colones. This way, the bank backing the credit card will determine the exchange rate and not an arbitrary (an unfavorable) rate charged by a merchant.
 
As there is a Value Added Tax (VAT) of 13% of goods and services, you will be asked by many vendors and merchants to pay in cash so as to avoid the tax. And, for this reason, you will want to keep a cash reserve on hand at all times to avoid trips to an ATM or the bank.
 
Accessing Cash
 
You can withdraw funds from an ATM. Unfortunately, ATMs in Costa Rica typically allow withdrawals in the range of 100,000 – 2000,000 Colon ($180 – $450). This will cost you a small fee of $3 – 4. In smaller towns, lower withdrawal amounts are available as servicing machines is done less frequently.
 
You can always go straight to your bank and withdraw funds as needed. Please keep in mind that Costa Rican Banks keep limited hours and are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and Costa Rican holidays (which you need to check in advance of making a trip).
 
Nearly all merchants accept United States currency as they would Colones.
 
Keeping Money in Costa Rica
 
Unlike savings and checking accounts in North America, Costa Rican bank accounts are not insured by the government. Measures are currently being proposed by the government, but these would only be for small depositors as the government does not have money to back a guarantee on large deposits.
 
A good philosophy to adapt is that whatever money you are sending to Costa Rica will probably stay in Costa Rica.  For this reason, you should only transfer what you need and not keep excessive funds in the Costa Rican banking system.
 
Should you wish to keep extra money, Costa Rican banks offer certificates of deposit which range in time and interest rate so you can still hedge your funds against potential inflation.
 
Using Checks
 
Almost no one accepts checks from Costa Rican banks let along foreign banks.
 
Using Credit Cards
 
You need to establish your credit and acquire credit cards in your home country before moving to Costa Rica. Credit cards are accepted by nearly all merchants. These are limited to Mastercard and Visa. American Express and Discover are rarely accepted in Costa Rica. 
 
It is difficult to acquire any meaningful credit line in Costa Rica.  Even then, unless you are a Resident, you will not be granted any credit card by a Costa Rican bank. Even then, it will need to be subject to a guarantee.
 
Using Travelers Checks
 
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITH THEM.
 
Getting a Loan
 
Costa Rican banks rarely loan money to foreigners or Residents. Even then, these bank charge high interest rates which make acquiring loans here unattractive
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