Once you move down to Costa Rica and things like location, housing and job are all determined, your attention will turn to the more mundane – like banking.
In fact, setting up a Costa Rican bank account will probably be on your radar after you use the ATM several times and get charged exorbitant foreign ATM fees.
Costa Rica does have a fantastic and modern banking system, accessible to the foreigner, long-term resident, and Tico alike.
Here are some tips and best practices for banking in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica offers a host of options when it comes to safely parking and managing your money. These include:
• 1 central bank (Banco Central de Costa Rica)
• 3 state-owned commercial banks
• 12 private commercial banks
• 1 workers’ bank
• 1 state-owned mortgage bank
• 3 mutual house-building companies
• 9 private finance companies
• 28 savings and loans cooperatives
In addition, there are 2 money exchange houses, 30 investment and retirement funds or trusts run by both state and private commercial banks and the state insurance company. All of these banks and financial institutions offer services to foreigners, whether they’re residents, students or have work visas.
When you first move to Costa Rica, the biggest decision you’ll have when opening a bank account is whether to do so at a private bank or the Costa Rica state bank. There are pros and cons to each: The state-owned banks like Banco Nacional and Banco Costa Rica offer the most branches and many more ATM locations, as well as guaranteeing all deposits.
However, you’ll find some seriously long lines when you visit these banks. Fridays closest to the 15th and 31st or 1st of the month can be nightmares with crowds and long lines trying to cash their paychecks. December is typically swamped as well as around any holiday!
The private banks, like the Canadian-owned Scotiabank, may have far less branches and ATMs, but are big on service, with less waiting times, better educated and accommodating staff, and English speakers.
However, private banks don’t typically offer deposit insurance. They’ll also carefully scrutinize your corporation and its dealings if you open up a bank account for any business.
No matter which bank you choose (or both!), the majority of these banks allow you to open up accounts and make transactions in colones, dollars, or even euros in some cases.
What do you need to open an account?
Whether you’ve chosen a state-run or private bank to open an account, there are a number of guidelines:
If you’re not a Costa Rican resident, you’ll need to show your passport. Bring a second form of credible ID, like your driver’s license, too.
2. Minimum Deposit
The minimum deposit will depend on the type of account, but you’ll need to deposit at least 5,000 CRC or $25 for savings accounts or $500- $1,000 for checking accounts.
3. Utility Bill
Bring a copy of one of your utility bills to prove your address in Costa Rica.
4. Proof of Income
If you get paid a salary, you’ll be asked to provide your orden patronal, while independent workers should show a Certification of Income (Certificacion de Ingresos), which is prepared by a CPA and includes your name, occupation, and monthly or yearly income.
5. Purpose in Costa Rica
Some banks may require retired Costa Rican residents to show their ID card or official document from immigration or your attorney showing that you’re in the process of becoming a resident. If you’re a student, bring a letter from your school stating your purpose to study in Costa Rica. Foreign workers should have their orden patronal or La Caja.
6. U.S. Tax Forms
A recently enacted policy called Conozca a Su Cliente (Know Your Client), Mandates that banks report certain things for transactions about $10,000 to help prevent money laundering. U.S. citizens will be asked to fill out tax forms and other documents to alert the IRS to the presence of these offshore bank accounts.
7. Letters of Reference
Most Costa Rican banks will require a couple of letters of reference, including letters from other banks where you’ve done business or made deposits. But they can also be letters from friends who are customers of that same bank where you’re applying, stating your relationship and vouching for you as a customer. You can even bring them to the bank with you to aid the process!
Other banking notes and tips:
• There are ATMs all over the cities but far less in provinces and small towns. It’s recommended you take out colones because it might be hard for businesses to give change for big U.S. dollar bills, and you won’t get a good exchange rate.
• Don’t use the ATMs located in smaller shops, restaurants, and casinos – you’ll get killed on ATM fees.
• During power outages, holidays and busy tourist weekends, the ATMs may not work or be out of money, so prepare in advance.
• Costa Rica is well established as an offshore banking haven, with banking secrecy laws that make it impossible for governmental (or private) agencies to access to your account information without a court order.
• For that reason, Costa Rica is a favorite place to hold significant assets for foreign individuals and corporations that want protection from governmental agencies and civil litigation like in their home countries.
• Travelers can expect most higher end hotels, restaurants and shops to accept credit cards, but many common and everyday businesses won’t accept them.
• When using credit cards, expect a processing fee and a very unfavorable exchange rate.
• Unfortunately, credit card transactions are more susceptible to theft in Costa Rica. When signing your receipt, cross out a block of 4-8 numbers on your receipt and request a copy of the receipt.
• It’s a good idea to check your account balances often to spot any fraud or over-charging. Use a hide-your-IP service to keep your logins to banking websites protected.
• Unfortunately, the same banking protection laws may not keep your credit card transactions confidential. Credit card transactions don’t fall under the same jurisdiction as banking secrecy laws, and in several instances in the past, the United States IRS forced MasterCard and American Express to disclose private financial information from their users.
• So you may want to stick to using cash and visiting your local bank in Costa Rica. When you enter, remember that appropriate attire is required, and don’t wear sunglasses.
• Whether you go into a private or government bank, you’ll be divided into two lines depending on what kind of transaction you’re there for.
• For standard transactions like making deposits, withdrawals and exchanging currency, you’ll be in the standing line. But for customers who want to open new accounts, request a new debit card, or make special business transactions or wire transfers, etc., there will be a special line where you take a seat, and then they’ll call you.
• Before you sit down, make sure to take a ticketed number – called a ficha – so you’ll be in the queue when your number is called. If you lose your spot, no one will take mercy on you!
• If you’re elderly, pregnant, disabled, with a young child, you qualify for the preferential line called the fila preferencial, usually located off to the side.
Did you find that helpful?
It probably isn't your main concern now but believe me - it will be very useful once you move down to Costa Rica and need to open a bank account!
For more great info, check out the #1 resource in the world for moving to Costa Rica!
Costa Rican holidays, Festivities & celebrations (and why you won't have a choice but to join in the fun!)
Once you move down to Costa Rica, you’ll inevitably at some point mutter the words, “Jesus Christ – it’s like they have a holiday every single day down here!” And you are almost correct, as there’s rarely a week that goes by without some celebration, holiday, festival, or religious observance.
Don’t forget that it’s also a grand holiday anytime the most popular teams like Soprissa or Alajuelense are playing, and definitely when the Costa Rican national team takes the field, there is reason to run to the nearest bar or television set and cheer on the home team.
You’ll also realize quickly that, whether you want to join in the festivities or not, these holidays will have a big impact on your life, including jam-packed roads, crowded beaches, sold out stores, huge crowds, fireworks all night, marching bands in the streets at 5 AM, music blasting, power outages, depleted bank machines, and more.
Instead of getting frustrated, angry, or tossing and turning as you try to sleep, I recommend that if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em!
Here is a little information on the most common Costa Rica holidays:
Semana Santa - Easter week
Since Costa Rica is a Catholic country, Easter is a really big deal – celebrated far more fervently than in the United States. Ticos celebrate all week at church, at family gatherings, and also slipping out to the beach for some sun and fun.
The week kicks off at the church with “Domingo de Ramos,” an important ritual where the priest gives everyone in attendance a blessed palm leaf, in remembrance of the day Jesus walking in Jerusalem and was greeted with palm leaves.
Starting Thursday that week, all businesses are closed, and Ticos start their exodus to the beach to party hard. They usually find a way to make it to church that Sunday, where a big celebration ensues to honor the resurrection of Jesus three days after he was crucified. From a practical standpoint, don’t expect any work to get done that whole week in government or private offices, and beach towns like Tamarindo and Jacó will be overrun with Ticos so make sure you have a hotel room booked.
Virgen de los Angeles - August 2nd
Every year, masses of Costa Ricans (Ticos) observe this holiday by walking from their homes to one specific church no matter how far away they live, paying respects to the patron saint of Costa Rica, Virgen de los Angeles. Legend has it that in 1636, The Virgen of Angels appeared to a little girl from Cartago, Costa Rica. The vision actually came to her many times in the form of a small stone statue, asking the girl to build a church on the exact spot it was appearing. So, the people of Cartago did just that, and, to their delight, miracles started happening there regularly. The actual stone statue was discovered on August 2, 1940, so that date was set to honor the saint and the sacred church.
Costa Rican Independence Day - September 15
Costa Rica gained their sovereignty from Spain on the same day as the rest of Central America in 1821, and the nation still commemorates their independence. The display of national pride kicks off with parades, traditional dancing and costumes, street parties, children carrying small lanterns through the street, and plenty of face painting. It all builds up to the arrival of the Freedom Torch in Cartago when everyone in the country stops and simultaneously sings the national anthem.
Day of the Culture Encounter, or Discovery of America
Christopher Columbus may be less popular every year in the United States, but his holiday is still celebrated widely in Costa Rica. In mid October, the Ticos commemorate his arrival in 1502 to Uvita, an island off the Caribbean port town of Limon. The celebration goes on for almost a whole week, with the local residents and visitors filling the streets with color, music, dancing, beauty pageants, and plenty of “Rondon” a local fish stew.
The festivities turn into a full-on carnival like atmosphere with plenty of reggae, roots, calypso, salsa, and socca music.
Columbus’s arrival is celebrated a little more tamely in the rest of Costa Rica, with school children dressing up as different historical figures, like indigenous people or Columbus himself.
Halloween - October 31
The spooky holiday of October 31 is still pretty new to Costa Rica, but they were smart enough to adopt a good party when they see it. Of course, the little kids love dressing up and being walked around town by their parents for candy, but the teens and adults really live it up, planning their costumes for weeks and going all out in a bacchanalian celebration that is Rated R photo-worthy.
Día de los Muertos - November 2
Día de los Muertos, also called Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day) or Día de Todos Almas (All Souls Day), is observed all over Costa Rica, as residents attend Catholic mass and make pilgrimages to graveyards to honor their deceased family members.
Christmas - December 25
Christmas is a huge deal in Costa Rica as well, though the traditions are very different than to those in the United States. It starts earlier in December and revolves around a model of the nativity scene called the Pasito or Portal, but this one decorated with tropical flowers, model houses and animals, and sometimes even fruit. Christmas lights adorn a lot of homes and establishments and wreaths are made of cypress branches and are dressed up with red ribbons and red coffee berries. Apples are popular leading up to Christmas time.
Instead of Santa Claus, the gift bringer in Costa Rica is Jesus, or ‘Niño Dios’ (Child God), who brings the presents while children are sleeping. Neighbors and friends get together to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, pray the Rosary, and consuming plenty of eggnog and tamales. There is a traditional family dinner, and then at midnight on the 25th, most Ticos attend the Misa de Gallo or Christmas Mass – literally translated “The Mass of the Rooster.”
Carnaval - December 27
In many parts of the country, particularly on the Caribbean eastern shores, they celebrate Carnaval on the 27th with parades, floats, music, and dancing.
Costa Rican football - any time they play!
Fiesta a de los Diablitos - December 30
Literally translated as “The festival of the little devils,” at midnight on December 30, the southern ethnic group of Borucas awake wearing devil masks, recreating a fight to the death between the Indians (Diablitos) and invading Spaniards. These days, a bull represents the Spanish and the Diablitos wear plenty of traditional costumes, fireworks, and native customs.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
Celebrating the start of the New Year is a holiday worldwide, but Ticos kick it off with special vigor, heading to the beach in droves to drink and dance on the beach until the sun comes up. Some people light paper lanterns and set them adrift over the beach to say goodbye to the old and bring in the new, while those in the city will gather in the public squares, like in San José’s Parque Central and Buenos Aires, and Puntarenas to keep the party going with their friends. New Year’s Day is a little tamer as everyone has a hangover, or “Goma,” so it’s usually spent celebrating with family.
December and January are festive months in Costa Rica, with each city and town holding its own fiesta. Usually on the weekends, the celebrations take on a fairground atmosphere, with parades, dancing, food, plenty of drink, rides, games, and singing. But the main attraction is usually the bullfights – though the bulls aren’t harmed in Costa Rica. Each town performs them a little differently, but you could literally book your dance card for those two months following around fiestas – and having a blast!
Here is a more detailed timetable of Costa Rican holidays:
• January 1st: New Years Day
• 3/19 - St Joseph’s Day (observance)
• 3/21 - 3/23 Holy Week or Semana Santa (public sector only)
• 3/24 - Good Thursday
• 3/25 - Good Friday
• 4/11 - Juan Santa Maria
• 3/24 - Maundy Thursday (national holiday)
• 3/25 - Good Friday (national holiday)
• 4/11 - Battle of Rivas (national holiday)
• 4/11: Juan Santamaria Day, National Hero.
• Holy Thursday and Good Friday: Religious activities.
• 5/1 - International Labor Day.
• 5/1 - Labor Day (national holiday)
• 6/19 - Father’s Day (observance)
• 7/25 - Annexation of Guanacaste (national holiday)
• 8/2 - Our Lady of Los Angeles (observance)
• 8/15 - Mothers Day.
• 8/24 - National Parks Day (observance)
• 9/15 - Independence Day. 10/12 - Day of the Cultures (observance)
• 11/2 - All Souls Day (observance)
• 11/22 - Teachers’ Day (observance)
• 12/8 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception (observance)
• 12/25 - Christmas Day (national holiday)
• 12/31 - New Year’s Eve (observance) Other holidays:
• 7/25 - Annexation of Guanacaste Day.
• 8/2 - Virgin of the Angels Day.
• 10/12 - Christopher Columbus Day.
Have fun and enjoy every day in Costa Rica - including the holidays!
Costa Rica may be known for its perfect beaches and sunny climate, but the wildlife is even more remarkable in the Central American nation. Despite being only the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 different species, making up an astounding 4% of all the plant, insect and wildlife species on the entire Earth!
Today, I wanted to introduce you to some of the cool, cute, and even cuddly animals and species that you'll encounter in Costa Rica!
The three-toed sloth
Costa Rica may be best known for its exotic and unique animals like the Three-Toed Sloth. As you might guess, these jungle dwellers are incredibly slow on land (but good swimmers) and lazy (they sleep 16-18 hours a day), living high up in the canopy and descending only once a week to go to the bathroom! In fact, these sloths dig a hole in the ground with their stubby tails, go to the bathroom in the hole, and then cover it up with leaves using its hind legs.
Interestingly, they are homebodies, spending about 20% of their life in the same tree and never venturing too far.
Sea turtles can be found in many parts of the world, but Costa Rica boasts the greatest concentration and variety of any nation. In fact, five of the seven species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of the Central American nation, where you can find leatherbacks, green, loggerhead, and hawksbill. But the most famous of Costa Rican sea turtles if the olive ridley, also called the arribada, which is Spanish for “arrival by sea.”
An incredible natural ritual that’s worth witnessing in Costa Rica is when tens of thousands of sea turtles come to shore, laying their eggs in the sand before leaving en masse. This happens up to eight times a year, and even scientists haven’t figured out how they know when it’s time to do this. Approximately two months later, the eggs hatch and hundreds of thousands of newborn turtles make their way back to the ocean to swim away. There are plenty of beaches up and down the coast where you can see this, but the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best.
If you’ve spent some time in the lowlands or beaches of Costa Rica, you may have been woken up at an un-Godly hour by the ear-splitting shrieks and howls of nearby howler monkeys. In fact, these calls from the adult males can be heard for almost a mile away. They usually “howl” at sunset or sunrise in response to encountering people, rain, thunder, other monkeys, or even airplanes overhead, though some biologists think these noises are their way of communicating with the troop. While they are loud, they’re not dangerous, and you might see a whole family swinging from trees with their particularly long tails or picking leaves or fruit to eat. Howler monkeys make up 69% of the total primate population in Costa Rica.
Toucans sail and swoon through the sky in the Costa Rican rainforest, emitting a unique yipping call. You can usually distinguish their flight patterns from other birds because
they rise with a few flaps of their wings, but then the weight of their beaks pulls them down again, so they rarely fly in a straight line like other birds.
The Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan is largest species of toucan in Central America and eats fruit, insects, and an occasional small snake. In Costa Rica, they prefer the wet forest lowlands of the Caribbean and Cordillera de Talamanca up to Carara on the Pacific side of the country.
Mexican tree frogs
There are a stunning 193 species of frogs and toads from 14 families in Costa Rica, and Tree frogs account for about one-third of their numbers. The tree frog – or Smilisca baudini – is known for making a distinct sound often
described as the horn on a clown car. Despite being named after Mexico to the north, they do inhabit Costa Rica in large numbers and tourists can often hear them in jungle areas.
Costa Rica’s cloud forests, rainforests, and tropical dry forests are the perfect habitat for butterflies, or caligo eurilochus if you want to use their scientific name. In fact, Costa Rica is such a lepidopterist’s (butterfly watcher) dream because 90% of all the butterflies in Central American can be found in the country, as well as 18% of the world’s total butterfly species. That means Costa Rica has more butterflies than all of North America and Europe combined!
I hope you enjoyed these cute and cuddly critters, but don't get too comfortable out in the wild in Costa Rica.
In fact, there are a whole lot of exotic, dangerous, and even deadly animals, from crocodiles to poisonous frogs and more. I'll highlight them in a future blog or you can discover the flora and fauna of Costa Rica extensively in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
When it comes to buying real estate back home, you’ve probably heard that the three most important factors are “location, location, and location.”
The same could be said for choosing the right place to move in Costa Rica (except it’s “lugar” in Spanish!). There is no one “right” location, as everyone values different things.
I suggest visiting as many places as you can and making a list of pros and cons based on the lifestyle and amenities you value most. For some, a lack of suitable roads, ATMs, stores and hotels, dependable Wi-Fi, and sporadic aircon will drive them nuts. For others, getting away from the hustle and bustle and getting as close to nature as possible is just what the doctor ordered!
But here are some great suggestions where to live in Costa Rica in places that are popular with expats.
First, let’s look at where you might want to live by region:
• Includes capital city of San José
• Plenty of well-established expat havens: San Ramon, Grecia,
Alajuela, and Atenas
• Ideal climate due to high altitude with year-round average
temperature in the 70s F
• Great existing communities for expats that have gyms,
restaurants, social clubs, theater groups, game nights
• Conveniently located near San José, go anywhere in the region in
1 to 1.5 hours
• Good infrastructure, amenities, and shopping with American-style
malls, super stores, and warehouse shopping
• Cultural heart of the country with the most theater, art galleries,
• Convenient to Costa Rica’s largest international airport just outside of San José
• Describes the northwest Guanacaste province of Costa Rica
• Most sunny days and the least rain in the entire country
• Ideal beach lifestyle and beach culture
• Good mix of Ticos and expats
• More relaxed and friendlier than San José, but the roads, amenities, and infrastructure are rougher
• Popular tourist places like Tamarindo can be expensive
• Rural, tranquil lifestyle
• Relatively underdeveloped a few B&Bs and small boutique hotels
• Nuevo Arenal is where most expats live, so you will find grocery
stores, pharmacies, and basic necessities
The Southern Zone
• Quintessential Costa Rica environment
• Some of the best beaches in the country
• Plenty of lush, exotic wildlife and nature
• Lacks big resorts or concentrated development
• Great opportunity to get in early on real estate or business before
• Infrastructure like roads and cell towers quickly catching up
• Home to Jacó
• More laid-back, tranquil surf spots like Esterillos, Bejuco, and
• Easy drive to the capital of San José
• Great secluded beaches like Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita and Manzanillo
• Perfect for fishing, watersports, and nature lovers
• Totally different Caribbean culture and vibe – almost like Jamaica
with Creole English commonly spoken
• Far less touristy and developed than the bustling Pacific Coast
• Real estate prices can get high right on the beach but cheaper
Some of the most popular cities, towns, and communities for expats in Costa Rica:
• Great shops and restaurants in the town
• Surfers should check out Hermosa and Esterillos Este
• Easily accessible day trips to great nature hikes
• Easy drive to San Jos
• Flooded with Ticos vacationers and expats on holidays, not the ideal spot for peace and quiet
• Some expats steer clear of Jacó because they see it as over- developed, touristy, and has “Little Vegas” resort town feel
• More drugs and crime
• Very popular spot for beach lovers and surfers
• Hanging on to that small village feel but plenty of shops,
restaurants, and amenities
• Strong and growing international community
• Some issues with petty crime and drugs
• Not an easy drive (3-4 hours) San José
• Closest big city is Liberia, 1.5 hours away with great international
• Not too far from Liberia to get to the Nicaraguan border for visa
• Very expensive place due to tourist activity
• Other expat communities nearby like Playa Coco
• Plenty of commercial activity, restaurants, and supermarkets
• Right along the Pan American Highway, and there are direct bus
lines to San José
• Beautiful mountains right along the coast
• Much less developed than other coastal area
• Great for nature lovers, more secluded and pristine nature but close access to necessities
• Lower cost of living than many other expat regions
• Tons of expat societies/organizations to welcome newcomers
• Very chill, slow-paced lifestyle
• An upscale suburb popular among expats
• Close to central San José
• For expats, most developed place to live for quality schools,
shopping, and western-style amenities
• Good climate with cooler temps and a little breeze that expats
really enjoy because it’s in the foothills
• Very safe community
• Some say expats have driven up prices and made it too
• Gated communities
• Dining and nightlife is limited - trade off with the small town vibe
• Good climate
• Not very exciting, residential
• Safe, convenient
• Small town on the Caribbean coast
• About 2-hour drive to San José
• Plenty of family and locally-run small hotels, lodges and
• Less expensive real estate
• Infrastructure isn’t as developed as resort towns on the Pacific
• Authentic, traditional Caribbean culture and vibe
• Amazing boating, fishing, and fresh seafood
I hope this helps!
Contact me if you need any more help and you can get a WHOLE lot more information in The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
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