What is the currency used in Costa Rica?

Travel Destinations

By Erica Silverstein

When planning to travel to Costa Rica, it is important to know what currency is used in the country. This knowledge will help you to plan your finances and avoid any issues while making transactions. In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on the Costa Rican currency, including its history, denominations, exchange rate, and conversion, as well as tips for handling currency and avoiding scams.

Brief Overview of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country located between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. The country is known for its biodiversity, tropical climate, and stable democracy. The official language is Spanish, and the country has a population of about 5 million people. Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, offering a variety of attractions such as beaches, national parks, and adventure activities.

History of Costa Rican Currency

The first currency used in Costa Rica was the Spanish colonial real. In 1850, the Costa Rican government introduced the Costa Rican peso, which was later replaced by the colón in 1896. The colón was named after Christopher Columbus, known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish. The first series of colón banknotes featured images of Costa Rican wildlife and landmarks.

Current Currency in Use

The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón (CRC), which is issued by the Central Bank of Costa Rica. The colón comes in both coins and banknotes. The coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones, while the banknotes come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 colones.

Denominations of Costa Rican Currency

As mentioned earlier, the colón comes in both coins and banknotes. The coins are made of copper, aluminum, bronze, and steel. The banknotes are made of polymer, which makes them more durable than paper banknotes. The highest denomination of banknote is the 50,000 colones, which is worth about $80 USD. The coins are commonly used for small transactions such as buying snacks or tipping.

Exchange Rate and Conversion

The exchange rate between the colón and the US dollar fluctuates daily. As of May 2021, one US dollar is equivalent to about 620 Costa Rican colones. It is important to check the current exchange rate before making any transactions to ensure that you are not being ripped off. You can easily check the exchange rate online or at currency exchange booths.

Where to Exchange Currency in Costa Rica

Currency exchange booths can be found at airports, banks, and hotels in Costa Rica. It is advisable to exchange only a small amount of money at the airport or hotel, and then find a bank or official exchange booth to exchange the rest. Some banks may require you to present your passport for the transaction.

Credit Cards and ATMs in Costa Rica

Credit cards are widely accepted in major tourist areas and upscale establishments. However, it is still advisable to carry cash for small transactions and in case of emergency. ATMs can be found in most cities and towns in Costa Rica, and they usually charge a fee for foreign transactions. It is recommended to inform your bank of your travel plans to prevent your card from being blocked for suspicious activity.

Tips for Handling Currency in Costa Rica

When handling currency in Costa Rica, it is important to be aware of the denominations and check for counterfeit bills. Some vendors may try to give you change in old or damaged bills, so it is advisable to check before accepting. It is also important to keep your money safe and secure, especially in crowded areas or tourist attractions.

Common Currency Scams to Avoid

Some common currency scams in Costa Rica include giving counterfeit bills as change, overcharging for services or products, and swapping legitimate bills for counterfeit ones. It is advisable to only exchange money at official exchange booths or banks, and to be cautious when dealing with street vendors or unlicensed moneychangers.

Final Thoughts on Costa Rican Currency

Overall, the Costa Rican currency is easy to use and widely accepted. It is advisable to carry both cash and credit cards, and to be aware of the current exchange rate and denominations. By following these tips and being cautious, you can enjoy a safe and hassle-free trip to Costa Rica.


In conclusion, the official currency of Costa Rica is the colón, which comes in both coins and banknotes. The exchange rate fluctuates daily, and it is advisable to exchange money at official exchange booths or banks. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is still important to carry cash for small transactions and emergencies. By being aware of the currency and taking necessary precautions, you can have a wonderful and safe trip in Costa Rica.

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Erica Silverstein

Erica, a seasoned travel writer with 20+ years of experience, started her career as a Let's Go guidebook editor in college. As the head of Cruise Critic's features team for a decade, she gained extensive knowledge. Her adventurous nature has taken her to Edinburgh, Australia, the Serengeti, and on luxury cruises in Europe and the Caribbean. During her journeys, she enjoys savoring local chocolates and conquering various summits.

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