When you have decided to move to Costa Rica full or part time, one of the many decisions that you will have to make is what bank to use. Many people from the USA will continue to stay with their American banks and simply use their debit and credit card in Costa Rica for purchases and withdrawals. Usually, this is not a problem. When doing this however, most banks will charge you a flat fee and/or a percentage on each transaction. Check with your specific bank… those fees can add up quickly. One bank that I was using actually had a “foreign transaction charge” of $9.00 per use.
You can also open an account here in Costa Rica. You will need to decide what services you need, and then shop for a bank that can address your needs specifically. There are two types of banks in Costa Rica… government-controlled and private. The banks that are overseen by the Costa Rican Government include Banco Nacional, Banco Costa Rica, and Banco Credito Agricola. All money deposited in these particular banks is guaranteed safe. These banks are located in all areas around Costa Rica. Many smaller towns have branches as well. The downside is that you may have to wait in line much longer than you are used to here in the United States. Transactions take longer and at times, will indeed test your patience.
You will also find many private banks and other banks which are affiliated with international banks such as HSBC, Scotia Bank and Coopealianza. They are all overseen by the Costa Rican government and provide more specialized and much better service at times. But, there may not be as many branches available outside of the San Jose area.
Most banks now offer savings and checking accounts in Dollars or in Costa Rican Colones. Some things to consider will include how long it takes to cash foreign checks, whether your account is foreign or national (national checks are no good outside Costa Rica) and whether the bank has ATM machines (and the cost per transaction, if any) to access your account and withdraw money after office hours. Many banks also offer credit and/or debit cards. All banks will also have different requirements for opening accounts and obtaining credit/debit cards, including banking or personal references, proper identification, minimum deposit requirements and minimum monthly balance restrictions.
Please also note that while interest is much higher on “colone” accounts, there is a periodic (usually on the first of every month) valuation of the colone to the dollar. This could work in your favor or not. It is better to have your money primarily in dollars to avoid any devaluation and change money whenever you need it. Interest can vary greatly between banks. Some banks offer different types of accounts, so again, find out which bank works best for you and who can best take care of your specific needs.
As with anything else, do lots of research, read travel blogs and ask foreigners who have opened accounts and have used different banks inside of Costa Rica and simply make your own decision after weighing the good and the bad points of each bank.