Many people come to Costa Rica without knowing anything about Costa Rican currency; including the name of the currency, it’s value, and the best way to exchange. Many places in Costa Rica will accept US dollars, especially in urban and tourist areas. However, it’s best to come prepared to avoid any troubles!
The name of currency in Costa Rica is the colón. However, since there’s no such thing as a single colón, the money is referred to as colones (kuh-lone-es). A single colón is equal to .002 US dollars or .0016 Euros. Though the current value is listed at 493 colones to the US dollar, the general conversion is 500 colones to the US Dollar.
Costa Rican currency includes coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 colones and banknotes of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000. The 20,000 and 50,000 banknotes were just added in 2012. Additionally, each value of banknote is differently sized to help the visually impaired distinguish them.
As mentioned earlier, it is acceptable to use US dollars in Costa Rica. In extremely rural areas, it’s possible that a small market or store would deny US dollars (especially larger bills); however, it’s most likely that such an experience would never occur. When paying for a transaction in US dollars, most places will provide change in Costa Rican currency. Overall, it’s best to stick to small bills when paying in US dollars.
Fees on exchanging currency vary, but they’re generally quite unfavorable. For those visiting Costa Rica from outside the US and do not have any US dollars, it may be a good idea to make a small exchange at the airport – the exchange rates are higher than banks and many hotels, but traveling with no acceptable currency for any amount of time is a bad idea. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it’s best to use Costa Rican currency when possible to avoid transaction fees.