What is the currency in Costa Rica?

If you have traveled within Latin America, you probably have noticed that various countries use pesos. Costa Rica currency is an exception. Known as the Colón, this unit of currency was recently recognized as one of the most beautiful currencies in the world. Keep an eye out for the colorful bills while you are in Costa Rica and take them home as a souvenir if you can.
Costa Rica is a bit more expensive than other neighboring Central American nations. No need to worry though, with 5000 colones you can eat at a midrange restaurant geared towards tourists, or even 3000 at a local spot that serves delicious Costa Rican meals.

History of the Colón

Did you know that Costa Rica’s national currency was once a peso? In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced the peso and it remained Costa Rica’s currency until 1821 when Costa Rica gained its independence from Spain and joined the Federal Republic of Central America adopting the Republic’s currency. In 1838, Costa Rica’s currency changed again when it separated from the Republic which is reflected by a change in the coin design. In 1848, the Republic of Costa Rica was declared and with this, new symbols (a flag and shield) that are still used on Colones today. The Colón is named Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón in Spanish) .

How to Understand Costa Rica’s Currency

Considered one of the most stable currencies in the region, the Colón currently exchanges between 500 to 550 colones to $1 USD. You will find paper denominations of 1.000, 2.000, 5.000, 10.000, 20.000, and 50.000 and coin denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500. A good way to understand Costa Rica’s currency is to treat 500 colones like $1USD, 5000 colones like a 10 dollar bill and 10,000 colones like $20USD.

Colón or Dollar?

Although Costa Rica’s currency is officially the Colón, US Dollars are also accepted at establishments throughout the country. It’s highly recommended that you always have colones on hand though, especially if you have a local meal, go to a Mom and Pop store or pay for public transportation. You can exchange dollars or euros at any bank in Costa Rica or travelers check for a commission fee.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos in Spanish) are not hard to find in Costa Rica. Remember that a fee may be applied by the Costa Rican bank, and a separate fee by your bank when you take cash out. An international transaction fee may be applied if you use your debit or credit card as a form of payment. Make sure to let your bank know you’ll be out your home country and ask about fees up front.


Budget savvy travelers can expect to pay up to US$40 a day. A dorm bed at a hostel or a budget hotel runs around $8-$20 a day. Local eateries have delectable Costa Rican specialties and meals costs $3-7 per person and a dollar or less for public transportation.
Travelers with a budget of US$50-$100 per day have lots of options for lodging. Hotels ranging from US$30 to $60 per person per night are comfortable and include a private bathroom and other amenities that one would not find at a budget hotel or hostel. In terms of transportation, the midrange budget allows travelers to use more reliable and fancier bus options to move around the beautiful country.
Costa Rica also has lots of options for high-end travelers who are looking for luxury hotels and upscale eateries. Luxurious accommodations can be found in urban areas, along with the beautiful beach villas and stunning eco-lodges scattered throughout the country. A meal at a nice restaurant starts at US$15 per person, and there are car rental options for those who have budgeted more than US$100 per day.

Tips on Tipping

While you are in Costa Rica, keep in mind that there are certain situations where a tip is encouraged but not obligatory. Your restaurant bill will include a 10% service charge, and it’s up to you if you want to add a tip on top of the service charge. At hotels it is customary to tip the bellhop, porter and housekeeper. If you go on a tour, tips for tour guides generally start at $5 on a per-person basis depending on their quality of service. Tipping a taxi driver is not necessary unless they provide you with a special service.
Costa Rica is a great option for all kinds of travelers and all kinds of budgets. There is something for everyone in this fascinating country. The best memories from your trip will not come from the amount of money you spend, but the moments you spend in the breathtaking cloud forests, admiring the world-famous volcanos or enjoying the warm beaches.

More questions about Costa Rica? Here is a list of common frequently-asked questions that can help you:

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