The Costa Rican currency unit is the colón (¢). Bills come in denominations of ¢500 to ¢10,000, and coins from 5 to 100 colones. The exchange rate is about ¢500 per US$1.
Changing MoneyThe tipo de cambio, the rate at which dollars are being bought and sold on a particular day, appears in the daily newspaper.
Traveler's checks: It is increasingly difficult to cash traveler's checks outside banks. So don't forget to cash your traveler's checks when you are in towns that have banks. You must have your passport with you to change travelers checks or cash at banks.
Before you get there: There is no advantage to trying to change dollars to colones before you get to Costa Rica.
At the airport: You can change money at the airport banks from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are two ATMs there as well. Ask for the cajera automática. You will see money-exchange booths in the baggage claim area at the airport, but they charge hefty commissions.
At your hotel: Hotels are authorized to change money for their guests; sometimes their rates are less favorable than the bank rate, but only by a few cents on the dollar and the time you save is worth it.
ATMs: ATMs that work with debit cards are located all over Costa Rica. If you don't have a debit card, order one several weeks before you leave, so that your bank has time to mail it to you.. Be sure you know your PIN, and find out your daily withdrawal limit before you depart.
To protect themselves from theft, credit card companies sometimes limit the amount that can be withdrawn abroad, so let them know you will be traveling. You can get the official exchange rate using an ATM, but some banks impose a fee every time a card is used at an ATM, and the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee.
Some US banks charge an additional currency conversion fee. Still, the time you save by using an ATM rather than travelers checks (which also have fees attached) might be worth it.