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Banking in Costa Rica

Banking in Costa Rica is an experience all its own. Be prepared to be confused and frustrated at first, or consult a lawyer to assist you in the banking process. Without prior knowledge one might get frustrated finding the proper bank and one will waste time if not familiar with the requirements of acquiring a bank account.

Costa Rica’s banking system consists of:
- The central bank Banco Central de Costa Rica
- three state-owned banks, which account for nearly half of total banking assets: Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica (BCR), and Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago (the smallest).

- a state-owned mortgage bank
- 18 commercial banks
- four mutual house-building companies
- 12 private finance companies

-27 savings and loans cooperatives
- 30 investment and retirement funds or trusts run by both state and private commercial banks

- The state insurance company Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS)

The Central Bank of Costa Rica is in charge of establishing banking policy. It is then up to the SUGEF (the General Supervisory Agency of Finance) to enforce compliance with Central Bank policies. All banks (both public and private) are subject to the policies dictated by the Banco Central de Costa Rica.

When choosing a bank, take into consideration both personal convenience and what fees the bank charges. Get information on the types of accounts available and their associated fees from several banks. Internet services offered by both state run and private banks have improved in leaps and bounds over the past couple of years.

Most banks in Costa Rica now offer savings and checking accounts in Dollars and Colones, some offer in Euros. Banks and their services can be extremely different. Consider how important it is the amount of time it takes to cash foreign checks and the availability of ATMS.

If opening a savings account, it is also very important to note that while interest is much higher on colón accounts, there is a monthly devaluation of the colón to the dollar, so one might not be earning as much as expected.

Many banks offer Credit or Debit cards, if individuals meet the requirements please note that not all are internationally accepted. All banks will also have different requirements for opening accounts or obtaining credit cards, possibly including banking or personal references, identification, obtaining loans, and most likely minimum deposits.

Opening hours for most banks are from 9 am to 5 pm, but some locations can open later and close earlier depending on the amount of traffic they get. Also, most banks offer very efficient online services where clients can pay bills, make tranfers, all in order to avoid long bank lines. Bank lines are longest in the early morning, on paydays, and around the holidays.

State run banks are backed by the Costa Rican government and are therefore usually considered safer. They are also located in practically every town in Costa Rica. On the down side, long lines are frequent and bilingual staff is not always available, especially outside the central valley. When looking for bank employees that speak English, try the private banks it is more likely to find more qualified employees there.

Private banks usually (not always) offer quicker and more personalized service, shorter lines, more employees, and English speaking staff. However, they may have fewer branches available outside of the central valley. The great majority of private banks are connected with banks outside the country so that transfers can be done relatively quickly.

Private banks include:

Banco de San Jose (BAC Credomatic Network)

Banca Promerica


Banco Improsa



Banco Cathay

Opening an Account

Opening an account can be a piece of cake or a nightmare depending simply on the branch . If for some reason one bank branch refuses to open an account, try at another. It is likely that  another branch will offer a completely different experience.

There are two main types of account one can open a checking or a savings account. Most people do not use checks so it is not neccessary to concern oneself with opening a checking account with checks. In order to open an account, applicants will need identifying documents, documents that show where one lives such as an electric bill, and a minimum deposit which is usually between $20 and $300.


There several different categories of loans just as in North America depending on the amount that needed and the purpose for the loan. There are several different types of loans that can be taken out.

First, there are personal loans that can be used to buy clothing, electronics, or go on a vacation. Usually interest rates are fairly high on these types of loans, they are for short periods, and are for small amounts.

Second, there are car loans which have variable rates. Read the fine print before signing.

Third, there are mortgage loans for lots, construction, or homes. In order to obtain the ot the signer will have to put up the property up as a guarantee to obtain the loan.

Interest rates on these types of loans are significantly higher than in North America and can flucuate rather unusually. A record low for interest rates was around 7%, most recently they have jumped now to 12% and historically they have been above 20% in the past.

Obtaining a loan can be extremely difficult in some cases. Each bank will have different requirements especially for foreigners who would like to obtain a loan. Many of these are similar requirements to what you will find in the US including proof of income; however, Costa Rican banks public or private will require more documentation in North America. In some cases, clientsmay need to get your documents certified in at a consulate in another country.

As of late 2008, all of the national banks are closed for business to forigners and only a couple private banks are lending with extensive almost impossible lists of requirements for foreigners. Loans for beach developments are not available at any of the banks. This is a preventative reponse to the international economic crisis. Only now in 2010 are loans being reopened to nationals and some rare cases for foreigners.

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