Do not exchange money in your home country before visiting Costa Rica. You will get a very bad exchange rate. Also, generally speaking, changing money at any airport in the world is a very bad idea. If you look at their notice boards you will see that the spread between the buy and the sell rate is often over 20%. This means you will get about 20% less than a fair rate and sometimes it is worse. You can use the ATM's at the airports (in the departure area) in Costa Rica and later any ATM you come across. Hotels and most major businesses will give you a fair exchange rate. Having said that it is still a good idea to know what you should be getting. Supermarkets, gas stations and many hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards.
The Costa Rican unit of currency is the colon named after Columbus (Christóbal Colón). Until 1896 the peso was used and the name peso is still also used when the colon is meant.
For colon exchange rates, go to The Central Bank of Costa Rica’s website and check the banner at the top of the site. It is about 500 colons to the dollar and about 720 colons to the Euro.
Or, call 212-2000 extension 1 for the latest exchange rate.
If you bring $100 dollar bills to Costa Rica expect to only be able to use them at banks.
Hotels will often exchange money and cash traveler's checks as well. They will generally give you a reasonable rate. Do not change money on the street.
The 100 colón coin is called a teja in daily usage. A 1,000 colón bill is called a rojo because it is colored red, and a 5,000 colón bills is called a tucán (you guessed it, it has a toucan on it). Coins come in a bewildering array that can be separated out in two kinds: nickel-alloy denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 20 colon and a newer yellowish alloy in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colon coins. The bills come in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10.000 colons. For some reason you always end up with way too many smaller coins and not enough 1000 and 2000 colon bills.
You will find Cirrus and PLUS networks in Costa Rica. Check to see if you know your PIN before you leave home. A fee of 3% applies to money withdrawn from US accounts on top of the usual bank fee if you are using an ATM that is not owned by your own bank. You can also get a cash advance on your credit card. It is unlikely that you know the PIN of your credit card so make sure you find out what it is before you travel.
At the higher end businesses credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica. You will generally pay 3% or more when you pay by credit card compared with paying cash. This is because the businesses may have to pay up to 10% in fees when they let a customer use a credit card. Many small businesses do not accept credit cards. To report lost or stolen credit cards call Credomatic at 295-9898. They represent all companies.