How to Save Money in Costa Rica

Exchanging Your Money

To put it simply, exchange your money before you get here, or use your USD. The likes of the San Jose airport will steal money from you. The rates are so bad you’re losing out on a lot of money by not exchanging before you arrive. Generally, most Tico exchange kiosks are not out to con tourists. Ticos are fair and treat every visitor as if they’re an honoured guest.

Since all of Costa Rica accepts the USD, there is no need to exchange money when you arrive. It is better to remember to bring small USD bills with you and use them. You might get colones (the local currency) back as change but the math is pretty simple (500 Colones-1 USD) has been the average for years.

Protecting Your Money

Crime is very low in Costa Rica, and most of it’s centred on the major cities like San Jose. Violent crime is almost unheard of in many places. Ever since the Costa Rican civil war, people have shown distaste for violence. It’s why they haven’t had any military for the past thirty years.

You have to watch out for the little things like pickpocketing, though. Never leave your bag unattended and spread your money around. Keep it in multiple pockets. If possible, bring a money belt with you.


Tipping can be a black hole which gobbles up more of your money than you initially expected. Remember, in Costa Rican restaurants there’s a service charge on the bill. This is nearly always set at 10 per cent. Ticos don’t expect you to tip them for a meal. Ignore anything which comes from US tipping habits. They don’t apply here and are more likely to get you some quizzical looks.

Price Markings

Never buy anything from a store which doesn’t have the prices clearly displayed. If you use the service or the product you’ll have no choice but to pay whatever figure the man behind the counter happens to come up with. This is especially true in souvenir stores. You can find many genuine local stores. It’s the bigger franchises catering directly to the tourist trade which do this.

And another thing you should do is be wary of shops which use US dollars as their main currency. It’s likely they’ve marked up the prices to US standards just so they can take you for a few extra dollars.

Buying local merchandise

Most of the small boutique and souvenir shops will barter with you. So be nice and ask for a discounted price and see what happens.

Although these tips will help save money in Costa Rica, you shouldn’t gain a wrongful impression of the country. Ticos are generally very fair and will give you a good deal. This is a cautionary piece telling you to always be wary of what’s going on.

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