Opening a Costa Rica Personal Bank Account

Dominical Bank

This small BCR roadside bank in Dominical is just one of 100s that populate all of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica does have  its banks so if you’re looking to open a bank account in Costa Rica, most will  offer services to foreigners, whether here as full-time residents, students or employees. Possessing a Costa Rican checking or savings account is advantageous for several reasons – namely the convenience of having an account in your country of residence. Say goodbye to those pesky international charges.

And there is a banking association, Costa Rican Banking Association : [Asociación Bancaria Costarricense], which many are members of.

The first decision you’ll want to make is whether to open an account with a private or a state bank. There are advantages to banking with both types of institutions, but which you choose boils down to personal preference.

Privatized banks, like Scotiabank of Costa Rica (Canadian Bank) tend to be very considerate of the value of their customers’ time. They are usually more organized and less crowded than their public counterparts, and also more likely to have English speaking staff.  Wait lines are sometime at a minimal, and most transactions can be completed in less than 15 minutes.

On the other hand, public banks such as Banco Nacional are more plentiful and theoretically safer as they guarantee all deposits.

If you are worried about ATMs there are hundreds of  locations exist nationwide enabling quick access to funds.  While there are a number of advantages to state banks, there is one very important downside to keep in mind: the lines to get service can be an hour wait. Patience is the first requirement when doing business with state-run banks in Costa Rica.  The experience will either build your patience or drive you completely insane.

Whether you’ve chosen a state-run or private bank to open a savings account (checking accounts generally require a few more steps), there are a number of guidelines we can offer.

  1. Identification Non-residents must provide a passport, and sometimes an additional form of identification such as a driver’s license. Some banks, including the state-run Banco Popular, require that you be in Costa Rica for a minimum of six consecutive months (including a short gap to fulfill tourist visa requirements). Banco Nacional and Citibank are two banks with no such stipulation.
  2. Utility Bill You must bring a water or electric bill for your current domicile. The bill does not need to have your name on it, as it just provides the bank with an official address.
  3. Purpose in the Country Students must bring proof of enrollment in a Costa Rican institution. Retirees should bring their residency card, or a document from their lawyer stating that they are in the process of obtaining one. Workers need an orden patronal, a document from your employer proving steady salary.
  4. Initial Deposit This amount varies widely for accounts, ranging from $10-$500 in most banks.
  5. References Some, but not all, institutions require one or two letters of recommendation from past banks that you have held accounts with. Recommendations may also come from friends or relatives with active accounts at the bank to which you are applying.

Be sure to take your time when signing papers, and use the exact signature that is on your passport. I signed my passport when I was 15 years old, and am still stuck signing formal documents with a heart shaped dot at the end. If your John Hancock differs even slightly from that on your passport – or if you accidentally exceed the space allotted – you may need to start over.

The entire account application process takes about an hour, and at the end you will have a functioning bank account (debit/ATM cards take three days to arrive, and you have to return to the bank with your passport to pick them up).

To steer clear of long waiting lines,  always avoid doing business during peak times like Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and paydays (around the 15th and 30th of every month). As long as you’re not rushed and have all your required documents, you will find most bankers and tellers to be very friendly and helpful.

Useful Links:
Costa Rica Stock Exchange
: [Bolsa Nacional de Valores S.A.]
SUGEF (Regulating Organism for Financial Entities)
: [Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras] – News, legal, information center on Costa Rica finances.
Costa Rica Investing and Banks

Costa Rica Medical
Calypso Cruises

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  1. Blake says:

    Among many, many things, I would like to open a bank account in CR before moving there.

    Have read about the requirement of presenting home bank reference letters and having/needing a local (CRica) address. In above article, a utility bill “from your current domicile” might suffice and may not even need your name on it, as this “provides the bank with an official address.”

    Can anyone tell me what an ACCEPTABLE “current domicile” that would qualify/be acceptable to a bank if I don’t have an domicile other than a hotel or B&B????

  2. Blake Johnson says:

    Am planning an extensive visit to CR with the idea that I may live ther some day. I have been studying up some on the banking aspects and what that entails. Do most banks offer safe deposit boxes for personal items, and if so, what kind of prices would be involved with that?

    Sincerely, Blake

    Pura Vida!!!

    • admin says:

      Many of the bigger banks in San Jose have safety deposit boxes, however, to get one or reserve one is the problem. The boxes are already taken, and banks will not spend more money getting more. Outside of San Jose, and maybe in the larger tourist towns, like Jaco, you may find a bank with deposit boxes.

  3. Gillian says:

    Please tell me how I can use a online account to avoid internationa transfer charges…I am a Brit I have accounts in the UK, not in Costa Rica, debit cards for UK cards and UK credit cards and I have been in CR 10 years.

  4. Great article, i’m happy i found this blog today

  5. There is an alternative, if you want to keep your money in a US account – transfer your cash into an online account that has no annual fee and refunds all ATM and international fees.
    I did this. The company I am using offers savings and checking accounts online – oh bonus, both types earn competitive high interest, too.

    There are also credit cards with frequent flyer mile programs that will offer refunds on international fees.

    Feel free to contact me if you want more info, I would list the names of the companies that I use here, but I don’t want to broadcast my personal info.


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