Costa Rica’s banking options include both private and public banks, with each alternative offering its benefits and drawbacks. The four public banks can be slower, with longer lines-especially durning the lunch hour, at the end of the day, and on pay day-but are making efforts to increase efficiency and tend to offer better access with many branches and ATM’s throughout the country.
On the other hand, the 12 private banks, some of which are affliated with international banks, can be faster but also tend to have higher fees but not by much and for the convenience it is generally worth the difference.
When choosing a bank, factors to consider include where you plan to live and how much you plan to travel ( those who will spend most of their time in San Jose will obviously have the widest array of banking options); whether you need to access your account or use your debit or credit card abroad: whether you speak Spanish (if you don’t, a private bank, particularly and international bank, is probably your best bet) and what other options you require, such as Internet banking, which is increasingly avalable and extensive. Requirements to open accounts vary from bank to bank and may include documents from electricity bills to personal references from other bank clients.
Another decision to make is whether to open a dolor or colon account. With devaluation continuing at the steep rate of 0.13 colon per day, dollars are a more stable option for long term accounts. Interest is higher on colon accounts to make up for the devaluation of the colon.
Passport originals are generally required for an bank transaction. Be sure to call ahead for bank hours-don’t assume they will be open from 9-5, as some close earlier and open later. Also, plan ahead for the many Costa Rican holidays, when banks shut down completely.