Frequently Asked Questions


FAQs about Costa Rica & Costa Rica Surf Trip!

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Money & Banking in Costa Rica

Cultural Norms in Costa Rica (Tipping, Bargaining, Manners)

Visiting Costa Rica

Money & Banking in Costa Rica

What is the currency used in Costa Rica?

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon (CRC).  Plural form is colones.

Unofficially, many places will also accept United States Dollar (USD).

Should I exchange my money?

If you use currency other than the USD in your home country, we highly suggest exchanging before arrival for USD and/or CRC.

Your bank may need extra time to provide CRC since it is not as common as some other currencies, please plan ahead and give your bank sufficient time to exchange.

Where should I exchange money for Costa Rica?

Exchanging in advance of your trip at your local bank is a good idea if you don't speak Spanish.

Once in Costa Rica, the best exchange rates are inside local banks (Spanish is helpful, passport is required).  You can also pay with USD and receive CRC as change with decent rates from most private businesses including supermarkets, restaurants, and stores (be advised, there is no federally mandated exchange rate since USD is NOT an official currency and therefore companies are allowed to exchange at any rate they choose).

The worst place to exchange money in Costa Rica is generally at the airport.  They offer rates far below market rates (which is how they offer "better" rates for exchanging higher quantities of cash).

It's always good to check the market rate (Google it) and ask the exchange rate being provided before exchanging money.

How much money should I bring to Costa Rica?

The correct answer is: it depends on a lot of factors including how long you're staying, what vacation budget level you're planning for, and what is included already in your pre-paid expenses, as well as if you have access to credit cards/ATM cards so you don't have to carry cash.  The following are some generic prices, but keep in mind that most of these are covered in any of our Vacation Packages and when you Build Your Own Trip!  The biggest outside factor from those tends to be souvenirs, tip money & meals (again, package-dependent).

Costa Rica on a low budget, expect:
  • $15-60 per person/night for lodging (can be higher based on your requirements, location, time of year, and amenities)
  • at least $20 for any transport via public bus (and a LOT of time) *price may be lower, but we overestimate to avoid falling short
  • at least $10-20 for each meal that isn't already included in your stay/activities (and make sure you're near a town where there are options because budget options are not readily available everywhere so you may have to search) or Build Your Own Trip option to get our expert assistance to stay on budget with ease.
Costa Rica on a mid-range budget, assume:
  • $50-$200 per person/night (this varies greatly based on the number of travelers, type of accommodation, location, time of year you're traveling AND how far in advance you book) We suggest contacting us as soon as you're ready to start planning to get the best prices and availability!
  • at least $50-150 per person for long range travel (it can be higher if you are solo-traveling and choose private transfers)
  • $50-100/day per person (for 2-3 meals per day with drinks and souvenirs).  Where you visit & stay affect pricing.  Contacting us early in the planning process and making budget issues clear from the first call will help keep you on target!
For Costa Rica Luxury guests, you set the ceiling: 
  • Anyone can find 5 Star Options, but we offer you 5 star planning and service to go along with it!  Many of our guests looking for luxury have found it far from where their friends had suggested, because their adventurous appetite and surf-savvy required more than what the status quo offers.  Let us guide you to the true luxury option that fits your specific needs. 
  • We offer private transport by private car/van/bus, boat, plane, and helicopter and the price varies depending on the option(s) you choose for each transfer.
  • While not all of the best things in life will cost your most prized possessions - some of our favorites are the local spots that will fill your belly and leave you wanting more - we, of course offer the full spectrum including excellent and professional in-home chef services, top tier restaurants, food delivery, private dinners, and more!  Your wish is our command and price varies based on your choices.  

Can I use a Credit/Debit card in Costa Rica?

The easy answer is: Yes, but the truth is that cards are not universally accepted everywhere so it's also a good idea to have some cash on hand and also to ask before you order (at restaurants or stores, for example).

For either option,

  • Don't forget to notify your bank that you are traveling before you leave your home country so you don't have any issues.
  • Always review your statements to be sure they are all authorized payments.  If you notice anything you don't recognize, contact your bank immediately.
  • Some establishments in Costa Rica charge extra to receive payments by card.
  • Some banks charge fees for international use
Notes on using a Credit Card in Costa Rica:
  • Most places that accept cards take Visa and Mastercard.  Discover and American Express are hit or miss. 
Notes on using a Debit Card in Costa Rica:
  • Historically, debit cards are less secure than credit cards because they are directly linked to your bank account so once money is removed illegally many bank policies will not replace that lost money.  We advise limiting or avoiding debit card use to avoid hacks and illegal use of your cards.

Are there ATMs in Costa Rica?  Is it safe to use ATMs in Costa Rica?

Yes, there are ATMs in Costa Rica!  Access to them will depend on which area(s) you are visiting.  Some towns have multiple full service banks and ATMs, while others have neither banks NOR ATMs.  Our local experts can help you out with these details when you plan a trip with us to make sure you're covered financially no matter where you want to visit!  

Safety with ATMs is questionable around the world, so we suggest using caution when using ATMs no matter where you use them.  

Here are some safety suggestions for using ATMs in Costa Rica (whenever possible):
  • Visit ATMs during daytime hours
  • Always put your money away before leaving the machine
  • Put your money/cards in separate places on your person and/or in your bag or purse
  • Visit the ATMs with a "lookout" who can watch you back/the door/help shield your passcode
  • Always shield your passcode when using ATMs
  • Always review your statements for charges and usage that you don't recognize (we say ALWAYS because we have seen cases where information was stolen and used later when someone had been back in their home country already for months, so this is a practice we recommend no matter where you visit if you use credit or debit cards).
  • Do not flash money around (even when not at ATMs) as this can draw attention to you and create unwanted interest

Cultural Norms in Costa Rica (Tipping, Bargaining, Manners)

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Is tipping expected in Costa Rica?

Who should I tip in Costa Rica?  

How much should I tip in Costa Rica?

Is tipping expected in Costa Rica?

Contrary to what some bloggers and tourism publications say, TIPPING IS NORMAL, ENCOURAGED AND EXPECTED in Costa Rica.

Who should I tip in Costa Rica?

Before we continue, let us start by saying GRACIAS for caring enough to find out and take care of your service providers!  

Tipping in Costa Rica is common practice for most services including, but not limited to the following:
  • activity guides
  • activity instructors
  • maid/cleaning service
  • restaurant / bar service
  • long distance transport service
  • photography/videography service
  • and more, including ANYONE who gives you great service!

How much should I tip in Costa Rica?

Tipping is as much about recognizing hard work as it is about service in Costa Rica.  Your tips are often how people take care of their families and make ends meet.

These numbers are general - if you have amazing service, more is always going to be welcome by the provider!
Tips for activity guides / instructors in Costa Rica
  • in the range of $10-100 per person per activity is an appropriate amount.  The range varies based on the level of service and time involved:  for a brief activity with little interaction, or a big group, for example, you may tip $10-20 per person.  Whereas for a full day tour with lots of interaction and information from your guide or boat captain/crew - anywhere from $50-100 per person is a reasonable range.
Tips for maid / cleaning service in Costa Rica
  • As per usual, there is a range and it depends on the size of the space being cleaned.  Keep in mind cleaning service pays very low wages in general, so $5-10/day for a standard hotel room or $25-50/day for a full house/apartment or $50-100+/day tip for a larger complex or luxury villa is a major help to your provider for their hard work to keep your place neat, tidy, and clean.
  • Cleaning staff are usually very hard-working, honest, and friendly but they are used to being ignored by guests.  Say "hola" when you see them around - it makes them feel seen and appreciated.
Tips at restaurants / bars in Costa Rica
  • 15-20% ON TOP OF THE FINAL BILL (see our blog post "understanding the restaurant bill in Costa Rica" for a detailed explanation of some hang-ups and misconceptions about restaurant bills and "service fees")
Tips for long distance travel in Costa Rica
  • Short rides (less than 10-15 minutes) traditionally do not get tips - but, again, no one in Costa Rica is going to refuse a tip if you feel so inclined for great service!
  • Mid-length rides (1-2 hours) like airport service transfers it is appropriate to tip $10-20 per person or around $50 total, depending on how many people are being transported.
  • Long distance rides (2+ hours) you should definitely consider that these drivers almost always have to return where they came from; if a driver takes you 6 hours one direction, it's actually a 12 hour trip for them.  When you recognize the reality of it, you're likely to recognize a bigger tip really is well-deserved.  $20-$50 per person is totally reasonable and will be well-received!
Tips for photography / videography in Costa Rica
  • for a traditional photo package, $20-50 tip
  • photography/videography combo or special service (drone/in-water), $50-100 tip
  • for photo package or edited videos for personal or commercial use, tipping $100-500 (depending on the quantity and quality of deliverables) is justified

Visiting Costa Rica (Questions EVERYONE asks)

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Can I drink the water in Costa Rica? / Is the water in Costa Rica safe to drink?

Is it safe to visit Costa Rica?

Can I drink the water in Costa Rica? / Is it safe to drink the water in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is one of few countries in Latin America where it is considered safe to drink the tap water.
  • As of 2007, over 80% of the population in Costa Rican was supplied with potable drinking water
  • Since not ALL locations have potable water, it is never a bad idea to ask at check in if the local water or faucet water is safe to drink in the area where you are staying in Costa Rica
  • If you notice more frequent bowel movements, before you blame the water, consider that Costa Rican food is also much cleaner (less hormones, less preservatives, fresher ingredients) than in many places where people visit us from.  So many people notice their stomach actually regulates better in Costa Rica - and most attribute the difference to the food, not the water.
  • If you get sick in Costa Rica, revert to bottled water and seek medical attention to determine the root cause.

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