For better or for worse, Costa Rica banks and the national banking landscape are almost as vibrant and diverse as our wildlife. While that means that you theoretically have a lot of choice, the Cliff’s Notes version is that there are lots of ins and outs, details, and things to know about the country’s public and private banks.

The Banking Structure in Costa Rica

In terms of structure, you’ll find two main types of Costa Rica banks: public (state-owned) and private entities. 

The big players on the block are the government-run Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and Banco Popular but the private side isn’t short on contenders, either. Leading the pack is BAC Credomatic, a commercial bank that stands out thanks to their wide range of services, as well as Banco Lafise, beloved for its quality of service. 

The short of it: Whether you’re looking into opening a bank account in Costa Rica or simply seeking an accessible place for your funds, there’s no shortage of reliable banking options offering comprehensive services ranging from savings accounts to loans and more complex offerings such as investment advice – all designed with customer satisfaction at heart.

A thriving mix between tradition-steeped national banks and forward-thinking private ones makes navigating through Costa Rican banking an exercise in trade-offs and balances.

State-Owned Public Banks in Costa Rica

State-Owned Public Banks in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s landscape of state-owned banks is both diverse and not. Only three giants – Banco Nacional, Banco Popular, and Banco de Costa Rica – consolidate the majority of Costa Rica’s consumer-facing, public banking services and yet, these three banks offer an incredible array of ATMs and banks in almost every corner of Costa Rica.

In contrast to private Costa Rican banks, these government-run entities have been instrumental in promoting social welfare by extending credit facilities even to low-income groups. They play an active role not just in transactional activities but also support developmental projects.

You might think that dealing with such significant institutions could be daunting because of long lines or wait times at branches; however, most public banks now offer comprehensive websites for smoother transactions from anywhere.

Banco Popular 

The people’s bank, Banco Popular primarily serves Costa Rica’s working class. It’s not a common choice for foreigners, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, but the major benefit is that there’s a Banco Popular in almost every town around the country.

Banco Nacional

Banco Nacional is a beacon for state-run institutions and acts as the government’s primary financial agent while offering a wide array of banking solutions to citizens. If there’s a government process (ex. the marchamo, aka yearly vehicle registration) that requires banking services, chances are good that it’ll run through Banco Nacional. 

The bank also offers a wide range of standard banking services, paired with wide network availability, locations, and ATMs throughout Costa Rica. 

Banco de Costa Rica (Bank of Costa Rica)

Branded as the most upscale public bank, Banco de Costa Rica offers all the standard services, often paired with English-speaking tellers and bank managers. 

Banco de Costa Rica is also the only public bank to offer bank accounts to non-resident foreigners. (See Opening a Bank Account, below.)

Private Banks in Costa Rica

Private Banks in Costa Rica

In the bustling financial landscape of Costa Rica, private banks play a pivotal role, offering an array of services, catering to a more international clientele, and contributing significantly to the economy.

For example, BAC Credomatic (formerly BAC San José) is one of the larger private entities in this Central American nation and has made its mark with a strong commitment to customer service – a huge benefit in Costa Rica, where customer service is not as strongly favored as in North America – and innovative banking solutions.

From personal checking accounts to robust business services, you’ll find it at BAC (and many of other big-name private banks). What’s more, BAC is also known for providing loans that stimulate local economic growth. Their operations extend beyond San Jose into other parts of Costa Rica as well. 

Remember though – while opening a bank account here might seem enticing due to competitive interest rates or appealing benefits, make sure you understand all requirements (ex. legal residency status), local banking laws – requirements are often a tad looser at private banks, but all Costa Rica banks must still adhere to local banking laws – and restrictions.

Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica

Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica

Opening a bank account in Costa Rica, especially as a non-resident foreigner, can be a complicated process.

In fact, it’s a process that used to be limited to those with legal residency, especially at public banks. However, in the last decade, both Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) joined a handful of private banks and began allowing non-resident foreigners to open and maintain accounts. This change has made banking in Costa Rica more accessible for expats who haven’t yet obtained legal residency.

Still, opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a foreigner can present varying degrees of ease or difficulty, contingent upon several factors. These include the choice of bank and the proficiency of the attending staff. Additionally, familiarity with our local banking culture also plays a significant role, especially as you navigate your expectations and the bank’s requirements.

Heads up: Lacking experience with Costa Rica’s banking system may result in multiple trips to the bank, often enduring long lines and wait times, to fulfill requirements that could otherwise be completed in a single visit. What should be a brief task might stretch into weeks, all while lacking local access to cash or credit.

Do yourself a favor and streamline the process by familiarizing yourself with the process, learning what questions to ask, and then following your chosen bank’s detailed steps can simplify your experience, ensuring a stress-free start to your time in Costa Rica.

Choosing From Costa Rica Banks

Choosing Costa Rica Banks

As we mentioned above, Costa Rican banks fall into two categories: government-owned and private.

There are a few criteria that should influence your decision on which bank to choose. To begin, if you’re not yet a Costa Rican resident, then know that your choices will be restricted. Beyond that, consider which banks maintain a presence where you live and spend your time. 

For example, in Tamarindo, you’ll have good luck with all three state-owned banks – Banco Popular, Banco Nacional, and Banco de Costa Rica – as well as BAC Credomatic and Scotiabank; rumor has it that a Banco Lafise will be opening a nearby location soon, as well. 

Here’s what else you should consider: 

State-Owned Costa Rica Banks

Banco de Costa Rica (BCR), Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BN), and Banco Popular (BP) are the three state-owned banks. Both BCR and Banco Nacional accommodate non-residents and tourists, allowing you to open both U.S. dollar and Costa Rican colones accounts without legal residency status. 

These banks typically offer greater safety than private banks, guaranteeing all deposits with full insurance coverage. (In practice, your mileage may vary…) As non-profit entities, they levy more reasonable fees. State-run banks, being larger, also offer more locations and ATMs, making them preferable for accessing banking services or cash in remote areas. However, their popularity also leads to long wait times, particularly on paydays. 

Private Banks in Costa Rica

On the private banking front, options abound, including BAC Credomatic, Banco Lafise, Banco BCT, Banco Cathay de Costa Rica, Banco Davivienda, and Banco Improsa

Among these, BAC Credomatic ranks highly, recognized for its technological advancements, rewards credit cards, and robust online banking services. Private banks typically offer superior service and a greater likelihood of encountering English-speaking staff. Though queues are shorter, ATMs may be less prevalent. Most private banks require proof of residency, corporation numbers, or a cédula de identidad (Costa Rican identity card) for account opening.

International Banks

For many non-resident foreigners, international banks offer a great workaround: Several operate in Costa Rica, such as Scotiabank, Citibank, and Bank of America, and may be more adept at working with international clientele. Note that most international banks have limited branch and ATM networks.

Documents Required for Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica

Documents Required for Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica

The documentation and information necessary for opening a bank account in Costa Rica vary by institution.

Bear in mind that, no matter where you bank, it’s crucial to be able to demonstrate the origin of any deposits (with documentation), given the country’s collaboration with international authorities to combat money laundering and financial crimes. For most foreigners, these requirements can be frustrating and cumbersome, at least at first, so prepare your expectations.

Arriving prepared with all required documents is advisable – you will not be able to talk your way out of any one of them! – as failing to do so may necessitate multiple visits to the bank. Printing documents is recommended, as digital copies may not be universally accepted. Commonly requested documents*include: 

  •     Original passport and a photocopy of the identification page
  •     Cellphone number and email address
  •     DIMEX ID card (for residents)
  •     Minimum deposit (typically between $25 and $100 USD)
  •     Proof-of-income letter from a local employer (constancia de salario)
  •     Utility bill for proof of address
  •     Three months of bank statements from your current bank

*Please note that these are commonly requested documents. Your chosen Costa Rica banks may have other requirements. Always verify online or in person before heading into the bank to open your account!

Costa Rica Banking Fees

While there are no fees to open a bank account in Costa Rica, financial transactions may incur charges. For instance, withdrawing money from outside your bank’s ATM network typically carries a fee, as does transferring money internationally.

Some Restrictions Apply

Non-resident foreigners may face account limitations imposed by Costa Rica banks. Monthly deposit caps, often around $1,500, may apply unless supported by a constancia de salario (proof of employment) or evidence of a monthly pension.  

Additionally, non-residents may not qualify for SINPE, the National Electronic Payment System, which is reserved for account holders with a cédula de identidad or DIMEX card.

Why Even Open a Bank Account in Costa Rica?

Why Open a Bank Account in Costa Rica

After all that, you may be wondering why you’d even go to the trouble of opening a bank account in Costa Rica

The answer comes down to convenience. You can’t carry cash everywhere. Or, you could, but you’ll likely complicate your life. What’s more, when you consider whether you can use USD in Costa Rica, the answer is yes – if you want to be considered a tourist (and possibly charged tourist prices). Colones and local bank cards are advantageous.

Bottom line: If you plan to relocate to Costa Rica or spend a significant portion of the year there, a local bank account proves invaluable. It facilitates utility bill payments, vehicle registration, cellphone data purchases, and service payments without incurring unfavorable exchange rates or hefty fees. 

Moreover, a Costa Rican bank card enables ATM withdrawals and payment for goods and services at various establishments. 

Moving Money & Wire Transfers into Costa Rica

Wire Transfers into Costa Rica

If you’re wondering how easy it is to move money between your home bank and your new Costa Rican bank account – worry not. Most public and private banks provide seamless international wire transfer services making it convenient for expats living here or businesses operating across borders.

That said, as we mentioned above, you will be required to prove your source of funds, every time you receive an international transfer into your Costa Rican account. This may sound overwhelming or frustrating, but once you get the hang of the requirements and the documentation, it’ll become almost old hat. Almost…

Real Estate Financing with Bank of Costa Rica

Real Estate Financing with Bank of Costa Rica

If you’ve been scouring the internet, exploring your options, you might be surprised by what you’ve come across: some sources suggest financing is nearly impossible, while others insist there are plenty of avenues available

The reality tends to lean more towards the latter, albeit with a few caveats. (To be fair, the former was accurate over 10 years ago.)

Here’s the truth (as of early 2024): Securing home financing in Costa Rica is indeed feasible. However, it’s likely not as effortless or straightforward as you’re accustomed to. This is partly due to Costa Rica’s fondness for paperwork (think Scrooge McDuck, only swimming in paperwork instead of money), and also because you don’t have the same credit record in Costa Rica as you have in your home country. 

From owner financing to home equity loans, learn more about home financing in Costa Rica.

Questions About Life & Banking in Costa Rica?

Questions About Life & Banking in Costa Rica

So many Costa Rica banks options, so little time? Moving to Costa Rica can take years to plan, even if it only takes a few days to make the leap. We’ll be here for all of it – from those first tentative feelers (could I really do this?) to unpacking your bags, we’ll help you be as nitty-gritty-planner or as footloose-and-fancy-free as your heart desires.

Really. Whether you’re just getting your toes wet in the dreaming stage or have already made the move, we are happy to answer questions. We’re happy to make connections. And we’re even happier when we make new friends. 

Along the way, we’ll help you explore all the many possibilities, joys, and roads to life in paradise. That’s what we do. Because at Blue Water Properties, we thrive on relationships. We crave connection. And our goal is never to “sell a house;” it’s to fulfill dreams. It’s to make people happy. It’s to help you. Genuinely help.

We promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry. We will work to deliver on your dream. We will never pressure you. And we really do hope we’ll become friends along the way.

We’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate, from condos and homes to land and businesses for sale. So, go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.