Banking in Costa Rica

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Banking in Costa Rica

'Knowing the difference' is KEY in Costa Rica- that is if you want to stay.
'Knowing the difference' is KEY in Costa Rica- that is if you want to stay.

Banking in Costa Rica

Before we start, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. I’m not ‘bagging’on Costa Rica by any means, but here, some things are ‘true’, at least for now.

Things are getting a little better. By a little, I mean a little. This isn’t the most efficient country around, especially if you’re comparing it to the States (in regards to banking). Things take time. Never, Ever, Ever are things completed the first time, EVER! Mistakes occur a lot. Some banking rules make very little sense, while others make no sense at all. Different employees of the same bank will often give you totally different information pertaining to your situation, causing even more lost time and frustration. Generally, I said generally, bank employees treat foreigners with a bit of rigid complacency. It’s as if they almost want to see you sweat.

Opening a Bank Account

Costa Rica has approximately two dozen banks, and each seems to have a different process in which to open a bank account. As expected, they all provide various accounts and service, so fees can also be quite different. You may also apply for credit cards. It’s a good idea to get one or two letters of recommendation from your bank (s) back home, stating that you are a customer in good standing. This can often help in the process of opening a new account.

You can either choose a public bank or a private one. Public banks can often be slower and more bureaucratic, but deposits here are backed by the government, while deposits in private banks are not. However, private banks typically offer more services and choices than that of their public counter parts. (see below)

You will find it easier to open a savings account than a checking account. Many banks in Costa Rica require you to be a resident in order to open a checking account. At the least, you’ll need a passport or cedula (Costa Rican ID card), two or more local letters of reference, a letter from your US bank if you're moving here, a cedula juridica (corporate ID), a personaría (guarantee of your authority signed by a Notary), and probably more, like utility bills etc.

By forming a corporation in Costa Rica, you can usually open a local corporate checking account even without residency. (The process to form a corporation is not difficult, but can take some time, and of course you’ll need an attorney).

You will get the option of having an account in either colones or dollars. Choosing a dollar account protects you against colon devaluations.

Banking Hours and Practices

The majority of banks in Costa Rica are open from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday. There seems to be a trend of keeping banks open a little longer and some private banks are open on Saturday morning.

It is possible to wait an hour or so in a line at the bank here, even for the simplest transactions. Ticos often line up before the bank opens. Try avoiding the bank altogether on the second and last Fridays of the month, as they are often the Tico paydays, and lines can be exceptionally long.

ATM’s are everywhere, but in some beach towns your US debit card may not work in all of them. Although you can get money using your debit card from the clerk inside the bank (bring your original passport). If you have a dollar account, many ATM’s will give you the choice to withdraw your money in either dollars or colones.

A Little Costa Rican Banking Background

Costa Rica is not the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas, where offshore banking is often associated with organized crime, tax evasion and money laundering as well as other nefarious intentions. Here, the Costa Rican authorities cooperate with international agencies to combat these behaviors. That’s not to say your offshore account here doesn’t offer privacy and asset protection, it does. Costa Rica’s banks are mandated to follow the law regarding banking privacy.

Banking policy is set forth by the Central Bank of Costa Rica but compliance and enforcement of these policies is administered by the SUGEF(the General Supervisory Agency of Finance). Total assets may not go beyond 11 times a bank's equity, and the legal lending limit is 20 percent of total capital per customer. The legal reserve obligation on sight deposits is 15 percent. Private banks have no deposit insurance, but the state owned banks are backed by the Costa Rican government.

Here’s a list of State and Private Banks in Costa Rica (the main ones)

State Banks of Costa Rica

Banco Nacional de Costa Rica – Banco Nacional is the largest state commercial bank in both assets and number of locations, and usually has the longest lines. Full service provided.

Banco de Costa Rica – This is the most profitable bank and perhaps the best run of the state banks. BCR is located all around the country. Full service provided.

BanCrédito – The smallest of the state banks. Full service provided. Web site in English.

Private Banks of Costa Rica

HSBC – Full service. Located in San José and Central Valley.

BAC San José – Full service. Located in San José and Central Valley.

Banco Popular – Full service. Located in San José mostly, but popping up in other locations now.

Scotia Bank de Costa Rica – Full Service. Web site in English. Located in theSan José area.

Banca Promerica – Full Service. Branches scattered over Costa Rica.

Banco Uno – Full Service. Few branches and only in San José.

My Banking Tips (in no particular order):

Make friends with everyone that works in the bank. Whatever it takes. Think about taking the Branch Manager out to lunch. Shake hands with the security guard that lets you in and say, “Pura Vida.’ Call the tellers by their first name. Be overly friendly. This can get you VERY far here- very, very FAR. Complain, whine, yell etc…..well, you’ll see.

Stay AWAY from BAC San José. Impressive bank from the outside, I think they wrote a different rule book in regards to working with Gringos. I don’t have an ax to grind, just letting you know.

Many of these banks have a problem with lines, but Banco Nacional is the hands down winner.

Checks take like 45 days to clear here, if the bank accepts them. See BAC San José.

Travelers Checks may as well be printed by the devil himself. Trust me, stay away from them at all costs.

If you don’t know patience, you better introduce yourself.

Don’t know Spanish, you may want to inquire before signing up at a bank if this is a problem.

About the only thing Canadian about the Scotia Bank, is the name.

Requirements to set up various accounts are arbitrary, so shop around.

Seriously consider forming a corporation- they run between $250.00 and $500.00 for an attorney to make a simple corporation.

Keep an account in your home country- ATM’s are a great tool. * Most gringos I know, have an account in Costa Rica, but do the majority of their banking through internet bill pay, and ATM machines. *Business is another matter.

Definitely utilize the internet after setting up your bank account here. It’s easy, and very convenient. * Never use another computer (internet café for instance) or wireless computer to do on-line banking.

Internet Banking in Costa Rica

The Internet has definitely found its way into Costa Rican banking. Many of the above banks offer services online (although not necessarily in English). They offer most of the services you’d expect- in bank transfers between your accounts, transfers to other peoples account in the same bank, request of checks, account balances, current account statements, and payment of monthly bills such as electric, cable, water etc.