If you, like many who have some old Costa Rican bills floating around your wallet, don’t worry they are not worthless. No, the Banco Central will exchange the bills for new at face value.
Please note that the exchange can only be made at the Banco Central (Central Bank) office in downtown San José. It’s that low glass building with the statue of the small people (bronze statues representing a group of very short Costa Ricans), overshadowed by the Banco Nacional tower on the north side of the Bulevar (Avenida Central).
The main entrance, however, is on Calle 3 (across from McDonalds). Don’t try to exchange the bills at the Banco Nacional booth at the corner, or any other bank for that matter. No, the old bills are only exchangeable at the Central Bank.
At the entrance will be asked by the security guard to state your business. “Voy a cambiar lo billetes” (I want to change these bills). Past the main doors to the vault, so to speak, you will be asked the same question by the person operating the metal detector machine and scanner.
Easy enough. A piece of cake. Pura Vida. Unless you are carrying (you know have a weapon of some kind). Not a good idea.
Past the metal detector, make a left to the window to the far wall. In front are some 20 chairs to sit out the wait in case there is one. On this day, a Tuesday and at 11:10am, there was no one there. All the chairs were empty. Maybe it was the particular day or time of day. The same at the Correos (the post office) next door.
I asked the clerk jokingly, “do I need to make line?”. No sense of humour. I had forgotten this is a “serious” place.
In many public institutions – the drivers licensing centre, the municipal building, any ICE office, etc, people are asked to play “musical chairs”. Partly because the waits are so long at most of these place, thus I suppose it will be easier on the staff to have a less stressed out customer. And party, it is tradition. In Costa Rica there are many traditions that involved waiting in line.
At the counter you really only have to present your old bills and you are promptly handed the new. But, it is nice to be courteous, smile and say thank you.
That’s it. No paperwork. No Hassle. No questions. No nothing. Just new bills for the old.
PS. the same applies to the coins, you know the “plateados”, the old, heavy metal silver coins, not to be confused by the newer, smaller and lighter silver coins.