Lines at Costa Rica banks try the patience of users, the state banks like theBanco de Costa Rica and the Banco Nacional the worst, while private banks are adopting the “Costa Rican” type of service and now have lines like ever before.
Mondays, Fridays and the days before and after pay days (the 15th and 30th of each month) are the busiest of days. Also not all banks have the same business hours and services, it all depends of the location. For example, a branch of the BCR will open at 9am, while another at 11am. At the Banco Nacional, one branch will close at 3pm, another stay open until 7pm.
Some bank branches are open on Saturdays, some half day, others a full business day. In some locations, like in major stores like Walmart or EPA, some branches are open on Sundays, but with limited services.
Security at banks can range from the simple hello of a private security guard to a check of purses, bags, etc. At some bank branches electronic doors open and close separately, while at others like the La Uruca branch of the Banco Nacional, there is an air-lock type system to enter and exit. In all cases, cell phones cannot be used (even to play a game or browse the net while waiting), no hats or sunglasses.
In the Gran Area Metropolitana (GAM) or San José there branches at almost every corner. But when it comes to areas outside of San José there are fewer branch locations. In general, the BCR and BN have a branch in every community, while private banks have branches only in built up centres like Liberia, Tamarindo, Quepos, Jaco, Puntarenas and Limón, for example.
ATM’s have been springing up at fast rate, particularly in the GAM. In the outlying areas there are fewer.
Usually ATM’s are accessible 24/7. However ATM’s at some state banks are closed off at 10pm, this for security reasons. ATM’s are also found within shopping malls and large retail stores.
When using an ATM you have to keep in mind of the charges. The Banco de Costa Rica, the Banco Nacional and BAC have their own networks, while most of the other banks are part of the ATH (A Toda Hora) network.
By and large all bank cards will work at all ATM’s. But is not always the case. And then using a Scotiacard at Citi, both on the ATH network, will incur charges if not used at the issuing bank’s ATM.
Cards issued outside of Costa Rica will incur a bank charge. Check with your issuing bank and review your statement. Charges can be as high as ¢1.000 colones (US$2) or more.
While all ATM’s will dispense Colones, some ATM’s will also dispense US Dollars. ATM’s dispensing dollars are marked and the screen will display the options.
Typically ATM’s will dispense 1.000, ¢2.000, ¢5.000 and ¢10.000 colones notes (some will dispense ¢20.000), dollars are dispensed in US$20 increments.
Limits on the amount of cash dispensed will depend on the issuing bank and the ATM. For instance, while most Scotiabank ATM’s will dispense up to ¢200.000 or US$400 per transaction, other banks will have a maximum of ¢100.000 or US$200 limit.
With international cards check the back of the card and the label on the ATM machine to see if it is accepted. ATH and Red Total machines supposedly accept both Visa (Plus) and Mastecard (Cirus), but sometimes they don’t. If you’ll be spending time away from major tourist centres, particularly in the Caribbean, get most or all the cash you need in San José and carry a few U.S. dollars in case you run out of colones. It’s helpful to have both a Visa and a MasterCard – even in San José. Both companies have sites with fairly comprehensive lists of accessible ATMs around the world.
Note: PIN codes with more than four digits ARE NOT recognized by ATM’s in Costa Rica. If you have a five-digit PIN, change it with your bank before you travel.
Although it is counterintuitive WHENEVER POSSIBLE — USE ATM’S ONLY DURING BANKING HOURS AND AT BANK BRANCH LOCATIONS. ATM’s in Costa Rica have been known to “eat” cards (though it is a very rare case now) it won’t help you any if you are far away from home, are on the move, and the ATM bank branch is closed. Worse if the ATM is a non-bank branch and have to make a complaint to the main office, usually located in San José.
As a safety precaution, look for a machine that is well lit and in a bank with a guard nearby.
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