Golden Rule: Be Nice When traveling to a country where the culture and possibly language are different from what you are used to, expect to become frustrated at times. This is NORMAL but how you act when frustrated can determine if you have an enjoyable trip. You are responsible for your nice time.
This is our best advice after living here for several years. If you run into any troubles or misunderstandings, ask for help (necesito su ayuda, por favor me ayuda con….), do not yell or give orders for someone to do something. It is extremely rude behavior. Better to appear helpless than angry.
Banks/Money We have probably made errors in every possible way over the years regarding money, even when it didn’t seem possible, and we’re happy to share our advice so you avoid the troubles. Money is what makes the world go round, especially on vacation.
US Dollars are accepted by merchants in many tourist areas however those businesses will use a higher exchange rate than banks.
It’s best to come with enough US Dollars to exchange at the airport for your cab or bus only.
You will save the most time and get a fair exchange rate if you go to an ATM to pull out local colones. Check to see what additional international fees your bank may charge.
The banks in Costa Rica can have long wait times, up to an hour or more. The best time to go is at 10 a.m. after the morning crowd and before lunchtime. Avoid the 15th and 30th of the month, those are paydays and a nightmare.
Banks are closed on Sundays and have varying hours on Saturdays. Be stocked to get through a weekend.
BRING YOUR PASSPORT to the bank, they will not exchange your money without it.
SIGN the receipts with the exact signature as your passport. If it’s not enough of a match they might not accept it and cancel the transaction.
There are usually ATMs in the more well-known tourist destinations outside of San Jose, but sometimes these ATMs will run out of cash, malfunction, or eat your bank card. It’s best to not completely run out of cash before going to an ATM in these destinations.
If you want US Dollars from an ATM the BCR 1 block south of the temple in Parque Morazán usually carries them.
PAY with small denominations at small businesses, break your larger bills; 10.000, 20.000, etc. at hotels or larger establishments. Change is difficult to find sometimes.
Use very small bills/coins when riding the buses.
Western Unions are all over San Jose. They are also in most Mas x Menos stores along with MoneyGram.
Bank/Credit Cards are not widely accepted outside of San Jose. Make sure you know your payment options at hotels.
Directions Costa Rica does not number locations or have street names. They reference a well-known site and then say “100 meters east, 50 north” for example. In the city 100 meters = 1 block. In reality, 100 meters is usually from one break in the road to the next. So in the country, 100 meters could be 500 city meters or even more!
Another consideration is Costa Ricans will almost always give you an answer when you ask for directions, even if they don’t know. They do this because it’s polite to be helpful. Unfortunately if it is very hot and humid outside or pouring rain you will quickly find it unhelpful to head off in the wrong direction. We suggest you ask more than 1 person for directions.
The good news is that Google Maps is slowly becoming helpful here in Costa Rica. In San Jose especially, you can now search for a site and see where it is at. Be careful though. It is still frequent for a site to be on Google Maps but the marker is very far away from the actual location. It’s best to cross reference.
Planning Your Trip If you want to experience the theaters, museums, restaurants and street life of San Jose we recommend staying near the city center, the National Theater. You will save money, time and the potential of getting lost. There are many nice, affordable hotels in Barrio Amón.
Contact our concierge to learn about entertainment activities in San Jose on your travel dates!
Don’t be scared of the “rainy” season. Most mornings in these months are still bright and sunny.
Traveling is SLOW! You might think you can fit lots of activities into your trip but while on a map two sites or cities may look nearby, in reality traffic can be very slow and it sometimes takes 4 or 5 hours to travel 45 kilometers. Give yourself plenty of time to reach important destinations.
Theft Hopefully you don’t encounter this problem but if you do lose something of value like a camera, phone or computer you can probably get some or all of it covered under your travel or homeowner’s insurance. You will probably need a copy of a police report for this.
Phones/Important Phone #s If you are on vacation, don’t worry about having a working phone. Enjoy the peace. The likelihood that you have an emergency is very small, and if you do, Costa Ricans are so helpful and they all have phones they will let you use. We’ve seen enough visitors waste time and worry on this topic. Check in with loved ones and your life back home online. If you do decide to get one, look for a kiosk on avenida central, you will need your passport with you. To use a local SIM Card with your phone, your phone must be unlocked.
Emergency: 911 Firefighters: 118 Transit Police: 2222-9330 Red Cross (they are the medics in CR): 128 SJO Airport: 2437-2626
Medical For minor aches, pains, cuts or plain not feeling well go to the nearest pharmacy (farmacia). They can usually provide what you need and save you the time or worry of a hospital.