Exchanging money

Old Apr 29th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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Exchanging money

Do we need to exchange US dollars for colones in Costa Rica or can we use US dollars all the time? Also for hotels and tours is it better to use cash instead of debit/credit card? Do the hotels and tours charge extra for using your debit/credit card? Has anyone had problems getting money at ATMs? I wanted to use my debit/credit card for the big purchases so I didn't have to bring so much cash with me. Also nervous about using ATM's cause afraid that it won't work.
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Old Apr 29th, 2006, 09:14 AM
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Most places, except in the most rural, accept American dollars and give change in colones, so there's no need to exchange money. ATMs seem to work about half the time. You can use credit cards, but your credit card company will likely charge a fee for converting currency. Call them and find out what it will be -- some charge more than others. Credit cards are very convenient; just be aware that all of your credit card purchases will actually cost more than you think because of the conversion fee.

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Old Apr 29th, 2006, 11:45 AM
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But the conversion fee is less than 3% - I have one credit card that only charges 1%. Cheap cost for safety IMO.
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Old Apr 29th, 2006, 12:37 PM
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It's much easier and better to have colones for small purchases --- smaller restaurants, taxis especially, bus fare, street vendors, etc. You'll receive change in colones in most transactions. Credit cards can cost you an additional 7-10% in service fees. ATMs are generally plentiful in the larger cities and tourist areas and usually clustered in the town's center, so if one doesn't work, you have other options. Travel well.
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Old Apr 29th, 2006, 08:35 PM
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We've had some problems with ATM's, but have always managed to find one that worked in fairly short order! We like to take a very limited amount of US $$ and exchange for colones as soon as we arrive. We find it easier to do all our business in their currency rather than "thinking conversion" all the time. Although with the rate near 500 colones, it isn't that difficult.

We also like to find out which hotels like Traveler's Checks (some actually prefer them) and we might bring along just enough to use for that expense. On the other hand, some hotels prefer cash. We always try to find out ahead of time what works best for them.

Never have had one single problem using credit cards, never noticed any exhorbitant fees, (except when paying for the $26 departure tax with a card and got an additional $10 charge--that ticked me!).

Visa cards seem to be a little more widely accepted, although most places will take MasterCard just fine. The Plus cards work better in ATM's than Cirrus--that will help tremendously! You can always stop by a bank for any business you need to take care of as well. Sometimes that can be a lengthy process, but we've been in and out in 10 minutes before as well. You would need your passport at the bank.

We do whatever we can to avoid traveling with large amounts of cash, just getting $200-$300 at a time. If we have more, we split it up and keep in more than one safe location.

But that's just us! You can certainly, as Sandy said, get by with dollars all the time! And yes, you will end up with a lot of colones as change. Do not take denominations larger the $20, make sure all bills are in good condition, and take LOTS of $1's and $5's for tips. Have fun!
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Old May 1st, 2006, 07:10 AM
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Thanks. So the credit card companies charges a service charge and not the hotel? The hotel doesn't charge a service fee for using a credit card over cash?
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Old May 1st, 2006, 08:14 AM
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Just got my credit card bill after a trip to Belize last month - hotel charged us in their currency, credit card company converted it to US dollars and charged the US amount to our card. The credit card company then charged us for the International transaction. On approx $670 US charge there was a $21.00 fee.
Old May 1st, 2006, 08:20 AM
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PS. We paid for our Belize trip in advance (lodging, meals, & tours included). The lodge recommended we pay with checks because they charge an additional 6% if we used a credit card to pay for the trip. Do not know if all hotels in Central America do that. In rare occasions, I have found some businesses here in the US give a "discount" for not using a credit card.
Old May 2nd, 2006, 10:51 AM
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We paid cash for almost all of our hotels - I believe every hotel we went to offered us a discount for paying with cash (dollars or colones). But, we didn't make reservations in advance of going there.

We went to the ATMS a lot because of that. Most worked. Banco National didn't work with my Citibank debit card, but all the others did. You don't need to start with a lot of cash.

We didn't make any really big purchases, but La Paz Waterfalls took our credit card, as did the more expensive restaurants we ate in.
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