Updated December 2016
If you are a foreigner moving to Costa Rica to seek a residency through business, family, or otherwise, you will eventually be struck with the choice of where to do your personal and business banking. You may have considered just using your bank account from Canada, the US, or Europe. Which is fine, you can withdraw money from the ATM machines here. But if you want to truly relocate to Costa Rica, you will eventually have to close your bank accounts in your origin country, to save on taxes while living abroad and exchange fees at the bank machines. These exchange and transaction fees can be as much as $10 to withdraw money, not to mention the currency conversions. If you are Canadian you can enjoy no tax implications in Canada from your business or personal choices in Costa Rica, however if you are an American citizen you will have to study up on the laws in your state, as you may be required to continue paying taxes abroad.
Not all banks are made the same
Before you decide to open an account, you need to truly understand what you are trying to do here in Costa Rica. Do you just want to move a small amount of cash savings for personal use? or are you moving a large amount of liquid assets into Costa Rica? or are you coming here to start a business?
Business and personal accounts are very different, much like in Canada, the US, or Europe. But here every bank account you open will require a certification from a public accountant. This is to ensure your money is coming from where you say it is coming from. Prices for certification on your externally imported funds, can vary from $200 to $2500, so make sure to shop around and ask your friends and contacts if they have referrals. Do be careful though, not everyone here in Costa Rica is a nice person and naive foreigners can make for easy targets.
Check the directory of suspended accountants in Costa Rica to ensure you do not chose one with an unpleasant past.
A good lawyer can be your best asset
If you are new to Latin culture and do not speak Spanish very well, it is highly suggested that you get a lawyer to help you navigate the waters of setting up a bank account. Believe it or not, the lawyers connections and contacts may come in handy when opening your bank account. As well the fact that they speak fluent Spanish makes it a lot easier to negotiate when opening your bank account. As with the accountants above, make sure to ask around and take a few lawyers out for lunch to get to know them, as you will need this person in your life for at least a few months into the future. You might as well see if you work well together and can communicate effectively.
Make sure to study up thoroughly on Costa Rican Law.
Dual (or triple) currency bank accounts
If you are from Europe and you are here in Costa Rica doing business, you will be glad to know that some banks offer Euro accounts, as well as the American Dollar and Colon accounts that you would expect. This makes it easier to accept currency in the format that you want for your business.
Government vs private banking options and lending
In Costa Rica there are Government banks that most of the people choose to bank with. They are Banco Popular, Banco Nacional, and Banco de Costa Rica. These banks guarantee your deposit with them no matter how much it is. If they have agreed to deposit your money, it is 100% safe there. Though you will often have a hard time making withdrawals on time or transferring money quickly, rest assured everything is safe and secure. Do keep a copy of your deposit and withdrawal receipts though, as may need to reference them to speed up your transactions.
Private banks in Costa Rica generally offer a better interest rate on borrowing and saving your money. Compared to North America, banks in Costa Rica can offer some really healthy returns on savings accounts and short term investments, at least when compared to the U.S. It really pays to shop around in this regard.
When it comes to lending, you will find that both public and private banks are conservative, inflexible and unwilling to make loans, especially if you are a foreigner or if you do not earn a straight salary reported to La Caja. Banks in Costa Rica do not believe in the concept of creative financing through negotiation; even if they are sitting on piles of cash, they are generally not fond of lending. For this reason, many foreigners turn to private lending solutions such as Fast Costa Rica Finance, a service provided by the Luxe Investment Group.
The loan options offered by private lenders in Costa Rica are often sought by foreigners who wish to acquire land or real estate. These loans can also be used for development purposes.
Below is a list of the best banks in Costa Rica
The list below comprises the best banks in the country for being well known and offering decent customer service. There are many other choices to choose from, and depending on your ability to allow high risk investing they may work for you, but if you want peace of mind and security, most people go with the banks here.
E-Commerce business accounts
One of the most discussed areas of banking in Costa Rica is the E-Commerce bank account options. You definitely need to do your homework in this area and go out for many meetings until you feel comfortable with the bank you will choose. Credomatic Bank is a private bank and does offer great eCommerce solutions, but they require a $50,000USD deposit as insurance that you are legitimate and not going to burn them in any way. Another bank to consider is Scotiabank, they have better rates for eCommerce transactions, generally quicker posting to your bank account after a purchase, and of course they are a sister branch to the behemoth powerhouse that they are in the United States. Lastly Banco Nacional previously had options for eCommerce, but on the time of this article being posted, their eCommerce platform is not working and not allowing new account sign ups from foreigners. Banco Nacional is supposed to have their eCommerce options working before the end of next year.
The local credit cards will pose another issue for international eCommerce, many localized Tico credit cards do not work for online stores outside of Costa Rica, due to the fact that there is no form of street addresses or zip code system here in Costa Rica. This is changing, but far from being used everywhere in the country. So make sure to ask for an international credit card with your business account and make sure your eCommerece provider and processor can take local Tico credit cards if you are doing business locally.
Technology that can help you day to day
You may be surprised to know that some Costa Rican banks offer text message based banking transactions, iPhone Applications, and mobile compatible websites. It is nice to see features like this slowly getting adopted within the core country culture. As with Wifi in North America, make sure you are on a secure Wifi connection in a public place if you are doing banking while away from the home or office.
As with EVERYTHING in Costa Rica a certain amount of patience and understanding is necessary when opening banks accounts and doing banking here. Do not get discouraged and quit, just follow what you know to be right and do the right thing with your documentation, and you will eventually have a bank account that you are happy with. Know that you will get asked to submit documentation that you have already submitted, your account may be frozen for a few days while they wait to receive documentation, and sometimes money will go missing. These are facts and have happened to many people. But if you keep a well documented offline copy of your banking transactions and use a local accountant that you trust, you should experience minimal interruption overall.