Opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a foreigner

Gabriela Peratello
21.04.22
5 minute read

If you’ve fallen in love with the climate, lifestyle, people and natural environment in Costa Rica you might be wondering about opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a tourist, to cut your costs and make day to day spending easier.

And if you’re going all in and planning a move to Costa Rica you probably want to know how to open a Costa Rica bank account to help with your move.

This guide to banks in Costa Rica, and how to open a bank account covers all this and more. And to help you make more of your money when you travel or live overseas we’ll also introduce Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account as cheap ways to send, spend and receive foreign currencies.

📑 Table of Contents

Can you open a bank account in Costa Rica as an American? 

You can open a bank account in Costa Rica as an American. If you’re living in Costa Rica and have legal residency there you’ll be able to choose from a range of account products from both private and national banks, including Banco Nacional¹ and Banco de Costa Rica². 

If you’re a non-resident — but legally in the country — you may also be able to open an account with Banco de Costa Rica, a state owned bank which has some available account products for non-residents. Banco Nacional might also be an option for opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a tourist, subject to meeting their eligibility requirements.

Is opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a tourist possible?

You can open a bank account in Costa Rica as a tourist — but you may find you’re only able to do so with Banco de Costa Rica. This is a state owned bank which is authorized to offer accounts to non-residents, provided they have a valid passport with an entry stamp and current visa to show they’re legally in the country.

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Restrictions on opening a bank account in Costa Rica as a foreigner

Banks in Costa Rica split into 2 types — state owned national banks, and private banks. Private banks are more likely to have English speaking staff, but also tend to have fewer ATMs and branches compared to the national banks. 

If you’re likely to need to use ATMs in more rural areas, you’ll probably be better off with a national bank. Similarly, if you’re a non-resident, national banks are likely to be your only option.

Costa Rica takes part in global efforts to stop criminal activity such as money laundering and the funding of terror activities. This means you’ll be expected to complete account verification steps to open your account, including providing information about the source of your funds to make sure it’s legal. 

You’ll also likely have to complete IRS paperwork and filings, depending on how you use your account and how much money you hold in Costa Rica. Get professional advice if you’re unsure about your obligations.

Which documents will you need to open a bank account in Costa Rica?

The exact paperwork you’re asked to provide will vary depending on the bank you choose to use. However, here are the typical documents you need to show:

  • DIMEX immigration identification document for foreigners
  • For non-resident foreigners, your passport must have the entry stamp to the country and, where applicable, a valid visa stamp
  • Completed and signed Know Your Customer (KYC) form
  • Proof of origin of the funds being added to the account — like a payslip showing employment income

There’s also usually a minimum opening deposit requirement, and there may be a minimum income requirement, depending on the bank you choose to use. For Banco de Costa Rica as an example, the minimum opening deposit is 500 USD or the equivalent in another eligible currency².

What are the most popular banks in Costa Rica?

Here are some of the biggest banks in Costa Rica for you to consider when choosing a provider for your account: 

Banco de Costa Rica

State owned bank with a good branch and ATM network.

ProsCons
  • Open an account as a foreigner — even if you’re non-resident
  • Largest state owned bank in the country
  • As it’s popular you might wait in line for an ATM or branch service
  • Minimum deposit amounts apply when opening an account

Scotiabank Costa Rica³

Large international bank with locations and ATMs in Costa Rica.

ProsCons
  • Good range of accounts and services
  • ATMs and locations in major towns
  • Most ATMs are in and around San José

BAC Credomatic⁴

Big regional bank with a good reputation for digital and online services.

ProsCons
  • Particularly popular for online and digital services
  • Good range of accounts and services
  • You may need to visit a branch to open your account and present paperwork
  • Not as many ATMs as a national bank

BCT⁵

Private bank, full range of accounts and services available.

ProsCons
  • English speaking staff may be available in major branch locations
  • Reliable, popular bank with a good reputation
  • Fewer branches than some of the state banks

Banco Nacional

State owned bank with a good branch and ATM network.

ProsCons
  • Accounts offered to foreigners with proper paperwork
  • Plenty of ATMs to choose from
  • Not all staff will speak English
  • Expect account fees — read the terms and conditions carefully

    Can you have a USD account with your Costa Rican bank?

    Yes. Many banks which are active in Costa Rica offer USD accounts alongside CRC products. Some also offer accounts denominated in euros for convenience.

    Can you set up online banking in Costa Rica?

    Many of the popular Costa Rica banks have a good online and digital banking service. BAC Credomatic is particularly praised for its digital advancements and online services.

    Banking fees in Costa Rica

    Most banks in Costa Rica will require a minimum opening deposit to get your account up and running. After that the fees can vary significantly between account type and institution. Common costs include ATM withdrawal fees if you’re using an out of network ATM, and costs for things like international payments.

    One thing that’s especially important to look out for when banking across borders is the overall cost of any international transactions. That may be sending or receiving payments, shopping in a foreign currency with your card, or making cash withdrawals. 

    It’s pretty common for banks to levy high fees for international services, as well as adding extra fees — a markup — into the exchange rates applied. 

    Read your account terms and conditions carefully, and consider using a specialist when you're transacting internationally to cut costs. More about one low cost international account and transfer service — Wise — coming right up.

    Send money to Costa Rica with Wise

    If you live overseas, or simply love to travel, you could save money with Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account.

    Next time you need to send a payment from the US to Costa Rica, check out Wise for low cost, fast and efficient international transfers which use the mid-market exchange rate every time. Set up your payment online or in the Wise app for convenience and have it deposited right into your recipient’s CRC account — 45% of payments are instant, and almost all arrive within 24 hours, often beating the banks.

    And if you live overseas and need to hold, send and spend CRC yourself, why not get a Wise Multi-currency Account. Personal accounts are free to open and operate, with low, transparent fees for the services you need. You’ll have a linked international debit card to cut foreign transaction fees — and you’ll never have to worry about exchange rate markups or sky high banking fees again.

    Send money to Costa Rica
    in just a few clicks 💰


    Opening a bank account in Costa Rica is perfectly possible, although you may need to shop around a bit depending on your personal situation. Use this guide to start your search — or check out the Wise Multi-currency Account as a low cost, online and mobile solution you can open from anywhere.


    Sources: 

    1. Banco Nacional - accounts
    2. Banco de Costa Rica - eligibility
    3. Scotiabank Costa Rica
    4. BAC Credomatic
    5. Banco BCT

    Sources checked on 04.20.2022


    This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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