Helpful Tips

Dealing with money in Costa Rica

AEC highly recommends that you do not bring cash over $200 with you to Costa Rica. Though Costa Rica is considered one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere, we do not want our students to be put into a position of having their entire trip ruined do to theft or loss of substantial amounts of cash.

ATM cards are the best way to handle cash while in Costa Rica. ATM’s provide you with Costa Rican “colones” at the most current conversion rate. That way you only need to bring cash in smaller amounts and can refresh your supply as needed through ATM transactions. Note that many businesses, drivers and taxis accept U.S. dollars. Most ATM’s offer a US dollar withdrawal as an option as well! Remember to place a travel notification with your bank and Credit Card Co. so you can access your cash in Costa Rica. Check with your personal bank about charges that might accrue from withdrawing money at a foreign ATM.

As of July, 2016 there is an ATM that conveniently gives colones (CR) or U.S. dollars in the baggage claim at the SJO airport.

Credit Cards:

All major credit cards are accepted in Costa Rica, but it’s important to inquire at each establishment whether they accept tarjetas de credito (credit cards.) o Many places only accept cash (efectivo) in Dollars or Colones.

Be sure to check with your credit card company before leaving the US about foreign transaction fees. o Set a travel notification with your credit account so they don’t suspect fraud with your purchases made in Costa Rica.

Traveler’s Checks:

Fewer Costa Rican businesses and restaurants accept Traveler’s checks for purchases. They are also limiting the type of Traveler’s checks they deem acceptable.
AEC doesn’t recommend using traveler’s checks, thus avoiding the hassle of finding a place to cash them.

Dealing with Phones in Costa Rica

Chip Cards

Chip cards can be purchased at most phone carriers, supermarkets and sometimes even pharmacy’s in Costa Rica. o Your US phone has to be unlocked (available to other carriers) before arrival to Costa Rica. You must check with your US carrier beforehand to see if your phone has a chip card. o Chip cards usually cost $2-4 dollars for texts, minutes (saldo). AEC really only recommends Chip cards for students who are planning an extended stay.

A Costa Rican chip card will allow calls, texts and data within Costa Rica.


Whatsapp is a common way that local Costa Ricans (ticos) contact each other, as well as a great way for foreigners to send messages as well. For those unfamiliar with the app, one can send and receive text messages to and from anyone else who has the app when connected to wifi, internationally. With this app you can call directly to family in the US if they have Whatsapp downloaded as well. You will need wifi to access.

Whatsapp must be downloaded and set up before leaving the US. It’s near impossible to download the application after arrival in Costa Rica.

Tip for Smart Phones

  • Offline translator applications such as google translate and translate are available to use without being connected to wifi.
  • Set your phone to airplane mode when you arrive to Costa Rica, so no charges will accrue on your account.

What to Bring

  • Passport and a photocopy of the first and last page o Keep your photocopy in a separate place from your passport.
  • Spanish dictionary, or google translate on a smart phone
  • Spanish study material you may have.
  • School supplies; notebook, pens, pencils.
  • Recommended guidebooks for info: Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor etc.
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Backpack for study materials and for weekend trips
  • Beach towel
  • Tennis shoes recommended for wet trails, mud and river rafting
  • Long pants – recommended for horseback riding tours
  • Umbrella or Pancho
  • Prescription Drugs with copy of doctor’s prescription
  • Two swimming suits
  • Sunglasses
  • Small Flashlight or headlamp
  • Light waterproof jacket
  • Small first aid kit
  • For those taking part in the medical program bring a white or pastel smock or short coat.

If you are going to be staying with a host family, it is customary to bring your host family a little gift. It is not supposed to be expensive. Usually something that represents the area, or culture you are from. If you can manage it, some form of native food that can clear customs has always gone over well. They will be grateful for anything you are proud to give and share with them!