Shutterstock.com
Updated last month

As a foreigner living in Costa Rica, it is likely that you will at some point wish to open a local bank account. Read this article to find out where and how to do this.

Most banks offer basic savings accounts in Costa Rican Colones or U.S. Dollars, and this is the most common and easiest type of account to open. However, although it is possible to open an account in Costa Rica as an expat, do be warned that it can be an onerous process, due to the amount of paperwork involved.

You will also only be permitted to open a checking account or have a credit card once you have established temporary residency. And, if you are generating an income in Costa Rica, you must be sure to observe local income tax rules (as well as any in your own country).

The good news is that there are regulations in Costa Rica to prevent money laundering, and banking secrecy laws are in effect, which means that no one can access your account information without a court order.

Banks in Costa Rica

You can choose to open an account in either a government-owned or private bank in Costa Rica. The three state-owned banks are Banco de Costa Rica (BCR), Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, and Bancrédito; and the largest private banks are Scotiabank, BAC San José and Citibank. Do note that as a resident, you may have more choice of banking institutions than as a tourist.

There are some big differences to consider between these two categories of banks. The government-owned banks have a large presence, with many branches and ATMs in nearly every town across the country, which is an important consideration if you plan to live in a more rural area. However, they also have a reputation for having extremely long lines.

Banking at a private bank can be a lot quicker and you are more likely to be served by a member of staff who speaks English. Depending on your nationality and previous relationship with the bank elsewhere, they may also be able to offer appealing benefits.

Once you’ve decided where to bank, you should be able to open an account without any problems, so long as you meet the requirements. The system is quite standard but procedures can be slow, and it's a good idea to avoid visiting a branch on a local payday.

Typical banking hours in Costa Rica are between 9 am and 3 pm, Monday to Friday. However, in shopping malls, most banks open daily from 12 to 6 pm. When withdrawing money, it's advisable to try to find an ATM with a closed cabin for privacy and security.

Requirements

Although foreigners can open a bank account in Costa Rica, requirements can be difficult to meet. So, if you are working in the country, it can be worth asking for help from your company's bank account executive to see if they can help to speed up the process.

As well as having a valid entry stamp in your passport to prove you are legally in the country, many banks also like to see that you have started the residency application process. Having a tie to the country in the form of a property, business or investment will also often work in your favour.

Requirements can vary among institutions, but generally speaking, you should be prepared to submit the following documents:

  • A form of identification. As a foreign resident, you will need to present your DIMEX ID card that was issued by immigration. However, if you are staying in the country as a tourist, you will simply need to present your passport.
  • Proof of residence, such as a utility bill or a lease agreement that shows your local residential address.
  • Proof of income from your local employer. If you are an independent contractor, you will alternatively need to present a letter or a 'certification of income' from an accountant. You basically need to show where your funds are coming from.
  • If you are employed, you will also need to submit a letter from your employer with the official stamp of the company.
  • A minimum deposit of at least US$25 or ₡5,000. However, this amount can vary depending on the type of account you are opening.
  • If you are an American citizen, you may be required to adhere to Conozca a Su Cliente (Know Your Client) controls, which require you to verify and update your personal information each year. You may also be required to complete various tax forms so as to keep the IRS informed about your new offshore bank account.

 Useful links:

Expat.com – Finance and Banks in Costa Rica Forum 
Directorios Costa Rica (Banks directory) www.directorioscostarica.com

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.