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Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica

With a handful of state-owned banks and around 20 private commercial banks, there is no lack of options if you're looking to open a bank account in Costa Rica. All of these banks offer services to foreigners, whether here as full-time residents, students or employees. Possessing a Costa Rican checking or savings account is advantageous for several reasons -- namely the convenience of having an account in your country of residence. Say goodbye to those pesky international charges.

The first decision you'll want to make is whether to open an account with a private or a state bank. There are advantages to banking with both types of institutions, but which you choose boils down to personal preference. Privatized banks tend to be very considerate of the value of their customers' time. They are usually more organized and less crowded than their public counterparts, and also more likely to have English speaking staff. Wait lines are minimal, and most transactions can be completed in less than 15 minutes. On the other hand, public banks such as Banco Nacional are more plentiful and theoretically safer as they guarantee all deposits. Hundreds of ATM locations exist nationwide enabling quick access to funds. While there are a number of advantages to state banks, there is one very important downside to keep in mind: long lines.

Whether you've chosen a state-run or private bank to open a savings account (checking accounts generally require a few more steps), there are a number of guidelines we can offer.

1) Identification

Non-residents must provide a passport, and sometimes an additional form of identification such as a driver's license. Some banks, including the state-run Banco Popular, require that you be in Costa Rica for a minimum of six consecutive months (including a short gap to fulfill tourist visa requirements). Banco Nacional and Citibank are two banks with no such stipulation.

2) Utility Bill

You must bring a water or electric bill for your current domicile. The bill does not need to have your name on it, as it just provides the bank with an official address.

3) Purpose in the Country

Students must bring proof of enrollment in a Costa Rican institution. Retirees should bring their residency card, or a document from their lawyer stating that they are in the process of obtaining one. Workers need an orden patronal, a document from your employer proving steady salary.

4) Initial Deposit

This amount varies widely for accounts, ranging from $10-$500 in most banks.

5) References

Some, but not all, institutions require one or two letters of recommendation from past banks that you have held accounts with. Recommendations may also come from friends or relatives with active accounts at the bank to which you are applying.

Be sure to take your time when signing papers, and use the exact signature that is on your passport. I signed my passport when I was 15 years old, and am still stuck signing formal documents with a heart shaped dot at the end. If your John Hancock differs even slightly from that on your passport -- or if you accidentally exceed the space allotted -- you may need to start over.

The entire account application process takes about an hour, and at the end you will have a functioning bank account (debit/ATM cards take three days to arrive, and you have to return to the bank with your passport to pick them up).

To steer clear of long waiting lines, I avoid doing business during peak times like Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and paydays (around the 15th and 30th of every month). As long as you're not rushed and have all your required documents, you will find most bankers and tellers to be very friendly and helpful.

Opening a Bank Account in Costa Rica in Pictures

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