It’s not surprising that many people are a little concerned about using ATMs in Costa Rica. Everywhere you go, there seems to be different rules and guidelines regarding how to use ATMs, how much they charge, which ones you can use, and what to do if things go wrong. Let’s look at some of the things we have gotten questions about in the past from visitors from other countries.
1) Take Your Card and Money Out Quickly
In Costa Rica, if you don’t take your money and card out of the ATM quickly after making a withdrawal, the machine will eat (retain) your card and your money as a precaution—as inconvenient as that may be at the time. While you don’t need to be too worried about petty crime in Costa Rica, the banks have put in place certain practices in the hopes of curtailing crime related to ATMs and their use. If you wait too long, looking at your receipt, with your card and money still in the machine, the ATM will retain both, and you’ll be left without either. This type of situation can take several days to resolve, so it’s best to take your money and card out of the machine after a withdrawal quickly, before you take a second look at the receipt.
2) ATMs Run Out of Money
If you try to take money out of an ATM in Costa Rica, and instead of money, you get a receipt that says, “Insufficient funds”, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have enough money in your account. It might very well mean that the machine itself doesn’t have enough money in it in order to give you what you’ve requested. After you take your card back out of the machine, look at your receipt to confirm this before trying again. Because you may be travelling to remote areas with a lot of other travellers, where there may be few ATMs in Costa Rica, it is better to take out the money you need for the whole day in the morning, in order to avoid the possibility that you might not be able to access it when on day trips.
3) If Your Transaction Doesn’t Work, Don’t Keep Trying
In Costa Rica, an ATM will (eat) retain your card if you try to make a transaction unsuccessfully too many times. The banks do this to prevent people from who have stolen cards from continuing to guess at your code until they get it right. If your withdrawals aren’t working, there’s also a chance that the ATM is malfunctioning. In fact, if you are trying to take out money from a malfunctioning ATM, it may be taking funds from your account with each of your attempts even if it is not dispensing the money. In a case like that, it may take the banks weeks to correct the error. So, if your first two or three attempts to make a transaction aren’t successful, try contacting your bank to make sure everything is how it should be. If all is well, try a different ATM.
4) Talk to Your Bank About International Withdrawal Fees
It is a good idea to check with your bank before you start your vacation to see what you will be charged for international withdrawal fees. You could be being charged as much as $3 for each transaction you make. While you don’t want to be walking around with hundreds of dollars in your pocket, It is a good idea to take as much out as you will need for the day so you can avoid excessive fees from multiple withdrawals. But keep in mind, you should never keep all your money in one bag or wallet. If you get robbed or lose your bag, wallet or bank card, you will be much better situated if you have some cash in a different location to count on. So, a general rule is to carry a useful amount of cash for a day hidden somewhere discreet and leave the rest in a secure spot, like your hotel safe. ATMs in Costa Rica.
5) Find a Machine Connected to an Actual Bank
If you do have trouble accessing your funds, or if your card is taken by the ATM, you will be able to go into the bank and have them correct the situation more quickly than if you are using an isolated machine. This is because isolated machines are serviced much less frequently, and if you have an issue with one, you may be on the phone (long-distance) for a long time trying to correct the situation.
6) Open a Bank Account
To avoid many of the potential pitfalls related to dealing with your home bank while in Costa Rica, you can also open your own Costa Rica bank account—as a tourist—with very little effort. As of 2016, foreigners—including those who are not residents—have been able to open and maintain bank accounts with Banco de Costa Rica (BCR), one of the country’s state-owned banks. All that is required is a valid form of identification (passport) and a cell phone number. Non-residents are only allowed to deposit up to $1,000 USD into their accounts each month, and your account can be in US dollars or Colones for using ATMs in Costa Rica.
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