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Banks in Costa Rica

August 5th, 2007

For some time I have wanted to write about banking in Costa Rica. Although the overall view of banking in Costa Rica is covered in two location in The REAL Costa Rica, see here and also here, those two pages really provide only an overview of the Costa Rica banking system and how it functions. They do not speak of actually dealing with individual banks and how it is to do business on a daily basis and to interact with individual banks.

There are many banks here, and no one person could possible review all of them unless they actually had accounts in all banks, a scary thought indeed. I use three banks here, one state bank and two private banks, so today I am going to rate these banks based on my experiences over the past several years. This is a very long post, but I saw no way to shorten it.

If this topic interests you, then read on!  Also, see my follow up regarding BAC San Jose.


I currently have accounts with three banks here in Costa Rica. They are BAC San Jose, Scotia Bank (both private banks) and Banco Nacional, a state bank. For the differences in state vs local banks read this.

No FDIC?Why three? Primarily to spread the risk.

I am by far not a wealthy person (much to my wife’s dismay), so we are not talking a ton of money here, but still, it would not be a happy day if I were to lose all my available funds because some bank took a powder or just failed… and yes, banks do and have failed here, one as recently as two years ago.

While the state banks are theoretically protected, it is my understanding that it can take months or years to get the money replaced… thus three banks.

Each of my banks has its own personality as I am sure do all the others. Each had its own process to open an account. Each has its own infrastructure and ease (or unease) of use. For that reason, I designed a very informal rating system to quantify my admittedly personal opinions of these establishments. My system is simple and rates ten things.

My Bank Rating System

  1. Ease of opening a new account
  2. Number of Branch Locations
  3. Foreign language speaking employees available in branches
  4. Website functionality and usability
  5. Online banking – ease of use – functionality – support
  6. Attitude toward foreigners
  7. Overall banking services offered and ease of use
  8. Speed of service while in the bank – lines etc.
  9. Attitude/friendliness of bank employee
  10. Cost of bank services

Each of this carries a rating of from one to five, thus a perfect score would be 50. An average rating would be 30 as I am using only whole numbers and a 3 rating is in the middle.

This is of course, totally subjective. These are my opinions and others may disagree. An old saying (slightly modified) is: “Opinions are like feet. Everyone has ’em. Everyone thinks theirs don’t smell”.

I welcome opposing or supporting opinion in the comments area following this post!

Scotiabank de Costa Rica

This may be the bank that the most foreigners (read that as North Americans) use when arriving in Costa Rica. Why? They hands down have the most English speaking employees especially in those branch offices in and around Escazu, a gringo stronghold. It was also the first account I opened personally when I got off the boat.

My first impression of Scotia Bank was that they seemed polite, but distinctly unwelcoming to newcomers… again read that as North Americans. This attitude was not displayed to Ticos (Costa Ricans). It was nothing in their words or behavior exactly; it was just a deep suspicion that our banking relationship was… not cordial. I have long believed that employees of any organization reflect exactly the attitude of management. While not always true, it is pretty much always that way if you think about it. How odd is THAT considering they are foreigners themselves. Part of Scotiabank in Canada.

Thus it should not have come as a surprise when several months later, I learned that a very senior officer of Scotia Bank took a very anti north American attitude while speaking with a close friend of mine wondering “why all these foreigners were coming here and where did they get their money to put in his bank” (quoted but really a paraphrase).

This attitude prevailed for at least 2-3 three more years, but has since gotten a little better. Still, if I go to any branch other than the one where my account is located, the level of service and friendliness drops significantly.

Their debit card is pretty useless. It is not a real credit card even though it has a VISA logo. Nobody accepts it as it is not embossed. Sadly, you do need it at teller windows or when using their ATM machines.

Scotia Bank is located only the Central Valley in and around San Jose.

Scotiabank

Rating – Subject
Comments

2 Ease of opening a new account
bit more than normal hassle – passport – requires letter from bank “back home”

1 Number of Branch Locations
around 16 – San Jose area only!

4 Foreign language speaking employees available in branches –
Lots in the Gringo strongholds

4 Website functionality and usability –
Offers English on both main bank home page and the online banking site

1 Online banking –
Online banking is incredibly slow and almost totally useless. Only reason they get a 2 is their telephone support is excellent. The 2 was a gift though.

2 Attitude toward foreigners –
Improving, but compared to other banks, even banks where I do not have an account, it still needs changes.

2 Overall banking services offered and ease of use –
Still does not offer interbank transfers nor transfers between bank customers.

2 Speed of service while in the bank – lines etc. –
Crummy. Local branch managers have never learned or been taught to open a new teller window when lines get long. Escazu office the worst! Bring lunch on paydays or Saturdays.
Rohmoser branch excellent though!

2 Attitude/friendliness of bank employee –
Depends on branch and on the manager. Improving for sure, but after 5 years, I still prefer to use my other banks. Again,
Rohmoser branch is much better!

2 Cost of bank services –
They charge more for everything. Probably have pay toilets.

Rating: 22

I still maintain an account with Scotia, though I am tiring greatly of how hard even the most mundane tasks have become. They have rules that other banks, even the state banks, do not have. If you speak Spanish or at least can get someone to help you at first, there are better banks in which to place your money.

BAC San Jose

Formerly called Banco de San José, is part of the BAC Credomatic Network, comprised of eight banks (not branches) in Central America, the Caribbean, and Panama, and Credomatic, the largest credit and debit card issuer and processor in the region. They have offices in all provinces of Costa Rica i.e. San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limón. They also have offices in the USA – Florida only.

I first opened my account with them less than two years ago based on frequent visits I made with my wife as she had one of her accounts at BAC. Their branch offices (sucursales) are far more modern and I noticed that there always seemed to be adequate teller windows open so the wait was negligible. I was planning to open a business account, so I knew I would need the usual letters of reference, a corporate personeria, my cedula (corporate and personal) in order to open the account. I went to my attorney for the legal stuff. I probably should have listened to him when he asked why on earth I would want to open an account there. I told him I had a lot of clients with accounts there, and I needed to be accessible to them. His comment was to be prepared for a LOT of issues. How right he was!

It took ELEVEN visits to get the thing opened! Granted, I can take responsibility for four of them that could have been avoided had I been a bit more organized, but what a production it was. However, after I started the process and had paid for the documents my attorney prepared, I was sort of stuck, and I was still brainwashed by the no waiting thing.

I then learned a LOT… too late… about just how screwy is BAC San Jose!

The first surprise is that regardless of anything, BAC does not permit the deposit of a check drawn on a non Costa Rica bank for the first year! HUH? Is it me or does that make no sense whatsoever? First, most banks will not make funds available from a foreign check for about three weeks even though that check can clear easily in 3-4 business days. So what is the risk to them? Too late, I had to live with these rules.

So after about 18 months, I merrily went in to the bank to deposit a check from the USA. Nope! That one year thing is not automatic. I again had to go visit the manager to get approval to do this… and this after having had my trouble free account for all that time. THAT was two weeks ago. I was told the approval was pretty much automatic and should be set up “tomorrow”. Ha! As of yesterday, it still had not been processed. I was told it would be “tomorrow”. We shall see.

Next, I found that to transfer funds to another BAC account holder required a trip to the branch to manually add them before you could make a transfer online. Now as I said, the teller lines are short, but that does not apply to those waiting to speak with a “personal banker” type person. Those lines are much longer. This problem has since been remedied however and as of now, this is no longer a requirement.

I will say that after all the hassles mentioned above, BAC has proven to be an OK bank, and the teller lines are still short. Their web site is functional and online banking is available in English though I no longer need it to be so.

Ask for a debit card. They are available for in-country use, and you can request in international card you can use while traveling or on the Internet. Very handy and not available at Scotiabank or Banco Nacional.

So here is how BAC stands up:

BAC San Jose

Rating – Subject
Comments

1 Ease of opening a new account
Nasty! Read the text above. Be prepared for a LOT of wasted time. This is not just for foreigners. Everyone has the same problems.

4 Number of Branch Locations
All over Costa Rica in many major towns. Not as good as Banco Nacional (below) but still far better than Scotiabank.

2 Foreign language speaking employees available in branches –
Almost none. Be prepared to speak Spanish or take someone with you to assist.

4 Website functionality and usability –
Bank’s home page is only in Spanish, but the online banking is available in English, is very useful (now) and getting better.

5 Online banking –
Online banking is very good and easy to use, though you may have to visit the branch for assistance. You must sign up for online banking at the branch. Do this when you open the account. Available in English.
No online help. Free next day interbank transfers. Very good thing especially for businesses.

4 Attitude toward foreigners –
Seems OK. I never felt the discrimination and over my many visits, they have always been friendly and helpful.

4 Overall banking services offered and ease of use –
Offers a full range of banking services, though as I mention, nothing is easy to set up. They are tied to Credomatic, so that may help you for both personal and business banking.

4 Speed of service while in the bank – lines etc. –
Very good if waiting for teller service. If waiting for a banker, visit the bank early and avoid lunch hours, paydays, etc.

4 Attitude/friendliness of bank employee –
Above average. Nice folks.

3 Cost of bank services –
Reasonable. Free next day interbank transfers.

Rating: 35

If you can deal with all the silliness and caveats above, a good choice.
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica

This is a state bank and by now, you should have read about state banks in Costa Rica. They are the closest thing you will find to a secure location for your money, though that is not to say the private banks are not financially sound. It just means you have more recourse should anything bad occur.

Banco Nacional (BN) has locations just about everywhere in Costa Rica, including just about every town and village of any size.

To open an account is pretty much of a no brainer. You just need your passport or cedula, 2 or three reference letters (this changes) and some money. I say that as they do have minimums to open though no minimums to maintain. They also will not provide a checking account if you are not a legal resident, but that really means nothing as unless you are a business, you will not pay bills by check anyway.

Lines are always nasty… worse than Scotiabank! I have rarely been able to visit a teller without having to wait at least 10-15 minutes, though again, if you go early, you stand a much better chance of getting in and out quickly. Talking to a banker is also a hassle as there are always lines.

I have my own formula to determine if I even want to wait! I take the number of people in line in front of me and divide that number by the number of open teller windows (never enough). If the answer is 4 or less, I wait. If more than 4, I plan another visit unless I am feeling really patient. Keeps my blood pressure down!

English is never spoken, and in several years, I have yet to meet an English speaking employee though of course they must exist. This is not as important as it may seem if you can speak even a tad of Spanish. You may have to wait to talk to them, but when you do, they are very nice people… and patient!

Make sure you get a debit card! While it cannot be used for international transactions on the Internet or if traveling outside the country, it is embossed, is honored everywhere in Costa Rica and is quite useful.

Banco Nacional de Costa Rica

Rating – Subject
Comments

4 Ease of opening a new account
Easy. Savings account only. Checking a hassle.

5 Number of Branch Locations
All over Costa Rica in many major towns. Not as good as Banco Nacional (below) but still far better than Scotiabank.

2 Foreign language speaking employees available in branches –
Almost none. Be prepared to speak Spanish or take someone with you to assist.

2 Website functionality and usability –
Bank’s home page is only in Spanish as is their online banking site. You will need someone to teach you how to do online banking, though once learned, it goes OK.

4 Online banking –
Online banking is only available in Spanish. Get someone to show you how to use it. I gave them a 4 because you get these promotional credits every time you pay a bill online, and those points can be used for free admission to movies, free or discounted admission to theme parks and other stuff. A nice perk! They offer the ability to pay online to far more vendors of services than the other banks. Bad thing… they also charge for all interbank transfers.

3 Attitude toward foreigners –
Seems OK. I never felt the discrimination and over my many visits, they have always been friendly and helpful.

4 Overall banking services offered and ease of use –
Offers a full range of banking services, but I suspect a working knowledge of Spanish will make that process go smoother.

1 Speed of service while in the bank – lines etc. –
Go early or bring your patience. If stuck in a long line, be nice! Practice your Spanish. Make a friend.

4 Attitude/friendliness of bank employee –
Above average. Nice folks.

3 Cost of bank services –
Reasonable, but they do charge for all interbank transfers, so if you cannot pay using their pre-set online payments, it will cost you money

Rating: 30

Regardless of the average rating of 30, they are still probably the best first bank account you should open when coming here.


42 Responses to “Banks in Costa Rica”

  1. Rod & Rena Mitchell on August 6, 2007 1:23 pm

    The banking question was only one of many questions my wife and I have had as we consider relocating to Coast Rica in a couple of years, when we retire. Of course, your blog provides many answers and we are getting up to speed. The next big thing is visiting Coasta Rica for the first time. We have no idea where to go, especially where other westerners have relocated. We wish we could locate other Texans who have relocated to CR. Are there any blogs, to your knowledge, that comprise Texans. Want to talk about climate adjustment, etc.
    Thank you so much for your informative blog. It has been very helpful to us.
    Warm regards,
    Rod & Rena Mitchell

  2. Curtis Elliott on August 7, 2007 7:05 am

    I found your comments about Scotiabank to be very subjective. Actually they do have a branch here in San Isidro, Perez Zeledon. Are extremely helpful and friendly toward foreigners, they even offered me coffee while I waited for a friend to open her account. They will have even more branch locations opening since they bought out Banco Interfin. So, we will have 2 branches here in San Isidro. I agree that the ATM/Visa card is pretty cheesy. However, better than Banco Nacional because you don’t have to have your passport to transact. The last time I went to take money out of my Banco Nacional account, they wouldn’t accept my U.S. driver’s license and copy of passport. I had to return home and get my actual passport to draw money out. I was hot.

    But, as you admit, all is subjective. They wanted 2 bank reference letters from the states addressed directly to them. That would make it difficult for some to open an account.

    Otherwise, once you get past the initial pain of opening the account, they pretty good to do business with.

    Respectfully,
    Curtis Elliott

  3. Tim on August 7, 2007 10:54 am

    Curtis… thanks for the feedback!

    So much depends on the local branch manager I think. I also wonder if the attitude toward foreigners is different once you get out of the San Jose area. Your local is very laid back and more friendly than the city.

    The card is convenient for teller use, though the other banks just need my cedula to do business. Getting one card out of my wallet is just the same as getting another out 🙂 You make a good point, though, that those who must still use a passport, as they do not yet have residency, can be mightily inconvenienced.

  4. ricky wilson on August 13, 2007 12:11 pm

    hello again,
    i plan on moving to costa rica and purchasing a house in the La-Tigra area as far as I know now. I have read all the information on your blog and it all seems confusing, though very thorough. In your opinion, where should I open an account that wil make it easy to get access to my $$. I will be having direct deposit from social security and veterans administration pension cheks. should i open an account in florida that has the same banks in costa rica and then have money transfer there or have it directly deposited in whch bank in costa rica.

    thank you again
    rick

  5. Tim on August 13, 2007 7:50 pm

    I recommend the State bank Banco Nacional de Costa Rica. They can accept your social security money and you can then transfer it to your Colones Account.

    If you are a Pensionista or Rentista, check with your attorney or http://www.arcr.net as to requirements for conversion conversion.

  6. Marcel M. Pfister on August 14, 2007 7:14 am

    I find your article about the three banks your work with interesting, but very anecdotal. It’s hardly a serious paper on customer relationship management at banks in Costa Rica.

    Anecdotes – as real as they may be – don’t make up for serious market research.

    Sincerely

    Marcel M. Pfister

  7. Tim on August 14, 2007 9:30 am

    Huh?

    Of COURSE it was anecdotal! Serious paper? Please!

    I had no intention of doing market research nor a white paper on banking here. I am not trying to sell people on these banks. I am relating my experiences and nothing more. Take it or leave it. My readers are adults and I treat them as adults, capable of making their own informed decisions.

  8. Dr. Yvonne Vosburgh on August 19, 2007 5:37 pm

    Senor Tim,

    I find it interesting, that someone would read something on your website, a website in my opinion, that is professional, informative, thoughtful, intelligent, funny, one that I know you must have put hundreds of hours into and then criticize you for your opinion on a subject—that’s funny!

    I want to thank you for the information on your blog and website. My daughter, arrived in Costa Rica two weeks ago. I was a extremely apprehensive about her going to a Latin country by herself. Your website has calmed most of my concerns.

    Keep up the good work.

    Yvonne

  9. Tim on August 20, 2007 7:42 am

    I thank you so much for the kind words!

    Costa Rica is for sure a complicated place to live and therefore people view things from a different angle based on where they live, their age and reason for being here, their education, and, of course, their politics.

    The REAL Costa Rica, though in my opinion factual and (hopefully) unbiased, is still from my viewpoint and therefore open to any criticism.

    The article on banking is I THINK pretty decent, but again, it is just my viewpoint based on living a working here. I have several companies here, so MY viewpoint on banking is going to be very different from a retired couple who visit the bank once per month to exchange dollars! My needs are greater and thus I am much more picky!

    Hope your daughter is having a super time@

  10. William Strong on August 21, 2007 12:35 pm

    We have a home here outside San Isidro de General.We spend most of the year here and really like this country and the
    Tico people. Your blog is great in keeping us informed. I would like to write an article about satellite Internet in Costa Rica. We recently had an experience with fraud and misrepresentation by a company that advertises in the country. Hopefully we could prevent others from being victimized. Thank you, Bill Strong

  11. Rhett on September 3, 2007 4:47 am

    Have you any experience with Banco Cuscatlan?

  12. Tim on September 3, 2007 7:08 am

    I am sorry, I do not. I do know another businessman who has his accounts there and seems satisfied.

    Also, HSBC is now here in a BIG way… and they might be good.

  13. Doug Ward on September 6, 2007 3:53 am

    I have been dealing exclusively with BCR and have a good relationship with the manager who changed the maximum withdraw and transfer policies to give me more flexibility.
    On the other hand.. I live in The REAL Costa Rica.. Not the impersonal, overinfested, central valley.
    For the poster moving near La Tigre…Just ask a local restauranteur or shopkeeper you befriend ” Which bank is best”
    You’ll love that area.

    Business owners here in Tilaran use BCR but also keep BN accts.

    Tim is right..Open a couple different ones for different purposes.

  14. Steve Broyles on September 12, 2007 1:48 pm

    For what is is worth, I’ve got debit cards from Banco Nacional that work just fine in the USA and also work…. sometimes… online. The trick to doing online payments with a Tico debit card is to make sure that you have the address written exactly the same way on the bank’s records and whatever online form you are using.

    Sometimes calling the online vendor after you order to clarify the situation can help too.

    Another plus to BNCR: if you ignore the language difficulties, BNCR has a very good website- I can pay almost any bill you name online, and set up the account to auto-pay them as well. Handy.

    I’ve also got accounts with Banco Costa Rica, and generally like them, but prefer BNCR. I also work with Cuscatlan (helping clients get mortgages)… my experiences there are mixed, but generally positive.

    Thanks for the informative post(s)!
    -Steve

  15. Marilyn Clark on October 6, 2007 7:10 pm

    Just trying to find out HOW MUCH money a person must deposit in the bank in CR in order to apply for permanent residence.

    Can this be done online or do you have to do to the bank itself in person?

    Please write me at my email address, if possible. Thanks so much, Great articles!

  16. Tim on October 8, 2007 7:04 am

    This is covered in http://www.therealcostarica.com.

    You also might like to visit http://forums.arcr.net

  17. Art D on January 11, 2008 8:45 am

    Any comments about all the reports of millions of dollars disappearing from personal accounts in BNCR and BCR?

    Any recommendations about transferring money in from the US?

  18. Dr. Max Gamble on January 17, 2008 12:09 am

    Greetings! This is my first visit to your site and really enjoyed it. I have been living on and off in Costa Rica since 1980. Luckily, when I opened my first ever bank account in CR I had no problems. However, at that time you could walk around downtown at any hour and feel comlpetely safe. Unfortunately, CR has changed. Anyone who has done any due diligence should already know that there is so much corruption and illegal activities going on here that I applaud the banks for their effort to know their perspective new clients. BCR is at times a difficult bank to deal with unless you do what I have learned to do. Once you experience the “sometimes ridiculous” requirements to open a savings account find yourself a local branch and visit it 2-3 times a week until the smaller branch recognizes you as soon as you walk in. I have found this to work for me and pass this tidbit on hoping it may work for others. Funny thing, I had new savings and checking debit cards issued in 1992 and one was for use in dollars inside CR and the other for international use. Very professional and even had my picture on each of them. However, 2 years ago they told me for “my security” they were going to give me 2 new cards. Well, typically you return the next day for the cards. I did and the new cards did not have any photo. I asked them how this was for my security…photoless. The answer is a nonanswer as far as I am concerned. So, I took the new cards over to the ATM to make sure they worked. They didn’t. Long story short. I had to go and return on 3 seperate occasions because they finally figured out that i knew how to use them and was not an idiot but that whatever company they had making the physical cards were defective! Oye. Today, I walked into ScotiaBank for the first time and within an hour i walked out with a Universal account. If you plan on all possible obstacles i.e. banking references etc. you can make banking tolerable but never have the type of service that most of us are used too. The funny thing is ScotiaBank requires a utility bill from where you are living…but it doesn’t even need to be in your name. Go figure.

  19. Ben on November 18, 2008 6:22 pm

    Nice post Tim! I also have accounts with the three banks listed here.

    Scotiabank – the most foreigner-friendly. My branch in San Ramon usually has someone who speaks English. Before jumping through all of the hoops to open an account there, they told me that I could use their online website to automatically pay my bills. After opening the account, I found their online services to be mostly useless and down most of the time. However, they did try to make it up for me and paid my bills manually each month for free. My lights were only shut off once. This is not a regular practice though. They are also active in the community by donating to poor schools, etc.

    BAC – I found Tim’s account accurate with the exception that I was able to transfer funds online to a different BAC customer’s account with just their account number (no need to go to the branch).

    BNCR – Longest Lines and most useful website. I am still waiting for them to add RACSA to their PAR (autopay) program, though.

  20. JERRY on January 25, 2009 2:04 pm

    WE HAVE A BANK ACCOUNT WITH SCOTIABANK. VERY PLEASE WITH THEIR SERVICES. CURRENTLY LIVING PERMANENTLY WITH RESIDENCY STATUS IN CR. HAVING PROBLEMS WITH RECEIVING MY USA COMPANY PENSION. THEY INFORM ME THAT I MUST HAVE A USA BANK ACCOUNT AND USA HOME ADDRESS AND ID. THEN THEY CAN WIRE THE FUNDS TO THE BANK. WHAT CAN I DO? HAD REQUIREMENTS BEFORE BUT NOW WHICH TO CHANGE BECAUSE MY DAUGHTER (CO-OWNER) IS STEALING MONEY FROM THE ACCOUNT.

  21. Jimmy on February 25, 2009 4:10 pm

    Coopenae, friendly, fast, passport required for opening an account. Everybody smiles and free coffee at the Canas branch at least. AND,.. they offer 8.5 % on US money deposited there.
    Anyone have anything bad to say about them before I put all my money in there?
    Their English was actually quite good too,.. but come on people! If you are going to live here, ESTUDIAR ESPANOL

  22. Lisa on January 14, 2010 8:37 am

    Hello,
    I am planning to purchase a property in Costa Rica. Even though there are many banks in Costa Rica, based on your experience, which ones would you recommend to apply for a mortgage loan? I have heard that the rates are high but given the current recession and impact on real estate, I am convinced that I can find one bank in Costa Rica that offers a decent mortgage rates and reasonnable terms and requirements. I do not speak Spanish yet and am fluent in English and French.
    Thank you.

  23. Tim on January 15, 2010 6:56 pm

    Spanish is not the issue. I know of NO Costa Rica bank that will lend to anyone who is not a citizen or a legal resident. I am guessing you are neither? Private lenders maybe. Be REAL careful.

  24. Paul on January 19, 2010 9:42 pm

    Re: Lisa’s question above, and your answer to her, my hopes are fading. As a younger man, who is not eligible for social security etc., and given the new laws coming March 2010, plus your observation that banks will only lend to a citizen or resident of CR… can I reasonably presume the following? I cannot get a mortgage in CR without becoming a resident. But I cannot become a resident without first depositing $150,000 cash ($2,500 over 5 years). And since some of that cash would have been my downpayment on a property, I’m out of luck. Right? I would simply like to buy a property in CR to retire to in 10-15 years. I want to lock the price in now, before inflation takes hold. But it appears that the banks’ unwillingness to lend to non-residents, combined with the upcoming residency law changes, have all but ruined my prospects. I now have only two options. 1) Buy a property in CR for cash. or 2) Pay $150,000 to become a resident so I can get a bank loan. But that would also require me to live in CR for 4 months a year. Tim, I appreciate CR tightening it’s lending and residency standards, but they’re killing younger folks like me… who do not have pensions nor a small fortune in cash! If I can come up with 20% or more down, and have good credit in the U.S., why on Earth would a CR bank not lend to me? It all seems very unfair. But no one said life is fair, right?

  25. Paul on January 20, 2010 2:10 pm

    Tim, re: my question above, I have continued reading your blog and notice you generally advise people not to buy in CR, given rent is cheap and keeps your money liquid. If one does buy, don’t buy until one has rented for a year or more, given most people leave CR within one year. Great advise. HOWEVER, were I visit CR and see a condo I just love and really want to buy, I believe my observations above holds true re: there being a catch-22 of sorts. No mortgage loans to non-residents. $150,000 cash required for residency. Add in a downpayment and the mimumum residency requirements, and CR seems to be saying they want only four types of people living in, or investing in, CR… 1) Foreign cash buyers 2) Resident retirees with a min. $1k income per month 3) Resident rich young people with $150,000 cash 4) Resident investors willing to invest $100,000 – $250,000 in certain approved businesses. — Anyone else can STAY OUT. Isn’t that really what they are saying? And if so, doesn’t that exclude a large percentage of credit worthy people who want to invest and/or reside in CR?!

  26. Tim on January 27, 2010 10:58 am

    I cannot disagree more. Let me simplify this.

    1. Costa Rica does not care if you buy or rent and they do not control who gets loans. Banks require you be a citizen or be here LEGALLY meaning that you have residency. No US bank would ever grant a mortgage to a tourist… why should Costa Rica banks do differently? You think a visiting alien could get financing in the USA?

    2. You do not have to buy ANYTHING here to be a legal resident. So what you have to spend is not relevant to residency at all. Some buy homes. Some do not. Why would anyone buy except to live here or to rent it out. If you plan to rent it out, then you do not need residency. If you plan to live in it then you should be legal. The CR government cannot be responsible because you do not have the cash to meet their very liberal laws.

    3. They do not care how old you are. They care that people coming here will not use/abuse the system and the infrastructure by not having sufficient funds on which to live! . They care that you will not burden the system. Sound like anything being talked about in the border states in the USA?
    As young people cannot (generally) work or get a job here, what is the issue with asking them to proove they have the cash to do so?

    4. Costa Rica has perhaps the worlds easiest residency. Basically they require:

    a. That you have and prove that you have sufficient money to live here for 5 years or forever if a pensionado. Very reasonable request! The US certainly has no such easy method to be a legal immigrant. $1,000 for pensionados? How easy can that be? $1,000 per month is barely enough to live on now as Costa Rica is no longer cheap! $150,000 for 5 years for a family? IMHO, that is barely enough!

    b. They require you not be a felon.

  27. Tim on January 27, 2010 11:06 am

    1. Costa Rica does not care if you buy or rent and they do not control who gets loans. Banks require you be a citizen or be here LEGALLY meaning that you have residency. No US bank would ever grant a mortgage to a tourist… why should Costa Rica banks do differently? You think a visiting alien could get financing in the USA?

    2. You do not have to buy ANYTHING here to be a legal resident. So what you have to spend is not relevant to residency at all. Some buy homes. Some do not. Why would anyone buy except to live here or to rent it out. If you plan to rent it out, then you do not need residency. If you plan to live in it then you should be legal. The CR government cannot be responsible because you do not have the cash to meet their very liberal laws. For you the answer is easy. Do not buy! There are no tax advantages and ven if you could get financing, the interest is not deductible.

    3. They do not care how old you are. They care that people coming here will not use/abuse the system and the infrastructure by not having sufficient funds on which to live! . They care that you will not burden the system. Sound like anything being talked about in the border states in the USA? As young people cannot (generally) work or get a job here, what is the issue with asking them to prove they have the cash to live here?

    4. Costa Rica has perhaps the worlds easiest residency requirments. Basically they require:

    a. That you have and prove that you have sufficient money to live here for 5 years or forever if a pensionado. Very reasonable request! The US certainly has no such easy method to be a legal immigrant. $1,000 for pensionados? How easy can that be? $1,000 per month is barely enough to live on now as Costa Rica is no longer cheap! $150,000 for 5 years for a family? IMHO, that is barely enough!

    b. They require you not be a felon.

    Perhaps it is YOU that needs to re-evaluate your dreams/needs. Buying is NOT required. Rent. Your bigger issue is how you will earn a living.

  28. George Ernst on May 11, 2010 1:51 pm

    Hi Enjoyed your info. We are moving to San Ramon in August. I want to open a bank account to put in some cash and also transfer my direct deposit social security. First, I do not yet have my número de folio or Cedula. This seems to be a problem at the national banks. What is your recomendation for minimum hassle for a non-resident. I spoke with Scotia Bank in San Ramon this morning and came away more confused than when I began.

    As an aside, I do speak reaasonable Spanish after 2 years in H.S. one in college, lived in Barcelona for a year and just came off of Rosetta Stone Latin American version 1,2 and 3. I do feel when in someone else’s country, learn their language, don’t become an ugly American. No different than Mexicans always talking Spanish while living in the US. I find if you try just a little bit even in Spanglish, you will accomplish a lot more.
    George

  29. George Ernst on May 11, 2010 1:54 pm

    Uno mas cosa. One more thing about renting Vs buying. If you are 70 like me it would be nuts to buy. If you rent a very nice place in the Central Valley for $10K/year, you could not live long enough to buy the place for $250K. Not only that, you may decide to live somewhere else. You are stuck with what you own. As a tenant, you just say goodbye and move on. Seems logical to me.
    George

  30. Sf on July 25, 2013 12:29 pm

    Very good. Some things have gotten better and others have worsen. Been here for 36 years. From back then to now here is how i see things.

    BCR- was the best and easiest to work with. Since a change in head offices they turned to problematic at beat. Now another turn over in head offices they are improving. They have great hours. Are everywhere and the staff are friendly. For simple personal banking they are fine. Business and internet? They are not where one wants its bank to be. Alot of fluff but little stuff

    BNCR – Back when this bank hated foreigners. I tried a few times and gave up. With changes in the head office they started to improve about 15 years ago. Now – really working hard at becoming the peoples bank. Tight with thier money. The beach areas have English speaking staff. Still have a few unnecessary requirements for taking your money, but once they know who you are and a bit of history on your banking they are easier to deal with than BCR.

    Cuscatlan: this was a pretty good bank until CITI bank took over. Would not walk in their doors now.

    BSJ: back then they were great to deal with. Very accomodating to foreigners. Since about 15 years ago they have become difficult. Actually arrogant and do not like dealing with foreigners. Wont walk back through their doors.

    BP: actually are great with foreigners. Not much english though. They are more creative with financing for projects. Personal banking is easy and friendly. The internet is easy but limited. I venture to say this bank will be the leading bank in the next 5 years. Big problem is few branches and always full.

    I am looking into DAVIVIENDA from Bogota. Some people i know are very happy with the bank.

    HSBC: ever done banking in England with US$? Impossible. I found this bank friendly with english speaking. Limited services. Not worth the trouble.

    Scotia: far more arrogant than BSJ. too many requirement. Not friendly. Don’t bother.

    Many banks want your money but prefer not to have any contact with you.

    I like BNCR, BCR, BP in that order.

    .

  31. Kevin on February 22, 2014 1:57 pm

    If an american opens an acc’t with BAC San Jose in miami & then moves to costa rica will they have access to their money in costa rica?

  32. Tim on March 5, 2014 7:17 am

    No

  33. Coleen on March 21, 2014 5:43 am

    Is there a credit card process company that will allow me to accept Canadian and us credit card payments to my Costa Rica Bank account?
    PayPal will not work for these luxury rentals! not enough money is allowed to transfer.

  34. Tim on March 26, 2014 5:53 am

    Yes. Credomatic

  35. Vicky on June 24, 2014 10:06 pm

    I have a Banco Nacional debit card for my savings account. I use it all of the time for internet purchases and have only had a problem once and it was the fault of the US company, not BN. I have also used it for credit card purchases and to get money at ATMs in the US. It is a Banco Mujer account and a MasterCard debit card.

    I have figured out a system for when to go to the bank. Early in the morning on the Monday before the Friday when everyone gets paid seems to be the best time. I live in a small town in Heredia and my tico husband has an account at the same bank, I have always gotten friendly service both at our home branch and other branches.

  36. Howard on July 15, 2014 9:41 pm

    Is there a minimum amount you need to keep in the account ?
    Is it easy to set up ?do you need an address in Costa Rica to open an account at Banco National ?

  37. Tim on July 16, 2014 6:38 am

    You would need to check with the bank, but I am pretty sure the answer to both questions is yes. It is NOT easy to set up and you must do it in person.

  38. Betty on July 21, 2014 2:47 pm

    My daughter has a job starting in Sept in San Jose that will last until June. Citibank now has a bank there. She is thinking of opening an account at Citibank here in the US so that she can hopefully transfer money from her savings, if need be,more easily. Do you know anything about this bank?

  39. Tim on July 21, 2014 3:40 pm

    She will not be able to open an account at that or any bank and even if she could, she could not transfer money from her US account to Costa Rica.

  40. Annette on June 18, 2015 3:06 pm

    Hi Tim,
    I have found it impossible to open a bank account. Have tried all banck here in Tilaran, then called Banco San José in Liberia… again that nonsense about the letter, which we got before moving, my police record (blank) nope:
    Why HSBC no es una banca de primer orden. What??
    So I asked which bsnks have you got on your list for the UK, hoping my partner’s RBS – Royal Bank of Scotland would be accepted,
    The bank of Luxembourg,
    Now this is the smallest country in Europe and it is definitely NOT a British bank.

    I despair. I speak Spanish fairly well, improving daily and I wanted to start a business here. It seems to be a non starter. On one hand they want you to invwest 100.000.000 Colones but how do you do that if you can’t bring the money?

    I despair

  41. Tim on June 19, 2015 7:34 am

    I guess you were not reading my web site and blog before you came here 🙂

    Costa Rica banks, for all intents and purposes, stopped allowing non residents/citizens from opening new accounts about a year ago. I have heard of a few success stories, but very few.

    However, I can assist.

    1. Join ARCR (www.arcr.net)

    2. Once you a member, ask them to assist you to get an account opened.

    3. They will do that and you will have a bank account within 3-4 hours.

    Also, HSBC is no longer in Costa Rica nor has it been for about a year.

  42. Al St-Louis on April 4, 2016 1:00 pm

    I will move to Costa Rica at a gated community 30 minutes from Santa Cruz Will I be able to transfer funds from my Canadian account to a costa Rica account if not how can I bring funds to Costa Rica from Canada.

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