With a handful of state-owned banks and around 19 private commercial banks, there is no lack of options if you’re looking to open an account
in Costa Rica. All of these banks offer services to foreigners, whether residents, students or workers. The majority offer accounts in colones or dollars, and in some cases, euros.
The first decision you’ll probably want to make is whether to open an account with a private or a state bank. State-owned banks guarantee all deposits and have the most branch and ATM locations. For example, Banco Costa Rica (BCR) offers the most ATM locations
– 400 scattered all around the country. While there are a number of advantages to state banks, there is one very important downside to keep in mind: long lines.
Patience is the first requirement when doing business with state-run banks in Costa Rica. The experience will either build your patience or drive you completely insane. Adjusting your mentality to expect a long wait, and bringing a good book or a few Sudoku puzzles can greatly alleviate any destructive desires that crop up as you wait in a line that barely snakes forward. If you’re able to bear this one main disadvantage, state-run banks may be a good option.
If you simply do not have the time or patience to wait, consider one of the private banks, such as the Canadian-owned Scotiabank. In addition to much shorter wait times, many of the private banks are more likely to have a banker or teller that can assist you in English if your Spanish is limited.
What do you need to open an account? Whether you’ve chosen a state-run or private bank to open a savings account (checking accounts generally require a few more hoops to jump through), there are a number of guidelines we can offer.
1) Identification – All banks will require your passport if you’re not a resident, and may ask for an additional form of identification, such as a driver’s license (from country of origin is acceptable).
2) Utility Bill – You’ll also need to obtain a copy of a utility bill that confirms the address where you reside. (The bank accepted a receipt listing the building owner’s name from this author.)
3) Purpose in the Country – This requirement varies bank to bank, but if you’re a retired resident, you’ll want to bring your residency card or some document from immigration or your lawyer that shows you’re in the process of obtaining it. Students should provide a letter from the institution where they study stating their purpose in the country, and any foreign workers should provide their orden patronal – a small document that reports income
and proves payment into social security, or La Caja.
4) Initial Deposit – This amount varies widely, ranging from 3,000-25,000 colones, or $10-500 for accounts in dollars.
5) Letters of Reference – Most banks will require an average of two reference letters. There is some variation in what is expected, but in general, these are letters from other banks where you have made deposits. They can also be as simple as letters from friends who have accounts in the bank where you are applying, stating your relationship and their confidence in your reliability. In fact, if you can talk this friend into it – by buying them coffee, dinner, or both – it can help facilitate the process if they can accompany you to the bank.
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. Finally, the Association of Residents of Costa Rica provides, among other services, banking assistance to its due-paying members. Good luck in your personal banking, and see you in the ATM lines!