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COSTA RICA HAS TWO BANKING SYSTEMS


NATIONAL BANKS

The Costa Rican government owns the national banks and Costa Rican laws governing banking secrecy apply to them. These were the only banks that were permitted under law to operate checking and savings accounts in Costa Rica until 1996 when private banks were permitted to compete in this area.

Accounts can be operated in both US dollars or in colones.

The government of Costa Rica guarantees without limit all deposits of its government owned banks belonging to the National Banking System of Costa Rica.

The national banks can be slow and bureaucratic but are slowly becoming more competitive. If you need to open an account it is prudent to go with a friend who has an account already opened in the bank that you wish to do business with. This will expedite the process considerably. Checking accounts normally require $US500 to open. Savings accounts normally require less money to open but require personal attendance to do transactions and no checks are issued. There are no minimum balances for these accounts and checking and deposit charges are minimal. Most banks have ATM machines and issue debit cards.

When making deposits, consider the following:

  • Checks from outside Costa Rica, including bank cashiers checks and traveler’s checks, usually require 30 working days after the funds have been deposited before they are available. Checks issued on these funds prior to that date will be returned "Funds Not Available". Your local bank representative can often assist in reducing processing time for out of country checks to approximately 8 days.  Foreign currencies other than US dollars will likely not be accepted for deposit except at banks operating foreign exchange facilities. US dollar postal money orders are currently not accepted in Costa Rica.
  • Checks issued from a Costa Rican private bank and deposited at a different Costa Rican bank will take 8 or 9 working days before the funds are available for use.  Checks deposited from the same bank are usually available the next day.
  • If you are expecting a wire transfer, allow 4 - 5 working days from the date of transfer. Bank wire transfers are then available for use upon arrival. If your funds have not arrived when expected, contact the “tranferencias” department of the bank to which funds are being transferred. If you are not diligent, the bank may not deposit the funds in your account for some time.
  • Banks normally charge $15 - $22 to receive wire transfers.
  • The bank may charge a commission if you require immediate use of certain cashiers' and traveler's checks.
  • Mortgages and loans from Costa Rican Banks can take a substantial amount of time for approval. The processing of the loan can take many months, and it is not unusual to be turned down for any number of reasons or to be told that statements and other documents you have submitted are out of date and must be updated.

The State Commercial Banks are:

Banco Nacional de Costa Rica

Banco de Costa Rica

Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago

Banco Popular — formed under a special agreement by the Costa Rican Government

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PRIVATE BANKS

Private banks offer full service banking including foreign currency exchange, loans, money transfers, letters of credit, mortgages and collections. Service charges for account operations at private banks can be higher than at the national banks when the minimum deposit balance is not maintained. The deposit required to open a checking account varies but is usually averages from $1,000 - $1,500 US.

The private banks are:

Banca Promérica S.A.

Citibank (Costa Rica) S.A.

Banco Cuscatlan S.A.

Banco Banex S.A.

Banco Uno S.A.

Banco Interfin S.A.

Banco de San Jose S.A.

Scotiabank de Costa Rica S.A.

Banco BCT S.A.

Banco Cathay de C.R. S.A.

Banco Lafise S.A.

Banco Improsa S.A.

Many private banks have “payable through” checking and savings accounts that are administered by banks outside of Costa Rica. This can sometimes be an advantage as it is possible to both transfer funds and write checks on banks in the US or other jurisdictions.

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