Understanding (and Saving) Money in Costa Rica: Part 2 CREDIT CARDS

Establishments in Costa Rica are happy to accept your US credit card for payment for commodities, services or food. The cards will help you avoid having to bring along an abundance of cash or access it through local ATM’s after you arrive. However, many places will offer you a discount (usually ~10%) if you use cash, since they have to pay a hefty credit card fees. credit-card

 So you should always ask your waiter or attendant for the “cash price” if you plan to forego the credit card.

Even your tours (zip lines, rafting, sunset sails, etc.) welcome credit cards. Most accommodations (Casa Tranquila, included) will ask for a confirmation deposit (~$25/tour/person) in cash for those tours, and the balance can be paid with your card on the day of the actual event. (At Casa Tranquila, Nathan, your personal concierge, does that preliminary math for you so you will know the exact cash needed for tour deposits).

While “The Big Three” are all largely accepted, Visa and American Express are a bit more welcomed than MasterCard.

You can include gratuities on your card, but it’s wise to “consider the digits”. Figuring a tip in colones (Costa Rica’s currency) can be somewhat challenging. There will be many more actual digits in your bill than you’re accustomed to when ¨thinking in dollars. For a family of six diners, at around $50/person, your dinner bill may look like this: ₡161,836 (about $320). Trying to figure percentages on this total can be mind-boggling, especially if you had wine with dinner.

Smoking CC pic

I always suggest you put a big X on the tip line, re-write the exact amount of the bill on the line for your total, and sign the check. Then, if you want to leave a gratuity, leave in it cash . . .in dollars. This way you are in complete control of the tip.

Costa Rica, unlike The US, also includes a 10% service charge (tip) in your bill. Plus, there’s a 13% sales tax. If you add the customary 15-20% in addition to this 23%, the folks at the restaurant are going to LOVE you. Find the total for just the food on your check, and determine your (additional) gratuity from that. And, to be safe, leave it cash . . .not on your card.

Call (or email) your credit card issuer prior to your departure for Costa Rica to let it know you will be in Costa Rica, and provide dates. We’re usually thankful for the security measures our credit card companies have, but if they don’t know you’re going to be in Costa Rica, they may assume your card has been stolen and transported here by some charlatan. If your card gets frozen, or, worse, confiscated by the machine, you’ll lose a day of your vacation (and high international telephone charges) getting the matter resolved. It’s worth the time it takes to send an email to your bank.

Also, ask them about any foreign transaction fees. Many Costa Rican tourists are surprised to find those on their monthly bills after they get home. You expect the conversion rate, but the additional fee for foreign transactions can be a real shocker. (AMEX adds 2.7% to every transaction that is not in U$D, for example).

Copy you credit card company’s customer (international) service telephone number, and keep it in your travel folder. If you lose your card, you won’t be able to “look on the back” where that number is written. Better, ask if your company has a local office (like AMEX or Citicorp) in Costa Rica. They have English-speaking attendants, and they’re much easier to get on the telephone.

Credit cards are a welcomed benefit while traveling in Costa Rica, and they are easy to use here. Be prepared to use them wisely, and use these tips to help you save on unexpected charges.

I invite you to “Lke” or “Follow” Casa Tranquila here to receive many more suggestions for saving money during your vacation. Feel free to pass these links on to others you know who are planning time here.

Our next topic: TIPPING.