It is now once again easier to open an account in Costa Rica, even if you are not a legal resident.
I don't know about Banco Nacional but with BCR it is fairly easy now to open a bank account in Costa Rica.
Go to Banco Costa Rica, click on "English" at the top if it doesn't come up in English already, and look for the OPEN AN ACCOUNT link. At the time of this writing that link is on the left about half way down. You can also try this link (though links tend to change so I can't guarantee it will still get you there): https://goo.gl/yiVDd7
Now that page is in Spanish only so if you need help ask someone for help but if you know any Spanish at all you may be able to muddle through it.
It's really quite simple and you will very quickly get an email telling you your account number.
All you do now is take that account number in to the BCR branch specified (I think it's usually the main branch in the city you applied in), and go to the PLATAFORMAS area, grab a "ficha" (number) and wait for your turn.
Now this part may take an hour or more, so take a book to read or something, but it's much faster than it used to be. If you go on a Tue, Wed or Thur you'll probably get through it faster than a Mon or Fri, and never go on the 1st of 15th of the month!
What I do is keep popping in until I see only a few people sitting waitiing at the Plataforma. When I see only a couple or less, then I go for it.
The FATCA[t] law has now made it nearly impossible to open a bank account in Costa Rica and keep it from Uncle Sam, so be aware that if you put more than $10,000 in any number of accounts in Costa Rica, you will have to report this on your taxes.
At Costa Rica banks and other businesses like Internet, the paperwork, in triplicate or worse, seems never ending. It really is quite amazing how much paperwork the banker has to do to get your account open. It's kind of crazy. But that's how it is, so expect it and be prepared to deal with it!
I came prepared with bank statements from my U.S. bank account and my passport, my residency card, copies of my passport, etc.
If you don't have an address locally, maybe you can use an address of a friend or attorney. Most Ticos know that it's no big deal, it's just a bureaucratic requirement so sometimes they will be willing to let you say you give the bank their address.
The bank may want to see a utility bill. Certainly you will need your passport, and you may need your US Drivers License as well. However if you have a legal residence card, that may be all you will need.
Some banks may be more difficult than others. If you're opening an account in San Jose, that may well be harder than opening an account in an outlying town. In any case be prepared for bureaucratic b.s.. In general it seems it is easier in a smaller town, especially if you know someone who banks there.
One thing that may help you is if you already have an S.A., (a sociedad anonima, or corporation). My advice is, that when you set up your corporation or S.A., get your attorney to agree to help you open your bank account as part of the deal. In some cases, the attorney has some "pull" with the local bank and as his client, he can make the red tape go a little faster and easier.
This doesn't seem to be as important as it did a few years ago. I was not asked for any of the above this time, though I was years ago. I believe in being prepared so the more paper work you bring, the less likely you will have to make another trip back and wait in line again.
An S.A. is recommended by many, to own your property, to protect you from legal problems that could lead to loss of property, if someone sues you over something, and to make transfer of a property easier. By opening an S.A. you can use it to hold your property, and it may also help you open a bank account. I say "may" because the banking rules seem to be changing and it is getting more difficult so who knows what they may require next?
Be aware that most banks require you not wear a hat or sunglasses inside the bank, though most seem to have relaxed their rules about mobile phones. My bank does not care if I use my phone while in the bank. But if you do PLEASE be respectful, do not talk loud or long, and if you plan to get a call or think you might, put your ringer on vibrate.
If you are sure you are going to live in a particular community, outside of San Jose, then I recommend that you open your Costa Rica bank account there.
As to "which Costa Rica bank one should open an account with?", that is hard to answer. Some like a National Bank such as BCR or Banco Nacional; while others like Scotia Bank or some other non-Costa Rican banks like Davivienda.
However, right now as of 10-27-17, it does seem that BCR is the easiest bank to open an account with since you can open it online. I can attest that it was relatively painless.
Banco De Costa Rica (BCR) and Banco Nacional are two Costa Rica banks that I've heard many foreigners who have emigrated to Costa Rica recommend. Banco De Costa Rica, and I Banco Nacional have web banking, so you can bank from the U.S. or anywhere in the world. However, that said, they are often not quite as easy to use as U.S. bank web sites and require some Spanish or some intuition as you try to understand what they are saying in bad English! But you will get the hang of it after a few visits!
It seems that both BCR and BancoNacional's APPS for your tablet or smart phone work better than the web site! I have had problems with BCR's web site - I get error messages, telling me I don't owe anything when I do (like when I pay my CAJA health insurance). But on the APP it seems to work more reliably and not give me errors.
If you think standing in line at a bank in the USA and dealing with banking bureacracy is bad, well, you will now get to see REAL bureaucracy at work!
Although my bank account at BCR only took me about an hour to get opened up, it took me TWO hours just to add my wife's name on it, later!
My best advice is:
BE PREPARED TO HAVE PATIENCE AT YOUR COSTA RICA BANK!
DO NOT MISS IT WHEN THEY CALL YOUR NUMBER OR YOU MAY HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN AND GET A NEW NUMBER!
Many people who have moved here and opened a Costa Rica bank account seem to think that keeping their money mostly in dollars is wise, with only some in colones.
(See my HELPFUL RESOURCES page for links to some Costa Rica forums.)
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