NOTE: If you are NOT A LEGAL RESIDENT OR APPLYING FOR RESIDENCY
it is difficult to open a Costa Rica bank account.
This was not true in the past but has been true for some time now.
Thanks to the kind forum member who pointed out this article was outdated. I have re-written it and hope now it is more useful.
This article is for those who are legal residents or those in the process of getting legal residency, because the FATCA[t] law has now made it nearly impossible to open a bank account in Costa Rica unless you are a legal resident.
Opening a Costa Rica bank account can be a much more time consuming, involved process than it is in the U.S.. 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.
This depends in part on where you are opening the account. Sometimes the banks can be very difficult to deal with and demand that you have a ton of paper work. But sometimes you may get lucky or know someone that makes it a little easier.
As for an address, 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 live at 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. As I say, 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. Some attorneys may feel they are too busy to help you open an account. If so, perhaps try making this a condition of your signing on with him. At the very least he might be willing to give you any paper work, perhaps a utility bill that you can use, to open an account.
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?
Since opening a bank could take the better part of a day in San Jose', I recommend you discuss this with your attorney and ask for his recommendation and his help. With his help it may take only 2-3 hours instead of 3 or 4. Be prepared to stand in line or remain seated in a queue of chairs. Take a book, an mp3 player, a newspaper, a bottle of water, and perhaps some snacks. Think of it as camping out inside the bank for half a day! Sometimes some of these things may not be allowed, so check ahead of time.
Also most Costa Rican banks do not allow you to use your cell phone (you should put it in airplane mode), nor a laptop, etc., and most require you not wear a hat or sunglasses as well.
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.
It will likely be much quicker, though it is likely you will still have to show a lot of documents and if your attorney is back in San Jose or another area, that could slow the process down as you wait for documents to be faxed or even possibly have to make a trip back to him to get them and bring the actual original document. Be prepared with as many original documents as you can: your S.A., your passport, your driver's license from back home, maybe a banking statement from back home showing you as an upstanding client with lots of money in savings, a utility bill from your current Costa Rica residence (this may not be required but it was when I opened mine!), and so on. The more you have, the better!
As to "which Costa Rica bank?", 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 HSBC.
Banco De Costa Rica (BCR) and Banco Nacional are two national 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!
If you think standing in line at a bank here in the USA and dealing with banking bureacracy is bad here, well, you will now get to see REAL bureaucracy at work!
My best advice is:
BE PREPARED TO HAVE PATIENCE AT YOUR COSTA RICA BANK!
Take a book or a couple magazines or newspapers to read because it may take quite a while to open an account, or sometimes even to just withdraw a large sum of money.
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 to Costa Rica 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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