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HOW TO OPEN A
COSTA RICA BANK ACCOUNT

NOTE: If you are NOT A LEGAL RESIDENT you can no longer open a Costa Rica bank account.
This article is for those who are applying for legal residents or are legal residents.

One of the first things you need to do, once you have decided to buy Costa Rica real estate, is to open a Costa Rica bank account.

You will need to be able to transfer money to Costa Rica from your home country, to purchase property, hire an attorney, and if you plan to live in Costa Rica you will also need to establish a relationship with a bank.

Opening a Costa Rica bank account is 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, especially if you do not yet have a residence in Costa Rica.

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 residential address before they will accept you as a customer. (This is a "Catch 22": you need the account to buy a property, but they want you to have a residence before you open an account!) 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 requriement so sometimes they will be willing to let you say you live at their address. They 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..

One thing that can really help 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 should 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 to own your property, to protect you from legal problems that could lead to loss of property, and to make transfer of a property easier, so by opening an S.A. you will have your corporation in place 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?

(See my pages on How To Choose An Attorney and Why You Need a Corporation)

Since opening a bank can 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!

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. Most seem to recommend that you use a National Bank, one owned by the country of Costa Rica; while others like Scotia Bank or some other U.S.-related banks like HSBC. Personally I am with the National Bank people. 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 believe 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 I've seen some waiting areas in Costa Rica that do not allow you to use your smart phone or computer while waiting. I do think the banks allow this but it's best to be prepared until you find out for sure what the rules are at YOUR bank.

Also take an ipod or mp3 player to listen (on headphones or earphones of course!) to music or an audio book, and you may want to take a snack. They may not allow you to eat in there but you can always tell the guard you are stepping out for a minute. However: DO NOT MISS IT WHEN THEY CALL YOUR NUMBER OR YOU WILL HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN AND GET A NEW NUMBER!

Most people who have moved to Costa Rica seem to think that keeping their money mostly in dollars is wise, with only some in colones. At least some banks allow you to keep your money in dollars, and still be able to withdraw colones (or dollars) at the ATM machines around town. But in these days of changing economies I cannot recommend anything regarding whether to keep your money in dollars or colones. I recommend you go on some forums and ask around, see what the general consensus is among those who are currently living in Costa Rica. (See my LINKS page for links to some Costa Rica forums.)


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If you would also like to take a look at the five big lots (1½ to 2 acres each) we have available near San Ramon, and learn more about Rancho Silencio, please look at our site via the links at the top left. You can also learn more about Costa Rica in general by visiting our LINKS and FAQ pages.

 I hope this article about How To Open A COSTA RICA BANK Account has been useful.

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