Whether you’re looking for adventure, family-friendly activities, or fantastic scenery, you’ll find it in Costa Rica. This small country in Central America is filled with rainforests, beaches, rivers, and wildlife. From the sunny beaches of Guanacaste to bird watching in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, there are outdoor adventures for everybody year-round.
Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica, thinking about retiring there, or looking to send money home? You’ll need to turn your USD, CAD, or other currency into the Costa Rica currency, known as colónes. International money transfers will do this automatically. In the country, you can easily withdraw the local currency from ATMs or exchange currencies at a bank.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what the colón is and the history of Costa Rica currency from the 19th century to today. We’ll then discuss the unique relationship between the colón and the dollar before we get into some lesser-known facts about Costa Rica’s native currency.
The basics of the Costa Rican colón
The colón (CRC) is the national currency of Costa Rica. The symbol for the colón is an uppercase C with two backslashes running through the center. The country’s money is issued by the Banco Central de Costa Rica (Central Bank of Costa Rica), which is based in the capital of San Jose.
The Costa Rica colón is divided into 100 centimos. Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 colónes.
Coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 centimos pieces. Banknotes (i.e., denominations of paper money) also come in a variety of sizes to help ease recognition for the visually impaired.
A short history of Costa Rica currency
The first Costa Rica currency was called the peso and dates back to 1839. Because the country needed a currency that its citizens could use as an exchange or payment, the Head of State, Braulio Carrillo, authorized 30,000 pesos in vouchers of 5 and 10 pesos to pay public employees.
In 1858, the Costa Rican National Bank was founded. The bank issued notes of 1, 2, 10, and 20 pesos. The colón arrived in 1896 when the country underwent a currency reform. Around this time, the Banking Act of 1900 allowed any bank with a capital of 1 million colónes to issue banknotes, so many more colónes came into circulation.
In 1914, the Banco Internacional (International Bank) was created, and in 1921, it gained the sole currency issuing rights. Other private banks were no longer allowed to issue banknotes. In 1936, it was renovated and changed its name to Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (National Bank).
In 1950, leaders founded the Central Bank of Costa Rica and took over the sole issuing rights of the country’s currency. In 1951, the bank started to issue paper currency with notes for 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 colónes. These are the notes that are primarily in circulation currently.
Understanding Costa Rican colón rates
The colón has had an interesting relationship with the U.S. dollar that economists call a crawling peg. It is not defined by a constant value to the dollar. Instead, for years, Costa Rica currency grew progressively weaker at a fixed rate of around 3.294 colónes per 1 USD per month.
This peg changed in 2006, however, because of the weakness of the U.S. dollar and a changing perception of the value of the colón. The Central Bank had also been trying to find a way to equalize economic power between Costa Rican citizens that do and do not work in tourism. The former are more protected from inflation because of their reliance on U.S. dollars.
Costa Rica’s main income comes from agriculture, tourism, and electronics. Almost 70% of the country’s GDP comes from the service industry.
In places like Costa Rica, exchange rates often fluctuate depending on the amount of tourism they are getting. Though Costa Rica travel slumped a bit from 2020 to 2022, the tourism share of the GDP will most likely continue to grow.
The exchange rate is currently free to float within a currency band referenced to the United States dollar. The floor of the band is set at a fixed value and the ceiling changes at a fixed rate.
Banks update the currency exchange rates every day, so make sure to check and get the best rate before you exchange money.
5 fascinating facts about the Costa Rican colón
Want to know more about Costa Rica’s currency? Take a look at these fun facts about the colón.
1. Plastic or cotton? Bills are made of both.
The 1,000 colón note is made of polypropylene, a thin and resistant plastic. The country decided to use this material because it has the best results in less-than-favorable conditions—such as tropical downpours or dusty bus rides.
The 2,000 colón bill is made of cotton. It’s slightly less durable, but feels softer to the touch. It’s also a little longer than the 1,000 colón note.
2. The banknotes change colors.
One of the security measures of the banknotes? The Costa Rica map pictured on them changes in color. When you turn the bill and let the light glint off it, the map changes from purple to green.
3. The colón has plenty of nicknames.
The colón is sometimes called the “peso,” which was the currency before the colón. It’s also referred to as “cana”—Spanish for sugar cane—but this term is usually used in the plural form, canas and for amounts less than 100 colónes.
Many people use the word “teja,” which means roof tile, as the slang term for 100 colónes. In addition, 500 colónes coins and notes are called “cinco tejas,” while 50 colónes coins and notes are called “media teja” or “half roof tile.”
4. Animals feature in the designs.
The country is known for its national parks, where you can enjoy activities like canyoning, canoeing, and river rafting or see macaws, sea turtles, and sloths. It’s no wonder that wildlife has made its way onto the banknotes, too.
Since 2012, Costa Rican bills boast a new colorful design inspired by Costa Rica’s animals. The bills sport new patterns with the sloth, the hummingbird, the morpho butterfly, and the white-headed capuchin monkey.
5. The colón’s namesake is a famous figure in history.
The colón is named after Christopher Columbus (or Cristóbal Colón in Spanish), an admiral you might know something about. Columbus arrived in Costa Rica in 1502 on his last voyage. He didn’t stay, however, and it would be many decades before any permanent colonies were established.
How to send money to Costa Rica
If you’re a Costa Rican who lives abroad, sending money home can be risky because of exchange rate markups and hidden fees. At Remitly, we’re changing that.
With our coverage across Costa Rica, recipients can safely and securely pick up cash from locations they are familiar with, in their local currency. You can also send money directly to a Costa Rican bank account.
Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Our reliable and easy-to-use mobile app is trusted by over 5 million people around the world.
The colón is a colorful currency that is rich in history
It only makes sense that a beautiful, vibrant country like Costa Rica would have similarly interesting money. Given that the colón is so closely tied to the country’s history of international relationships, it will always be a popular subject of currency exchanges.
If you need to send money to family or friends in Costa Rica, you need a service you can trust—like Remitly. Download the Remitly app, and we’ll help you get started.