Whether you’re looking for adventure, family-friendly activities, or fantastic scenery, you’ll find it in Costa Rica. This small Central American country, filled with rainforests, beaches, rivers, and wildlife, is a popular spot to visit year-round. Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica or looking to send money home? You’ll need to turn your USD, CAD, or other currency into Costa Rican colons (in Spanish, the plural is colones).
If you’re sending money to Costa Rica from the U.S. or Canada, Remitly makes it easy. Download our app or the visit the homepage, and we’ll help you get started.
Otherwise, read on for essential information about Costa Rican money.
Costa Rican Colon Essentials
The Costa Rican colon (CRC) is the national currency of Costa Rica. The symbol for the colon is an uppercase C with two backslashes running through the center. The country’s money is issued by the Central Bank of Costa Rica, which is based in the capital of San Jose.
The colon is divided into 100 centimos. Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 colones. Coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 centimos pieces. Banknotes also come in a variety of sizes to help ease recognition for the visually impaired.
A Short History of Costa Rican Currency
The first currency used in Costa Rica was called the peso, which dates back to 1839. The Head of State, Braulio Carrillo, authorized 30,000 pesos in vouchers of 5 and 10 pesos so that the government could pay public employees. The country needed a currency that people could use as an exchange or payment.
In 1858, the Costa Rican National Bank was founded. The bank issued notes of 1, 2, 10, and 20 pesos. The colon 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 one million colones to issue banknotes, so many more colones came into circulation.
In 1914, the 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 the National Bank of Costa Rica. In 1950, the Central Bank of Costa was founded 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 colones — these are the notes that are primarily in circulation currently.
Understanding Costa Rican Colon Rates
The colon 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, the colon grew progressively weaker at a fixed rate of around 3.294 colones per dollar 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 colon.
Costa Rica’s main income comes from agriculture, tourism, and electronics. About 68% of the country’s GDP derives from the service industry. Hence, their exchange rates often fluctuate depending on the amount of tourism they are getting.
The exchange rate is now 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 exchange rates every day, so make sure to check the going exchange rate before you change your money.
5 Fascinating Facts About the Costa Rican Colon
Want to know more about Costa Rica’s money? Take a look at these fun facts about the colon.
1. Plastic or cotton? Bills are made of both.
The 1,000 colon 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 colon bill is made of cotton. It’s slightly less durable, but feels softer to the touch. It’s a little longer than the 1,000 colon note.
2. Watch for changing 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 colon has plenty of nicknames.
The colon is sometimes called the “peso,” which was the currency before the colon. 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 colones.
Many people use the word “teja,” which means roof tile, as the slang term for one hundred colones. Five hundred colones coins and notes are called “cinco tejas,” while fifty colones 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, as well as sighting 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 colon’s namesake is a famous figure in history.
The colon is named after Cristóbal Columbus, 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.
Sending Money to Costa Rica
If you live abroad, sending money to Costa Rica can be expensive because of exchange rate markups and hidden fees. At Remitly, we’re changing that.
With our coverage across Costa Rica, your recipients can pick up cash from locations they are familiar with. You can also send 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. Visit the homepage or download our app to learn more.