Requirements for residents and foreign nationals
Why opening a Costa Rican bank account is helpful
When you move internationally opening a local bank account is a good idea. In Costa Rica, bank accounts can be used to pay bills and to transfer funds from person to person. It is handy to have access to funds locally and will be far less expensive than foreign transaction fees on credit and debit cards.
Depending on where you are from, opening a bank account might seem like a fairly easy procedure, but in Costa Rica, the process is a bit tedious and requires many official documents.
Opening a bank account takes time and patience
Expect the process to take several days, and potentially more than a week for the bank to verify and approve the account and another week to receive any cards associated with the new account. You will need to return to the bank in order to pick up the card(s).
Generally, there are three ways to open a bank account in Costa Rica. You may: 1. open an individual account as a legal resident; 2. open an individual account as a foreign national, and 3. open an account for a corporation.
What will I need to open the bank account?
In all cases, expect to need the following when you go to the bank.
- Your passport and a copy of the passport
- Proof of residency – electric bill, water bill, lease agreement
- A statement identifying the source of funds for the account and an estimate of the expected income and deposits
- Some banks require reference letters from your current bank
- Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act form (unique to US taxpayers)
- Most banks require a Know Your Customer form
If you are opening an account as a foreigner without residency, you may be limited in the amount and number of transactions you are allowed to make. It is likely that wire transfers will not be an option. Regulations vary from bank to bank, so be sure to do your research.
Opening an account for a corporation
If you formed a legal corporation under which you have purchased or hope to purchase a business or property in Costa Rica, you may open an account for the corporation. It is likely you will have hired an attorney to assist with the creation of the corporation, and it is suggested to enlist their assistance in opening the bank account for you.
You will still need to appear in person at the bank and fill in required forms, but the bulk of the documentation requirements can be handled by your attorney and set up for you ahead of your bank appointment.
Additional documents necessary for opening an account for the corporation are:
- Certificate of Good Standing
- Certificate of Stock Ownership
- Articles of incorporation
- Utility bill for the address of the company
- Certificate of income or projected income for a new business
- Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act form (unique to US shareholders)
Your attorney can help you gather these materials and can probably supply them directly to the bank.
What Costa Rican bank should I use?
There are two different types of banks in Costa Rica, government-owned banks, and privately owned banks. The biggest difference between the two is that those owned by the government guarantee your deposits, whereas the private banks do not.
The following are private banks:
- Banco BAC San José S.A.
- Banco BCT S.A.
- Banco Cathay de Costa Rica S.A.
- Banco Davivienda (Costa Rica) S.A.
- Banco General (Costa Rica) S.A.
- Banco Improsa S.A.
- Banco Lafise S.A.
- Banco Promérica de Costa Rica S.A.
- Prival Bank (Costa Rica) S.A.
- Scotiabank de Costa Rica S.A.
There is evidence that the private banks have better customer service, however, if safeguarding your deposit is most important to you, choose the government-backed banks.
Is online banking available and safe?
Online banking has improved greatly in recent years and once you learn to navigate the portals, it is incredibly easy to pay bills and transfer money when necessary.
For some foreign nationals, transferring money between bank accounts seems like a strange concept, but in Costa Rica, this is common, especially when paying things like school tuition or rent. You will appreciate the availability and ease of this service.
Online banking in Costa Rica is safe and often has more layers of security than most foreign nationals will be accustomed to. You can feel confident when using the online portal at your bank of choice.
Research, documents, and confidence
Don’t be intimidated by the process. It seems daunting, but once you choose the bank, brush up on their requirements, and dive in, you will be glad you did. There are a few things to remember when you are ready to open a bank account in Costa Rica.
Check each bank’s website for up to date requirements. Be sure to have the required documents when you go to the bank. Consult with an attorney if you are opening an account for a corporation, and ask for assistance. Your attorney will know any new regulations that might affect the process.