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Culture Corner

Currency

The national currency is called the colón. Bank notes are available in denominations of 1,000 colones, 2,000 colones, 5,000 colones, 10,000 colones, and 20,000 colones. Coins are used for amounts less than 1,000 colones.

ATM machines are plentiful in Costa Rica and using your ATM card will generally give you the best exchange rate available. Be flexible, though, as sometimes machines are out of order. Check with your bank beforehand to find out how much you will be charged each time you make a withdrawal.

In addition to bringing an ATM card to obtain cash, it is smart to bring a credit card as well. Hospitals often require a credit card number to treat students. ISA resident directors cannot and will not charge student medical visits to an ISA credit card. For this reason, you need a credit card for medical emergencies.

Traveler's checks are often difficult to use. Please note that many students have found that Visa traveler's checks are not accepted.

Western Union (800-777-7777) has numerous offices around San Jose and in several major towns and cities around the country. It offers a secure and rapid, although pricey, money-wire service, as well as telegram service.

Conversion Rates

What is the Colón worth compared to the dollar?
With the Colón and the Dollar in constant flux, please see www.oanda.com for up-to-date exchange rates. While traveling, it may be helpful to carry a portable currency converter.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in San José is, in general, comparable to cost of living in the United States. While some things can be much less expensive than in the United States, other things may be much more expensive. In general travel/transportation is much less expensive, food is generally comparable, electronics, etc. are generally more expensive.

Budgeting
Former students have given us some idea of what you should expect to spend per week while in Costa Rica. Due to the fluctuation in rates of exchange and differences in individual spending habits, we can only give you estimated figures. Based on the past, most students seem to spend anywhere from $50 to $150 per week. Of course this amount varies depending on your spending habits, although $100-$150 is recommended for traveling on weekends and $50-$100 for weekly expenses. Remember, you will be responsible for all meals not eaten at your homestay and for any additional activities, tours, or excursions you wish to participate in. This figure does not include extravagant traveling on the weekends or heavy shopping. Obviously, if you are looking to keep this figure down, try to find things to do in and around San José rather than traveling each weekend. Again, keep in mind that this is a rough figure and that some students spend less and others more. Many students highly recommend creating a budget for yourself before you get there or soon after you have arrived so that you do not overspend.

When budgeting keep in mind that it is always better to overestimate than underestimate. To give you an idea of common approximate expenses a typical student will incur, please see the brief list below.

Public Transportation $10 - $15/week
Groceries $15 - $25/week
Dining Out $30 - $40/week
School Supplies/Books/etc. $50 (summer) / $150 (trimester/semester)
Travel/Hotel/Hostel $12 - $25 per night
Bus Ride to the Beach (roundtrip) $15 - $45

Additional Estimated Expenses

The ISA program cost includes items such as tuition and fees, housing, insurance, and more. To view what is included in your program price, please visit the What's Included section of the ISA San José program page.

The Additional Estimated Expenses sheet in the Accepted Students section of the ISA website has the following estimated expenses listed:

  • Airfare
  • Books and Supplies
  • Meals (2 meals per day are included)
  • Visas/Passports/Personal Travel