Currency The monetary unit is the colon (co-LONE). Its symbol is 0. Take time to look at the coins . Each is clearly marked. Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2000, 5000 and 10,000. Coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones. Newer coins have a golden finish.

The colon floats in relation to the U.S. dollar; as of July 2006, the exchange rate was 511 to the dollar. Continuing mini- devaluations will change this rate.

From my experience, you sometimes pay a premium for colones in a departure airport, so change a minimum or wait until you get to Costa Rica . You may change money legally at banks or at your hotel. It is certainly more convenient at the hotel, but sometimes the cash drawer is low, so don't wait until the last minute to ask. Do not change dollars on the street: it's both illegal and risky. The difference in the legal and black-market rate is only a few colones, and you risk receiving counterfeit money or being otherwise shortchanged or robbed.

Hotels and banks usually charge a small amount for changing traveler's checks or give a lower exchange rate. Ask. Some have a minimum service charge whether you change $50 or $500 worth of checks. Do not assume that all hotels will accept credit cards, especially outside San Jose; be sure to inquire when you make your reservation, Also, some establishments add a surcharge for use of credit cards even though it is illegal.

Always have some smaller bills with you. Taxis or rural restaurants or shops may not have change for a 10,000-colon note.

Try to bring bills of $50 and $20 and not of $100 as some places don't accept big bills.

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