Opening a Costa Rican bank account in 5 easy visits


Our very first visit to San Jose was to meet our attorney.  We handed over all our paper work, lots of money, and he initiated our rentista residency process (see my first post about this, which describes the “rentista residency” vs. the residency people do when they are of OTHER retirement age and receive social security). All went well, and he told us he’d call us once we received our “folio numbers” – which would enable us to come back and get finger printed and set up a bank account.  Our attorney also mentioned that he had 15 years of experience working with Banco National, and we would have no problem opening an account to satisfy the rentista requirements.

1st trip to the bank:

We were informed that our folio numbers were issued, and our attorney was ready for us to come back to be finger printed and open our bank account.

We arrived in San Jose with our driver Wilson again, met with our attorney’s assistant Raul The Runner, and proceeded to go and get fingerprinted.

After the finger printing, we went to Banco National (right around the corner from our attorney’s office).

A couple things to note about entering banks here in Costa Rica.  After going in the front door, you then wait in front of the isolation booth until the light turns green.  At that point, the glass door slides open, you enter and stand still (kinda like at the airport).  The door behind you closes, while another glass door in front of you remains closed.  At this time – there is a guard looking into the isolation booth through the glass and you need to hold open any bags you have for them to look into.  They then “approve” you and the last glass door slides open.  ALSO – you cannot wear hats or sunglasses, and must not use your cell phone unless you want to have your wrist slapped.

Once all three of us get in (which takes a while), we then have to pull a number (like at a meat counter) and wait for our number to be called.

Finally – our number is called, and we go over to a desk out in the open and Raul proceeds to talk rapid Spanish to the bank clerk.  She listens for a long time, and asks Raul questions…  and then all of a sudden she starts frowning, shaking her head repeatedly while speaking rapid Spanish to Raul.  The only word we recognize is “no” (maybe because it’s the same word in English??  However, it is spoken frequently)…

Bottom line – the bank requires a utility letter from current place we were renting (even if it was in landlord’s name).  Of course, this is something our attorney previously told us we DIDN’T need, but oh well…  Went back and talked with attorney, he told us this would be easy for us to obtain, and once we had, we could try opening the account at the Banco National branch in Grecia.  Sounded good to us – we were getting tired of coming to San Jose!

Side note:  for those of you who say it was really easy for you to open a bank account here, keep in mind that the laws and requirements keep changing (every month, seemingly!).  Also – we are required to do rentista residency, not pension ado residency (rentista requires a large sum of money to be wired into the country at one time).

2nd trip to the bank:

For our 2nd trip, we took our attorney’s advice and went to Grecia with utility letter in had, with our awesome friend Justa, who helped translate for us (thank goodness, because there was no English spoken there!).  Justa proceeds to talk in Spanish to the bank clerk.

The bank clerk listens for a long time, and asks Justa questions…  Shortly thereafter, the bank clerk starts frowning, shaking her head repeatedly while speaking rapid Spanish to Justa.  Again, the word “no” is said frequently.

Bottom line:  the Grecia branch seems to have many, many more requirements, as they are not familiar with opening an account for the rentista residency.  They require all the documents the San Jose branch required, and additionally require a detailed letter from our attorney with detailed instructions about the CD, along with 3 additional letters(!!!).  They were clueless and at a loss as to how to go about opening this account.  We left, dismayed once again, and decided we would have to go to San Jose and have the assistance of our attorney.

3rd trip to the bank:

For our 3rd trip, we went on the bus to San Jose with our super nice friend Debbie (the bus is so cheap – $2.12 one way).  Debbie held our hand, and showed us where to get off, and how to get to our attorneys office from the bus (thank you, Debbie!).  We meet with Raul The Runner at our attorney’s office again, and walk around the corner back to Banco National.

We are called over to a desk and Raul proceeds to talk rapid Spanish to the bank clerk, once again.  She listens, asked Raul questions…. and then (once again) there is lots of frowning, head shaking, and use of the word “NO”.

Bottom line – turns out the bank is now requiring a letter from our brokerage account – saying that we have a large sum set aside and available for transfer, and also stating where our money came from so they can see if it is “clean” money (vs. drug money, we guess???).

We leave, dismayed and upset.  Greg voices his concerns to Raul, who relays them to his attorney, and when we get back to the attorney’s office – there is much apologizing, etc.  Our attorney says this is a new requirement, he has never heard of before…

Ah well…  we contact our brokerage guy, and outline what letter we need from him…  it is to be sent through the mail – directly to our attorney.

4th trip to the bank:

For our 4th trip to the bank – our attorney had told us he received our brokerage account’s letter.

We come back to San Jose – all by ourselves – on the bus (yay! We got the San Jose bus part down pat!) – with utility letter, and letter from our brokerage account in hand.

We meet Raul at our attorney’s office, walk over to Banco National again.  Enter, take number, meet with banker.  More frowning.  More head shaking.  More rapid Spanish.  More “no’s”…   Lots of pointing at our most recent passport stamp.  Then they call Raul into the back room and closed the door.   Greg & I look at each other.  I start to seriously worry (visions of handcuffing and deporting are going around in my head).

Bottom line – we are over the 90 day visa limit on our passports (even though – our attorney told us we did not have to leave the country every 90 days because we had our folio numbers).  We were “legal” (we would not be deported!) – but this did not sit well with Banco National as far as opening an account for us.

We left the bank hanging our heads.  Raul tried to cheer us.  But really – what could he say?  He called our attorney, and he suggested trying a different bank – the Scotia Bank just “a few blocks away”.  We agree, and after walking about 15 blocks(!), arrive at the Scotia Bank.

Enter the Scottia Bank – we walk right in the front door– which was very UN-Costa-Rican-like.  No triple door.  No isolation booth.  I had my sunglasses on top of my head.  No number to pull.  Are we in the USA??  We were greeted immediately by a personal banker very kindly (and in English!), and Raul explained our needs.

We waited just a few minutes, and then Armondo comes out and introduces himself to us (all English, again).  He escorts us into a private office and tells us our options:

They could open an account for us if we had one of the following:  1.  Our cedulas, 2.  We own property here, 3.  We own a corporation here.

Well – we had none of these items, of course.  Raul explains this to them, and what we are trying to do – and that our cedula’s were “on order” and in process, and we had our folio numbers already proving this.  He tells us he will discuss with his manager and “see what they can do”.

We didn’t have to wait long, they come back and tell us if we could provide a utility bill in our name with our Grecia address, along with our 2012 tax return – they can make an exception – and open an account for us.  Armondo gives us a list in writing, we make notes, he tells us to call when we have these items and make an appointment and they will open an account for us.  He walks us out to the front door, shakes hands with a big smile, and makes small chit-chat about Grecia and what a nice town it is.

5th (AND FINAL) trip to the bank:

TODAY – we had made an appointment with Armondo at the Scotia Bank for 9am this morning.  We arrive right at 9, and he comes out to greet us, welcoming us back with a big smile and escorts us back to his private office.

I pull out all our paper work, passports, driver’s licenses and multiple letters – and he goes to work.

He offers us something to drink, and a kind lady brings us piping hot good coffee (in real mugs on a saucer!) with cream, sugar, sweetener and a spoon…  we sit back and relax while Armondo types away on his computer.  Every now and then he asks us questions, or talks to us.   He tells us about where he lives – Cartago – and how beautiful and green it is.  He shows us his picture of a volcano in his town, saved on his desktop…


Before we know it (about an hour or so later) – WALAH!  We have our account!!  Even have a debit card (with our name on it!).  And pin number.  And access to online banking.

We fill out the wire form we need for our broker to wire over our necessary funds, Armondo scans and emails it to our broker (and cc’s us on the email) – our broker receives and confirms the wire will be initiated later today.

Our business is done, folks!  Account has been opened!  Finally!  Armondo congratulates us, shakes our hands heartily, and tells us to contact him with ANY questions  or problems in the future.  And, if we ever visit Cartgo, he insists that we contact him and he will meet us for coffee and show us around (seriously??).

In the book Catch 22, Joseph Heller writes:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

Translated into our experience – In order to establish Rentista Residency you need to transfer a large sum of money into a Costa Rican bank account so that you can prove that you can convert a smaller sum per month from dollars to colones each month for 2 years and…. in order to open said bank account, you must be a resident.

That’s all for now folks!!  Ciao! — Jen (& Greg)

Latest posts by Jen (see all)

15 Responses to Opening a Costa Rican bank account in 5 easy visits

  1. Fantastic story. You probably enjoy it now too… afterwards 😀 Reminds me of the madness I had to go through to get a working permit in Jamaica. Up and down to Kingston for 5 hours in a packed up minivan. Really cool… afterwards.

  2. I’m exhausted just reading this story.
    I avoid bureaucracy here at all costs.
    Have been a tourist for 15 years.
    The comparatively smooth efficiencies of the US
    Is what we all miss at times.
    There is no equal protection clause, no attorney disapline,
    No consistencies, and too many bureaucrats with discretionary powers.
    It’s all a tradeoff. It’s 75 and sunny, and 13 below in the US. Pura Vida

    • Ed… well, hopefully we are the “exception” with the opening a bank account – I think mainly because we are doing the rentista residency (darn, why did we have to retire so young?). We try to remember that we are the foreigner here, and we do not speak their language, etc…

  3. Nice (but sad) story. If you remember, when we first met, I told you that the one thing you can count on in Costa Rica is that we are forever CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT. Your story proves that.

    • Indeed, Andy Browne! That advice helped us, for sure – we almost expected this, which helped us be calm and say “ok, maybe next time”. I’m just glad after the 5th trip we didn’t have to say that anymore!! 🙂

  4. Incredible Jen.
    Glad you finally got all set up. I will say that my “bank account” ordeal was much easier,just two trips. I was recommended to use BCR and I already had my cedula, so it was just proof of funds, water bill, letter from a C/R CPA audit and “Wahalaa’, I too left with all the beanies in hand. Important note is each and every application requires different info.

    And Armondo is correct, Cartago is nice, mostly clean and green! That’s where I am also. Ochomogo de Cartago

    • Thanks Don, and agreed – important to note that each application requires different info (and each year it seems to change as well!). We totally are planning to visit Cartago at some point – will let you & Armondo know when we do! 🙂

  5. What an ordeal! I remember when we filed for residency status in Costa Rica, it was an insane journey into the underbelly of the bureaucracy beast. Congratulations on getting through victoriously!

    • Thanks Gabor… I think we were able to maintain a good attitude throughout, so that really helped. But still – I know… 🙂 We are just happy to have a bank account now!

  6. Pingback: You Know You've Been Living in Costa Rica When...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *