By Ivo Henfling
When you buy a Costa Rica real estate, you need to pay for it, right? Well, nowadays it is not easy to open a bank account in Costa Rica. So what do you do and how do you get your money here?
That is one of the many reasons you should use a qualified real estate agent to purchase your Costa Rica property. You will need to either choose a real estate attorney for you closings who also has an escrow account in Costa Rica or you should use a Title company in Costa Rica for their trust and escrow services. Read on and ask your GoDutch Realtor to help you on this.
The Costa Rican banking system is quite different from what you are used to and 9/11 has changed it tremendously. The US Government has obliged Costa Rican banks to make sure your money is legal and therefore they want to know everything about you. Sugev de Costa Rica is the controlling authority and they oblige the banks to play by rules that didn’t exist before. Since the Costa Rican banking system has been privatized, you can choose to open a bank account in Costa Rica with different government owned banks (Public banks) or privately owned banks.
For a Costa Rica mortgage, since December 2008, you need to be either a citizen or a legal resident. More information on mortgages, please see below.
Bank Customer Services in Costa Rica
If you are used to good service at your bank back home, you will need to get used to the uninterested services of the bank employees. Some years ago, when the government finally allowed the Costa Rican banking system to open up to private banking, competition for clients was fierce. Now, to receive Bank Customer Services in Costa Rica you have to practically beg a bank to allow you to open a bank account in Costa Rica.
Since private banking is allowed in Costa Rica, I have mostly banked at Scotiabank de Costa Rica as they were mostly marketing themselves to the foreign crowd of Costa Rica and they used to give a very good service. They would also help us a lot to get the paperwork done on the mortgages they would sell to our home buyers. Since Scotiabank de Costa Rica took over Banco Interfin, they have turned totally Tico and don’t care about their foreign clients anymore, even though they advertise otherwise. Their on-line banking in Costa Rica is all in Spanish, which shows enough of their interest in servicing the foreign crowd. I used to set up all my clients with Scotiabank accounts, to make things easier on all of us, but over the past 2 years things have gone from bad to worse at Scotiabank de Costa Rica. I have personally found a total disinterest in my business and my clients and therefore I find I have no further reason to bring them any new business.
So your question is probably: which Costa Rican banks should I go to for a good service? Honestly, I don’t know. They’re all the same. The best you can do is just go to any bank and make friends with the executives that attend you and you’ll get at least something done, so it doesn’t really matter where you bank.
In agencies in the areas where most foreigners live, like in Escazu and in Santa Ana, you might find some bank employees (and even tellers) to speak enough English to get by. As soon as you get to the rural areas like in Atenas and in Grecia or Los Santos, you might have a slim chance of finding an English spoken bank employee
State owned Public banks:
Banco de Costa Rica, they offer on-line banking in Costa Rica and most of their website is in English.
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, they offer on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is in Spanish.
Bancredito, they offer on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is in Spanish.
Banco Popular, they offer on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is in Spanish.
The government banks are not known for being client oriented so if you need to do any diligence, bring a book. In many rural areas though, they are the only option or you would have to open an account in one of the private banks in the nearest city. Unless you have legal residency in Costa Rica or are a citizen, mortgages through these banks are NOT an option. They are much more lenient on the requirements for opening an account than the private banks. The government guarantees all funds deposited in their banks.
Private owned banks
Scotiabank de Costa Rica, they offer on-line banking and their website is in Spanish and English even though their on-line banking in Costa Rica is in Spanish.
City Bank Costa Rica (Banco CMB) Jose has on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is only in Spanish. This is the former Cuscatlan Bank.
BAC San Jose has on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is only in Spanish.
HSBC bank has on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is only in Spanish.
Banco Promerica, offers on-line banking in Costa Rica and their website is only in Spanish.
How to open a bank account
If you want to open a bank account in Costa Rica check what you will needed with the bank of your interest. Most will request a recommendation letters from two banks you have an account. Ask your GoDutch realtor or your attorney to help you open a bank account in Costa Rica.
Things have changed a lot since 9/11 and terrorism and drug wars throughout the world have changed the financial world all over the world.
The Superintendent of Financial Institutions (Sugef de Costa Rica) requires banks and financial intermediaries to comply fully with specific politics of, " Know Your Customer " (or in Spanish “Conozca su cliente”).
The financial institutions are the ones who define the requirements that seek to open a savings or checking account with a natural or legal person, domestic or foreign ".
For purposes of controls of money laundering the customer should at least supply the information specified in item # 4 of the rules for compliance with Act 8204.
However, the financial institution's responsibility does not end with the fact they fulfill a form. The knowledge of clients, their businesses and transactions with the bank is a permanent responsibility of the intermediary, is Sugef de Costa Rica statement.
A key aspect of the policy of "Know Your Customer" (or in Spanish “Conozca su cliente”) is to monitor customer transactions and compare them against historical transactional profile within the entity or entities.
The Know Your Customer issue allows the bank to continuously and when ever they feel like, to tell you to show any paperwork and proof of who you are, what you do and where your money comes from, at any time.
If you do not comply with their rules and regulations, they will simply close your bank account in Costa Rica.
When you plan to open a bank account in Costa Rica, the bank will tell you that you need to be established in the country. This means that you need to have an address and prove you are living here. So, do not plan to open a bank account in Costa Rica until you have legal residency in Costa Rica or at least have bought a property (and can show proof of such.
Mortgage in Costa Rica
If you are looking for a Costa Rica mortgage, again don’t expect the same services you are used to. Most Costa Rican banks will only supply you with a mortgage in Costa Rica if you have a residency or a local income. Mortgage brokers do not exist in Costa Rica and banks are not used to realtors get involved in their business. Mortgage rates change from bank to bank, but generally is around 9% in US dollars plus a one time charge (all fees) of 2 – 3%. I’ve seen some Costa Rican banks lately give a mortgage in Costa Ricaas low as 7%, but that’s ever changing. Fixed interest rates do not exist in Costa Rica. You need to be a citizen or have legal residency in Costa Rica to be able to apply for a Costa Rica mortgage. If you are on a tourist visa, you will not be able to open one.
If you have legal residency in Costa Rica, you’ll have access to a Costa Rica mortgage, you need to know that bank appraisals always come out low and most banks will not give you more that 60% of the real value (70% of the appraised value).
Wire money to Costa Rica
If you need to wire money to Costa Rica, make sure you have the correct wire instructions. Your bank and the receiving bank will both charge a wiring fee which will be deducted of the amount wired, so beware. Wire transfers are available as soon as they arrive; usually they take 2-3 days. If you are in Costa Rica, your U.S. bank will not allow you to order a wire transfer from here; you HAVE to be in the U.S. to do so. Another way to get your money into Costa Rica is to write yourself a check from your US account and just deposit it into your account in Costa Rica. It will take 3-4 weeks to clear, but you wouldn’t have to pay any wire cost. If you want to wire money from Costa Rica to another country, you need to have a bank account in Costa Rica
US bank checks in Costa Rica
First of all, you need to understand that when you are in Costa Rica, you are in a different country and not in the US, which means that your US bank checks in Costa Rica are not good here and you will need to deposit them into a bank account. So remember to bring enough cash with you to rent a house and do your first shopping because you will not be able to change your US bank checks in Costa Rica.
When making deposits in national banks you should consider the following. Checks from outside Costa Rica, including bank cashier's checks, require 30 working days (minimum) before funds will be available after they are deposited. Checks issued on Costa Rican private banks will usually take 8 to 9 working days before the funds will be able to be used. Checks deposited from the same bank and branch, are usually available the next day. Money orders and other forms of payment do not exist in Costa Rica.
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