Opening A Costa Rican Bank Account - In 5 Easy Visits

by Jen Seymour


EDITOR:  This is a very sobering article which documents the steps Jen and Greg Seymour endured just to open a Bank Account. 

The bottom line in... the most important thing to bring with you to Costa Rica is a sense of humor, a smile and PATIENCE!


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.


We were informed that our folio numbers were issued.  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.  We 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 we're all in, we then have to pull a number (like at a meat counter) and wait for our number to be called.

Finally, when our number is called, we go over to a desk where Raul proceeds to talk rapid Spanish to the bank clerk.  She listens for a long time, and asks Raul questions.  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.

We learned that the bank requires a copy of a utility bill from the current place we are renting, even if the bill was in the name of the landlord.  Of course, this is something our attorney previously told us we DID NOT NEED, but oh well, we're in Costa Rica. 

We went back and talked with our attorney.  He told us this would be easy for us to obtain, and once we had it, we could try opening the account at the Banco National branch in our town of 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 change frequently.  Also – we are required to do Rentista residency, not Pensionado.  Rentista requires that a large sum of money ($60,000) be wired into the country at one time.


For our second trip, we took our attorney’s advice and went to Grecia with the copy of the utility bill in hand.  This time we brought along our awesome friend Justa who acted as our translator.  That turned out to be a good idea for there was no English spoken at the Grecia branch. 

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

It appears the Grecia branch has many more requirements than the branch in San Jose and they are not familiar with the process of opening an account for those obtaining Rentista residency.  They require all the documents the San Jose branch required, PLUS a detailed letter from our attorney with instructions on how to take our $60,000 deposit, set up a CD and apply monthly payments to cover our residency.  They were clueless and at a loss as to how to go about opening this type of an account. 

We left, dismayed once again, and decided we would have to go back to San Jose, along with our attorney, to work this matter out.


On trip #3 we took the bus to San Jose along with our super nice friend Debbie.  Debbie held our hand, showed us where to exit the bus, and how to get to our attorney's office.  There we met Raul The Runner and proceeded around the corner to Banco National.

Shortly we are called over to a desk where (once again) Raul proceeded to talk rapid Spanish to the bank clerk.  She listens, asked Raul several questions.  Once again we see lots of frowning, head shaking, and use of the word “NO”.

It turns out the bank is now requiring a letter from our brokerage account – saying that we have $60,000 set aside and available for transfer.  The letter must also state where our money comes from so they can determine whether or not the money is "clean."  This makes no sense, but what the heck... we're in Costa Rica.

We leave, dismayed and upset.  Greg voices his concerns to Raul, who relays them to our attorney.  When we got back to the attorney’s office – there is much apologizing, etc.  Our attorney says this is a new requirement, of which he has no knowledge.

We contacted our brokerage guy back in the States, and told him what we needed and that it must be sent directly to our attorney's office.


Our attorney told us he received our brokerage letter.  On our fourth trip back we traveled all by ourselves with utility bill, and letter from our brokerage account in hand.

We meet Raul the Runner at our attorney’s office and 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.   

It appears that there may be an issue with our passports. We are over the 90 day visa limit, even though our attorney told us we did not have to leave the country because we had our folio numbers.  Greg & I looked at each other and started to seriously worry, not just of being denied a bank account (again), but worse, maybe we now have a problem with Immigration?  I conjured up all sorts of visions of being handcuffed and deported.  Although we were “legal” and would not be deported, this apparently did not sit well with Banco National.

We left the bank hanging our heads.  Raul tried to cheer us up, but really, what could he say?  He called our attorney, and he suggested trying a different bank.  Scotia Bank was just a few blocks away, we decided to give that a try. What can we lose?

We walk right in the front door– which was very un-Costa-Rican.  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!).  Raul then proceeded to explain 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 provided we had one of the following:  (1) Our cedulas, (2) proof we owned property in CR or (3) we own a Costa Rican corporation. Of course, we had none of these items.  Raul explained how our cedulas were "in process", as we had our folio numbers. He tells us he will discuss this with his manager and “see what they can do.”

We didn’t have to wait long.  Armondo returned and told us that 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 him when we have these items.  Once that is done we'll be able to open an account.  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.



After complying with Armondo's requirements, we called and made an appointment for today at 9 am.  Being the ever punctual gringo, we arrived at Scotia precisely at 9 am.  Armondo came out to greet us and with a big smile escorted 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 offered us something to drink and a kind lady brought us good, piping hot coffee (in real mugs on a saucer!) with cream, sugar, sweetener and a spoon.  We sat back and relaxed 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) – VOILA!  We have our account!!  Even have a debit card (with our name on it!) along with a pin number and access to online banking!

Soon we fill out the International Wire form needed to transfer our residency money here to Costa Rica.  Armondo scans and emails it to our broker and cc’s us on the email. Our broker confirms the wire will be initiated later today.

Our business is finally done, folks and our account has been opened!  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 Cartago, 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 $60,000 into a Costa Rican bank account.  This "proves" you can convert $2,500 a month from dollars to colones each month for 2 years and…. in order to open said bank account, you must have your Cedula.  Hence, this is the perfect Catch-22!

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


Jen Beck Seymour is the Costa Rica Chica. In June, 2013 she broke free of the rat race of North America where bigger was better, and moved here with her husband from Dallas, Texas. She quit her artificially lit cubicle job and left all sense of stable income behind. She believes in taking time now, while she is still young and healthy, to just ENJOY – life, her husband, day to day simplicity. When she’s not blogging, she is either hiking, baking, sipping coffee or enjoying a glass of wine. You can find her at:


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