What Is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC)?

The Costa Rican colón (CRC) is the national currency of the Republic of Costa Rica. The currency was first issued in coin and paper form in 1896. One U.S. dollar was equal to about 604 CRC in late September 2020.

Visitors to Costa Rica from the U.S. will find that U.S. dollars are as acceptable as the local currency for local transactions.

Understanding the Costa Rican Colón

The name of Costa Rica's currency honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, whose name in Spanish is Cristóbal Colón.

Columbus was the first European to visit Costa Rica, on his final journey to the Americas in 1502. An unconfirmed legend claims that Columbus gave the country its name.​​​​​​​

Key Takeaways

  • The Costa Rican colón (CRC) is the official currency of the Republic of Costa Rica. It was valued at about 604 colónes to a U.S. dollar in late 2020.
  • The value of the colón has been allowed to float against the U.S. dollar since 2015.
  • Visitors will find that the U.S. dollar is also widely accepted for local transactions.

Understanding the Costa Rican Colón

The Costa Rican colón was adopted as the national currency in 1896, about 70 years after Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors declared independence from Spain. The colón replaced the Costa Rican peso with a one-to-one exchange ratio. The previous peso currency, a legacy of the colonial era, was divisible into eight Spanish reales.

The colón was introduced at par to the peso, and the two currencies co-existed for a time. At first issue, gold coins ranging in denominations from two to 20 colones were issued along with silver 50 centimos coins. One hundred centimos equaled both one colón and, at the time, one peso. These coins were imprinted with the letters "G.C.R." for the national government. Paper peso and colón banknotes began to circulate in 1864 and 1896, respectively.

By the mid-1930s, after the establishment of the International Bank of Costa Rica, the country began to issue coins worth one colón and 25 and 50 centimos. These featured an imprint reading B.I.C.R.

National Bank Currency Issues

The National Bank of Costa Rica issued its coins in 1937, with a "B.N.C.R." imprint. In 1951, the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR), assumed responsibility for all currency issues. The bank expanded the range of denominations to include 20, 100, and 500 colones coins.

A handful of other financial institutions issued banknotes over the first half of the 20th century until the BCCR became the sole issuer of the national currency.

Banknotes, as with coins, saw the range of denominations grow, and by 1997 they included 10,000 colón notes. The design displays a portrait of a prominent Costa Ricans on the front and one of the country's natural beauty spots on the reverse.

About the Central Bank

The Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR) manages national inflation and the colón's relationship to the U.S. dollar. In 2006, the BCCR established a crawling peg system that maintained the exchange rate within a range deemed acceptable by the central bankers.

In January 2015, the bank announced the CRC would be allowed to float against the dollar and that the bank would intervene only in extraordinary circumstances.

The Costa Rican Economy

The Republic of Costa Rica occupies a thin strip of land borders Nicaragua and Panama. The country is a stable democracy, which is unusual for this area of the globe.

The Republic declared independence from Spanish Rule in 1821, then from the First Mexican Empire in 1823, and finally from the Federal Republic of Central America in 1838. Final recognition of the nation's independence came in 1850.

Main Industries

Today, Costa Rica’s main industries include agriculture (in particular coffee, bananas, sugar, and seafood), tourism, and electronics, with the service industry making up more than two-thirds of the country’s total GDP.

The economy is as stable as the government. However, Costa Rica has a growing foreign debt and budget deficit. The Republic also has to cope with growing dollarization as local currency deposits in banks are replaced with foreign money.

Foreign Presence

Costa Rica has a free trade zone (FTZ) which has attracted many foreign companies. This tax-free area plays host to many businesses in the technology sector, including Dell, IBM, Intel, and HP. 

According to the 2019 World Bank data, the Republic of Costa Rica experienced 2.1% annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth and had a 2.1% inflation rate.