For many North Americans (US & Canada), opening a bank account is a relatively simple process that is done relatively quickly.
However, when they move to Costa Rica, the first logical step is to open a bank account. They soon find out that this will not be the simple short process that they have been accustomed to in their country. The first barrier is their legal residency status. If you do not have legal residency in Costa Rica, then certain Banks will not allow you to open a regular checking or savings account.
In Costa Rica, there are ten licensed private Banks and two government Banks. The contact list is provided at the end of this article for you. The account opening process and documentation required varies among the different Banks, but you expect them all to request the following documents from you.
For a personal account.
1. Copies of 3 months of your current bank statements
2. Copy of your Passport
3. Documents to support the source of the funds that will be deposited into the bank. The documentation requested can be employment information, investment documentation, tax returns, or any other document the bank may request to satisfy the source of funds requirement.
For a corporation account.
1. Corporation bylaws
2. Certificate of corporate standing (personería jurídica)
3. Notarized shareholder ownership certification (certificación de participación accionaria)
4. A one-year cash flow statement provided by a Costa Rican C.P.A. and signed by the corporate officer.
5. Corporation tax return
6. All personal information for the corporation officer opening the account.
7. In some cases, depending on the activity, it may require registration in the Financial Regulatory Agency (SUGEF) database.
In the case of U.S. citizens, local Banks are compliant with the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). This is a U.S. Federal law that requires all NON-US financial institutions to report any financial records of U.S. citizen customers to the U.S. Department of Treasury. If a foreign bank fails to comply with this law, then the US will not allow it to operate in the US financial system.
As such, if you are a US citizen in addition to the documents outlined above, you will be required to fill out a W-9 Tax form a FATCA compliance form and any other form the local bank has implemented internally for FATCA compliance.
Another factor to take into account is that Costa Rica has applied for membership to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) The goal of the OECD has been to eliminate the tax advantages of jumping from one country to another by leveling the field in the global tax arena. It also promotes anti-money laundering policies across the globe.
Yet another factor that makes it difficult to open a bank account in Costa Rica is the role of the Costa Rican Financial Regulatory Agency (SUGEF) in overseeing local Banks, and the ability to impose stiff fines on local Banks that do not adhere to strict money laundering guidelines. In 2019 a local bank was hit with a US$ 2 million dollar fine for allegedly violating those guidelines.
According to one source, Costa Rica launders US$4.2 billion dollars per year in its economic system, and the Banks have been tightening their account opening procedures to prevent this coming through the financial system.
So that is part of the reason why opening a bank account in Costa Rica has become so complicated.
The following is the list of Banks that are licensed to operate with direct links to their websites for you, Some of them will open accounts for foreigners that do not have residency yet in Costa Rica while others will not.
Banco BAC San José S.A.
Banco Lafise S.A.
Banco de Costa Rica has implemented a particular account that requires less documentation to open, but the account is capped at US$1,000 per month of deposits. It is known as the Cuenta Especial Simplificada (CES). Many ex-pats that have moved to Costa Rica find that this limit is not sufficient to cover their housing and living expenses in Costa Rica.