Costa Rica Blog

Banking in Costa Rica - An hour at a time

Posted by Steve Linder on Tue, Jan, 19, 2010

Banking - I found myself at odds with the bank this past visit.  I'd tried to visit on the 31st of December (seems my Banco National card was due to expire at midnight) only to find the bank closed early for "la fiesta".  I dared to push my card into the Cajero (ATM) only to find out that it had already decided to celebrate New Year's, at 3:00 pm when the bank closed.  At least it gave me the card back. I spent the next hour or so searching for a Cajero on real time, finally finding one in AM/PM in Heredia that seemed to work but was apparently out of money.  Who needs money on New Year's weekend anyway, especially someone who'd picked up 12 Extanjeros (Americans and Canadians) at the airport that day headed on a four day property tour on the following morning? 

bank lineI returned to the bank on the 4th, since the 2nd and 3rd were weekend days, only to find that the definition of procrastination starts with "Pura Vida".  It seems the nearly everyone in Alejuala failed to renew their Marchamo (vehicle registration) so the line snaked outside the bank into the Multiplaza.  You buy your new registration at the bank. Gracias a Dios (thank god) there is a guard to open and close the door as one more person squeezed in the door and hopefully one more person came out.  There were 4 cajas (teller windows) open, one reserved for old, infirm, incontinent and prolific breeders (mothers with infants), the last category seems most popular in Alejuela and it seems they breed them just to skip the line at the bank.  There were also two "Jefe" (chiefs) desks, both with Jefe's AND assistants, but no interest in opening the other darkened caja windows when they had perfectly good desks to sit behind and watch the line crawl while offering no assistance.  I was able to squeeze past the line, directly to the Jefe.  After filling out a number of "formularios" he took my order for a new card to be delivered back to the branch in Cortes four days later.  If I wanted colones now however, I would have to wait in line.

I joined the line. As we waited, there were no horns honking, everyone lined up perfectly on the little feet symbols on the floor and the guard made sure each of us moved up when 100 centimeters or more appeared.  We all watched the TV, a national geographic loop of animals not found in Costa Rica.  Twice I grew tired of holding my hat but putting it on my head was not an option since the guard insisted it stay in my hands.  My position in the H1N1 breeding line was now nearing the window when the Jefe called over to me speaking a tongue I thought I'd only heard while visiting the Boruca Indians.  I motioned to those around me that I hoped I would be back and walked over.  Seems he needed one last signature or my account would be closed and my money would be given to needy taxistas or used to provide homes for homeless Nicaraguans (just kidding). 

Four days later I went to Cortes to the branch office of Banco National.  This branch is always nearly empty now since the new branch has opened in Uvita.  Seems not many people have money in the bank in Cortes.  The Jefe asked me to sit as his desk and then pulled out an expanding alphabetized folder.  He shuffled through each section, apparently looking for my new bank card.  After 15 minutes of watching him, it became apparent that the card was not there but he did not want to disappoint me.  Then, almost magically, he found my card in the section labeled L,M,N which is where it should have been all along.  With an almost heavenly fanfare he presented me my card, with two hands.  And people ask what we do to keep busy in Costa Rica. What a dumb question...         

Tags: New Years Eve, Banking, Costa Rica