The exchange rate here is about 550 colones to one U.S. dollar. The thing is, the amounts mean different things.
Here, 550 colones is about how much it would cost to take a cheap bus from Guadalupe, El Alto (where the house is) to Central San José. I bought shampoo and conditioner yesterday for c1522 each (approximately), totalling about c3088 (I can’t remember the exact number; this is a rounded estimate). In the U.S., anything worth $1000 or more is really expensive to me, but down here, that’s just how it goes. Yesterday, I saw an advertisement for Taco Bell (yes, ironically, they have Taco Bell down here) that was for their newest burrito, only c500! That’s supposed to be cheap.
I’ll try to list the denominations of money for the curious:
In coins, c5 is the lowest, c10, c20, c25, c50, c100, c200, c500.
With bills, c1000 is the lowest, c2000, c5000, c10000, and on up.
$20 equals about c11000. I carry about that much with me most of the time because it’s enough for 4 separate bus trips and anything urgent. If I get pickpocketed, it isn’t very much either.
Tomorrow I have my first class! Spanish class!!
UPDATE (19 Jan 09):
Actually, it seems that a c500 piece will take me on a bus to and from Central San José; When I went to classes today, I paid the first bus with a c500 piece, got change and was going to use that for the next bus to Curridabat, but we took a taxi instead.