Slick, slippery plastic banknotes not getting rave reviews

The Banco Central figured the country could save some money with plastic currency. So the 1,000 colons note is just that.

An informal survey of Costa Ricans suggest that the plastic notes are not held in high regard. They are slippery and have a tendency to leap out of purses and pockets.

The industry prefers to call the notes polymer, and this is Costa Rica’s second flirtation with the concept. The plastic notes of the Costa Rican type have been in service since 1988 in Australia. They are printed on what is called Guardian, a registered trademark. Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic are among nearby countries that also have issued such notes. In Costa Rica, the polymer notes are 1,000 colons, about $2 and 2,000 colons, although the larger bill seems to have more texture and is not as slippery.

Any expats who have the older paper 1,000- and 2000-colón notes on hand have until Wednesday to spend them. The paper banknotes are being withdrawn from daily use as of Thursday, and those who have them can only exchange them at various banks. After Oct. 31, only the Banco Central will accept the older notes.

Costa Rica has printed 40 million notes. They are what amounts to the holy grail of currency. They are supposed to last longer in circulation and contain a number of security features that cannot be duplicated with paper.

Costa Rica tried plastic bills before. A 20-colón note was issued in 1983. It was only the second country to issue bills on a material produced by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. The material is called Tyvek, but it did not perform well. It now is used as house wrap and mechanic’s coveralls. Other countries that used the material reported that the ink began to rub off. In Costa Rica, merchants began cutting the bill in half to create a smaller 10-colon note. Anyone who kept one of the notes has a valuable piece of history. The bill is priced around $150 by money dealers. Bills in proof condition are worth far more.

The problem now is not the smudging of ink but the slippery nature of the material. From taxi drivers to store clerks, the opinion appears universal. The bills simply are hard to handle. Once folded they stay that way, but they resist that kind of treatment.

The red bills bear the image of Braulio Carrillo Colina, one of Costa Rica’s 19th century presidents. Political life was tough then. Carrillo took over in a coup and ended up being kicked out of the country to El Salvador where he was assassinated. A few of the merchants saw an appropriate comparison between slippery bills and politicians.

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