Shopping at Pricesmart in Costa Rica

TICO BULL by Rico – Often I get asked why I shop at Pricesmart. The answer is simple and complicated at the same time, in that I can get better pricing on many things and items that you cannot find in other stores in Costa Rica.

membership-card-diamondFor example, I go through 1 1/2 50 lbs of dog food a month. I usually purchase Pedigree, my dogs (I have 5) like it and I like the price. If I had to buy this amount of dog food at the local supermarkets, ie automercado, Masxmenos, Walmart, my dogs wouldn’t be very happy.

On the down side, stocking at Pricesmart is hit and miss. Not sure why, but the 55lb bag of Pedigree is not always available, I have to substitute. So it goes for many other items.

Shopping at Pricesmart starts with a membership card. The value of the card, if you shop often, will save you over the course of the membership year. You can even save the amount of the membership fee in one shopping trip.

With the membership, many customers really don’t know this, you can shop not only at the six Pricesmart stores in Costa Rica, but also in Colombia (5), El Salvador (2), Guatemala (3), Honduras (2), Nicaragua (1), Panama (4), Aruba (1), Barbados (1), Dominican Republic (3), Jamaica (1), Trinidad and Tobago (4), U.S. Virgin Islands (1).

Shopping at locations out of Costa Rica with your Costa Rica issued card issued means first going to the customer service counter, tell them where you are from, have them scan the card to see if it will be accepted at the cash register. If it doesn’t, you will be issued a temporary pass.

Taking the step of verifying your card in the country you are in, will save you lots of time and frustration when checking out.

I did this in Cali, Colombia and Managua, Nicaragua/ All went smooth. But not so at Costco in Toronto. Yes, different company. Or is it? Both had their beginnings with Sol Price (hence the Price in the name, and you thought it all had to do with pricing).

At the Toronto Costco, first thing I am told, “that is an old card”, referring to the “Price Club” name before becoming Costco. A scan, the system doesn’t recognize it.

The PriceSmart membership is non-transferable; if you lend your card to another person he/she will not be able to shop with it. Membership does come with two cards, either you them or not. Get a second card for your significant other or friend.

One of the major differences of shopping at “Price” (as it is called in Ticolandia) that is not at non-membership stores, is the carding at the door and then the “check-off” on your way out. Annoying, but it ensures that only members – people like you – are in the store. The price for the elitism is US$35 or equivalent in local currency) per year.

Now, something I didn’t know until writing this post, is that you can bring with you up to three friends into the club each time you shop. OK, that answers the questionwhy you see large packs of Ticos jamming the aisles, just like on the autopistas.

As to the why you are asked to show your receipt on exit, Pricesmart say it is “our most effective method of maintaining accuracy in inventory control“. I think it’s bull. They don’t trust their members. Simple.

A good personal friend works security at one of the Pricesmart stores in San Jose, there is an army of plain clothes security in the store at all times. They are easily spotted by watching them talk into something in their clothing (hidden transceiver). They are different the security guys and gals in the parking lot. These folks keep their eyes on thieving members.

Paying at Pricesmart can be simple and difficult. Cards (credit and debit) are fine, local or international. Colones are fine too. With US dollars, nothing more than a $50. Canadian dollars, forget about it. Euros, Cordobas, Pesos? Leave you items in the buggy (shopping cart).

There is an ATM machine inside the store. Haven’t used one yet, I always try to bring with me the right currency or card for my purchases. And about the cards, why does Pricesmart insist on ID when the membership card that I pay for and they have my info on file has a picture on it.

“It’s not legal ID”, I was once told. Refund me the membership in that case. I still refuse to do the Tico thing of handing over a card (debit or credit) and their cedula. I see my wife doing that every time, she pulls out both pieces to hand over to the cashier before starting the checkout. I, however, want to be asked. A 50/50 record so far. Since I typically shop at the same Pricesmart, I look for familiar faces at the cash. “It’s the point,” I say.

Closing notes.

  • Pricesmart doesn’t have sales or offer discounts, they say their prices are the lowest all the time.
  • There are no express lines.
  • The best times to go on weekends is before noon on Sundays
  • Avoid one day before, day after and pay days
  • During the week (too many crowds on Weekends) is between 12 and 2pm, you can literally have a varied lunch for free from the food samplers.
  • Returns and/or refunds are without hassle
  • Limited item selection
  • Imported items not available at other stores

See you soon at Pricesmart. I am the guy with the pony tail keeping an eye on the price of apple pies.

Written by Rico


"In my spare time I'm a really nice guy!" RICO is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! Rico brings his special kind of savvy to online marketing. His websites are engaging, provocative, informative and sometimes off the wall, where you either like or you leave it. The same goes for him, like him or leave him.There is no middle ground. No compromises, only a passion to present reality as he sees it!