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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Costa Rica

Customs tend to be conservative. Advance appointments and courtesy are appreciated, although Costa Ricans are rarely punctual. It is preferable to have some knowledge of Spanish, although many locals speak English. The best months for business visits are November and December; avoid the last week of September, which is the end of the financial year.

Though Latin America is known for its relaxed business culture, official visitors to Costa Rica are expected to dress professionally, behave formally and be punctual. Don’t expect meetings to finish on time however - it’s polite to indulge in a bit of personal chit-chat before diving into business, perhaps followed by an impromptu lunch. Women are on notably equal footing in Costa Rica, as evidenced by the 2010 election of President Laura Chinchilla. Regardless, it’s wise to choose conservative suits over more sexually provocative outfits. You won’t, however, be judged for wearing trousers rather than a skirt.

Traditional niceties – professional titles, business cards, house gifts, and so on – are still appreciated in Costa Rica. Spanish speakers should be careful with the informal you, “tu”; in Costa Rica, even children are referred to as “usted”.

Costa Ricans value “playing well with others” highly, and go to great lengths to avoid conflict. Foreigners who argue aggressively, raise their voices or directly criticize others are seen as socially inept or offensive and best avoided. Stay calm in negotiations and couch disagreements in such a way that the other party can save face, and your diplomacy will inspire further cooperation.

Risky ventures rarely go over well in Costa Rica, so take time to discuss any safety nets backing up your business plan. Best months for business visits are November and December; avoid the last week of September, which is the end of the financial year.

Office Hours

Mon-Fri 0800-1700.

Economy

Electronics represent a significant proportion of Costa Rica's export revenues while 6% of GDP is derived from agriculture (most importantly coffee, bananas and meat, but also melons, pineapple, sugar and cocoa). Staple crops are also grown for domestic consumption. Manufacturing industry consists of food processing, micro-processors and electronics, textiles, chemicals and plastics. This sector is steadily expanding with government encouragement.

New industries include aluminium production, following the discovery of a large bauxite deposit. Oil imports and hydroelectricity meet the bulk of the country's energy needs. Tourism dominates the service sector and is the most important source of foreign exchange earnings, with the service industry responsible for around 75% of GDP.

Despite the country’s relative prosperity in the region, poverty is still a fact of daily life for many with 25% of the population still living under the poverty line for the past 20 years.

Several of the larger hotels in and around San José have conference facilities. The largest is the Wyndham San Jose Herradura, at Ciudad Cariari, about 16 km (10 miles) northwest of the city.

GDP

US$57.69 billion (2015).

Main exports

Bananas and pineapples, coffee, sugar, beef and electronic components.

Main imports

Raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum, construction materials.

Main trading partners

US, Netherlands, Malaysia, China, Mexico, Venezuela.

Keeping in Touch in Costa Rica

Telephone

There are no area codes in Costa Rica. Public payphones exist, but they are becoming increasingly rare as increasing mobile phone usage means that phone companies are removing them. However some still exist taking coins or credit cards. Alternatively prepaid phone cards can be bought from most small gift shops and newsagents.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with some countries. Handsets can be hired, although this can be difficult and time-consuming (www.ice.go.cr). Costa Rica employs both GSM and TDMA systems. The state telephone company ICE has a monopoly on service, which is available throughout much of the nation except remote mountain regions.

Internet

There are internet cafés throughout the country, and most tourist hotels also provide facilities such as Wi-Fi. Internet speed may be rather slow but this should improve as the government aims to improve infrastructure to allow for faster broadband connections.

Media

Costa Rica has more than half a dozen major newspapers, several private and public TV stations, and a busy FM radio scene. Cable TV is widely available. Costa Rica enjoys near total freedom of media, although the major dailies are considered to be conservative. Daily newspapers printed in Spanish include Al Día, Diario Extra, La Nacion, La Prensa Libre and La República; the Tico Times is a web-only news publication in English.

Post

Airmail letters to Western Europe usually take at least 10 working days days; those to North America take at least one week.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0800-1730; Sat 0730-1200.