Doing Business in Costa RicaBy Terri Morrison
© Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved
Even the smallest of US businesses competes in a
shrinking global village, where understanding subtle cultural contexts can make
or break sales and marketing efforts. This excerpt from the book Kiss, Bow,
or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries, offers insight into
doing business in Costa Rica.
- The official language is Spanish. Creole is also spoken. English is widely
understood, especially in urban centers and among the young.
- Costa Ricans are by far the most punctual people in Central America. Since
Costa Ricans allow themselves only a limited time for their midday break, be on
time for a business lunch.
- Good times to do business in Costa Rica are February to March and September
to November. The rainy season runs from May through November (with rain
heaviest on the Caribbean coast), and popular vacation times are December and
January and around the Christmas and Easter holidays.
- Decision makers are readily accessible and also frank and open in
discussions. Business takes place on a personal basis in Costa Rica. Decisions
are made by consensus of all involved, not just by top officials. This may slow
the process down.
- Women in business will meet with greater acceptance in Costa Rica than in
other Latin American countries. Women have even been elected vice president of
- Costa Ricans are much more formal and serious than other Latin Americans.
Therefore, keep jackets on during business meetings.
- The Costa Rican people enjoy discussing politics, particularly with
foreigners. Costa Rica's history of stable democracy provides a good topic for
- Most business entertaining takes place in the evening, since lunch is the
main meal of the day. Spouses are welcome at business dinners.
- Men will shake hands with other men in greeting; women will often pat each
other on the right forearm or shoulder instead.
- Women who are close friends may hug or kiss each other on the cheek.
However, Costa Rican men do not usually hug other men. The hearty male
abrazo (backslapping embrace) seen in other Latin American countries is
- Do not refer to the people as ricans, since this word has a bad
connotation. The people of Costa Rica are referred to as ticos.
- Making a fist with the thumb sticking out between the middle and index
fingers is obscene. This gesture is known as the "fig."
- Costa Ricans will exchange gifts frequently for all kinds of special
occasions. Because of the large number of US citizens in Costa Rica and the
lack of import restrictions, US goods are freely available there. If you are
invited to a home for dinner, bring flowers, chocolates, scotch, or wine. Do
not bring calla lilies; they are associated with funerals.
- Business: Men should wear a conservative dark suit. In warmer climates, a
jacket is optional. Women should wear a dress or skirt and blouse. Pants are
never worn by women.