Business etiquette in Costa Rica

Hello everybody,

As you know, professional habits may differ from one country to another. In order to help newly arrived expats better understand their new professional environment in Costa Rica, we warmly encourage you to share information and insights about the do’s and don’ts in the workplace.

For instance, are there office manners? How do you greet your co-workers? Do you greet your management differently? Is there a dress code? Particular rules to observe? Maybe a professional body language?

On another level, what is key for a successful professional meeting? Are there any steps to follow? How do you a start a negotiation?

In other words, what are the most important things to know for a successful professional integration in Costa Rica?

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience!


I'll give you my two cents.

I came here back in 2001 on a pretty big business deal and many of the cultural aspects were a bit of a shock to me.

As far as dress goes, it depends on the setting, type of meeting, place of meeting, type of business. I am currently in real estate and no one, repeat, no one, wears a suit and tie to any meeting. If you did, you'd get some funny looks. Having said that, the deal I did back in 2001, which was for the sale of a private university in San Jose, was a different story. All meetings were highly formal and suit and tie were always expected.

So, I guess the answer depends...

You might know that it is customary for males to greet females with a light, or feigned, kiss on the cheek...even in a business meeting. That took me a while to get used to.

Also, when you enter a room, for a meeting, or otherwise, you are expected to greet everyone in the room. And when you leave, you say goodbye to everyone. If you don't do it, you'll be considered a tad rude, or at least not culturally in tune.

In Costa Rica the attitudes about punctuality are far different from in the U.S. It is not considered a job threatening faux pax to be a few minutes late to a meeting. Hell, it's even sort of expected and if you show up'll be the one doing the waiting for everyone else.

Meetings are always started in Costa Rica with social time. And the social time can even eclipse the time actually spent getting down to business. It is considered rude to launch right into business. That also took me a while to get used to.

Those are my observations. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule...

Pura Vida!

I don't work in Costa Rica but have attended a few professional meetings with real estate and with community issues (i.e. local politicians).

I agree with the above that it is customary to say goodbye to each person when leaving even if you have to interrupt the meeting to leave early.

The meeting will likely start late.

Suits are generally not required. Clean and "nice" are probably preferred for your attire but I've also seen rich people dress like bums because they'd been working on their farm all day before the meeting. Not sure about how that went over though with the locals.

On a slightly different subject I will note that businesses here are less likely to accept responsibility when it comes to any mistakes they make, or a lack of quality in products or service received.

In the USA if a company screws you over and you have a justified complaint they will often give you a free month or some kind of compensation for their mistake(s). My experience with C---- internet is that they admit to the mistakes (and there is no way they could NOT as it is clearly their fault) BUT they refuse to compensate us for the extra $80-100 we had to spend due to their ineptitude.

We took the issue to the top supervisor we could get ahold of with the company (above the local manager) and he refused to compensate us at all, not even a free month which would have been only 1/4 or our damages.

This is in stark contrast to the USofA.

Also at stores when you want to return something, let's say, worth $5. In the USA they'd be likely to bend the rules and at least give you credit if you lost your receipt. Here, no, they'd rather keep the $5 and risk losing you as a customer. As someone explained it to me, they only care about "right now", not about "future business".

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