Costa Rica has become a premier vacation spot due to ecotourism, pristine rainforests, and towering volcanoes. Thanks to the nation’s stability, it’s also a superb place to do business. And, like any other country, Costa Rica has its own rules when it comes to business etiquette. Whether you’re moving to Costa Rica or visiting on a business trip, here’s what you need to know about customs and manners.
Handshakes are always appropriate, although cheek or “air” kisses are common among business associates who have known each other for a while. In keeping with their machismo Latin culture, however, men don’t kiss men. Male business associates exchange handshakes or one-armed hugs.
Titles and names
Titles are important and should always be used when greeting a colleague or business associate. Names aren’t necessary; the title alone is sufficient. For people who don’t have titles, it’s common to use the honorific Don/Dona along with the person’s first name: Dona Maria. Don’t use the first name alone unless you’re specifically invited to do so.
Most native Costa Ricans have two last names: one from their father – listed first – and one from their mother. But only the first of the two last names is used when addressing someone.
Small talk is an important part of any business conversation. Colleagues stop and chat for a minute, even if they’re just passing in the halls. During meetings, it’s considered rude to jump into the purpose of the meeting without engaging in small talk first. Unlike in some other countries, where personal and business lives are kept quite separate, family is extremely important to Costa Ricans, and they almost always welcome being asked about their family’s well-being.
Business dress is rather formal. Men usually wear conservative, dark business suits, although it’s acceptable to discard the jacket in warmer parts of the country. Women typically wear pants, although a dress or a skirt and blouse are certainly acceptable. Because of the hot climate, grooming and personal hygiene are important, too. Daily showers (at least) are expected.
Politeness and agreeability
Costa Rican culture is very indirect and non-confrontational. It’s rare to see disagreements and accusations. In fact, saying “no” is considered rude, even if that is the real answer. In Costa Rican culture, “maybe” often means “no”.
While women are now considered to be equal to men – especially in business – there are remnants of Latin machismo in the culture. It’s very common and quite acceptable for men to stare at women, to whistle, and to shout compliments. In most cases, it’s best to take it in the spirit in which it was tended, which is almost always complimentary. However, if the behavior is making your work life uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak up; just be more indirect than you would in a country that has stricter rules on how men and women interact.
Lunch is the main meal of the day. Therefore, most business meals are held in the evening, and spouses are usually welcome to attend. If you’re invited to a meal at your host’s home, don’t show up empty-handed. Appropriate gifts include wine, chocolates, or flowers.
You should quickly feel comfortable with business culture in Costa Rica. If you mind your manners and are warm and friendly, you’ll do just fine.