You will often hear the term “pura vida” in connection with Costa Rica. It means pure life and is used by the locals as a form of greeting, to express gratitude and even to refer to a person who is friendly. It is reflective of the relaxed Costa Rican lifestyle and is an ideal description of how the locals experience life – as something to be enjoyed and cherished.
Expats are not likely to face much of a culture shock in the business and office environment in Costa Rica, as most places follow western standards. However expats should be aware of some unique cultural mannerisms.Appearance
Costa Ricans tend to dress formally and pay great attention to their appearance. It is important to show up well-groomed for work meetings, as this can build credibility. Ideal business attire would be a suit and tie. If you’re going to be living in any of the warmer coastal areas, you can skip the jacket. Women wear dresses, or skirts and blouses, although pants are also commonly worn.
The flexible approach to time-keeping among Costa Ricans is usually limited to social gatherings, where even half-hour delays are common. However, punctuality is emphasized in business events. Lunch meetings tend to be short and siestas are not common. It is a good idea to make advance appointments and re-confirm them by telephone before you arrive for meetings.
Female business associates that are well acquainted with each other greet by way of a kiss on the cheek. This is also practiced between males and females. Male associates shake hands and may also pat the shoulder or arm with the other hand. Eye contact is important when greeting. Hugging is reserved for family and close friends.
Use the appropriate titles and surnames when addressing people. The formal way of addressing is Don and Doña, which translate to Mr. and Mrs. respectively.
It is common practice to ask about one’s family and health before getting to the point of a business meeting. This is done even in daily interactions and some good topics to make small talk about are family, children and the beauty of Costa Rica. There is a sense of pride also about the country’s peaceful history. Avoid any comment that may seem critical of Costa Rica. Although politics is a frequently discussed subject, it can provoke strong opinions, so it’s best to avoid it if you can.
Negotiations in business are influenced by connections. You will notice that it is quite easy to get things done based on who you are connected to. Business negotiations may take longer in Costa Rica and a direct approach is not always followed. Avoid showing signs of impatience since it may be perceived as weakness and can impact your credibility. It is also important to note that because Costa Rica is a small country, reputations are formed very quickly. It is necessary to have good relations with almost everyone you encounter in the business world, since almost everyone is connected to each other.
North Americans and Europeans may take a while to adjust to the concept of personal space in Costa Rica. Touching is common among acquaintances. It is considered perfectly normal and there is no reason to be concerned. Even strangers are likely to keep very little distance between each other in many situations.
Women in the workplace
Latin society, including Costa Rican society, has always had “machismo” as a part of the culture, where men and women are still perceived in their traditional roles. Men are seen as breadwinners, even if they are actually not; women, on the other hand, are seen as primarily in charge of domestic duties. But the last few generations have witnessed a shift of these traditional roles and Costa Rican women have proved themselves to be hard workers, and oftentimes more ethical than men in their business dealings. Women in Costa Rica are no longer restricted to their homes, although many also head their own households at the same time. Expats can expect to see women in leadership and decision-making roles in many organizations, including financial institutions.