You’ve decided to come to Costa Rica. You may be planning a short trip, a couple months stay, or you even might be ending your lease in your home country and moving to Costa Rica indefinitely. Regardless of the duration of your stay or reasons for moving to Costa Rica, congratulations on a well-researched choice. You’ve chosen the most developed Central American country, with the best health care system, strongest economy, and highest levels of population happiness. This small Central American country is well known for the friendly locals and strong communities of expats, so we know you’ll find your place in no time. While just a short trip to Costa Rica will teach you a lot about the country’s culture and quickly developing infrastructure, there is a lot to learn that a couple weeks of tourism won’t teach you. Costa Rican locals are proud of their history and the society they have created, and if you want to benefit fully from your time in this beautiful country, understanding the history and progress of Costa Rica is of utmost importance. To help you on your journey, we’ve compiled a summarized overview of Costa Rica and the factors which have made it the society it is today.
Costa Rica is a Presidential Republic which celebrates its Independence Day on the 15th of September. It is commonly considered the most stable and functional democracy in Central America. The small country has been widely praised for transparent elections and a fair electoral process. Currently, the president of Costa Rica is Luis Solis, who comes from a long line of diverse presidents from different parties and social backgrounds. Unlike most countries in North and Central America, Costa Rica maintains many different major political parties, each of which are given respect and formal acknowledgement in the government. This helps keep the democratic process functioning and representative of this small yet diverse country. The country is divided into 7 provinces, each with their own local governing structures.
Costa Rica was effected by the global economy crisis, but has made a comeback rarely seen in Central America. Since 2010, this small country has enjoyed stable upward economic growth. Tourism makes up a large part of the economy, as does the exportation of beef, coffee, sugar, and bananas. The reliance on tourism makes Costa Rica extremely friendly and welcoming to new incomers, and the laws are drafted to encourage tourism and even relocation. The encouragement of relocation has been noted and followed, as many of the strong economic factors of the country are extremely attractive to foreign investors and entrepreneurs. Costa Rica has high education levels, improved infrastructure, and strong communication means. The high costs of energy and the complex bureaucracy of business ownership remain the top concerns among potential investors.
A large part of Costa Rica enjoys a high standard of living and increased business opportunities, but the income gap is still a major problem country-wide. Currently, 20-25% of the country is impoverished, a rate that has not significantly improved in the last 20 years. The Costa Rican government is implementing programs to combat this trend.
Society and Culture
Costa Rica is home to 4.8 million people, 84% being mestizo, or Latino. The rest is comprised of indigenous tribes, people of African descent, and a small population of Asian-Latinos and Middle Eastern Latinos. The vast majority of Costa Ricans identify as Roman Catholic, with almost all of the rest identifying as Evangelical. The high standards of living and access to quality education has made some significant changes in the country over the last decades, most significantly in family life. Since the 1970’s, there has been a steep and quick decrease in child mortality, thanks to advanced hospital systems and prenatal care. This has also caused a decrease in the birth rates. In the 1970’s, women had an average of 7 children. That rate has fallen quickly, and today the birth rate is below replacement levels.
The high standard of living and better job opportunities has made Costa Rica a common destination for regional immigrants, most specifically from Nicaragua. This has also convinced Costa Ricans to stay in their home country, and currently only 3% of Costa Ricans live as expatriates, most often in the United States. This number is significantly lower than that of the neighboring Central American countries.
Costa Ricans enjoys an elevated health status, and the average lifespan is 79 years. This improved health is shown to affect those who move to Costa Rica later in life as well. Generally, Costa Ricans are known as happy, welcoming, and well-educated people. Their culture is a mixture of traditional values and a modern way of life, creating a well-balanced society with familial values while not sacrificing progress.
Costa Rica is a tropical and subtropical country in Central America, with Nicaragua to its north and Panama to its south. It experiences a dry season from December to April, and a wet season from May to November. Costa Rica, which is just slightly smaller than West Virginia, hosts about 4% of the total world’s biodiversity, and many studies show this number to be a very low estimate.
Geography is Costa Rica’s claim to fame, with 12 unique microclimates and a span of natural structures, from beaches to mountains, volcanoes, jungles, lowlands, and rainforests. Currently, around 51% of the total land mass is comprised of forests. There are 26 protected national parks in this country and the government has made their intention clear to protect the environment and instate environmentally conscious laws on a national level.
Costa Rica is currently leading the world on sustainable energy production. In 2014, 99% of the country’s electrical energy was from sustainable sources, mostly hydro-powered. Hydroelectricity continues to be the country’s leading source of energy, followed by geothermal, biomass, solar, and wind power. Costa Rica continues to work on harnessing methods for sustainable energy and has vowed to actively decrease the national carbon footprint.
Currently, the poorest 23% of the country is still without access to electricity. This is a major point on the country’s plan to further development and reduce poverty. Infrastructure to ensure reliable energy 24 hours a day is also being improved.
There may be less than 5 million people residing in this small country, but there are over 7 million cell phone plan subscribers. This includes people who have a personal line as well as a cellphone plan for their work. Cellphones and internet are by far the biggest form of inter-personal communication in this country.
There are multiple privately-owned television channels, and just one owned by the public. Radio continues to be a major form of news communications, and there are several channels, both national and regional. Television cable networks and channels from the United States are common in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has 2 international airports and over 100 smaller or privately-owned airports. They also have a well-developed bus system and the cities and beach towns are highly populated with inexpensive taxis. Although the roads in the cities are well-maintained, safe roads continue to be a major issue in rural Costa Rica. Roads are strongly affected by the hot climate and fall into disrepair quickly. They also are commonly unlit, windy, and have very little shoulder space. Road development is a major factor on the government’s development plan. In the capital city of San Jose, dense traffic has become another issue. Policies are being put in place to reduce the traffic in this bustling city and improve road safety.
Costa Rica is known world-wide for having disbanded their army in 1948. There are currently no military forces functioning in the country. This has been considered a major factor in the heightened quality of life enjoyed by those living in this peaceful country. There is no militarization of the police force and the government promises to not be involved in war by their absence of war preparation. There are no military expenditures in this country, and military taxes were reallocated to improving the public education system.
Costa Rica has a long way to go, but the government and private citizens alike are actively working toward progress and development. Their hard work has paid off as Costa Rica is already considered one of the most stable, safe, and economically sturdy countries in Latin America. This is complimented by a happy and welcoming culture, and laws that encourage foreigners to relocate to this small, tropical country. Newcomers to Costa Rica can expect delayed transportation and some road condition problems, but will be able to enjoy a safe environment with beautiful natural scenes and welcoming people.