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Starting a Business in Costa Rica: Why 9 AM Meetings Start at Noon

Last updated on September 27, 2023
start a business in Costa Rica

Alright, first things first. If you’re reading this expecting a conventional guide on starting a business in Costa Rica, you might want to head to some boring financial website. This is the real version, which means I’m going to give it to you straight—with a sprinkle of salt, a splash of tequila, and maybe a slice of lime.

Starting a Business in Costa Rica: Understand Pura Vida Before Profits

Before even thinking about doing business in Costa Rica, grasp this concept: Pura Vida. It means “pure life,” and it’s the mantra of the Costa Rican lifestyle. Pura Vida is the smile from the street vendor, the surfer letting you catch the bigger wave, and the elderly señora blessing you as you walk past her.

So, if you’re all about the hustle and bustle of Wall Street, breathe in deeply and exhale… slowly. You’re in Ticoland now. You won’t find stressed-out CEOs pulling their hair out. Instead, you might see them sipping on horchatas, lounging in a hammock while occasionally glancing at their laptops.

Do Your Research or Get Eaten Alive

And by research, I don’t mean watching reruns of my shows, hoping I’d drop some business wisdom. Costa Rica has its regulations, and you better believe they enforce them—especially if you’re an outsider trying to make a colón (that’s their currency, by the way, not a body part).

Talk to locals. Not just the ones selling you souvenirs, but reach out to fellow business owners. They’ve waded through the paperwork swamp and come out alive (most of them) on the other side. Learn from their stories, both the good and the ones that involve a monkey somehow stealing their business license.

Embrace the Slower Pace of Doing Business in Costa Rica

Costa Rica runs on its own time, called “Tico Time.” If someone says they’ll be there in an hour, it might be two… or three. Now, while you should respect and adapt to the culture, don’t let Tico Time ruin your business.

You see, the sloth is adorable with its slow pace in the rainforest, but if your business operates at sloth speed, the only thing adorable will be your bankruptcy papers. 

It’s Not All Beaches and Sunsets

Look, I get it. The beaches here are like screensavers in an IT guy’s wildest dreams. But while the waves crash beautifully, starting a business in Costa Rica isn’t always as serene. There’s the tropical heat, the occasional torrential rain, and let’s not even get started on the army of bugs waiting to declare war on your new restaurant’s patio.

Do Not, I Repeat, Do NOT Bribe

You’ve watched too many movies if you think a cheeky little bribe will slide you through the bureaucratic red tape. Costa Rica is one of the more transparent countries in Latin America. Trying to sneak a little something-something in an envelope could land you in more hot water than a jacuzzi at a five-star resort.

Enjoy the Ride

Lastly, and most importantly, starting a business in Costa Rica isn’t just about the financial payoff. It’s about enriching your soul with the culture, the vibrancy, and the beauty of the land.

When your cafe has its first successful day, and you’re sitting on the porch sipping on an Imperial, looking out at the vibrant Costa Rican sunset, and a local strums a guitar in the distance… Well, that’s a kind of richness Forbes can’t rank.

So, here’s to you, the next brave soul ready to dive into the thrilling, sometimes confounding, but always rewarding world of opening Costa Rican business. Just remember: it’s about more than the money. It’s about the story, the adventure, and the pure life of it all. Cheers, and Pura Vida!