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business customs etiquette
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Customs & Etiquette

Customs & Etiquette

The most important customs and etiquette to follow in Costa Rica for a successful business trips are as follow:

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Appearance:

  • Costa Ricans take pride in their appearance and dress formally.  A well-groomed look is important in establishing credibility and respect. 
  • Business Attire: A suit and tie are appropriate for men, but in warmer climates, such as on the coast, a jacket is optional.  Women wear a dress or skirt and a blouse for formal meetings, but pants are common as well.

Greetings:

  • Well-acquainted business associates and friends often greet with a kiss on the cheek. (male-female, female-female)  Touch cheek-to-cheek and kiss the air, being sure to make the smacking kiss noise well-audible.  Male business associates shake hands, sometimes using the other hand to pat the other’s arm or shoulder if the relationship is close.  Abrazos (hugs) are typically reserved for good friends and family. 
  • A note on handshakes between men:  The handshake, particularly between men, is very important in showing solidarity and friendship, and it is used with great frequency.  Handshakes are not only for first-time meetings, but should be used each time you meet a friend or business partner, and upon leaving as well.  
  • Use correct titles and surnames.  For example, address Senior Jose Alvaro Sanchez as “Senior Alvaro,” using only the last name inherited from the father.  In this case Alvaro is his father’s name, and Sanchez is his mother’s.  Don and Doña are translated as Mr. and Mrs. respectively, but are considered very formal. 

Appointments/Punctuality:

  • Costa Ricans, as with other Latin Americans, have a more flexible attitude toward time, particularly concerning social gatherings. A delay of 30 minutes is not unusual.  However, concerning business meetings and events, Ticos can be more punctual than many Latin Americans.  This is especially true for lunch meetings, as Costa Ricans generally take short lunch breaks, and don’t participate in any sort of siesta, or midday nap. 
  • Make appointments in advance by mail, fax, e-mail, or phone, and re-confirm by phone before your arrival. 

Business Proceedings, Negotiation and Conflict:

  • Initiating Conversation and Small Talk – When engaging in even the most daily and routine interactions, it is important not to get to the point too quickly.  Costa Ricans appreciate being asked how they have been and about their families, especially if they have children.  It would also be relevant to engage in small talk about the beauty of Costa Rica, as this is something they take great pride in, along with their peaceful history as a country.  While Costa Ricans acknowledge the country has many imperfections, any comments that could be considered critical of the country are not taken lightly.  Due to the political stability, politics are often freely discussed, but be aware that the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) – or Tratado Libre Comercial (TLC) in Spanish – is riddled with very strong opinions, and you may want to avoid this topic if in a large and diverse group. 
  • Negotiation – Relationships are a key element in negotiations.  They are often all about who you know and are connected to.  Establishing connections can make a big difference.  Even by knowing family members or knowing that a person is someone's cousin, uncle, or aunt can help you get things done. 
  • In general, business negotiations proceed slower in comparison with North American culture, and a direct approach may not be viewed as favorably as one that is more indirect and political.  Impatience is widely viewed as a weakness and can sometimes lower your credibility. 
  • Conflict – Conflict should be approached very carefully and is often handled in a very indirect way when compared to the directness of North America.  Be prepared to deal with methods of handling conflict that may seem vague and unclear at first. 

Other Etiquette:

  • Most business entertaining takes place in the evening, and spouses are welcome at business dinners. 
  • Lunch is the main meal of the day, and meetings are common at this hour. 
  • Gift Giving – If you are invited for dinner at a home, a gift of wine, scotch, flowers or sweets is always welcomed. (Flowers such as roses or carnations are appropriate, but avoid calla lilies, which are associated with funerals.)
  • Have business cards printed in both English and Spanish. 
  • An increasing number of Costa Ricans, particularly in business, are bilingual. However, knowledge of Spanish and some important moments in national history are viewed very positively.