Costa Rica


Although explored by the Spanish early in the 16th century, initial attempts at colonizing Costa Rica proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including: disease from mosquito-infested swamps, brutal heat, resistance by natives, and pirate raids. It was not until 1563 that a permanent settlement of Cartago was established in the cooler, fertile central highlands. The area remained a colony for some two and a half centuries. In 1821, Costa Rica became one of several Central American provinces that jointly declared their independence from Spain.


Two years later it joined the United Provinces of Central America, but this federation disintegrated in 1838, at which time Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence. Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country’s democratic development. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.


Location: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama
Geographic coordinates: 10 00 N, 84 00 W
Population: 4,636,348 (July 2012 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 24.6% (male 574,876/female 549,664)

15-64 years: 69.1% (male 1,588,940/female 1,571,573)

65 years and over: 6.4% (male 135,017/female 156,492) (2011 est.)

Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Costa Rica

conventional short form: Costa Rica

local long form: Republica de Costa Rica

local short form: Costa Rica

Government type: democratic republic
Capital: name: San Jose

geographic coordinates: 9 56 N, 84 05 W

time difference: UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Telephones – main lines in use: 1.491 million (2011)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 4.358 million (2011)
Airports: 153 (2012)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 41

2,438 to 3,047 m: 2

1,524 to 2,437 m: 2

914 to 1,523 m: 23

under 914 m: 14 (2012)

Military branches: no regular military forces; Ministry of Public Security, Government, and Police (2011)
Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 1,255,798

females age 16-49: 1,230,202 (2010 est.)


Costa Rica’s basically stable economy depends on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports. Poverty has remained around 20% for nearly 20 years, and the strong social safety net that had been put into place by the government has eroded due to increased financial constraints on government expenditures.


Immigration from Nicaragua has increasingly become a concern for the government. The estimated 300,000-500,000 Nicaraguans estimated to be in Costa Rica legally and illegally are an important source of (mostly unskilled) labour, but also place heavy demands on the social welfare system. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country’s political stability and high education levels, as well as the fiscal incentives offered in the free-trade zones.

Transnational Issues:

Disputes – international: in September 2005, Costa Rica took its case before the ICJ to advocate the navigation, security, and commercial rights of Costa Rican vessels using the Río San Juan over which Nicaragua retains sovereignty
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 10,214 (Colombia) (2010)
Illicit drugs: transhipment country for cocaine and heroin from South America; illicit production of cannabis in remote areas; domestic cocaine consumption, particularly crack cocaine, is rising; significant consumption of amphetamines