Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Costa Rica, Part 2

Though Costa Rica shares quite a few cultural similarities with the U.S., one thing that seems to permeate throughout Central America is the importance of family. Perhaps not so surprising in this collectivist culture, many decisions are based on the effect they have on the family. In this peaceful country, Ticos believe in peace through negotiations. However, just because peace or an agreement is the end goal does not mean that you have to sugarcoat your ideas. Ticos are more concerned that honest opinions are expressed than the need to “save face” due to negative or unpleasant opinions. Ticos encourage open dialogue. By no means be disrespectful, but be honest in your opinions and ideas.

Men typically wear conservative suits (where the jacket is kept on until the Tico counterpart removes his first), while women wear dresses or skirts and blouses (pants are not typically worn). Men usually shake hands during greetings, while the abrazo greeting (patting each other on the right forearm or shoulder) is done between women. Kissing is only done between people who know each other well.

Good times to visit Costa Rica are February and March and between September and November. Vacations are usually taken during December and January and for Christmas and Easter. In the public sector, the fiscal year is the same as the calendar year. Make appointments in advance and reconfirm before arrival. Do try to visit Costa Rica before making business arrangements, as face to face contact is preferred over telecommunications.

Costa Ricans have a strong work ethic and tend to focus on the process of accomplishing the goal as much as the result/goal itself. By preferring to take their time with the process, they are attempting to avoid risks and anxiety. Costa Rica may be a monochromatic society, they also like to take their time to complete projects and generally try to avoid precise commitments. They avoid these precise commitments because of their “high uncertainty avoidance” established in their strict rules and policies in the legal system and societal norms. Ticos are more formal and serious than their neighbors. It is advisable to have local legal representation in addition to a local advertising agency.

During these meetings and presentations, everyone involved is encouraged to share their views and ask questions, so to put up a united front each member of your team or delegation to Costa Rica should take part in the presentation. Decision makers in Costa Rica are highly accessible and are willing to participate in frank open dialogue and discussions. The high ranking individual may make the final decision, but usually only after input from almost all involved with the decision, group consensus (group culture). And while a monochromatic society, decisions take time and thought (especially if group consensus is the goal), so try your best not to display any signs of impatience, as that may lower your credibility. Let the decisions stew over a business dinner, perhaps.

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