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Costa Rica (Tier 2)

The Government of Costa Rica does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Costa Rica remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting more traffickers, implementing a new national action plan to combat trafficking, and establishing new regional task forces to promote law enforcement coordination on trafficking cases. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not adequately fund its anti-trafficking efforts, reducing the allocation for victim services and not providing funding for campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking. The government investigated far fewer trafficking cases than in the previous reporting period and did not prosecute or convict any labor traffickers for the second consecutive year.

  • Increase victim identification and referral, particularly in coordination and collaboration with local and civil society partners.
  • Increase funding for victim services and provide specialized shelter and services for trafficking victims in partnership with civil society organizations.
  • Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, including child sex tourists.
  • Reduce bureaucratic obstacles to the disbursement of funds allocated to anti-trafficking efforts.
  • Fund and implement the judicial action plan to improve the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases.
  • Further reduce the backlog of trafficking cases in the judicial system.
  • Conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and prosecute, convict, and punish complicit officials.
  • Provide increased anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, and municipal officials.
  • Improve data collection on judicial, law enforcement, and victim protection efforts.

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 172 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and eight to 16 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law. In addition to Article 172, officials used trafficking-related offenses to prosecute trafficking cases, including aggravated pimping (Article 170) and coerced pimping (Article 171), both of which prescribed penalties ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Article 189 criminalized forced labor or services and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Costa Rica had two police forces involved in trafficking investigations—the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the Migration Authority’s (DGME’s) Professional Migration Police. The Attorney General’s anti-trafficking office (FACTRA) supervised both investigative units. FACTRA reported investigating 70 cases—including 42 trafficking cases under Article 172, 23 child sex trafficking cases (Article 170), and five cases of forced labor or services (Article 189). This compared with 103 cases in 2020—including 68 trafficking cases (Article 172), 28 cases of child sex trafficking (Article 170), and seven cases of forced labor or services (Article 189)—and 69 cases in 2019. The government initiated prosecutions against nine accused sex traffickers under Article 172, compared with prosecuting four accused traffickers in 2020 and seven in 2019. Courts convicted one sex trafficker in 2021, compared with convicting five traffickers in 2020 and 15 in 2019. Judges sentenced the trafficker, convicted under Article 172, to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government reported prosecutors filed an appeal in a trafficking case where the court convicted the alleged trafficker of rape under Article 156 but dismissed trafficking charges. In one case ending in conviction, prosecutors supported the victims’ choice not to participate in the trial against the trafficker by constructing a successful prosecution using evidence gathered via surveillance and mobile device extraction, rather than victim testimony. Courts reaffirmed 2018 convictions against a sex trafficker who forced a girl into commercial sex and against the man who paid to engage in commercial sex acts with the victim, increasing their sentences to nine and six years’ imprisonment, respectively. The government did not prosecute or convict any labor traffickers in 2021 or 2020; in 2019, the government prosecuted only one labor trafficker, under Article 189.

Officials reported pandemic-related mitigation measures continued to strain law enforcement capacity and limit resources available for anti-trafficking efforts. The government tasked law enforcement officials, including trafficking investigators, with enforcing vehicle use restrictions, capacity limits, and business closures in effect during the reporting period. Law enforcement officials reported pandemic-related restrictions on bars and brothels drove traffickers to increasingly exploit sex trafficking victims in private residences, complicating investigations and surveillance. Additionally, generalized funding shortages restricted law enforcement activity, including regular monitoring and anti-trafficking patrols. The government reported it began investigating one public official in relation to a trafficking case but did not provide further details into the investigation. Officials continued to support two ongoing prosecutions involving potentially complicit officials; courts denied the government’s appeal in another case involving a public official accused of complicity in trafficking but convicted in 2019 of a lesser crime. The government did not provide updates on a third ongoing case, first investigated in 2011, involving a local mayor indicted in 2016 for establishing a trafficking ring. The government continued to investigate and prosecute individuals who paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, resulting in three prosecutions—but no convictions—under Article 160 in 2021, compared with 10 prosecutions and one conviction in 2020.

Courts resumed normal case processing in 2021, after the government lifted judicial sector pandemic-mitigation measures, implemented in 2020, which had limited courts to emergency case reviews only. The judicial sector’s chronic backlog of cases continued to delay processing for all cases, including trafficking cases; officials reported the backlog worsened under the courts’ modified activity during the pandemic. FACTRA created nine new provincial task forces to promote coordination between local and national prosecutors and facilitate trafficking casework; including new units, there were 13 active task forces at the end of the reporting period. Officials reported the task forces in Puntarenas province collaborated on at least two trafficking investigations in 2021. The Supreme Court had a judicial branch action plan with a dedicated budget, developed in 2018, to build capacity and raise public awareness on how to identify trafficking, but the government again failed to implement the plan. The government provided five virtual trainings on identifying and investigating human trafficking cases to law enforcement officials and prosecutors, including one training for municipal police officers in the city of Desamparados. Costa Rican law enforcement officials, including those supporting anti-trafficking efforts, served short rotational assignments; limited training opportunities during the pandemic may have reduced new officials’ familiarity with trafficking indicators and other critical information. Institutional capacity to combat human trafficking varied across the country, with national-level officials demonstrating greater familiarity with trafficking than municipal counterparts. FACTRA reported collaborating with Mexican and Panamanian officials on two sex trafficking cases.

The government decreased victim protection efforts. The government identified 21 trafficking victims (six women, one boy, and 14 girls), compared with 50 in 2020 and 35 in 2019. Traffickers exploited eight of these victims in sex trafficking and three in labor trafficking; the government did not specify the form of trafficking of the remaining 10 victims. Of the 21 identified victims, 14 were Costa Rican nationals, three were Nicaraguan, and four held unspecified foreign nationalities. The government reported NGOs separately identified eight additional victims (five sex trafficking victims and three labor trafficking victims). Government officials expressed concern that increased poverty and unemployment during the pandemic contributed to heightened vulnerability to trafficking.

Through the Immediate Response Team (ERI), a specialized inter-institutional body within the National Coalition against Illicit Smuggling and Trafficking of Migrants (CONATT), the government provided initial services to all 21 reported victims and one victim’s dependent. The Office of Attention and Protection of Crime Victims, which served victims of all crimes, reported providing services to 41 trafficking victims, including several victims identified in previous years, compared with serving 75 victims in 2020 and 48 victims in 2019. The National Women’s Institute (INAMU) provided services to 20 female victims of trafficking in 2021, compared with providing care to 47 victims in 2020 and 31 in 2019. The national child welfare institution (PANI) provided services and placed the boy victim in an NGO shelter. Some victims may have received services from more than one provider. Specialized law enforcement units and national immigration authorities used written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in commercial sex, and referred identified victims to CONATT to coordinate service provision. Public officials used the “Institutional Protocol for the Care of Minors and Survivors of Trafficking in Persons” and the “Interagency Manual of Attention of Minors in Sexual Trafficking, Child Labor, and Dangerous Work,” which established the steps officials must take when identifying a possible case of trafficking. The Ministry of Public Security updated its “Protocol for Detection and Referral of Possible Trafficking Cases” in September, with support from an international organization, and distributed pocket references of the new protocol to law enforcement officials. The government reported it identified victims through its routine screenings of vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex and women heads of households below the poverty line, for trafficking indicators but did not report how many victims it identified through these efforts.

The government could provide victims with access to health care providers, psychological services, legal counsel, financial aid, law enforcement liaisons, and other services, including detoxification treatment, for up to three years. CONATT coordinated emergency, short-term, and long-term assistance for victims. ERI arranged short-term services for newly identified victims, including shelter, food, and medical care. There was one trafficking-specific shelter in the country, an NGO-run emergency facility capable of housing victims for up to 30 days. The government reported it could refer victims to the emergency shelter; however, authorities infrequently referred victims to NGO facilities. CONATT favored housing victims in a network of government safe houses, but it also placed victims in a civil society-operated safe house or a longer-term shelter for women and children. The government did not have shelter options for male or LGBTQI+ victims; authorities housed male and LGBTQI+ trafficking victims in hotels on a case-by-case basis. The government assisted child victims through PANI, which had a network of shelters for children and could place girl victims at an NGO facility able to provide long-term shelter. CONATT designated one of its constituent agencies to oversee victims’ service provision on a rotating basis. The designated agency had the discretion to refer victims to services based on individual needs; not all victims received the same level of protection. Civil society organizations reported authorities did not always implement referral mechanisms in an effective or timely manner and recommended the government provide transportation for victims to institutions providing assistance; civil society observed slower provision of victim services in rural areas. The National Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Fund (FONATT) disbursed 71.6 million colones ($112,180) to provide services for identified victims, an increase relative to the 7.41 million colones ($11,610) disbursed in 2020, but notably less than the 172 million colones ($269,480) disbursed for victim services in 2019. DGME allocated an additional 35.4 million colones ($55,460) in one-time funding for victim services to offset decreased FONATT funding. The government did not report making a separate allocation to cover emergency services and initial care for potential victims; in 2020, it allocated 7.42 million colones ($11,630) in additional funding for this purpose. FONATT funding was tied to a tourism tax; the government attributed its reduced expenditure on anti-trafficking efforts to decreased tourism and government-wide financial austerity measures linked to the pandemic. PANI continued to provide direct funding and a per-victim subsidy for identified victims to an NGO-run shelter for child victims. The government allocated 1.25 million colones ($1,960) to two NGOs providing services to trafficking victims, compared with 171.5 million colones ($268,700) in 2019; data for 2020 was not available. Observers reported that failure to disburse all of the allocated resources hindered the country’s ability to address its trafficking problem, despite dedicated government resources to anti-trafficking efforts, including victim services.

Costa Rican law allowed victims to obtain temporary residency status and work permits, leave the country, file civil suits against traffickers, and provide testimony outside of court proceedings. The government issued 58 new or renewed temporary residence permits to trafficking victims in 2021; by comparison, it issued 11 new and an unknown number of renewed permits in 2020. Officials reported one foreign national trafficking survivor became a Costa Rican citizen in 2021. Victims could testify outside of court proceedings; the government did not report any victims utilizing this provision in 2021, compared with two in 2020. Officials coordinated with Panamanian law enforcement to facilitate transit for a Costa Rican victim testifying in the Panamanian trial against a trafficker. The government coordinated with an NGO to facilitate the repatriation of one foreign national trafficking victim in 2021, compared with no repatriations in 2020 and two in 2019. The government reported offering two virtual training opportunities, open to officials in a range of agencies, on identifying trafficking victims; an international organization provided educational materials or otherwise supported one of these trainings.

The government maintained prevention efforts limited by government-wide reductions in funding. CONATT, chaired by DGME, integrated and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts among 22 public institutions, key NGOs, and international organizations, and it maintained sub-commissions focused on attention to victims, prevention, justice, investigation and analysis, and project management. CONATT met periodically to review progress in the areas of research, protection, prevention, and prosecution; in 2021, it continued to rely on virtual meetings to maintain interagency coordination. CONATT presented a quarterly public report on its accomplishments. The government approved its 2020-2030 national action plan in November 2021 and began implementing it soon thereafter. Through the FONATT and DGME, the government reported a total of 107 million colones ($167,640) in anti-trafficking expenditures, compared with 620.45 million colones ($972,080) in FONATT funding in 2020 and 1.4 billion colones ($2.2 million) in 2019. The government primarily financed its anti-trafficking activities through the FONATT, but bureaucratic hurdles continued to stymie execution of these funds. In 2021, the government disbursed 64 percent of allocated FONATT funds, an increase compared with 13 percent in 2020 and roughly on par with the 77 percent disbursement reported in 2019; however, the government continued to report limited anti-trafficking funding due to pandemic-related austerity measures, such that funding in 2021 remained considerably below 2019 levels, despite similar disbursement by percentage. The government funded the FONATT primarily through a national exit tax; consequently, funding for anti-trafficking efforts fluctuated with travel to and from Costa Rica, which remained reduced due to the pandemic. The government did not allocate funding for prevention programming for the second consecutive year, compared with 171.5 million colones ($268,700) for prevention programming and 1.37 billion colones ($2.15 million) for other anti-trafficking events and projects in 2019. The government reported it cut funding for prevention programming due to financial austerity and government-wide resource limitations; it noted, however, that anti-trafficking officials continued to promote trafficking awareness through low-cost social media posts. Funding shortages also prevented the government from making trafficking-specific allocations to DGME, the Ministry of Public Education, and other agencies. Observers reported awareness-raising programming remained limited, also attributing the reduction to pandemic-related funding limitations. OIJ operated two hotlines to receive confidential criminal complaints; it reported receiving 153 calls related to potential trafficking cases in 2021; there were approximately 100 such calls in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available for comparison. The Judiciary Police also operated the 9-1-1 hotline available for general crime reporting, which fielded four trafficking-related calls in 2021.

In past years, the government educated labor recruiters for international and domestic businesses about the consequences of violating the anti-trafficking regulations but did not report doing so, or investigating or penalizing any labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking, in 2021 or 2020. The government promoted an international code of conduct related to commercial sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry; 409 tourist sector businesses adhered to the code. The government collaborated with civil society to offer four training sessions for tourism sector staff on identifying and referring trafficking victims. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in 2020. In addition to prosecuting individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by working with international partners to deny entry to 75 foreign-registered sex offenders who attempted to travel to Costa Rica as tourists in 2020.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Costa Rica, and traffickers exploit victims from Costa Rica abroad. Traffickers subject Costa Rican women and children to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the Pacific coastal zones and near the northern and southern borders being particularly vulnerable. Government officials report many traffickers operate independently, without a connection to organized crime, to exploit Costa Rican victims. Many victims are related to or otherwise know their traffickers. Authorities suspect that adults use children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. Traffickers exploit LGBTQI+ persons, including transgender persons, in sex trafficking. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Traffickers subject migrant adults and children, primarily from Nicaragua, to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service or to sex trafficking. Criminal organizations recruit and coerce individuals experiencing homelessness to smuggle contraband into prisons for the purpose of further criminal activity. Traffickers prey on migrants, some en route to the United States, from other Central American countries, the Caribbean, the People’s Republic of China, and South America. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe.

U.S. Department of State

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