More information about Costa Rica is available on the Costa Rica Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
U.S.-COSTA RICA RELATIONS
The United States established diplomatic relations with Costa Rica in 1851, following Costa Rica’s independence from Spain and the later dissolution of a federation of Central American states. A strong democracy of more than five million people with deep ties to the United States, Costa Rica is an important, committed partner on key U.S. priorities in the region, including security, prosperity and governance, democracy and human rights, addressing root causes of migration, and climate change.
Costa Rica has an attractive trade and investment climate; is one of the strongest and most reliable voices in Latin America on human rights and rule of law; and has been a key partner in the fight against transnational crime and drug trafficking. The country has a strong tradition of independent journalism, ranking first in Latin America and 5th best out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.
The United States and Costa Rica work together closely to address the increasing challenges presented by drug trafficking and irregular migration. In 2020, Costa Rica again was listed as one of the major transit countries for drugs in Latin America. Costa Rica has welcomed migrants and refugees from Venezuela and Nicaragua and is also experiencing extracontinental migration as a transit country.
Costa Rica is a major destination for U.S. retirees and tourists. It is estimated that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 120,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, resided in the country; and more than 1.4 million American citizens visited Costa Rica annually. Every year, over 1,100 Costa Ricans study at U.S. institutions of higher education. Over 8,000 U.S. students study in Costa Rica every year, and Costa Rica is the number one destination in Latin America for U.S. study abroad programs.
Costa Rica was the first Central American country to confirm a case of COVID-19 on March 6, 2020. Costa Rica was one of the most successful Latin American countries during the early phases of the fight against the pandemic, though the country experienced significant increases in case loads during successive waves of the virus. As of August 2021, Costa Rica has recorded more than 5,000 deaths due to Covid-19. Costa Rica has one of the highest vaccination rates in the region, with almost 70 percent of the eligible population receiving the first dose, and slightly more than 20 percent receiving both doses.
In July 2021, the United States donated 500,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Costa Rica. As of August 2021, the United States has provided nearly $1.7 million in Department of State and USAID COVID-19 assistance, including health assistance and humanitarian assistance to support refugees, vulnerable migrants, and host communities.
U.S. Migration Policy Towards Costa Rica and the Region
The U.S. Strategy to Address the Root Causes of Migration and the U.S. Collaborative Migration Management strategy are the principal frameworks guiding U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance in Costa Rica and across Central America. These strategies support Costa Rica in addressing the challenges it faces as both a destination and transit country for migrants.
The Root Causes Strategy focuses on a coordinated, place-based approach to improve the underlying causes that push Central Americans, including many of Costa Rica’s neighbors to migrate. This strategy lays out a framework to use the policy, resources, and diplomacy of the United States, and to leverage the expertise and resources of a broad group of public and private stakeholders, to build hope for citizens in the region that the life they desire can be found at home. The strategy is organized under five pillars:
- Pillar I: Addressing economic insecurity and inequality;
- Pillar II: Combating corruption, strengthening democratic governance, and advancing the rule of law;
- Pillar III: Promoting respect for human rights, labor rights, and a free press
- Pillar IV: Countering and preventing violence, extortion, and other crimes perpetrated by criminal gangs, trafficking networks, and other organized criminal organizations; and
- Pillar V: Combating sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence.
The Collaborative Migration Management Strategy (CMMS) works together with the Root Causes Strategy and is the first U.S. whole-of-government effort focused on reducing irregular migration to the U.S. border by promoting safe, orderly, and humane migration, improving access to protection for those fleeing persecution and torture, and strengthening migration cooperation and responsibility sharing throughout North and Central America. The CMMS aims to enhance international protection and in-country protection, promote temporary labor programs within the region, strengthen lawful pathways for those who choose to migrate or are forcibly displaced from their homes in North and Central America, foster humane border management practices, and reduce irregular migration.
The CMMS includes eight distinct lines of action to strengthen collaborative migration management across North and Central America, including Costa Rica:
- Stabilize populations with acute needs;
- Expand access to international protection;
- Expand access to protection in countries of origin;
- Expand third country labor migration programs with worker protections;
- Assist and reintegrate returned persons;
- Foster secure and humane management of borders;
- Strengthen regional public messaging on migration; and
- Expand access to lawful pathways for protection and opportunity in the United States.
U.S. Assistance to Costa Rica
Beyond migration, U.S. assistance to Costa Rica helps counter drug trafficking and transnational crime, supports economic development, improves governance, and contributes to security in Central America. A safe, prosperous Costa Rica contributes to regional stability and leads directly to a safer, prosperous United States.
The United States works hand-in-hand with a wide range of Costa Rican government agencies and non-governmental organizations to help secure Costa Rica’s borders, professionalize its police, strengthen its judicial sector, improve its corrections system, and empower at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations.
U.S. Embassy programs promote entrepreneurship, economic inclusion, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) works closely with Costa Rican security partners to build capacity and assist disadvantaged communities. Through cooperation and assistance from INL and other law enforcement agencies, Costa Rica is confronting its drug trafficking problem, intercepting and confiscating record levels of illicit drugs in 2019 and 2020. Through July 2021, Costa Rica seized 42.9 tons of drugs, putting it on track for another year of record drug seizures. The United States provided $50 million in 2020 in security and judicial support to strengthen and modernize Costa Rica’s security forces, improve citizen security, and enhance the justice sector’s ability to investigate and prosecute transnational criminals. This assistance includes equipment donations, training, citizen security programs, and technical assistance that enhances Costa Rica’s capacity to confront the growing threat of organized crime and narcotrafficking.
Prior to the pandemic, Peace Corps volunteers worked in economic development, education, and youth empowerment programs.
The United States is working closely with the international community on the regional challenge of migration to assist countries, like Costa Rica, that are destination and transit countries for migrants. From 2017 through 2021, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration will have contributed over $28 million to organizations working on migration issues in Costa Rica.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Costa Rica and the United States are parties to the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which aims to facilitate trade and investment and further regional integration by eliminating tariffs, opening markets, reducing barriers to services, and promoting transparency. CAFTA-DR contains a chapter on investment similar to a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.
Despite a well-established universal healthcare system and a prompt fiscal response from authorities, the economy contracted by nearly 5 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic and the recovery is expected to be protracted. The United States is Costa Rica’s largest trading partner, accounting for approximately 40 percent of Costa Rica’s exports and imports. Total (two way) trade in goods between the United States and Costa Rica was $11 billion in 2020, and the United States had a goods trade surplus of $331 million. The United States also represents the largest source of tourism and foreign direct investment to Costa Rica. According to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. foreign direct investment in Costa Rica was $2.0 billion in 2020, a slight 1.3% decrease from 2019. U.S. exports to Costa Rica include petroleum products, electrical machinery, optical and medical instruments, machinery, and plastics. U.S. imports from Costa Rica include medical devices, pineapples, bananas, and coffee.
Costa Rica’s Membership in International Organizations
Costa Rica and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and World Trade Organization. In May 2021, the United States and other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) welcomed Costa Rica as the OECD’s 38th member state, the result of a multiyear effort by Costa Rica to align its economic policies with OECD recommendations.
Principal U.S. embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
More information about Costa Rica is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here: