Making a Good First Impression – Etiquette in Costa Rica

During your trip to Costa Rica you can expect to deal with a lot of different people. Ticos are typically informal, peaceful, and keen to help. Social conventions aren’t as strict in Costa Rica. Nonetheless, you should act appropriately so as to make a good first impression. Here are some tips on etiquette in Costa Rica to endear yourself to the locals.

Formality Returns

A strange quirk of Costa Rican culture is the fact everything is informal until you start drilling into speech. Ticos will always use formal terms in conversation. When they’re addressing a visitor like you, you’ll be referred to using ‘usted’. They only use the more informal friendly term ‘vos’ for friends and members of their own family.

Hello & Goodbye

When you greet someone or say goodbye you should say ‘pura vida’. It’s used as a way to say hello, goodbye, or just to fill space in a conversation. Both sexes will always shake hands. Hugs are generally reserved for family members and friends. At the same time, you should keep a respectful distance and avoid invading their personal space. Stop by our Facebook page and say Pura Vida!


Etiquette in Costa Rica starts to get strange, from a tourist’s point of view, when it comes to confrontation. Ticos will do practically anything to avoid confrontation. They don’t want to offend anyone. Remember, this is a country which takes peace so seriously it abolished the armed forces.

Sometimes, a Tico will give you the wrong directions to your destination simply because they don’t want to tell you they have no idea where you’re trying to reach. The attitude isn’t about achieving the best in customer satisfaction. It’s about maintaining high standards and reducing the risk of upsetting anyone.

Dress to Impress

Costa Rican men will only wear short trousers if they happen to be on the beach. It’s common to see them wearing thin shirts with an open neck and long trousers anywhere else. 

Either way, if you’re visiting local families or sacred sites you should always dress conservatively. Check our packing tips for more information on what to bring on your trip to Costa Rica.


If you’re planning on visiting someone, you should never worry about being late. Punctuality isn’t a Costa Rican strong point. In fact, most people will actually arrive anywhere from five minutes to an hour after the appointed time. They call it, ‘Tico Time’.

Generally, this doesn’t apply to public transport and tour operators. These are very timely and you should aim to arrive at your destination at the arranged time.