Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports

Costa Rica's flag


Costa Rica shipped US$9.9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016, up by 12.2% since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in and up by 3.4% from 2015 to 2016.

Costa Rica’s top 10 exports accounted for three-quarters (74.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, Costa Rica’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $79.26 billion in 2016 (on a purchasing power parity basis). Therefore, exports accounted for about 12.5% of total Costa Rican economic output.

From a continental perspective, 44.4% of Costa Rican exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 29.7% were sold to Central American and Caribbean importers. Costa Rica shipped another 21.5% worth of goods to Europe with 3.8% going to customers in Asia.

Given Costa Rica’s population of 4.9 million people, its total $9.9 billion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $2,000 for every resident in that country.

Costa Rica’s unemployment rate was 9.5% in as of December 2016, according to Trading Economics.

Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Costa Rican global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Costa Rica. At the more detailed Harmonized Tariff System code level, Costa Rica’s number one exported product are instruments and appliances used in medical, surgical, dental or veterinary sciences followed by bananas.

  1. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$2.6 billion (26.2% of total exports)
  2. Fruits, nuts: $2.1 billion (20.8%)
  3. Miscellaneous food preparations: $503.7 million (5.1%)
  4. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $463.3 million (4.7%)
  5. Electrical machinery, equipment: $436.3 million (4.4%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $347.2 million (3.5%)
  7. Coffee, tea, spices: $315.6 million (3.2%)
  8. Pharmaceuticals: $266.7 million (2.7%)
  9. Rubber, rubber articles: $228.3 million (2.3%)
  10. Vegetables: $154.7 million (1.6%)

Optical, technical, medical apparatus was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 240.1% for the 7-year period starting in 2009.

In second place for improving export sales was the plastics category which gained 142.8%.

Costa Rican miscellaneous food preparations, including sauces and ice cream, posted the third-fastest gain in value up 131.3%.

The only declining category among the top 10 Costa Rican exports was electrical machinery, equipment which was down by -52.6%.


The following types of Costa Rican product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.

In a nutshell, net exports is the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

  1. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$2 billion (Up by 304.4% since 2009)
  2. Fruits, nuts: $2 billion (Up by 103%)
  3. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $311.8 million (Up by 109.1%)
  4. Coffee, tea, spices: $287 million (Up by 33.9%)
  5. Miscellaneous food preparations: $252.9 million (Up by 102.9%)
  6. Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $125.1 million (Down by -1.4%)
  7. Vegetables: $94.5 million (Up by 94%)
  8. Dairy, eggs, honey: $89.5 million (Up by 295.9%)
  9. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $62.3 million (Down by -12.9%)
  10. Miscellaneous manufactured articles: $50.1 million (Down by -594.8%)

Costa Rica has highly positive net exports in the international trade of medical, surgical, dental or veterinary instruments, orthopedic appliances and other equipment. In turn, these cashflows indicate Costa Rica’s strong competitive advantages under the optical, technical or medical product category.


Overall, Costa Rica incurred a -$5.4 billion trade deficit during 2016.
Below are exports from Costa Rica that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Costa Rica’s goods trail Costa Rican importer spending on foreign products

  1. Vehicles: -US$1.5 billion (Up by 292.6% since 2009)
  2. Machinery including computers: -$1.3 billion (Down by -1,407%)
  3. Mineral fuels including oil: -$1.2 billion (Up by 25.5%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.1 billion (Down by -4.3%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: -$850.4 million (Up by 127.1%)
  6. Paper, paper items: -$525.8 million (Up by 165.4%)
  7. Pharmaceuticals: -$451.8 million (Up by 210.7%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: -$322.2 million (Up by 102.9%)
  9. Iron, steel: -$307 million (Up by 193.4%)
  10. Cereals: -$293.2 million (Up by 58.5%)

Costa Rica has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for vehicles.


Costa Rican Export Companies

Not one Costa Rican corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000 for 2016.

Wikipedia also lists exporters from Costa Rica. Selected examples are shown below:

  • Café Britt (coffee)
  • Cerveceria Costa Rica (brewery)
  • Dos Pinos (dairy products)
  • Florida Ice and Farm Company (brewery, food processor)
  • Nature Air (airliner)
  • Ujarrás (food)

Costa Rica’s capital city is San José.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also Bananas Exports by Country, Coffee Exports by Country and Capital Facts for San José, Costa Rica

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 9, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on April 9, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on April 9, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 9, 2017

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Costa Rica. Accessed on April 9, 2017

Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 9, 2017