Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports

Costa Rica's flag


Bordered by fellow Central American countries Nicaragua and Panama, the Republic of Costa Rica shipped US$10.6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2017. That dollar amount reflects a -7.5% drop since 2013 but a 7% gain from 2016 to 2017.

Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Costa Rica’s exported goods plus services represent 32.9% of total Costa Rican economic output or Gross Domestic Product. Please note that the overall value of exported goods and services includes a sizable share of re-exports. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.

From a continental perspective, 44.2% of Costa Rican exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 28.4% were sold to Central American and Caribbean importers. Costa Rica shipped another 21.7% worth of goods to Europe with 5.1% going to customers in Asia.

Given Costa Rica’s population of 4.9 million people, its total $10.6 billion in 2017 exports translates to roughly $2,200 for every resident in the Central American country.

Costa Rica’s unemployment rate was 9.3% in as of December 2017 down from 9.5% one year earlier, 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 2017. 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 most valuable exported products are bananas, pineapples then electro-medical equipment.

  1. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$2.9 billion (27% of total exports)
  2. Fruits, nuts: $2.2 billion (20.8%)
  3. Miscellaneous food preparations: $527.2 million (5%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: $478.9 million (4.5%)
  5. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $418.8 million (3.9%)
  6. Plastics, plastic articles: $350.1 million (3.3%)
  7. Coffee, tea, spices: $317.1 million (3%)
  8. Pharmaceuticals: $281.4 million (2.7%)
  9. Rubber, rubber articles: $262 million (2.5%)
  10. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $170.6 million (1.6%)

Costa Rica’s top 10 exports accounted for about three-quarters (74.2%) of the overall value of its global shipments.

Animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 16% from 2016 to 2017.

In second place for improving export sales was Costa Rica’s rubber plus articles made from rubber which gained 14.8%.

Optical, technical and medical apparatus posted Costa Rican exports’ third-fastest gain up 10.3% year over year.

The only declining category among the top 10 Costa Rican exports was vegetable, fruit or nut preparations which retreated -9.6%.


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 represent 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$2.3 billion (Up by 11.3% since 2016)
  2. Fruits, nuts: $2.1 billion (Up by 6.8%)
  3. Coffee, tea, spices: $293.7 million (Up by 2.4%)
  4. Miscellaneous food preparations: $269.5 million (Up by 6.6%)
  5. Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $252.5 million (Down by -19%)
  6. Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $119.3 million (Down by -4.6%)
  7. Dairy, eggs, honey: $87.6 million (Down by -2.2%)
  8. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $77.3 million (Up by 24%)
  9. Sugar, sugar confectionery: $74.1 million (Up by 75.9%)
  10. Vegetables: $72.6 million (Down by -23.1%)

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 and medical apparatus category.


Overall Costa Rica incurred a -$5.3 billion trade deficit during 2017, down -1.7% from the -$5.4 billion in red ink for 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. Mineral fuels including oil: -US$1.5 billion (Up by 26% since 2016)
  2. Machinery including computers: -$1.3 billion (Up by 4.5%)
  3. Vehicles: -$1.3 billion (Down by -11.8%)
  4. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.2 billion (Up by 3.7%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: -$889.5 million (Up by 4.6%)
  6. Paper, paper items: -$549 million (Up by 4.4%)
  7. Pharmaceuticals: -$507.4 million (Up by 12.3%)
  8. Articles of iron or steel: -$334.6 million (Up by 3.9%)
  9. Iron, steel: -$318.4 million (Up by 3.7%)
  10. Cereals: -$301.3 million (Up by 2.8%)

Costa Rica has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for vehicles including cars, trucks, auto parts or accessories and motorcycles.


Costa Rican Export Companies

Not one Costa Rican corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.

Wikipedia does list some exporters based in 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 22, 2018

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on April 22, 2018

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on April 22, 2018

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 22, 2018

Wikipedia, Costa Rica. Accessed on April 22, 2018

Wikipedia, List of Companies of Costa Rica. Accessed on April 22, 2018

Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 22, 2018