Bordered by fellow Central American countries Nicaragua and Panama, the Republic of Costa Rica shipped US$11.5 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 19.5% increase since 2015 and a 1.8% uptick from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the Costa Rican colón decreased by -9.9% against the US dollar since 2015 and deteriorated by -1.8% from 2018 to 2019. Costa Rica’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 83.3% of products exported from Costa Rica were bought by importers in: United States (42.3% of the global total), Netherlands (6.3%), Belgium (6.2%), Guatemala (5.2%), Panama (5.2%), Nicaragua (4%), Honduras (3.4%), El Salvador (2.7%), Japan (2.1%), Dominican Republic (2%), Mexico (also 2%) and United Kingdom (1.9%).
From a continental perspective, 45.2% of Costa Rica’s exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 26.4% were sold to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Costa Rica shipped another 21.8% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Asia (6.1%), Oceania led by Australia (0.3%) and Africa (0.1%).
Given Costa Rica’s population of 5.1 million people, its total $11.5 billion in 2019 exports translates to roughly $2,300 for every resident in the Central American country.
Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Costa Rican global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Costa Rica.
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$3.7 billion (31.9% of total exports)
- Fruits, nuts: $2.2 billion (18.9%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $593.9 million (5.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $471.6 million (4.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $378.9 million (3.3%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $334.6 million (2.9%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $325 million (2.8%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $285.6 million (2.5%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $270.3 million (2.4%)
- Vegetables: $172.2 million (1.5%)
Costa Rica’s top 10 exports accounted for about three-quarters (75.4%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Optical, technical and medical apparatus represent the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 11.1% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving international sales were Costa Rica’s exported vegetables, up by 7.3%. Miscellaneous food preparations from Costa Rican exporters posted the third-fastest gain thanks to a 6.2% year-over-year gain.
The severest decline year over year belonged to the coffee, tea and spices category due to a -12.5% drop.
At the more detailed Harmonized Tariff System code level, in 2019 Costa Rica’s most valuable exported products were electro-medical equipment including xrays (24.2% of total); bananas and plantains (8.7%); dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (8.6%); orthopedic appliances (5.9%); miscellaneous food preparations (4.1%); coffee (2.4%); new rubber tires (1.7%); insulated wire or cable (1.5%); medication mixes in dosage (1.4%) then fruit and vegetable juices (1.3%).
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.
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$2.9 billion (Up by 7% since 2018)
- Fruits, nuts: $2.1 billion (Down by -3.4%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $343 million (Up by 11.1%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $252 million (Down by -16.8%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $175.3 million (Down by -20.2%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $121.6 million (Up by 3.5%)
- Vegetables: $112.8 million (Up by 15.6%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $99.4 million (Up by 21.6%)
- Miscellaneous manufactured articles: $79.5 million (Up by 5.8%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $49.8 million (Down by -39.7%)
Costa Rica has highly positive net exports in the international trade of medical, surgical, dental or veterinary instruments, orthopedic appliances and similar 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 -$4.7 billion trade deficit during 2019, down -1.5% from -$5.3 billion in red ink one year earlier.
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
- Mineral fuels including oil: US-$1.7 billion (Down by -1.5% since 2018)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.24 billion (Down by -11.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1.16 billion (Down by -1.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$1.0 billion (Up by 4.7%)
- Vehicles: -$943.8 million (Down by -15.3%)
- Paper, paper items: -$560.4 million (Down by -6.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$493.7 million (Up by 7.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$389.6 million (Up by 15.8%)
- Iron, steel: -$337.8 million (Down by -26.9%)
- Cereals: -$337.3 million (Up by 6.1%)
Costa Rica has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for refined petroleum oils and, to a lesser extent, petroleum gases under the mineral fuels including oil product category.
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)
In macroeconomic terms, Costa Rica’s total exported goods represent 12.5% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($91.6 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 12.5% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 12.8% for 2018. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Costa Rica’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Costa Rica’s average unemployment rate was 11.5% for 2019 down from 11.951% one year earlier, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Costa Rica’s capital city is San José.
See also Bananas Exports by Country, Coffee Exports by Country and Capital Facts for San José, Costa Rica
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook report on Central America: Costa Rica. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Forbes 2019 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Foreign Trade , United States Census Bureau. Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 18, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Costa Rica. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 2, 2019
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Costa Rica. Accessed on April 18, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 2, 2019