Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Costa Rican colón decreased by -7.4% against the US dollar since 2016 but increased by 0.4% from 2019 to 2020. Costa Rica’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers compared to 2016 but slightly more expensive after 2019.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 84% of products exported from Costa Rica were bought by importers in: United States (43.5% of the global total), Netherlands (7.7%), Belgium (5.3%), Guatemala (5.1%), Panama (4.2%), Nicaragua (4%), Honduras (3.2%), El Salvador (2.7%), Japan (2.2%), Mexico (2.2%), Dominican Republic (2%) and United Kingdom (2%).
From a continental perspective, 46.3% of Costa Rica’s exports by value were delivered to North American countries while 25% were sold to importers in Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Costa Rica shipped another 21.9% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Asia (6.4%), Africa (0.2%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.1%).
Given Costa Rica’s population of 5.129 million people, its total $11.6 billion in 2020 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 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Costa Rica.
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$3.9 billion (33.8% of total exports)
- Fruits, nuts: $2.2 billion (18.7%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $610.1 million (5.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $428.8 million (3.7%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $381.1 million (3.3%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $354.5 million (3%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $346.9 million (3%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $340.5 million (2.9%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $226 million (1.9%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $192.3 million (1.7%)
Costa Rica’s top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (77.3%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Animal or vegetable fats, oils and waxes represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 30.2% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales was coffee, tea and spices via a 19.2% gain.
Costa Rica’s shipments of pharmaceuticals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 17.3% year over year.
The leading decliner among Costa Rica’s top 10 export categories was rubber both as a material and items made from rubber, due to a -16.4% drop.
At the more detailed Harmonized Tariff System code level, in 2020 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$3 billion (Up by 5.4% since 2019)
- Fruits, nuts: $2.1 billion (Up by 0.7%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $365 million (Up by 6.4%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $308.8 million (Up by 22.5%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $195.1 million (Up by 11.3%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $108.3 million (Down by -11%)
- Vegetables: $96.3 million (Down by -14.6%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $87.6 million (Up by 75.8%)
- Dairy, eggs, honey: $80.8 million (Down by -18.7%)
- Miscellaneous manufactured articles: $54.8 million (Down by -31.2%)
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 -$2.8 billion trade deficit during 2020, down -39.2% from -$4.7 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.
- Machinery including computers: US-$1.3 billion (Up by 5.1% since 2019)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$1 billion (Down by -13.6%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$934.9 million (Down by -44.6%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$866.3 million (Down by -14.7%)
- Vehicles: -$683.4 million (Down by -27.6%)
- Paper, paper items: -$504.5 million (Down by -10%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$464.8 million (Down by -5.8%)
- Cereals: -$349.3 million (Up by 3.6%)
- Iron, steel: -$320.7 million (Down by -5.1%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$285.7 million (Down by -26.7%)
Costa Rica has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for machinery including electrical equipment.
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 11.7% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($99 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 11.7% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 12.5% for 2019. 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 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 20% at January 2021, up from 12.4% one year earlier according to Trading Economics.
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 March 10, 2021
Forbes 2020 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on March 10, 2021
Foreign Trade , United States Census Bureau. Accessed on March 10, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on March 10, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on March 10, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on March 10, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on March 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Costa Rica. Accessed on March 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 2, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Costa Rica. Accessed on March 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on March 10, 2021