That dollar amount reflects a 101.5% spike since 2017 when Costa Rican exports totaled $10.6 billion.
Year over year, the value of Costa Rica’s exported products accelerated by 83.9% from $11.6 billion during 2020.
Costa Rica’s top 3 most valuable exports are electro-medical equipment including xray machines, electronic integrated circuits and microassemblies, and bananas or plantains. Combined, that trio of major exported goods accounts for almost half (49.5%) of revenues from globally exported Costa Rican exports in 2021.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2021, the Costa Rican colón diminished by -9.4% against the US dollar since 2017 and fell by -6.1% from 2020 to 2021. Costa Rica’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
Largest Buyers of Costa Rica’s Exports
The latest available country-specific data shows that 84% of products exported from Costa Rica were bought by importers in: the United States of America (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 (also 2.2%), Dominican Republic (2%) and the United Kingdom (also 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 5.18 million people, its total $21.4 billion in 2021 exports translates to roughly $4,100 for every resident in the Central American country. That dollar metric is almost twice the average $2,300 per capita one year earlier in 2020.
Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Costa Rican global shipments during 2021. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Costa Rica.
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: US$6.5 billion (30.6% of total exports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $4.5 billion (21.3%)
- Fruits, nuts: $3.8 billion (17.8%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $548.9 million (2.6%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $439.4 million (2.1%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $430.9 million (2%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $387.4 million (1.8%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $323.9 million (1.5%)
- Iron, steel: $320.5 million (1.5%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $299 million (1.4%)
Costa Rica’s top 10 exports accounted for over four-fifths (82.5%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Electrical machinery and equipment represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 960.3% from 2020 to 2021.
In second place for improving export sales were the metals iron and steel via a 132.4% improvement.
Costa Rica’s shipments of fruits and nuts posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 74.8%.
The lone decliner among Costa Rica’s top 10 export categories was miscellaneous food preparations thanks to its -10% drop year over year.
At the more detailed Harmonized Tariff System code level, in 2021 Costa Rica’s most valuable exported products were electro-medical equipment including xray machines (24% of total), integrated circuits and microassemblies (16.7%), bananas and plantains (8.8%), dates, figs, pineapples, mangoes, avocadoes and guavas (7.6%), orthopedic appliances (5.1%), miscellaneous food preparations (1.9%), coffee (1.7%); insulated wire or cable (1.4%), lower-voltage switches and fuses (1.3%), then highly capital-intensive cruise or cargo ships and barges (1.2%).
Products Driving Largest Trade Surpluses for Costa Rica
Costa Rica earned an overall $4.6 billion trade surplus for 2021, reversing a -$2.8 billion deficit one year earlier in 2020.
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$5.5 billion (Up by 81.2% since 2020)
- Fruits, nuts: $3.7 billion (Up by 78.5%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $2.1 billion (Reversing a -$1 billion deficit)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: $397.4 million (Up by 8.9%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $355.6 million (Up by 15.2%)
- Vegetable/fruit/nut preparations: $312.4 million (Up by 60.1%)
- Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $229.7 million (Up by 162.2%)
- Ships, boats: $205.2 million (Up by 4878.1%)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $172 million (Up by 58.8%)
- Vegetables: $144.4 million (Up by 49.9%)
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.
Products Causing Worst Trade Deficits for Costa Rica
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$1.4 billion (Up by 53.1% since 2020)
- Machinery including computers: -$1.2 billion (Down by -8.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$840.9 million (Down by -2.9%)
- Vehicles: -$798.1 million (Up by 16.8%)
- Paper, paper items: -$552.1 million (Up by 9.4%)
- Iron, steel: -$463.1 million (Up by 44.4%)
- Cereals: -$364.7 million (Up by 4.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$283.9 million (Down by -38.9%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$226.3 million (Down by -20.8%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: -$203.2 million (Reversing a $3.2 million surplus)
Costa Rica has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits particularly for refined petroleum oils, petroleum gases, and petroleum coke or residues 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 18.3% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2021 ($116.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 18.3% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2021 compares to 11.7% for 2020. Those percentages suggest a relatively increasing 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 unemployment rate averaged 13.68% for 2021, down from an average 19.98% in 2020 according to statistics from the International Monetary Fund.
Costa Rica’s capital city is San José.
See also Bananas Exports by Country, Coffee Exports by Country, Top US Trading Partners, Netherlands Top Trading Partners and Belgium’s Top Trading Partners
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook report on Central America: Costa Rica. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Forbes 2021 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Foreign Trade , United States Census Bureau. Accessed on June 21, 2022
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (Domestic Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on June 21, 2022
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 21, 2022
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Costa Rica. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 2, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Costa Rica. Accessed on June 21, 2022
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 21, 2022