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Business Culture Shock

As mentioned earlier, doing business in another country country, language or culture can be excessively complicated and frustrating, especially for someone who is not prerpared for their new business environment. Be informed and the process of adapting to the new business environment will be much simplier.

Protocols and business practices in other countries can be obstacles if someone new enters into the situation without doing the proper research.

Here in Costa Rica things certainly operate a little different. To avoid many miscommunications and issues, here is a list of distinct differences in regards to business operations here in Costa Rica versus how business is done in North America:

  • People can show up for meetings unprepared and late. Even though some Costa Ricans may do this, do not do this it is not considered professional in the business world.
  • When making an appointment confirm it a week before, 2 days before and the day of to remind them of an appointment. Sometimes Costa Ricans get busy or are unorganized and therefore they forget.
  • Even if an appointment has been scheduled at a certain specific time, do not be surprised if when having to wait for hours for a meeting, bring something to read for the wait.
  • Use correct titles and surnames. For example, address Senior Jose Alvaro Sanchez as "Señor Alvaro," using only the last name inherited from the father. In this case Alvaro is his father's name, and Sanchez is his mother's. Don and Doña are translated as Mr. and Mrs. respectively, but are considered very formal. This is the most common way people are addressed here in Costa Rica.
  • When meeting a Costa Rican man shake their hand firmly, make eye contact, and present a business card.
  • When meeting a Costa Rican woman do not be surprised upon receiving a greeting kiss on the cheek instead of/or accompanied by a handshake, do the same as listed above.
  • Personal appearance & cleanliness is key. Costa Ricans bath frequently, use a variety of smell good products, and take personal appearance very seriously.
  • Even though Costa Rica is a warmer climate, professional dress still applies.
  • Do not be surprised if a Costa Rican answers their phone or sends text messages during a meeting.
  • Be as diplomatic as possible.
  • Make small talk at the beginning of your meeting Costa Ricans do not like to get to the point, the want to get to know you a little and that you know them.
  • Costa Ricans feel uncomfortable with anyone or anything that is direct, right to the point, or blunt.
  • Try and not be as direct and speedy as one would normally act in a meeting in their home country. Take time to address each point carefully, slowly, and even repetitvely or in other words if need be.
  • If the meeting is in English, even if it seems that the attendees of the meeting's  English is amazing, slow it down a notch and make it clear in the beginning that if they need clarification give them permission to ask.
  • If it is possible to present clearly concepts and ideas in Spanish, this will gain more respect from potential business partners.
  • Try and use more simple vocabulary to avoid confusion and miscommunication.
  • Even if as a presenter one is very excited or entusiastic about a topic being presented,  try and explain or illustrate it using Costa Rican examples so they can relate.
  • Costa Ricans are NOT risk takers so try to avoid talking about unrelated topics or business outside their comfort zone.
  • When speaking to groups talk to everyone in the group even women, Costa Ricans believe in democracy and equality.
  • Costa Ricans are very indirect and like to say a lot to say a little.
  • Sometimes Costa Ricans will seem very interested or excited about what was presented, but in the end no results were obtained. Costa Ricans tend to do this to be polite, but even if they hate what is being offered, in most cases the majority will pretend they like it.
  • Anything and everything in Costa Rica is a long, drawn out, red tape process. One must have  extreme quantities of patience and persistance to be successful here.
  • Impatience is viewed in a negative way and can make one look less credible.
  • In Costa Rica it is much more about "WHO you know" than "what you know."
  • Costa Ricans like to paint the most positive picture in order to engage clients, when the reality is they will not be able to deliver all that was promised in the way that it was promised because of all the external factors that affect all realms of business in Costa Rica.
  • Costa Rica workers are judged on how well they follow the rules or the process not performance and efficiency as in the North American systems.
  • There are no rue deadlines in Costa Rica.  If someone promises something tomorrow, the wait time could turn into 2 weeks before long.
  • Costa Rica is a VERY small country. Therefore, good and bad reputations mount quickly. It is imperative to maintain good relationships with almost every person encountered in the business setting since everyone knows everyone. There is no room for error here.
  • Again, Costa Rica being a small country in any specific field such as construction, law, or real estate do not be surprised if many individuals know each other, are friends, are enemies, or attended school together. Costa Rica is a very tight social network.
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