Costa Rica

Welcome to the Country Profile page of Costa Rica. Below you can find information and news on the country related to migration and development, what projects are going on in the JMDI and key documents or resources related to the projects or country itself.


Political and decentralization context:

Costa Rica has been characterized as a fundamentally centralist State. Between the central Government and the 81 local governments or municipalities (cantons) there is no provincial intermediate level. The 1949 Constitution established the Municipal Government in charge of the administration of local interests and services in each canton and established the autonomy of municipalities in administrative, political, and financial terms. The election of council members happens every four years. In 1970, the Municipal Code was approved, where the figure of the political leader is replaced by the municipal executive and the Institute of Municipal Development and Assistance (IFAM) was created in 1971. In the mid-90s, a support process for local mechanisms for tax administration and planning was approved providing for the adoption of the Law of Property Tax Law of Specific Items and the Municipal Code (1998), among others. In 2010, the General Law for Strengthening Local Governments, a legal framework which sets guidelines for the transfer of responsibilities and resources was approved. However, a clear roadmap in what competencies and resources for their exercise has yet to be defined.


Development context:

Costa Rica has historically shown a commitment in terms of investment in education, public health and social security, embodied in the Constitution of 1949, which represented a breakthrough for the country which also became a model at the international level. It stands as a medium-high human development and middle-income country. The country is ranked No. 11 in Human Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, and No. 68 worldwide with life expectancy at birth at 79 years. With regards to education, Costa Rica presents a value of 8.4 in average years of education. However, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) in 2014, during the period 2005-2014 poverty remained constant at around 20%, except for the period 2007-2009 with percentages between 16.7% and 18.5%. Today, it currently stands at 20%. According to data from the National Household Survey (INEC, 2014) there are 318,810 poor households, 94,810 of whom are in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, between 1994 and 2013 the economy has grown at an average annual rate of 4.5%.

The National Strategy for Poverty Reduction Management Solis Rivera called Bridge to Development, is part of the National Development Plan (2015-2018) and its three priorities are as follows: (1) promote economic growth and create quality jobs; (2) Combating poverty and reducing inequality; (3) An open, transparent, efficient, and anti-corruption Government.


Migratory context:

In recent years, Costa Rica has become an origin, destination, and transit migration country. As a host country, Costa Rica has registered about 386,000 immigrants (INEC, 2011). In relative terms, Costa Rica is the country with the highest percentage of immigrants in Latin America (9% of the total population). In absolute terms, it ranks sixth in Latin America and the first in Central America, in number of foreign residents in the country. The main occupations of immigrants are trade (16%), agriculture (15%), domestic services (14%), and construction (10%), with 52% of all immigrants representing women. Most immigrants are aged between 18-40. Nicaragua is the country with the highest presence of immigrants (75%), followed by Colombia (4%), US (4%), Panama (3%), and El Salvador (2%). As an origin country, Costa Rica has around 250,000 migrants abroad (45% women). Emigration happens to be of an extra-regional character with emigrants going mainly to the US (where 75% of Costa Rican diaspora reside). Costa Rican migration has steadily increased from the first decade of the century, for different reasons and factors: economic restructuring, proletarianization of the peasantry, limited conditions of the Costa Rican peasant sector, the search for labor opportunities and economic instability in the country. Remittances received from the diaspora are estimated at US $ 562 million (1.2% of GDP). Finally, Costa Rica is a transit country for migrants heading to the United States. Although this route is not part of the most important routes to the United States overall, it is important for countries like Panama and Colombia. However, the shortage of data makes it difficult to characterize this phenomenon. Foreign remittances to their countries of origin amounted to US $ 346 million (Central Bank, 2012).


Key local, national laws and bilateral or international agreements related to M&D:  

Costa Rican Constitution: Constitución Política de Costa Rica (1949).

National Development Plan 2015-18: Plan Nacional de Desarrollo (2015-2018).

General Law for Migration 2010: Ley General de Migración y Extranjería (2010).

Migratory Policy 2013-23: Política Migratoria Integral (2013-2023).

Municipal Code 1998: Código Municipal (1998).


The following organizations are working on Migration and Development-related issues in Costa Rica:

Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

Ministerio de Gobernación y Policía.

Defensoría de los Habitantes de la República.


Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM).

Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD).

Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR).

Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT).

Centro Internacional para los Derechos Humanos de los Migrantes (CIDEHUM).

Fundación Centro de Derechos Sociales del Migrante (CENDEROS).

Servicio Jesuita para Migrantes.

Fundación AVINA.

Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO).

Instituto de Estudios Sociales en Población, IDESPO (Universidad Nacional, UNA).

Centro de Investigación en Cultura y Desarrollo, CICDE (Universidad Estatal a Distancia, UNED).

Centro Centroamericano de Población, CCP (Universidad de Costa Rica, UCR).

Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Sociales (ICAES).

Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, IIS (Universidad de Costa Rica, UCR).


Key documents for this country:

Estrategia Nacional para la Reducción de la Pobreza Puente al Desarrollo (2015).

Programa Tejiendo Desarrollo (2014).

Política nacional para una sociedad libre de racismo, discriminación racial y xenofobia (2014-2025).

Informe Nacional Migración e Integración (2012).

Taller Migración e Integración en Costa Rica (2012).

Informe Nacional Migración e Integración (2011).

Manual Municipal sobre Servicios Migratorios e Integración Social (2011).


JMDI Projects

Project 1

“Canton of Upala, Migration as a facilitator for inclusive human development”

Where: Upala

Context: Located on the land border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Costa Rican canton Upala is a transit zone for many Nicaraguan migrants in search of employment opportunities, access to social services and better living conditions. In 2011, the National Population Census indicated that the Nicaraguan migrant population represents 17.1% of the population residing in the municipal territory of Upala. Almost 50% are women, who also tend to be the most vulnerable in the migratory process. On the Costa Rican side of the border and as a result of a long process of dialogue, Local government and territorial actors are aiming to promote the institutional acknowledgement of Nicaraguans in Upala as “trans-border citizens”. Applicable only in the border area, this would allow vulnerable groups like migrant women and minors to access social services and to be able to legally pursue access to, for example, justice, social services and landowning, in the Upala area. The project, as outlined below, contributes to this aim by establishing or reinforcing services and development opportunities targeting migrants. The National Council on Migration is currently reviewing the “trans-border citizenship” proposal.

Objectives: improve the activities that the Centre for Migrants’ Social Rights implements, for example by strengthening the already existing network of migrant women.

Partner organization(s): Municipality of Upala, Fundación Centro de Derechos Sociales Del Migrante (CENDEROS)

Beneficiaries: The main beneficiaries include women and young migrant workers, who are among the most vulnerable when crossing borders. With a strong emphasis on institutional capacity building, the Municipality of Upala will reinforce its competences to address the regional M&D issues.

Duration: 22 Months

Contribution from the JMDI: USD 230,000


Project 2

“Integrating migration as a factor for inclusive development in the Los Santos region”

Where: Los Santos

Context: The measures laid out in Structural Adjustment Programmes implemented in Costa Rica in the 1970s and 1980s have most strongly affected the agricultural sector in the region of Los Santos whereby declining coffee prices have impoverished the local population, resulting in high rates of out-migration of the male population. Women and young people staying behind thus experienced the most severe impacts of this economic adjustment with family break up and diminished remittances being the most common issues. However, the region also experiences a high immigration flow from the Panamanian and Nicaraguan Ngobe-Bugle indigenous population who work in the dwindling coffee harvesting industry. While the work of this community allows for the maintenance of the region’s agricultural activity, precarious wages and working conditions among women and young migrants have rapidly plunged the population into a situation of extreme economic and social vulnerability.

Objectives: consolidate this local craft market and seeks to expand the model at the cantonal and national levels; improve the social assistance provided by the local government to its migrant population and further build on the results achieved by the Corporate Social Responsibility department of Coopetarrazú, which include the provision of adequate inclusion of immigrants

Partner organization(s): Municipality of León Cortés

Beneficiaries: The project’s main direct beneficiaries include women and young migrants from the Ngobe-Bule community, as well as the local actors and the Municipality of Los Santos.

Duration: 21 Months

Contribution from the JMDI: USD 162,600.00

M4D Resources

País: Costa Rica Área temática: Inclusión social Palabras clave: Integración transversal, inclusión económica, migración transfronteriza, derechos humanos Este estudio de caso esboza un enfoque innovador para responder a las necesidades específicas y únicas de las poblaciones que viven sus vidas en ambos lados de una frontera internacional. Tales «migrantes...
Pays : Costa Rica Thématique Principale : Inclusion Sociale Mots-Clés : Intégration de la migration, inclusion économique, migration transfrontalière, droits de l'homme Cette étude de cas décrit les approches novatrices qui peuvent être mise en oeuvre pour répondre aux besoins spécifiques et uniques des populations qui vivent des deux côtés d'une frontière...
Country: Costa Rica Thematic area: Social inclusion Key words: Mainstreaming migration, Economic Inclusion, Cross-border migration, human rights This case study outlines an innovative approach to respond to the specific and unique needs of populations living their lives on both sides of an international border. Such ´cross-border migrants’ may face legal vacuums...
This case study is an example of a successful mechanism that works to protect and ensure the rights of cross-border women migrants in the border area of Upala in Costa Rica with neighboring country Nicaragua and who are exposed to gender-based violence and other human rights violations due to their precarious migratory status. In these areas, many people live their...
País: Costa Rica Área temática: Inclusión social Palabras clave: Derechos de la mujer, empoderamiento, migración transfronteriza Este estudio de caso es un ejemplo de un mecanismo exitoso que trabaja para proteger y asegurar los derechos de las migrantes transfronterizas en la zona fronteriza de Upala en Costa Rica con Nicaragua, y que están expuestas a la violencia de...
Área temática: inclusión social Palabras clave: acceso a los servicios, cursos de idiomas Este estudio de caso muestra cómo la superación las barreras idiomáticas puede facilitar la inclusión social y la integración de los migrantes en las comunidades de acogida y constituye un aporte fundamental para el ejercicio de sus derechos. Las instituciones públicas tienen...
Domaine thématique : inclusion sociale Mots clés : accès aux services, cours de langue Cette étude de cas montre comment dépasser les barrières linguistiques peut faciliter l'inclusion sociale et l'intégration des migrants dans les communautés d'accueil et est essentiel pour que ces derniers exercent leurs droits. Les institutions publiques ont des services spécifiques...
Thematic area: Social Inclusion Key words: access to services, language classes This case study shows how overcoming language barriers can facilitate the social inclusion and integration of migrants in host communities and is essential for them to exercise their rights. Public institutions have specific services to attend the needs of migrants, but when migrants don’t...

M4D Library

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