Most of my clients are of retirement age and have pensions. However, some retirees don’t want to vegetate and wish to start their own businesses. According to the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (the local Social Security System) during the last five years the number self-employed people has doubled in Costa Rica. Ninety-nine percent of these business are owned by Costa Ricans but this shows that small entrepreneurs can start a business here. It is interesting to note that the country came in first in Latin America and ninth in the world with respect to nations offering the greatest commercial freedom and protection for private business, according to Freedom and Development, a Chilean research institute. There are some opportunities for foreigners who want to start a business.
As a foreigner you are allowed to start your own business with only a few restrictions. If you plan to go into business here, it is very important to be aware of the local consumer market in order to succeed. Most of the country’s purchasing power is located in the Central Valley. A total of 75 percent of the country’s population resides in the central provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago. About 60 percent of the population is under 30 years old. Intelligent business people will try to meet the needs of this group.
You may have to adapt your idea due to the vagaries of the local market and different purchasing power. Don’t get any grandiose ideas since the country only has about 4.5 million people and a quarter the people are below the poverty line with little or no purchasing power. You cannot expect to market products on a large scale as in North America. Also keep in mind that only two out of three expats who go into business here succeed.
Despite the above, there are opportunities in a few areas. Costa Rica is ripe for innovative foreigners willing to take a risk and start businesses that have not previously existed. Start up costs for small businesses are less than in the United States or Canada. Many of the same types of businesses that have been successful in North America will work if researched correctly. There is definitely a need for these types of businesses. You just have to do your homework and explore the market. Be aware that not everything that works in the United States will work here.
Starting an internet-based business which depends of the U.S. will greatly increase your chances of success here. For example, I know a couple of Americans who started Spanish schools which bring groups of students here. I know a Canadian who founded an on-line newspaper. Another friend started a cell phone rental service for tourists. Whatever you do don’t expect to strike it rich. With luck you can make a good living here.
¡Buena suerte! Good luck!