What is an “Argolla” in Costa Rica?

Any foreigner living in Costa Rica should know the meaning of this term if they are to really understand the inner workings of this country.

If you look up the word argolla in any Spanish dictionary it means a type of ring like a wedding ring. However, in Costa Rica this term has a completely different connotation. Here it refers to a closed group of insiders or clique. Fortunately, most retirees and others who live here won’t be directly or indirectly affected by the many argollas that exist in Costa Rica. Ninety-nine percent of English-speaking foreigners don’t know this social phenomenon exists. On the other hand, if you are an average Costa Rican there is a good chance you will be affected by an argolla.

The most innocuous argolla is a group of tico quasi-celebraties who think they are part of the jet set. As I have written about before photos of these socialites and wannabes making fools of themselves at different events can be seen in La Extra newspaper on a page called Tía Zelmira. Week after weeks you see the same faces of these people who are not known outside of Costa Rica. All of them seem to feed off each other as they aspire to be part of the rich and famous.


The second type of argolla is more insidious and keeps a lot of well-deserving Costa Ricans from getting ahead in life because they don’t have the right connections. For aspiring ticos everything depends on who you know, if you are not connected with the right circle of friends (argolla) or belong to certain families. It is very hard to get the ‘right” job or position in the working world without these prerequisites. Since Costa Rica is such a small country knowing the right people and having connections can mean the difference between success and mediocrity. The system is very unfair and stacked against a lot of qualified people.

I know a 32-year-old female lawyer who lived basically hand-to-mouth existence until by chance she happened to meet an important executive who took her under his wing and got her a job with the local power company. Today she is well positioned to get ahead in life because she just happened to make there right contact. She could have never achieved this on her own.

When there is a job opening in at the private sector or the government, a concurso or contest is held where supposedly all of the applicants are interviewed and evaluated. In theory and according to the correct labor procedure this process is to select the most qualified person for a job. However, in reality the person who is really chosen is the one with the right connections. The whole selection process is really one big farce.

My son is Costa Rican and we have discussed this unfair system of argollas on many occasions. He agrees that most of the people who get the best jobs, soley depends on their contacts, family and friends. I know that in larger countries like the U.S. this type of nepotism and favoritism exists to some extent but in Costa Rica it is really magnified , extremely unfair and impedes many from realizing their professional goals.

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