In general, Costa Ricans are easygoing, friendly, and informal. That said, Ticos tend to be conservative and try to treat everyone very respectfully. Moreover, in conversation, Ticos are relatively formal. When addressing someone, they use the formal usted in most instances, reserving the familiar vos or tú for close friends, family, and children or teenagers.
Upon greeting or saying goodbye, both sexes shake hands, although across genders, a light kiss on one cheek is common.
Proud of their neutrality and lack of armed forces, everyday Costa Ricans are uncomfortable with confrontation. What may seem like playful banter or justified outrage to a foreign tourist may be taken very badly by a Tico. Avoid criticizing Costa Rica unless you know exactly whom you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.
In some cases, especially in the service industry, a Tico may tell you what he or she thinks you want to hear, just to avoid a confrontation -- even if he or she knows there's little chance of follow-through or ultimate customer satisfaction. I've also had, on more than one occasion, a Tico give me wrong directions, instead of telling me they didn't know the way.
Two words—pura vida—will go a long way to endearing you to most Ticos. In conversation, pura vida is used as a greeting, exclamation, adjective, and general space filler. Feel free to sprinkle a pura vida or two into your conversations with locals. I'm sure it will be well received.
Tico men tend to dress conservatively. In San José and other cities in the Central Valley, you will rarely see a Costa Rican man wearing shorts. In many towns and cities, while accepted, tourists will stand out when wearing shorts, sandals, and other typical beach, golf, or vacation wear. Costa Rican women, on the other hand, especially young women, tend to show some skin in everyday, and even business, situations. Still, be respectful in your dress, especially if you plan on visiting churches, small towns, or local families.
Women, no matter how they dress, may find themselves on the receiving end of whistles, honks, hoots, hisses, and catcalls. For more information on this manifestation of Costa Rican machismo, see “Tips for Women Travelers."
Punctuality is not a Costa Rican strong suit. Ticos often show up anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more late to meetings and appointments -- this is known as la hora tica, or "Tico time." That said, buses and local airlines, tour operators, movie theaters, and most businesses do tend to run on a relatively timely schedule.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.