Costa Rica Language & Communication Guide for Travelers

While Spanish is the principal language spoken in Costa Rica, it is relatively easy to travel around the country using English. Here at Costa Rica Escapes, we have hosted all kinds of travelers: from first-time-passport-users with very little Spanish to lifetime travelers with extensive experience in Latin America. The good news is that there are a few tricks to achieving a certain comfort with communicating even if you have limited Spanish. Read on to learn more.

Watiress/hospitality staff in Costa Rica ready to speak Spanish or English

What Language is Spoken in Costa Rica?

Spanish is the official and primary language of Costa Rica with more than 99% of the population speaking it.

Is English Spoken in Costa Rica?

English competency is becoming more common throughout Costa Rica, but levels of fluency depend on where you travel within the country. For instance, in the major cities of Alajuela, Heredia, and San Jose in the Central Valley, it is very common for university-trained professionals to be totally bilingual. Likewise, in tourist areas, tour guides and local business owners have long since learned the benefits of picking up casual, spoken English. In more rural areas, English is not as necessary, but throughout the country, more and more families and schools are prioritizing English as part of their children’s education.

What Other Languages are Spoken in Costa Rica?

While 99% of the country speaks Spanish, there are other significant languages spoken in different parts of Costa Rica. To begin with, there are five indigenous languages (bribri, guatuso guaymí, lesco and cabécar) spoken by communities that predominantly live in the south-central part of the country. Chinese is spoken by the 10,000+ Chinese immigrants that live in Costa Rica. The large U.S. expat community in Costa Rica (roughly 120,000 people) speaks English. And in the Limon province, there is an English-Jamaican creole that is spoken by certain parts of the population. Likewise, there are communities of Italians, French Canadians, and Germans who bring their languages and customs to each place.

What to Expect When Traveling if I Don’t Speak Spanish?

Where and how you plan to travel within Costa Rica will determine how necessary Spanish is for communicating. For example, if your journey is largely made up of hotels, private transportation, and tour guides, you will not have any problem communicating in English most of the time. However, if your travels take you off the beaten path and into more rural communities, you will definitely have some opportunities to practice your Spanish.

Thankfully, Costa Ricans tend to be very patient and encouraging with English speakers trying out Spanish! In fact, some people have called Costa Rica “Latin America for Beginners” due to its easy accent and easy-going people.

Tips for a Smooth Travel Experience for English-Speaking Travelers

Whether you plan to enmesh in Costa Rican society (like through a homestay) and learn Spanish, or you just want to be cordial to the people you encounter, there are some basic tricks of the trade that you can test out during your trip. We’ve organized these basics into our 3 G’s: Greetings, Gestures, and Gratitude.


Costa Rica, like much of Latin America, highly values greetings. The obligatory embrace and cheek kiss for friends was temporarily replaced by a fist bump during COVID, but as of now, it is back in full force. We hope you make good friends while in Costa Rica, but even if you don’t, we can tell you how to engage people in Costa Rica to make you look like you understand the culture.


This simple word will work wonders for you every time you greet the receptionist in the hotel, enter a store, or get into a vehicle for a tour. It is shorthand for Good morning (Buenos dias), good afternoon (Buenas tardes), and good evening (Buenas noches). It’s a very simple word that you can use throughout the day as a way to say, “Hello, nice to see you.”

“Mucho gusto”

This oft-used phrase literally means “with much pleasure” and is used both for “you’re welcome” and “nice to meet you.” Anytime you meet someone, you can simply stick out your hand, listen for their name and respond with “mucho gusto.”

“Ciao, Hasta Luego, Adios”

Once you’ve greeted someone in Costa Rica, don’t forget that you also need to say goodbye to that person. “Ciao” is the most casual of these three phrases. “Hasta luego”, is the most commonly used term. It means, “Until later” and implies that you’ll see that person again sometime soon. “Adios” is less commonly used since it sounds like a more definitive farewell.


Costa Ricans speak a lot with their hands and it’s easy enough to pick up some of these non-verbal communication gestures. For example:

  • Are you ready to check out at the restaurant? Catch the waiter’s eye and lift your hand into the air as if you’re signing your name on an imaginary check.
  • Are you happy with your service? The universal thumbs-up sign means that all is well.
  • Want to greet someone you already met? Fist bumps work for casual friendships. Older men will tend to shake hands with their fingers spread wide apart. A one-sided hug is an excellent way for closer acquaintances to greet each other. And don’t forget the cheek kiss for Abuela!


During a visit to one of the world’s happiest countries, it’s hard not to feel emotions of gratitude. Whether for the people you meet, the beauty of nature, or the peace that comes with a relaxing vacation, you are bound to feel grateful for all that Costa Rica offers. You may want to add a few phrases of gratitude into your vocabulary.

“Pura Vida”

Did someone do something nice for you? Did you do something nice for someone else? Either way, you can use the phrase “pura vida.” It literally means “the pure life” but is interchangeably used as a greeting (“Hey! Pura Vida!”) or a thank you for a service (“Thanks for the ride. Pura Vida!”) or simply as “you’re welcome” (“Here’s an extra tip for the guide. Pura Vida!”).


Super is an easy Spanish term to add to your vocabulary since, well, it’s English! It means the same thing in English as in Spanish: “Great!”


A simple “thank-you” in a native language goes very far to build goodwill between two cultures.

Come Learn the Language in Costa Rica!

One of the best parts about travel is that it widens our understanding of the world and brings new vocabulary to our lives. Pura Vida! Contact us below to help plan your trip.

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