Costa Rica

Last updated: 1 July 2024


According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, which is compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders and evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries and territories, Costa Rica has fallen 15 places this year. This decline in press freedom is due to a sharp decline in the country’s “political” score. For example, President Chaves regularly calls the media “scoundrels” and labels the World Press Freedom report itself as “biased”.


Costa Rica is considered a model of democracy and stability within Central America. Notably, the country has no standing army and limited resources for law enforcement. Instead, Costa Rica prioritizes investment in education and public health. While organized crime is on the rise, the country does not suffer from terrorism or political violence.

Although Costa Rica is nominally a presidential republic, with three independent branches of government (the Executive Power, Legislative Power (unicameral), and Judicial Power), it is frequently said that the “first power” is the congress. The President, Vice President, and the 57 congressmen /congresswomen of the multi-party legislative assembly are directly elected every four years, with no re-election possible for the president.

Costa Rica has a civil law system. Compared to many countries in Latin America, the people of Costa Rica largely enjoy basic civil liberties and political rights. Civil society freedoms have long been respected in law and in practice in Costa Rica. The government has imposed few restrictions on the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.

Consequently, civil society in Costa Rica is vibrant and active. A diverse range of civil society organizations (CSOs) flourish in the country, including civic organizations (addressing human rights, women’s issues, LGBTI issues, the environment, animal protection, among others), universities, trade unions, research centers and the media. Human rights defenders, environmental activists, child protection organizations, international NGOs, and others operate freely, without undue government interference. CSOs are free to participate in policy making.

Civil society activists have been victims of the rise in violence only in exceptional cases. Jairo Mora, an environmental activist, for example, was killed in 2013 by an organized crime group because he targeted the trade of turtle eggs, which is illegal in the country. While the authorities arrested and prosecuted the perpetrators, the incident ignited alarm among activist organizations.

An issue of more pervasive concern is that many associations and foundations in Costa Rica are believed to be businesses masquerading as not-for-profit organizations. The motivation for doing so may relate to taxation; associations and foundations can perform lucrative activities, but pay less taxes than for-profit businesses. In addition, associations and foundations are generally subject to less scrutiny than for-profit businesses. Furthermore, foundations can receive public funds, opening the door to potential collusion with public servants in regards to grant decisions.

Costa Rica’s new President became Carlos Alvarado on April 27, 2018, whose “cabinet of national unity” was multi-partisan and represented the full spectrum of the political landscape in Costa Rica. This was the first time ever that the cabinet included members of former defeated political parties (PUSC, FA, PLN) and had fewer members from the president’s own political party (PAC). The only political party that declined any participation in the cabinet was the National Restoration Party (PRN). The new cabinet was also notable for its gender equality: 50% men, 50% women. Epsy Campbell was not only the first ever black vice president of Costa Rica but also the first ever female Secretary of State of Costa Rica. The president, who himself was 38-years old, was also bringing in many young cabinet appointees.

In 2022, Costa Rica held general elections in February, and 25 candidates were narrowed down to only two candidates: José María Figueres Olsen (25% of the vote) and Rodrigo Chaves (16% of the vote). Neither candidate was expected to create an environment that is conducive for civil society, however. Chaves eventually won the election and became President on May 8, 2022. During the new president’s short tenure, Chaves has changed the political landscape of Costa Rica to trend towards a more restrictive environment for civil society .

Among Chaves’ new key policies are the following:

  • COVID-19 measures are mostly lifted, including the “Emergency Status” from August 2021;
  • a restrictive abortion “Technical Guide” approved by past governments that would allow abortion only for saving the mother´s life was put “under review” after a meeting with the Catholic Church; and
  • an LGBT rights envoy will not be appointed and LGBT flags on Gay Pride Day will not be flown and government officials will not participate in Pride Month events.

Chaves has been clashing with the media in Costa Rica, such as La Nacion, CRhoy, and Channel 7, and blasting them all as “scoundrel” media. During the electoral campaign, they had all openly criticized the allegations against him for sexual harassment during his World Bank tenure.

Organizational Forms Associations Foundations
Registration Body Registry of Associations, which is managed by the Ministry of the Justice, and is part of the National Registry.
Approximate Number There is no official data available relating to the number of registered associations and foundations. There is no official data available relating to the number of registered associations and foundations.
Barriers to Entry Associations are required to have at least ten founding adult members, and they must be more than 16 years old. Associations typically must also pay the equivalent of $500 to the Public Notary in order to receive the authenticated establishment documentation.
Barriers to Operations / Activities While the law as written contains certain limitations, in practice organizations are able to operate freely.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy While members of the police forces and the civil service are barred from publicly expressing their political preferences or opinions, individuals and CSOs are free speak out on issues of public concern.
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers No legal barriers
Barriers to Resources Law No. 8204 requires any organization in Costa Rica to demonstrate that funds received do not come from drug trafficking or terrorist financing; all organizations are required to report $10,000 or more at the time of deposit. Donated goods for the creation of a foundation may only be used for the purpose for which the foundation was created.
Barriers to Assembly While there are no prior authorization requirements, assembly organizers are expected to engage in a “mutual planning exercise” with police in advance of a protest. Spontaneous demonstrations may be subject to police scrutiny and possible dissolution if the event becomes a “public order” concern. And in practice, the police are opposed to counter-demonstrations at the same time and place of a group holding opposing views.
Population 5,151,140 (July 2021 est.)
Capital San Jose
Type of Government Presidential republic
Life Expectancy at Birth male: 76.75 years; female: 82.22 years (2021 est.)
Literacy Rate male: 97.8%; female: 97.9% (2018 est.)
Religious Groups Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%
Ethnic Groups White or mestizo 83.6%, mulato 6.7%, indigenous 2.4%, black of African descent 1.1%, other 1.1%, none 2.9%, unspecified 2.2% (2011 est.)
GDP per capita $19,642 (2019 est.) (Unemployment and poverty were at 25% and 26% in October 2020, according to the independent National Census body).

Source: CIA World Factbook.

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 64 (2023) 1 – 193
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 29 (2023) 1 – 142
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 150 (2023) 179 – 1
Transparency International 45 (2023) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Free (2024)
Overall: 91
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
100 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1968
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1968
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1968
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) Yes 2014
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1967
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1986
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No (signed in 1999 but not ratified)
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2001
Regional Treaties
American Convention on Human Rights Yes 1969

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of Costa Rica was adopted in 1949, the year after the last civil war and the last time that government changed by non-democratic means. The Constitution has been amended multiple times.

The Constitution enshrines the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, among others:

Article 25:
The inhabitants of the Republic have the right of association for lawful purposes. No one may be compelled to form a part of any association whatsoever.

Article 26:
(1) Everyone has the right to meet peacefully and unarmed, whether it is for private business or to discuss political affairs and examine the public conduct of officials.
(2) Meetings on private premises do not need prior authorization. Those held in public places are regulated by law.

Article 27:
The right to petition any public official or State entity, either individually or collectively and the right to obtain prompt resolution are guaranteed.

Article 28:
(1) No one may be disturbed or persecuted for the expression of his opinions or for any act which does not infringe the law.
(2) Private actions which do not harm the morals or public order, or which do not cause any damages to third parties are outside the scope of the law.
(3) However, clergymen or secular individuals cannot make political propaganda in any way invoking religious motives or making use of religious beliefs.

Article 29:
Every person may communicate his thoughts verbally or in writing and publish them without previous censorship; but he is liable for any abuses committed in the exercise of this right, in such cases and in the manner established by law.

Article 30:
(1) Free access to administrative departments for purposes of information on matters of public interest is guaranteed.
(2) State secrets are excluded from this provision.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Laws affecting civil society include:

  • Ley de Asociaciones (Law of Associations), amended in 2011
  • Ley de Fundaciones (Law of Foundations), amended in 2011
  • Ley 3859 – Sobre el Desarrollo de la Comunidad (Act for Community Development)
  • Ley de Impuesto a la Renta (Income Tax Law), amended in 2001
  • Ley Reguladora de Exoneraciones Vigentes, Derogatorias y Excepciones, Ley 7293 (Regulatory Law of Exonerations in Force, Repeal and Exceptions)
  • Código Civil (amended in 2000) (Civil Code)
  • Law No. 8204 on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, Unauthorized Drugs, Related Activities, Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. On September 3, 2019, a large majority of the Congress of Costa Rica (40 out of 57) restricted strikes by approving in first reading the Bill to Regulate Strikes. The Bill, which unions consider “oppressive,” forbids strikes by employees involved in a number of public services. Employees will not receive salaries if they go on strike. There are other provisions that essentially prohibit unions from striking.

This Bill represents Costa Rica’s toughest stance against unions, and unions are consequently dissatisfied. The Bill is not yet law and was intended to be voted on in second debate on September 5, 2019. However, opponents of the Bill secured 12 votes (10 were needed) to have the Constitutional Court consult on the Bill. This delayed the second debate. Nevertheless, some unions have still called for new strikes to protest the Bill.

2. The draft Public Service Law (“Ley Empleo Público” or “Project 15.290”) provides for the comprehensive regulation of public services with the ultimate goal to cut government expenses and reduce employees’ benefits. A key issue of concern relates to what activities will be classified as “essential” because unions related to those activities will not be allowed to strike. Thus, if the Congress decides that health is an “essential” service, then health unions are barred from going on strike for any reason. The government has been pushing to define a wide scope of services as “essential”, which the unions oppose. This draft law is therefore a direct threat to unions because going on strike is the most powerful tool unions have to protest any government decision on the budget or other matters. Currently, the decision on whether a strike is lawful rests with the judiciary, which in 2018 declared most strikes to be Because health unions have 60,000 workers and other unions, such as education, have 90,000 workers, any law labeling these services as “essential” will reduce the impact of anation-wide strike; thus the draft Public Service Law is considered to be a “political move.”

In July 2019, the draft law remained with the Congress, with the Congress president strongly supporting it. However, public opposition emerged in the form of blockades, riots, and marches. In June 2021, the Congress approved the Public Service Law in its first debate. It included the clause “conscience objection,” which would allow a public servant to avoid trainings on LBGTI rights if he or she claims they are in conflict with his or her religious beliefs. The text is broad and may invite public servants to refuse  trainings on a variety of topics, potentially including human rights. LBGTI groups have especially criticized the proposal for opening the door to discrimination. The second congressional debate could occur some time in 2023.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of other pending initiatives, write to ICNL at

Organizational Forms

There are three predominant organizational forms for civil society available under Costa Rican laws: associations, foundations and community-based organizations.

Associations are groups established by at least 10 members with the goal of pursuing scientific, artistic, sporting, beneficial, entertainment and all others which do not have as their only and exclusive goal profit or gain; societies, unions and associations of mutual aid, of securities and patronage are also specifically named as subject to the law. No political associations of any kind are allowed, including those pursuing an end which is physically or legally impossible under the terms listed in Article 631 of the Civil Code. (Article 3, Law on Associations) For an association’s activities to be legal, it must be registered in the Registry of Associations, which is managed by the Ministry of the Justice, and is part of the National Registry. (Article 5)

Foundations are defined as “private entities of public service that are established for no profit through the dedication of asset sand with the objective of realizing or helping to realize educational, beneficial, artistic, literary or scientific activities and in general all those that mean social well-being.” (Article 1, Law on Foundations)

Community-based organizations are those groups “that wish to organize themselves to carry out integral or specific development activities for the own benefit of the country … in the form of district, cantonal, regional, provincial or national associations, which shall be governed by the provisions of this Act.” (Article 15, Ley 3859 – Sobre el Desarrollo de la Comunidad or the Act for Community Development)

A 2010 report by “Estado de la Nacion”, a multilateral research project, concluded that there were 16,259 registered civil society organizations in Costa Rica. Notably, however, this figure includes unions and trade associations, but does not include the many unregistered groups that exist and operate in the country.

Public Benefit Status

The Law of Associations recognizes a special “public benefit” status for associations whose development or activities are particularly useful to the interests of the State and fulfill a social necessity. To be so recognized, associations must submit a request to the Ministry of Justice. To be eligible for this status, the association must be registered for a minimum of three years and operate legally for the benefit of the community. The associations recognized as public benefit may enjoy the exemptions and administrative and economic concessions that the Executive Power may grant them so that they may accomplish their goals. The Ministry of Justice supervises public benefit associations and requires annual reports from them; the Ministry can revoke this benefit at any time if the reasons for which it was granted disappear. (Article 32, Law on Associations)

Unless the Ministry of Justice revokes them, foundations automatically receive exemptions from payment of registration dues, and national and municipal taxes, except tariffs. (Article 10, Law on Foundations)

According to Article 3 of the Income Tax Law, tax-exempt entities include “unions, foundations, associations declared of public benefit by the executive branch, as long as their income and their assets are used for public benefit or charitable purposes and are not distributed, directly or indirectly, among their members.”

The “Regulatory Law of Exonerations”, No 7293, in Article 2, paragraph (e) provides for tax exemptions for foundations, but only if their work focuses on minors under social risk, the re-collection or treatment of garbage, or the conservation of natural resources, the environment in general, environmental hygiene and public health. While this provision apparently narrows the available tax exemption for foundations, in practice foundations are generally treated as tax-exempt entities.

Public Participation

The Ley Empleo Público (Law on Public Service), which was long opposed by unions and other CSOs, was finally approved when the President signed it into law on March 8, 2022. The law is set to be published imminently and could impact the public participation of minority groups. Unions call the law “repressive” to government employees and progressive groups have presented strong criticism over the controversial provision, “the Clause of Conscience.” According to this provision, government employees may reject any training against their “beliefs and convictions,” which may lead to rejecting training on human or LGBT rights or similar matters. The provision was negotiated between the government and conservative parties in Congress in order to secure votes for approval. LGBT, feminist, and other human rights activists have called their agreement “treasonous” and the LGBT commissioner resigned in protest.

Barriers to Entry


Mandatory registration.
 All associations are required to register with the Registry of Associations under the Ministry of Justice. The Law on Associations appears to require associations to be registered in order for activities to be considered legal: “For an association’s activities to be legal, it must be registered in the Registry of Associations…” (Article 5) Furthermore, the Law on Associations prescribes fines for those who maintain a secret or hidden association, even when its goals are legal. (Article 33)

It should be noted that in practice, groups are allowed to exist without being registered at all, and there are many “spontaneous organizations” pursuing a range of social and civic issues in the country. In addition, the advent of new technologies has had a profound impact in civil society: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of “Facebook” and “Whatsapp” groups in Costa Rica. As but one example, the “Coalición Costa Rica” was formed immediately after the elections of February 4, 2018, as a spontaneous reaction to the election results. Membership of the association has grown quickly to include approximately 300,000 people. Thus, in practical terms, Article 33 of Law of Associations is not being enforced.

Founding members. To seek registration, associations are required to have at least ten founding adult members. (Article 18) Associations can admit underage members, but not under sixteen years old, and they cannot be elected to any position. (Article 15) Aside from age requirements, there are no express restrictions on who can serve as a founder of associations. No minimum assets are required for establishing associations.

Associations may be formed by both natural persons and legal entities. The Law on Associations defines three categories: simple associations, federations and confederations. Unions of two or more associations with legal entities are called “federation,” “league” or “union,” which must be integrated in its name and cannot be used by the simple associations. The federated associations can, in turn, form a “confederation” and must use this term in their name. (Article 30)

Registration documentation. Among the required documents for registration are (1) the governing statutes of the association, which include the organization’s name, address, goals and the means to achieve them, rules regarding membership, resources, branches, dissolution procedures, and statute amendment procedures; and (2) the naming of the Board of Directors, signed by the Board members, with signatures authenticated by a lawyer or the political authority of the place. (Articles 5, 7, 18)

Associations typically must pay the equivalent of $300-$500 to a Public Notary in order to receive the authenticated establishment documentation. Inscription in the public registry is paid by a fee using stamps (“timbres”) attached to the document; the amount paid is usually not more than $100.

Registration Process: The founders must submit two copies of documents confirming the establishment of the association (e.g., an official notice of a session of the association), as well as the organizational statutes, to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry will examine the documentation to establish that it “fulfills the requirements of the law and any other relevant provisions.” If the Ministry finds defects or omissions, it will communicate this to the organization. If the defects are corrected or if there were none, the Ministry will publish the applicant’s information in the Diario Oficial, noting the constitution of the association, its name, purpose, residence and legal representation, and inviting interested parties to object to the association’s registration within 15 days after the date of the publication. (In practice, an objection to an association is very rare.) If this period ends without opposition or a sufficient objection, the registration proceeds. If registration is denied “due to opposition or for any other motive,” this will be final; there is no appeals process. (Articles 18-19)

Name limitations. Associations may not adopt a name that is identical or so similar to a name already registered such that it would cause confusion. Associations are also prohibited from using the name “society,” “firm” or “company” as part of the name of the association, or any other term which implies that it has different purposes than the ones listed in this law. (Article 8)

No political associations. “[N]o political associations of any kind will be admitted, including those pursuing an end which is physically or legally impossible under the terms listed in Article 631 of the Civil Code.” (Article 3) The term “political” is interpreted narrowly, to restrict associations from engaging in political party kinds of activities, such as campaigning or electioneering.


Foundations are “constituted through public registration or testament” (Article 3, Law on Foundations) However, they acquire legal personhood through registration at the Public Registry’s Person’s Department. (Article 5)

Community-based Organizations (CBOs)

The regulatory approach toward the formation and registration of CBOs is generally supportive and facilitative. CBOs are often expected to coordinate with the local municipality and to avoid any political or for-profit activity.

Foreign NGOs

An association based in a country outside of Costa Rica may operate in Costa Rica by establishing a subsidiary with its own legal entity status under the Law on Associations; or when its governing statutes are incorporated in the Registry of Associations, fulfilling all other requirements governing legal entities in Costa Rica. (Article 16, Law on Associations)

Barriers to Operational Activity

Internal Governance

The internal governance affairs of associations are regulated with significant detail. For example:

  • Associations are required to establish three governing bodies, including (1) the “Assembly or General Board”, (b) the “Supervisor” to oversee that the association complies with the requirements of law and the governing statute, and (c) a governing board made up of at least five members and including a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer, all of majority age. (Article 10, Law on Associations)
  • In the first fifteen days of each program year, the assembly will convene to hear the reports of the President, the Supervisor and the Treasurer, regarding steps taken during the previous program year. (Article 21)
  • The association’s registry of associates (members) and book of minutes for the General Assembly and the Board must be “authorized” by the mayor of the canton of residence. (Article. 22)

Prohibited Activities

By law, associations cannot allow illicit acts, disorders or crimes against morality or good customs to be committed on their premises. Meetings, conferences and all kinds of manifestations of a political partisan nature are prohibited, as well as facilitating the meeting for these acts. (Article 23) In practice, however, these prohibitions are not strictly enforced or subject to government scrutiny.


Termination of an association may occur:

(a) When the number of eligible members falls below the minimum required (10) for the formation of an association;

(b) In case of dissolution by the court based on the voluntary request of more than 2/3 of the members;

(c) When the temporary purpose for which it was founded is accomplished, or due to the legal or material impossibility of accomplishing it;

(d) Due to deprivation of its legal capacity, as consequence of a declaration of insolvency or bankruptcy; varying in its final purpose; a change in the nature of its legal entity or for not renewing the directive branch (executive body) in the timeframe provided by the governing statutes.
(Article 13)

Termination of an association can result only from a court order (Article 27) and may be appealed to a superior court.

Associations will be considered illegal and subject to dissolution, under the following grounds: the Government repeatedly perceives the association’s leaders as allocating funding or activities to objectives different from what is listed in the statutes, and the association does not rectify this; the association appears dedicated to activities proscribed by laws or contrary to morals or good customs or is acting subversively; or the association appears to be formed to conceal goals distinct from the ones defined in the statutes. (Article 34) In practice, however, the government is generally unable to monitor association (or foundation) activities at this level.


Associations may be fined for 2-30 days under the following grounds: Having a secret association, even when its goals are legal; or the Secretary or Treasurer of the association fails to “maintain the books sealed,” keeps the books outdated by more than six months, or refuses to present them to the competent authority. (Article 33) (The fine is based on a salary of approximately $31 (USD) per day; the salary base is adjusted every year).

Associations may be fined for thirty to sixty days under the following grounds: repeating the preceding offenses listed in Article 33; or members of the Board permit funding or activities to support different goals than those listed in the statutes. (Article 33)

For a public benefit organization, depending on the seriousness of the abuse, the justice tribunals can declare the Board ineligible to create new organizations of a similar nature for up to ten years. (Article 33-bis)

As previously mentioned, in practice, the government is unable to keep a watchful eye over association and foundation activities.


For associations, dissolution will be conducted according to the association’s statutes. If no specifications exist, the funds will be distributed to each member in proportion to his/her contribution, and a civil judge will appoint 1-3 liquidators. (Article 14)

For foundations: “Only the appropriate Civil Judge, at the request of the Administrative Board or the General Comptroller of the Republic, can declare the dissolution of a foundation, when it has achieved its goals for which it was created or for motives of absolute impossibility in the execution of the same. If the Judge grants dissolution, he will order that the property be passed to another foundation or, in its absence, to a similar public institution if the creators of foundation did not deed them to another purpose and signed the necessary documents transferring the property.” (Article 17, Law on Foundations)

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

The Constitution enshrines the freedom of expression:

Article 28:
(1) No one may be disturbed or persecuted for the expression of his opinions or for any act which does not infringe the law.
(2) Private actions which do not harm the morals or public order, or which do not cause any damages to third parties are outside the scope of the law.
(3) However, clergymen or secular individuals cannot make political propaganda in any way invoking religious motives or making use of religious beliefs.

Article 29: Every person may communicate his thoughts verbally or in writing and publish them without previous censorship; but he is liable for any abuses committed in the exercise of this right, in such cases and in the manner established by law.

In practice, the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press are generally respected in Costa Rica, promoted by independent media, an effective judiciary, and a sound democratic political system. Indeed, Costa Rica is the highest ranking Latin American country and number 6 out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Attacks against journalists and media outlets are rare.

There are only a few legal limitations on expression:

  • The criminal code refers to the protection of the reputation (“injurias, calumnias, difamacion”), but bans political criticism as the basis for defamation suits.
  • Members of the police forces and the civil service are barred from publicly expressing their political preferences or opinions, and from participating in any electoral activity, even attending meetings.

Thus, citizens, organizations, and the media enjoy great liberty in expressing any criticism about the president, government officials, congress, and other public servants. There are many TV and radio shows that analyze current affairs on a daily basis, and several use comedy and satire in their programs. The press is not subject to any form of government restriction or censorship, even with inaccurate reporting.

Notably, in 2015, President Solís removed the minister and vice minister of science, technology, and telecommunications (MICIT), in response to a draft law that the ministry submitted without his approval and that would have allowed regulators to shut down broadcast stations. The proposed law was immediately labelled the “censorship law”; the backlash from the media and population was sufficiently strong to kill the proposal and result in the removal of those responsible for the proposal.

Censorship or Content Restrictions

As mentioned, the press is not subject to any form of government restriction or censorship, even with inaccurate reporting. Any person believing he or she has been affected by a publication has the right to demand that his or her answer be published.

It is worth noting, however, that in 2016, a state-owned bank (BCR) reportedly withdrew its official advertising from a newspaper due to critical articles published by that newspaper.

By law, Article 23 on the Law on Associations prohibits “[m]eetings, conferences and all kinds of manifestations of a political partisan nature.” But in practice, this provision is not enforced.

The judiciary in Costa Rica has guarded against government interference with the freedom of expression. First, in 2014, the Supreme Court reprimanded the Judicial Police (OIJ) for monitoring a journalist’s phone calls to identify a potential whistle-blower. Second, in December 2022, the Constitutional Court concluded that President Chaves and his Minister of Health’s decision to close “Parque Viva” (an artists’ stadium), which is owned by La Nacion newspaper, was an act against “free speech.” Chaves had called La Nacion a key part of the “scoundrel press” and, shortly after assuming power, he shut down “Parque Viva” on grounds of “public safety” although his action was largely regarded as an example of political vengeance. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is a significant victory for the freedom of expression.

Internet Freedom

The right to communicate via the Internet is mostly respected.

As of 2015, approximately 60% of individuals used the internet and 60% of households had internet access, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

Public Access to Information

The constitution provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provides access for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. Authorities have 10 days to disclose or respond to a request for access. There are no processing fees or sanctions for noncompliance, although requesters can file a petition if their request is denied. Government institutions publish reports that detail their activities during the year. The Public Ethics Solicitor’s Office provides regular training to public employees on public access to information. The Ombudsman’s Office operates a webpage dedicated to enhancing transparency by improving citizens’ access to public information.

Looking beyond the constitution, there is no freedom of information law in Costa Rica; there have been several proposals, but none have resulted in the enactment of a legislative act.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal restrictions on the ability of CSOs to contact and cooperate with colleagues in civil society, business, or government, either within or outside the country.

From March 2020 until November 2020, there were restrictive migration and entry requirements in place in Costa Rica as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some CSOs with international links claimed their activities and programs in the country were affected. All entry restrictions on entry to Costa Rica were, however, lifted on August 1, 2021.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

There are no CSO-specific restrictions impeding domestic CSOs from receiving funding or resources from foreign governments, organizations or individuals.

There are, however, generally applicable restrictions stemming from Law No. 8204 (on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, Unauthorized Drugs, Related Activities, Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism). Law No. 8204 requires any organization in Costa Rica to demonstrate that funds received do not come from drug trafficking or terrorist financing; all organizations are required to report $10,000 or more at the time of deposit.

In addition, since June 1, 2019, Agreement 11-18 requires CSOs that receive funding from foreign sources to inform the anti-money laundering regulatory body, SUGEF. The information they must provide is extensive, while previously there was basically no information that needed to be provided. This was demanded by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). If Costa Rica did not enforce this Agreement, it would have been blacklisted as a money laundering or terrorism financing haven. CSOs are therefore liable to having their bank accounts shut down if they do not inform SUGEF about their receipt of funding from foreign sources.

See annexed SUGEF, Agreement 11-18. Effective June 1.

Domestic Funding

Article 26 of the Law on Associations affirms that associations can acquire all types of goods, can hold contracts of any nature and have any legal operations, if leading to the realization of their goals.

State funding to associations (“Donations, subsidies, transfers of goods and properties or other economic contributions from the State or its institutions”) is subject to the supervision of the General Comptroller of the Republic. If the association fails to report to the government within a month after the closing of the fiscal year, the association will be forbidden to receive any funds from the State or its institutions, until the required information is received. (Article 26, Law on Associations)

Regarding foundations, the donated goods for the creation of a foundation “will be sole patrimony of the same” and may only be used for the purpose for which the foundation was created. (Article 8) In order to receive donations, subsidies, transfers of goods and properties or any other economic support from public institutions, foundations must (a) have been formed for at least one year; (b) have been active since their formation, executing at least one project a year; (c) have an up-to-date registry of its personnel and legal entity; (d) have the concurrence of the General Comptroller of the Republic, when appropriate, which shows that received donations and transfers were executed and liquidated according to the stated purpose and conforming to the principles of good administration. (Article 18) Furthermore, while foundations do not have commercial ends, they may engage in income-generating activities to increase their patrimony, provided that the profits obtained are exclusively used for the accomplishment of its goals.” (Article 7, Law on Foundations)

Barriers to Assembly

Article 26 of the Constitution protects the freedom of peaceful assembly:

(1) Everyone has the right to meet peacefully and unarmed, whether it is for private business or to discuss political affairs and examine the public conduct of officials.
(2) Meetings on private premises do not need prior authorization. Those held in public places are regulated by law.

There is no legislative act or regulation governing assemblies in Costa Rica.

In practice, the police and assembly organizers engage in a mutual planning exercise. Organizers are expected to report their intention to demonstrate to the police; there is no required advance notification period, but organizers generally understand that police need more than one day to prepare for the event. The names of the participants are not provided to the police. Organizers are able to conduct demonstrations, and the police support the event, providing sufficient protection to the organizers and participants of assemblies. The only restrictions imposed by police, based on the mutual planning exercise, is that organizers are expected not to blockade streets and not to provoke disturbances.

Spontaneous demonstrations may be subject to police scrutiny and possible dissolution if the event becomes a “public order” concern. At the same time, anyone can gather with other people for peaceful purposes in public spaces at any time; as long as there is no disturbance, it is not considered a police matter.

While counter-demonstrations are not addressed by law, the police in Costa Rica is strongly opposed to marches or protests at the same time and place by groups of opposing views; it is unlikely, for example, that the police would support simultaneous demonstrations organized by an anti-abortion group and a pro-choice group.

Lastly, as part of measures to counter the spread of COVID-19, all public events were banned in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Health imposed restrictions on any gathering in the country. Police often intervened and closed private activities, including  even in people’s homes.

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Session 19 – April 2014
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

UN expert urges Costa Rica to protect all groups of older persons, including those abandoned (18 May 2016)

Council on Foundations Country Notes N/A
U.S. State Department
2023 Human Rights Report: Costa Rica
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports 2017 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; and Staff Report (Costa Rica)
International Commission of Jurists Compensation owed by the Republic of Nicaragua to the Republic of Costa Rica
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Costa Rica

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at

Key Events

The UN launched an Observatory Against Discrimination and Hate Speech in Costa Rica on March 6, 2021.

General News

Business sector protests exchange rate policies (May 2024)
Farmers, tourism workers, exporters, free trade zones, the construction industry, and other sectors have raised their voices about the effects of the current exchange rate. Representatives of the private sector indicated that they were forced to resort to this demonstration since they have urged dialogue and measures without being accepted by the government.

Activists call for end to police abuse (December 2023)
On September 9, 2023, CSOs held a demonstration in downtown San José to denounce the problem of police abuse. The protest aimed to bring attention to the recent case of Deborah Chaves, a 23-year-old woman who reported an assault by 15 police officers during a search outside a bar in Alajuela. According to the CSOs, police violence has risen since 2020.

Contract broken with Omar Dengo Foundation in favor of contract with cousin (July 2023)
Two representatives denounced that the head of the Ministry of Public Education (MEP), Anna Katharinna Müller, decided to break a contract with the Omar Dengo Foundation (FOD), which carries out national and regional projects in the fields of human development, educational innovation, and new technologies. Müller later signed the same agreement with the North American Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), which is chaired by her cousin, Silvia Castro Montero.

Costa Rican border rules block poorer nations from world summits (July 2023)
More than 300 participants were unable to attend the digital rights conference in Costa Rica in person due to visa issues. The Kenyan Nanjala Nyabola, a board member at Access Now, said many Black and brown participants had been picked out and detained by Costa Rican border agents for periods of up to three hours. Some were later deported. Anger over their treatment has reignited debate about unequal visa and border regimes that limit Global South nationals’ participation in international conferences tackling issues from climate change to economic systems and conflicts.

Leonel Baruch reveals Pilar Cisneros asked for help to make a newspaper disappear (June 2023)
Businessman Leonel Baruch Goldberg, a shareholder of Banco BCT and the media outlet CRHoy, revealed that the pro-government deputy Pilar Cisneros, who is a close ally of President Chaves, asked him to support the interests of the government so that the newspaper La Nación would disappear.

The Law on Public Service Enters into Force (March 2023)
Fully rejected by all public unions, the “Law on Public Service” became effective on March 10. Unions consider this law harmful for government workers.

Costa Rican Legislators Asked Not to shelve Escazu Agreement (February 2023)
Several organizations have asked the Costa Rican congress not to dismiss the Escazú Agreement and revive its discussion. The letter sent to the representatives was signed by 21 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 42 groups, and 40 citizens. The Escazú Agreement’s main objective is to guarantee adequate access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making processes, and access to justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Statement by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris at the end of official visit to Costa Rica (December 2022)
From 5 to 8 December, I had constructive exchanges with a wide range of stakeholders, including high-level authorities. I met the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Presidents of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly, as well as representatives of the Inter American-Court of Human Rights. I was happy to participate in the first UN country team dialogue on the United Nations Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights. It was inspiring to see how, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator, the entire UN system in Costa Rica is working together to address human rights challenges…. I also engaged with representatives of civil society organizations, including Afro-descendants, women leaders, migrants, LGBTQI+ people and persons with disabilities. We discussed, among other topics, the importance of judicial independence and respect for the rule of law.

UN Recognizes Labor Improvements in Costa Rica (November 2022)
Costa Rica improved its situation regarding forced labor in the country although it still persists in various sectors, said the United Nations special rapporteur on new forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata. He added that among the indicators evaluated are “long working hours without enough time to go to the bathroom or eat, low wages, harassment or violence, including of a sexual nature, and unhealthy workplaces”.

Costa Rica: Marches against the IMF (October 2020)
Hundreds of members of the labor groups of the Trade Union and Social Movement marched in Costa Rica against any loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In different sites of the country, protesters carry out rallies, bumper-to-bumper caravans and demonstrations. There was also a call for protection measures for health staff who are in the front line fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in Costa Rica, under the slogan that if health workers are at risk, Costa Ricans are in danger.

Prosecutor’s Office raids Costa Rican presidency for alleged violation of citizens’ privacy (February 2020)
The Prosecutor’s Office in Costa Rica raided the Presidential House as part of an investigation into a government unit for data analysis on suspicion that the body has violated people’s privacy. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office conducted 10 raids on Casa Presidencial, the Ministry of Planning, and four private residences, the agency said in a statement, noting that eight people are being investigated as part of the case, including President Carlos Alvarado.

Costa Rica Repeals Decree Creating Department with Access to ‘Confidential’ Informations (February 2020)
The Costa Rican government repealed a decree that had created a Data Analysis Unit after public criticism questioned its purpose and scope. The criticism stemmed from a story detailing the contents of the text, signed by President Carlos Alvarado in October 2019. As published in official government newspaper La Gaceta, the decree gave the government-run Data Analysis Unit “access to confidential information available to public institutions when so required.”

Legislators Approve in First Debate Bill To Regulate Strikes (September 2019)
The Bill that regulates strikes was approved in first debate. The Bill contains several important steps in the government’s plan to not repeat the 89 day strike last year by public sector works, one of which is the suspension of wages to striking workers, unless the strike is declared legal by a judge, because it was due to a breach of the employer, who must pay retroactively the wages. However, the text adds that this last provision does not apply to essential services since in these strikes are illegal.

Teacher’s Strike Leaves 22,000 Students Hungry (September 2019)
The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) reports a total of 21,930 students who were left without meals during this second day of the strike by almost 16,000 teachers. According to the report prepared by the Regional Directorates, the strike closed the doors to 123 student lunch rooms. This is despite the fact that Article 375 of the Labor Code establishes the prohibition of strikes in school lunchrooms and shelters that serve vulnerable populations.

Thousands participate in Costa Rican pro-life march (September 2019)
Thousands participated in Saturday’s March for Life in the Costa Rican capital, urging the president not to sign a technical regulation for the performance of therapeutic abortion. The August 31 event was organized by Wake Up Costa Rica, Democracy in Action, and the Autonomous University of Central America.

Conservative groups launch campaign against civil liberties (September 2019) (Spanish)
Conservative groups in congress launched recentlymajor stances against civic liberties. The first, disguised as “civilian unions”, is clearly to reverse the resolution of CIDH on gay marriage. Though the text is unknown, the proposal may have now 20 supporters and may bar most rights for gay couples, such as adoption.

President Alvarado addresses Costa Rican protests (July 2019)
President Carlos Alvarado delivered a nationwide address in response to protests that have disrupted travel throughout the country. Citing Costa Rica’s history as a democratic nation, the President said his administration will continue using dialogue as the primary method of addressing issues. But Alvarado ended with a more forceful message apparently directed at sectors — including truckers and students — that have shut down roads and highways across Costa Rica.

Their fate in limbo, many Nicaraguan exiles struggle in Costa Rica (March 2019)
The fate of the estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans who’ve fled violence and persecution for exile in Costa Rica over the last year is a central point in fledgling peace talks between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government and the opposition, which is demanding guarantees for their safe return. But while negotiators in Managua haggle over that and other thorny issues with little progress, many exiles are struggling.

Indigenous leader Sergio Rojas assassinated in Costa Rica (March 2019)
Renowned leader of the Bribrí indigenous community, Sergio Rojas Ortíz, was assassinated on the night of March 18 in his house in the indigenous territory of Salitre, in the Buenos Aires canton of the Puntarenas province. 55-year-old Rojas was the president of the Local Government of the Bribrí of Salitre territory and the co-coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous People (FRENAPI). For years, he was struggling for the right of indigenous people to access their ancestral territories in different parts of the country. (For an update on the search for the suspect responsible for the killing, see this link.)

Congress approves salary equality between men and women (March 2019)
The Bill on Equal Pay for Men and Women was recently approved in the second debate. Costa Rica has taken a step forward in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by the United Nations and its member states to finally empower all women and girls.

Alvarado approve controversial tax reform (December 2018)
The Costa Rican Congress approved a controversial tax-reform project with which the government seeks to contain a growing fiscal deficit. The drafted law, “Strengthening public finances,” was approved in the second and last debate with the vote of 34 legislators in favor and 17 against. Hundreds of opponents of the initiative demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Legislative Assembly.

Constitutional Court Gives Green Light To Tax Reform Bill (November 2018)
The Constitutional Court (Sala Constitucional, also known as “Sala IV”), endorsed the process of the tax reform (plan fiscal) promoted by the government of Carlos Alvarado, in its task to put in order the country’s finances and avoid an economic crisis. Unanimously, the Constitutional Court declared that it found no procedural flaws in the bill.

Costa Rica’s Same-sex Couples Can Marry in 2020 (November 2018)
Same-sex couples in Costa Rica will have the right to get married by mid-2020, the nation’s constitutional court has ruled, a first for socially conservative Central America. In a majority decision made public on Thursday, the court backed the opinion of the San Jose-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which said in January that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.

Fabricio Alvarado leaves Restauración Nacional and creates new party (October 2018)
Former presidential candidate Fabricio Alvarado announced his resignation from the National Restoration Party (PRN) in a video posted on his Facebook page. Minutes later, seven deputies of that party released a press release, in which they declared themselves independent to join Alvarado’s new party called “Nueva República.” In his statement, Alvarado tried to distance himself from the accusations that shook the party after the presidential elections, where he lost in the second round.

Costa Rica can’t ban same-sex marriage, court rules (August 2018)
Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado welcomed the country’s Supreme Court ruling August 8 that declared a ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Supreme Court Judge Fernando Castillo gave Costa Rican lawmakers 18 months to pass a same-sex marriage bill. If not, same-sex marriage will become legal by 2020 if no action is taken. If lawmakers pass a same-sex marriage law, the country will become the first in Central America to recognize marriage equality.

Former Presidents Of Costa Rica Make A Call Against Xenophobia (August 2018)
Former presidents have called for peace and warned against perverse interests that may be trying to destroy “our harmony and fuel hatred and xenophobia”. “Let us not succumb to temptation,” says the Tweet that includes a copy of the letter signed by all the former presidents: Rafael Angel Calderon (1990-1994), Jose Maria Figueres Olsen (1994-1998), Miguel Angel Rodriguez (1998-2002), Abel Pacheco de la Espriella (2002-2006), Oscar Arias (2006-2010), Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014), and Guillermo Solis (2014-2018).

Thousands protest tax reform (June 2018)
President Carlos Alvarado tweeted the government hopes to declare the strike illegal, adding in a statement he “will not enter a dialogue” while the strike impacts workers and students. Demonstrations began with a red wave of taxis blocking Avenida 2 in downtown San José. The protests continued throughout the capital city as they did on streets throughout the country: thousands of people voicing their disapproval of a tax reform law they believe unfairly targets the working class.

Trans People Waiting on TSE to Change Names According to Self-Perceived Sex (June 2018)
As of May 31, 2018, the number of requests by trans people waiting to change their names on their cedula(national identity card), according to their self-perceived gender, reached 151. This procedure, which has been demanded for years by the trans population, will be possible after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced on May 17, 2018 a reform in the Civil Status Regulation.

Statistical dead heat in Costa Rica’s presidential elections (March 2018)
Evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado and former government minister Carlos Alvarado are in a statistical tie as the second round of Costa Rica’s presidential campaign enters full swing, according to a poll published Wednesday. The preacher, who less than one month before February’s elections was at 3 percent in the CIEP poll, surged to the lead after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of same-sex marriage within its member countries, which include Costa Rica. Alvarado said that if he is elected, he will withdraw Costa Rica from the court in order to avoid complying with the ruling.

TSE receives a complaint every six hours for alleged use of religion in politics (February 2018)
In just fifteen days the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) received 60 complaints for the alleged use of religion in politics. That is to say, the electoral body registered four complaints per day, one every six hours, of Costa Ricans concerned about the violation of the Electoral Code for invoking religious reasons to campaign politically.