Costa Rica Emigration and Immigration

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Finding the Town of Origin in Costa Rica[edit | edit source]

If you are using emigration/immigration records to find the name of your ancestors' town in Costa Rica, see Costa Rica Finding Town of Origin for additional research strategies.

Costa Rica Emigration and Immigration[edit | edit source]

"Emigration" means moving out of a country. "Immigration" means moving into a country.
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigrating) or arriving (immigrating) in the country. These sources may be passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, or records of passports issued. The information in these records may include the emigrants’ names, ages, occupations, destinations, and places of origin or birthplaces. Sometimes they also show family groups.

Immigration[edit | edit source]

  • In the 1870s, the Costa Rican government contracted with U.S. businessman Minor C. Keith to build a railroad from San José to the Caribbean port of Limón. The railroad was completed in 1890. Most Afro-Costa Ricans descend from Jamaican immigrants who worked in the construction of that railway and now make up about 3% of Costa Rica's population. U.S. convicts, Italians and Chinese immigrants also participated in the construction project.
  • The 2011 census counted a population of 4.3 million people distributed among the following groups: 83.6% whites or mestizos, 6.7% mulattoes, 2.4% Native American, 1.1% black or Afro-Caribbean; the census showed 1.1% as Other, 2.9% (141,304 people) as None, and 2.2% (107,196 people) as unspecified.
  • The population includes European Costa Ricans (of European ancestry), primarily of Spanish descent, with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, and Polish families, as well a sizable Jewish community.
  • Costa Rica hosts many refugees, mainly from Colombia and Nicaragua. As a result of that and illegal immigration, an estimated 10–15% (400,000–600,000) of the Costa Rican population is made up of Nicaraguans. Some Nicaraguans migrate for seasonal work opportunities and then return to their country.
  • Costa Rica took in many refugees from a range of other Latin American countries fleeing civil wars and dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s, notably from Chile and Argentina, as well as people from El Salvador who fled from guerrillas and government death squads.
  • According to the World Bank, in 2010 about 489,200 immigrants lived in the country, many from Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.
  • The number of migrants declined in later years but in 2015, there were some 420,000 immigrants in Costa Rica and the number of asylum seekers (mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua) rose to more than 110,000, a fivefold increase from 2012. In 2016, the country was called a "magnet" for migrants from South and Central America and other countries who were hoping to reach the U.S.[1]
  • The largest immigrant communities are from Nicaragua (74.6%), Colombia (4.3%), the United States (4.1%), Panama (2.9%) and El Salvador (2.4%). The remaining 11.7% are of other nationalities, with significant communities from China (3,281 people), Cuba (3,860 people), Honduras (3,778 people), Peru (3,404 people) and Venezuela (3,886 people). Many Europeans have immigrated to Costa Rica in recent years, especially Spaniards, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Swiss and Swedish. There are also many Asian (Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese) immigrants. Immigrants may be attracted by political stability, an alternative way of life and a mild climate.
  • Historically there were two migratory waves of refugees from Argentina, escaping from military dictatorships who ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. A second wave occurred during Argentina's economic crisis (1999-2002), when many Argentine professionals decided to migrate to Costa Rica.
  • The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Costa Rica in 1855. They were a group of 77 people originally from Canton, who had come to Central America to work on the Panama Railroad. Later, "a Chinese colony" began to form, named Puntarenas. In the 1970s, Taiwan became the source of the highest number of Chinese immigrants to Costa Rica. However, many used to Costa Rica as a temporary stop while waiting for permission to live in the United States or Canada.
  • Since the 1980s, Costa Rica became a refuge for thousands of Colombians who have fled the Colombian civil war.
  • According to the census of 2012, there are over 1,700 Cubans living in Costa Rica. Immigration began from the 1960s through boats of refugees fleeing the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. They were attracted by the political stability of Costa Rica.
  • French immigration in Costa Rica began in the 1840s. Following the victory of liberal governments, it became easier for painters, musicians and French singers to immigrate.
  • The immigration of Germans to Costa Rica occurred in three main phases: prior to 1871 (the year in which the German Empire was founded), from 1871 to 1918, at the end of the First World War, and from 1918-1919 until the start of the Second World War in 1939. The first German immigrants arrived between 1825 and 1826. In 1850, the German immigration was insignificant. In 1864 there were 164 Germans living in Costa Rica. Most were attracted by the growing foreign commerce. Others migrated because of the economic situation facing Germany in the 1840s and the failed revolution in 1848. Then came another group in the late nineteenth century. There were new infrastructure projects, and existing personal networks between Germany and Costa Rica helped to increase immigration. At the beginning of the Second World War, a third group of immigrants arrived.
  • Italian migration to Costa Rica consists of several migratory waves between 1887 and 1888. In February 1887, the American railroad entrepreneur, Minor Cooper Keith, had four hundred men working on a new line, but needed more labor. In October of the same year, following unsuccessful attempts to persuade commissioners in Italy, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, Keith traveled to London to arrange the import of Italian workers. On 10 May 1888, the Anna Elise docked in Limón (Costa Rica). It was carrying 671 workers. These Italians joined other immigrants from China and elsewhere building the first railway line in Costa Rica. The conditions were dangerous, and the Italians were angered by the deaths of many workers. In October 1888, the Italian workers called a strike, and on 20 October 1888, large numbers deserted the work camps and fled to Cartago (Costa Rica), where many settled, but others returned on a ship to Italy. They were replaced by 848 immigrants who came on 16 March 1889. A group of Italians immigrated to the San Vito area in the mid 1950s. These agricultural colonists had to confront many problems, especially due to the isolation of this region. Nevertheless, from 1964 on, the production of coffee caused the outlook to change for the better, 500 Italian colonists and many Costa Ricans (someone descendants from the Italian rail workers) from different parts of the country were attracted by the economic possibilities that the area offered.
  • In 1872, the first group of Jamaicans entered the country and were used for clearing the forest and building the Atlantic Railroad tracks. Two large Jamaican migrations occurred; firstly, during the railroad construction era, and then in the next century, for the banana plantations owned by the United Standard Fruit Company.
  • Polish immigration to Costa Rica occurred from 1929 to 1941. Among the first Polish arrivals were Jewish immigrants. The largest wave of immigration of Poles to Costa Rica was between 1933 and 1936. Most of the Poles were of Jewish origin. Later, around 1939, several waves of Jewish Polish families fleeing the Nazi repression arrived. Others followed after the war. By the 1950s, the majority left the country to emigrate to Mexico or Argentina.\
  • Russian and Soviet immigration to Costa Rica occurred during the twentieth century. The arrivals hail in greatest numbers from Volga, Belarus (including people from Ukraine and the Baltic countries), coming as refugees after the First World War and the Cold War. A number of Costa Ricans studied in the Soviet Union through scholarships, and came back married to Russians, establishing families in Costa Rica.
  • Spanish immigration began in the early sixteenth century, who soon after placed the native population of this region under Spanish control. After independence, the governors were interested in populating the territories with white workers, preferably imported from Europe. Banana cultivation and labor for the construction of the railway to the Atlantic attracted foreign capital. In the early twentieth century, many Spaniards used Costa Rica as a bridge to move to Panama, attracted by the construction of the Panama Canal. The events in Catalonia in the same time period prompted many Catalans to migrate to Costa Rica, becoming in a few years a thriving and influential community in San José that persists today. Currently, Catalans make up the largest portion of Spaniards in Costa Rica. According to the 2009 census, there are currently 16,482 Spanish citizens in Costa Rica.
  • Swiss people have immigrated to Costa Rica since the nineteenth century, and have been involved in the development of Costa Rican chocolate.
  • According to the census of 2012, there are about 3,886 Venezuelans in Costa Rica that live mainly in San José. Most of them have arrived as refugees from political problems in their country. This population increased significantly from 2015–2019, mostly due to the Venezuelan political and economical crisis. Nowadays there are about 15,000 Venezuelans in Costa Rica.[2]

Emigration[edit | edit source]

  • According to the World Bank, in 2010, 125,306 Costa Ricans live abroad in the United States, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador.[1]
  • Costa Rica's emigration is the smallest in the Caribbean Basin and is among the smallest in the Americas. By 2015, about just 133,185 (2.77%) of the country's people live in another country as immigrants. The main destination countries are the United States (85,924), Nicaragua (10,772), Panama (7,760), Canada (5,039), Spain (3,339), Mexico (2,464), Germany (1,891), Italy (1,508), Guatemala (1,162) and Venezuela.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.01.1 "Costa Rica", in Wikipedia,, accessed 2 June 2021.
  2. "Immigration to Costa Rica", in Wikipedia,, accessed 2 June 2021.
  3. "Demographics of Costa Rica" in Wikipedia,, accessed 2 June 2021.