Costa Rica - Country Commercial Guide
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In November 2021 Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health created new registration guidelines for cosmetic products reducing the timeline from 25 to one day.  This coupled with a rising middle class, a close relationship with the U.S., and benefits under CAFTA-DR Free Trade Agreement, have helped open the market for U.S. cosmetic companies. 

According to Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, imports of cosmetic products have increased in recent years. The consumer habits of Costa Ricans are becoming more complex due to an increased awareness of the aging processes, and Costa Ricans are investing in premium products and services.  It is expected that this sector will continue to grow due to the Costa Rican population’s growing demand for personal care products. With a total annual market size of $227 million, U.S. imports increased rapidly from 2016 to 2019 with a slight decrease in 2018 and 2020.  In 2022 and 2023 the market has being increasing.   Mexico continues to dominate the Costa Rican cosmetics market, followed by the U.S.  and Colombia .  Guatemala and Colombia have also become important competitors within the Central American region, due to sustained development in the cosmetics sector and free trade agreements. However, as demand for U.S. products continues to grow, there are significant opportunities for U.S. companies in Costa Rica’s growing cosmetics sector. 

 The distribution channel for professional products includes approximately 4,000 beauty salons in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA). Around 200 of these salons sell high-end products while 3,000 are smaller spas that only sell mass consumption products.  There are also approximately 1,000 professional spas of which 100 are premium spas, 200 are small spas, and 700 are independent estheticians.  Professional products can also be found in pharmacies (approximately 1,000 in Costa Rica). Dermatologists and plastic surgeons recommend the products purchased in pharmacies.  Mass consumption products are distributed in big box stores such as Walmart, PriceSmart, retail stores, discount stores, pharmacies and through catalogs.  

The prices of perfumes vary according to brand.  Premium perfumes such as Jean Paul Gautier and Gucci range from $100-$200.  Mass consumption perfumes and splashes, usually generic brands that are manufactured in China, range from $14-$20. Professional shampoos cost between $40-$80, while mass consumption shampoos cost between $6-$10.  Mass consumption make-up products cost between $5-$30, while high-end and premium make-up products cost between $30-$100.  

Market Opportunities

At the commercial level cosmetics are classified in two categories: (1) Beauty products: are considered as a luxury products and its demand is influenced by aspects such as age, social class, and financial income; and its purchase seems to be more personal; and (2)Products of Personal cleanliness: these are considered in the most parts as first need of products, they are purchased by the family group firstly, and then according to the family members as they grow and have financial capacity, each member starts looking for their own brands depending on their needs.

Because Costa Rica’s local production is not significant, most of the cosmetic products sold in the country are imported.  Furthermore, the class distribution means that the top 20 percent of the population can afford premium products, whereas 80 percent of the population will only buy mass consumption products.  It follows that 20 percent of the cosmetics market consists of premium products and the other 80 percent is made up of products for mass consumption.  Roughly 70 percent of cosmetic sales are made within the Central Valley, in the greater San Jose Metropolitan Area (GAM) with the remaining sales being made in rural areas, in Guapiles (in Limon), Perez Zeledon (Southern Costa Rica) and Puntarenas.   The local market has always been very receptive to purchasing from U.S. companies due to their excellent reputation, prestige, and quality guarantees.  Imports from the U.S. demonstrate how American-made makeup products, perfumes, and soaps have great recognition in the Costa Rican cosmetic market. 

Actual consumption patterns demonstrate a tendency to acquire a diversity of products such as oils, keratin, and capillary and facial treatments.  This is a market opportunity for high-end products.  This line of products is very attractive to suppliers and distributors due to the large profit margins.  Meanwhile in the mass consumption market, there are opportunities because of the active commercialization of these types of products in Costa Rican discount stores. 

Additionally, U.S. companies have an advantage to commercialize in Central America, especially Costa Rica, because of the benefits under the CAFTA-DR free trade agreement. Under this agreement almost all cosmetic products import duties have been significantly reduced.

Market Challenges

Even though Costa Rica has a high demand for cosmetic products, there are some disadvantages in terms of market accessibility. Costa Rica is a competitive market that is very price sensitive.  Minimum quantities can be an issue due to the proportion of the Costa Rican sector and the market share of other countries’ products. Product registration has been an obstacle for U.S. companies trying to access the Costa Rican cosmetics market. The main issue with product registration is the requirement by the Costa Rican Health Ministry to obtain a Certificate of Good Manufacturing Practices or License of Operation, which must be issued to the manufacturer by either the government or a trade association.  

 The registration process can be done on the website, but it requires a digital signature. Additionally, requires a power of attorney (in Spanish) to allow a third party to sign in the name of the foreign company, and to specify a person who will be responsible for sanitary registration when importing and selling the product in Costa Rica. Finally, a clarification letter is required, certifying that the respective company is the manufacturer of the product that will be exported to Costa Rica. In some cases, the Ministry of Health will accept the Manufacturing License of Operation that is issued by the respective state’s Municipal License emitting office, instead of the Good Manufacturer Practices document. 

Registration Guidelines

In November 2021 the Ministry of Health announced a new Executive Decree 43291-S that reduces the registration procedure of processed foods and low-risk cosmetics from 25 days to one day. This decree was officially published on November 24th, 2021, in La Gaceta (Official Newspaper where are judicial edicts published), and was officially implemented on February 1, 2022. 

More Information

For ore information or to discuss how CS Costa Rica can help you expand to Costa Rica, contact Commercial Assistant Emilio Cordoba