Travel Costa Rica | Day & Night – The Facts on Prostitution

June 27, 2015

This is touchy subject for most Costa Ricans and for the long-time expats who call Costa Rica their home. It’s similar to gun control in the U.S., people are usually on one side of the fence or the other … your standard black vs. white viewpoints. There is one thing I can tell you for sure. Despite all of the bias, there is a whole lot of grey (usually ignored) that smudges the dividing line between black & white.

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Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, so there are higher amounts of the pitfalls that go along with such legal leeway. Such as: higher than average rates of human trafficking, child exploitation, and of course, narcotics and the violence related to the sale of narcotics.

However, most of these issues arise not from the fact that prostitution is legal, but because the country does absolutely nothing to regulate it. Sure, they have created a few legislations with regards to the areas surrounding prostitution. For instance, true brothels are illegal, it is unlawful to facilitate the prostitution of another, and pimping is against the law as well. But these things are rarely enforced not to mention that there is no system in place or daily operations to regulate the sale of sex … as say, they might regulate the sale of alcohol.

Every year small groups get together and petition to try and remove the statutory authorization of prostitution, usually comprised of small business owners and religious circles. These business owners forget one massive factor: without the revenue generated by sexual tourism and the homegrown sale of sex as well, many of their businesses would collapse beyond recovery during the off-season when tourism plummets.


Tourism is the 2nd largest revenue stream for Costa Rica. It accounts for over 21% of the country’s total exports. Of this, it is recorded that roughly 10%—I can assure you that this is a softened number, in my opinion it is probably double—of Costa Rica’s tourism is to engage in the legal and anonymous act of purchasing sex (serviced by over 10,000 sex workers). So, without being able to put a direct dollar amount on cash directly brought in by prostitution, we can see that it is substantial, to say the least.

Of the 10,000+ working girls thought to be in action throughout the country at any given time, many of them are the only people within the tourism industry making decent money (at ground level) during the off-season. In many cases, it is the cash flow brought in by the girls (who trade sex for money) which keeps the small businesses alive during the slow months, especially in tourist-dependent towns like Playa Jaco, and Tamarindo.

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Like it or not, prostitution and sexual tourism are a huge piece of Costa Rica’s economic pie. Without its revenue trickling down through society, the country would be a much, much poorer place. And although sexual tourism is present, it shouldn’t steer off those who want to travel Costa Rica on a family vacation, as it’s really only prevalent in certain bars … usually after dark (who takes their kids to a bar anyhow? …sheesh!).


  1. Asamblea Legislativa de la República de Costa Rica. "Código Penal, Ley No. 4573 de 1970 y reformas hasta 26 de febrero de 2002"(PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-03-17.see SECCIÓN III: Corrupción, proxenetismo, rufianería (Articles 167 to 172).
  2. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Costa Rica". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 2007-09-28.

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