Home / Beyond  / My Two Colones  / Ticonomics, Crime by Numbers in Costa Rica

Ticonomics, Crime by Numbers in Costa Rica

  I am very curious about the crime situation in Costa Rica. I am curious about what people think about crime, and what the authorities do about it. I would like to share with you some numbers.


I am very curious about the crime situation in Costa Rica. I am curious about what people think about crime, and what the authorities do about it.

I would like to share with you some numbers. You will have to bear with me as it is very difficult to find accurate information in order to provide a reasonable analysis. For instance, I will be sharing world crime statistics, and each country has a different method of recording crime statistics, or there is no available data for some countries in the past few years.


Let’s start with homicide rate.

In 2012, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) reported a global average homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population.

According to the UNODC, in 2012 there were no homicides in Liechtenstein, Singapore, Iceland, Kuwait and Hong Kong, which makes these places the safest countries to live, at least as far a homicide is concerned. On the other hand, Honduras is the most dangerous place to live with a homicide rate of 90, followed by Venezuela with 54 and Belize with 45.

As a region, Asia is the safest place with a rate of 2.9, while the Americas is the most dangerous region with a rate of 16.3. The rate in the Americas is high primarily because of Latin America which overshadow the US and Canada, with rates of 4.7 and 1.6 respectively.

Now, Costa Rica has a rate of 8.6, ranking as the 71st most dangerous place in the world out of 218 countries. So, if you are Canadian, you are 5.3 times more likely to be murdered in Costa Rica than back Canada. While, if you are an American, you will only be 1.8 times more likely to be killed in Costa Rica than back in the US. On the other hand, if you are one of the 5000 Venezuelans living in Costa Rica, you have a 16% chance of being murdered in Costa Rica as compared if you were living in Venezuela.

Now let’s look at the murder rates around the country. You may not familiar with San Sebastian, it is a district in San Jose County with a population of 40,224 (2011)[1] and with 14 homicides reported in 2012. Without considering the variation of the population between 2011 and 2012, San Sebastian had a murder rate of 34.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it as dangerous as Swaziland in Africa, which ranks the ninth most dangerous country in the world. More staggering is the homicide rate in Limón with 45.8 and Desamparados with a rate of 44.32, locating them in a similar place with Belize with the fourth highest murder rate in the world.

On the contrary, with no murders reported in 2012, Grecia and Atenas are some of the safest towns to live in Costa Rica. Places like Jacó, Tamarindo and Escazú, are around the average rates in the country close to 8.


Crimes against property

According to the UNODC, in 2013 Costa Rica was the country with the second highest robbery[2] rate in the world with of 984.2 robberies per 100,000 inhabitants, just below Belgium with 1,616 (Belgium? Isn’t that crazy?). In the region, Mexico appears to be safer with a rate of 595.7, followed by Peru with a rate of 263. Places like the US, El Salvador and Canada, are much safer with rates of 107, 84, 66, accordingly. So, once again Canadians, it is riskier to choose a warmer weather as you will be 14.91 times more likely to be robbed in Costa Rica.

While there is a homicide rate of 8.6 in Costa Rica, you will be 114.4 times more likely to be robbed than to be murdered. Since the rate of robberies is very high, you better pay attention to where you will be going as crime rates will vary depending in the area of the country you are in. For instance, Cóbano (Montezuma / Mal Pais) in Puntarenas, has a robbery rate of 1,921,[3] which is almost double the national average. Compared to Grecia (Grecia proper) with a rate of 664, you are 2.89 times more likely to be robbed in Cóbano than in Grecia, Santa Ana (705), or Escazú (643). Worse than Cóbano, is Jacó with a rate of 1,997.

Let’s “putine” this in perspective for Canadians once again. If you are a Canadian and decide to come visit la Pura Visa, as soon as you land, you will become 14.9 times more likely to be a victim of a robbery, and if you decide to visit Santa Teresa or Jacó, you will be 29 times more likely to be robbed. On the contrary, Tilarán has a rate of 114, almost twice as high as Canada, but 14 times safer than Jacó.


Car Theft and Break-Ins

Car theft is very common in Costa Rica, but you will be surprised to see the rates compared to other countries.

In 2014, the OIJ[4] reported 3,713 vehicles stolen, which sets the rate at 80.96 vehicles stolen per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2013, the UNODC reported the rate at 86.6 in Costa Rica. In that very same year, the country with the highest rate was Uruguay (479), followed by Italy (300) and Sweden (289). So, your Volvo will be 3.3 times safer in Costa Rica than in Stockholm. However, it will be 15 times more likely to be stolen in Costa Rica than in Panamá. Some of the countries with the higher rates are developed countries, such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and France. Part of the reasoning for such high rates in those countries is due to the high standard of living which allows a higher number of people to afford better cars than in Honduras. If you ask me why Uruguay is on top of the list, well, I do not know.

Here in Costa Rica, even though the rate is not that high as a nation, there are certain areas you want to avoid. By real numbers, the majority of reports occurred in Alajuela, San José, Desamparados and Heredia. But, when you convert the rates, you will see that other areas spark some concern. For instance, Garabito (Jacó and Tárcoles) has a rate of 138, just above Heredia. So, although Desamparados has such as high number of cars stolen, it will still be safer than in Garabito where most car robberies occured in Jacó, which places it within the top places for car theft at 187 just behind Tamarindo with 188. While Santa Cruz County in Guanacaste has a low rate at 36, the high concentration of car robberies is in Tamarindo. So if you go to Tamarindo, keep your car in a parking lot, do not leave it on the street.

The same thing can be said about car break-ins. While the highest number of incidents happen in the Central Valley, the highest rates happen in the tourist towns.

The highest number of break-ins are concentrated in Escazú, Alajuela, and Jacó. But by far, Jacó is the town with the highest rate of break-ins with 1,207 per 100,000 inhabitants. San Rafael de Escazú is the town with the second highest rate, followed by Cóbano and Pozos de Santa Ana.

The safest towns are Tilarán and Atenas with rates of 30 and 94 accordingly. Once again, the tourist towns are targets for crime, with a high incidence of robberies and car break-ins. So, if you are from Tilarán and are planning on visiting Playas del Coco, be aware that you will increase your changes of having your car broken into by 7.2 times.



We are almost done, but we cannot end this without talking about rape. Unfortunately, in 2013 Costa Rica was the third more dangerous place in the world when it came to rape, just behind Sweden and the UK (really?). I was surprised about these numbers as I was expecting places in Africa and India to have higher rape rates, but sadly, it is difficult to have accurate data since not all of the instances of rape are reported in those countries. The primary issue, for instance, is that the authorities in India are incapable of addressing this issue, to the extent that rape victims do not bother to report the crime as chances are that nothing is going to get done. So, the numbers that we are sharing here are for reported crimes to the police, which places Sweden at the top and Costa Rica in the third place.

The figures that we have are for 2013, but if you look at Lesotho in 2009 (2013 was not reported), it had a rate of 89, far ahead of what was reported in Sweden in 2013. So, there are no reports from Lesotho since 2009. Hopefully, they are doing better.

Places like Canada and Japan have very low rates at 1.4 and 1.1 accordingly. So, if you are Canadian, be aware that you will be 25 times more likely to be raped in Costa Rica than back in Canada. It will be safer to go to France where you will only be 12 times more likely to be raped. Do not drink too much wine.

But if you decide to come to Costa Rica, try to avoid some places and your chances will be lowered. Places like Talamanca and Garabito are very dangerous with rates of 45 rapes per 100,000. A person from Japan will be 40.9 times more likely to be raped in Jacó than in Japan.


What to do?

Well, you may ask yourself: What does Costa Rica do about all this crime? The answer is nothing.

The conviction rate in Costa Rica for the Prosecutions is 58%[6]. Thus, 42% of the time the defendant is acquitted. A conviction rate of 58% sounds like a decent rate, but not when you compare the number of crimes to the cases brought to court.

Apparently, in 2013, there were 117,823 criminal cases reported to the police, but only 18% resulted in an indictment (22,154 indictments). When we look at this, only 10% of the crimes resulted in a conviction.

According to the UNODC, in 2011, Costa Rica had a conviction rate of 149.3 persons per 100,000 inhabitants, while Canada had a rate of 795.2. This does not mean that there are more crimes in Canada than Costa Rica, as previously noted, Costa Rica is a number of times more dangerous than Canada. What this means is that the criminal justice system in Canada is 5.32 times more efficient than in Costa Rica. Another example of the efficiency of the Canadian system is that on average, a criminal case takes 211 days in court, while in Costa Rica it takes 637. By 2012, Costa Rica only had 13,407 people held in prisons, while Canada has 41,049. Notwithstanding the fact that Canada had 3.06 times more people in prison than Costa Rica, it only represented a rate of 117.6 per 100,000 inhabitants while the rate in Costa Rica was 279 which is 2.3 times that of Canada. With this, what we can see is that crime is more prevalent in Costa Rica than in Canada, where the latter is far more efficient dealing with crime.

To finalize, let’s compare Costa Rica with Switzerland, since Costa Ricans brag about the country being so much like it. If you are in Switzerland, you will be 8.67 times wealthier than in Costa Rica and will be 33% less likely to live in poverty. But if you live in Costa Rica, you will be five times more likely to be raped, 12 times more likely to be murdered, 14 times more likely to be robbed. If you are a criminal, you will be seven times more likely to be convicted in Switzerland, where you will processed 4.5 times faster.

My goal with this is to expose the reality of crime in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, Costa Ricans are not very good at looking at themselves and figure out what to do in order to improve the quality of living.

The mentality of the stake holders in Costa Rica is much distorted. Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys believe that having harsh sentences does not prevent crime from happening. They do not believe in general deterrence, but they also do not believe in specific deterrence from the perspective that putting a person in prison will prevent that same person from committing more crimes. We all know who the thieves are in our towns. When theft happens, the whole town knows who did it, but neither the police nor the community does anything about it. That is the primary issue in Costa Rica, impunity.

When realizing that Canada or Switzerland have lower crime rates but high conviction rates, is not difficult to realize that the low crime is a result of efficient law enforcement.

Costa Ricans do not have an interest of efficient law enforcement as they do not want the law enforce against them. When you look at the history of corruption cases against politicians you will understand why there is no political will to have a better criminal system, since our system is ran by criminals.

What to do? Let’s move to Australia.

[1] INEC (National Census Bureau)

[2] Definitions: “Robbery” means the theft of property from a person, overcoming resistance by force or threat of force. Where possible, the category “Robbery” should include muggings (bag-snatching) and theft with violence, but should exclude pick pocketing and extortion.

[3] OIJ Statistics http://pjenlinea.poder-judicial.go.cr/EstadisticasOIJ/

[5] Definitions by the UNODC: “Rape” means sexual intercourse without valid consent.

[6] Prosecutors Office



Attorney and Entrepreneur with more than 15 years experience in: immigration law in the US and Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama. In addition, Rafael has extensive experience in Business Law, Estate Planning, and Real Estate. Lastly, Rafael has developed experience in people management, talent development and business development.

Review overview