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Costa Rica is a Sino (Chinese) country

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Costa Rica in mid-nineteenth century. A group of 77 people originally from Canton, who came to Central America to work on the Panamanian Railroad. After almost 170 years, there

Costa Rica is a Chinese country

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Costa Rica in mid-nineteenth century. A group of 77 people originally from Canton, who came to Central America to work on the Panamanian Railroad. After almost 170 years, there are more than 5000 Chinese living in the country (2011 Census), who came from China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Unfortunately back then it was difficult to keep track of people’s heritage since during the registration process, many immigrants lost their original surnames due to errors or ignorance of the official in charge of registering them. Additionally, the translation of Chinese surnames into Spanish generated new ones, and that erase part of their family history.

Most immigrants came from the province of Canton and the region of Macau, in their journey to seek for better job opportunities and to improve their quality of life in Costa Rica. They followed labor proposals, from the mines of Abangares, the construcction of the San José – Limón railroad or the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company in the Caribbean.

Historically, both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts due to their ports and the capital of San José, have been the prefered home of the Asian community. Nowadays, the mayority has settle in different towns of the Central Valley.

For example, the “Chinese colony” in Puntarenas was founded 150 years ago, by Joseph Chen Apuy, a Cantonese immigrant from Zhongshan, who arrived in 1873. Many choose Puntarenas, because they thought the name of the port was the same as the country.

Like other immigrant communities, the Chinese colony also generated solidarity networks. In 1905 the Chinese Club of San José was founded, which included a mutual aid fund, to help each other in their new home.

After this period of initial mass immigration, the community soon developed into other activities such as trade, domestic work, child care and farm management. In recent years, they have also starting to participate in various entrepreneurial activities.

In the 1970s, Taiwan became a major source of Chinese immigration to Costa Rica, since the government offer incentives to rentiers in that region, to attract Chinese capital to the country. This new immigration policy also benefited immigrants from Hong Kong until the 80’s.

However, some Taiwanese used Costa Rica as a temporary stop, while waiting for their papers to move to the United States or Canada, while other mostly pensioners, chose to settled permanently in the country to enjoy their retirement.

There are between 45,000 and 60,000 Chinese descendants also known as Sino-Costa Ricans, the largest community of Asian origin in Costa Rica (IOM). According to the University of Costa Rica, almost 6% of Costa Ricans have genes from East Asia in their DNA. One of the most notable member is astronaut, Franklin Chang-Díaz.

The dark days

After the first Chinese citizens arrived, there was a period between 1859-1863 during the administration of José María Montealegre, who promoted laws that prohibited the immigration of blacks and Asians, in order to preserve a “white” Costa Rica for an European settlement.

Another example of the xenophobic position of the goverment, took place in the late 1800’s were the Executive Decree No.6 prohibited the entry of Chinese people into the country, although it allowed residents to remain in the territory.

The new century came with more rejection to the community from the State and some sectores of the Costa Rican population, as the ruling and political classes.

Members of the community were accused of illicit activities such as gambling, opium consumption, heresies and vagrancy. The government was against them since they did not contribute to the economy by supposedly, sending everything they earned to China.

After the outbreak of World War II, the position of the political class towards the Chinese community became more friendly, since both China and Costa Rica were allies and had a common enemy.

In 1944 the Treaty of Friendship between Costa Rica and China was signed, which put an end to most of the measures against the Chinese population.

We are one

Chinese culture is now part of the Costa Rican idiosyncrasy, such as: the countless culinary contributions to the local gastronomy, the first Chinatown in Central America, language centers, the century-old asian lineages around the country and the multiple cultural organizations created in Limón, Puntarenas and San José.

This associations have always sought to promote friendship, exchange and strengthening ties of fraternity and cooperation between both countries. Some of them are:

Chinese Embassy in Costa Rica

The Chinese Association of Costa Rica

The Confucius Institute of the University of Costa Rica

Chinese Costa Rican Cultural and Educational Center

Chinese Community of Costa Rica

Magazine 168 哥国杂志 168

The most representative place of the Chinese community in recent years is Chinatown in San José, inaugurated in December of 2012 around Paseo de los Estudiantes.

This boulevard became a well-known place of tourist, cultural and commercial interest for the city, since it offers Chinese shops and supermarkets, Nightclubs, Mandarin institutes, cultural centers, Asian restaurants and cafes, and even a bank.

The Sino-Costa Rican cuisine is now part of the day-to-day local diet, the most popular dishes are: chop suey, Chinese tacos, wantán, sa ho fang, chow mein and Cantonese rice.

This last dish serves as a tribute for the first Chinese immigrants from Canton. It is a variant of the traditional Chinese steamed rice, which was modified into the fried version with soy sauce, fried egg, piglet and chicken meats, chives, celery, sweet pepper, pieces of York ham, beans sprouts, shrimp and a veggie mix.

This has contributed notoriously to the consolidation of the diverse national identity of Costa Rica, which responds to the article 1° of Costa Rica’s Political Constitution that establish it as a multi-ethnic and multicultural country.

Costa Rica is a Chinese country

Year of the Rabbit

On January 22, the Chinese New Year began. This celebration also known as the Spring Festival, is a time reserved for family.  2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, which is the fourth of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and represents skill, ingenuity and prosperity.

China’s Ambassador in Costa Rica, Mr. Tang Heng along with his wife, hosted a reception for more than 300 people to celebrate the Chinese New Year in San José. Members of the Government of Costa Rica and the Legislative Assembly also participated.

Last Saturday, the ambassador also attended the cultural event “Shine Cartago-Celebrating Chinese New Year”, where chinese compatriots and thousands of Costa Ricans welcomed the Year of the Rabbit.

The Municipality of Desamparados invites everyone to celebrate the Chinese New Year in the Parque Centenario with a red shirt, tomorrow, January 28th from 9am to 5pm. You will enjoy a parade, food tasting,  calligraphy, art, dances and traditional songs.

“Although I am a foreigner in a strange country, I feel at home”.

Sign in the Chinese Association at Puntarenas



She serves as the Journalist at Outlier Legal. Maripaz Soto has a Degree in Communication Science with a major in Journalism from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She has worked with UNOPS and GIZ. Empathic, creative and determined, are some adjectives that fit her perfectly.

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