A guide to useful phrases in Costa Rica

The name Costa Rica literally translates as ‘Rich Coast’, which perfectly defines the history of settlement and language here. Costa Rica is said to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus, and centuries after its rule by Spain.

As you’d expect, Spanish is the national language, with a few unique quirks that separate it from the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. Although English is widely understood in Costa Rica, it never hurts to be prepared with a few local phrases to help ease your new friendships with the locals.

Common Costa Rican phrases

Good morning/good day – Buenos diaz (Bwen-ohs dee-azz)
Good evening – Buenas tardes (Bwen-ahs tar-dez)
Good night – Buenas noches (Bwen-ahs notch-ezz)
Welcome – Bienvenido (Byen-ven-ee-doh)
Hello – Hola (Oh-la)
Goodbye – Adios (Add-ee-oss)
See you later – Hasta luego (Hass-tah loo-ay-go)
How are you? – Como estas? (Coh-moh ess-taz)
Fine thanks, and you? – Bien gracias, y tu? (Byen gras-ee-as, ee too)
What’s your name? – Como te llamas? (Coh-moh tay lyam-mass)
My name is… – Me llamo … (Me lyam-mo)
Where is …? – Donde esta …? (Don-day ess-tah)

Costa Rican-isms

Tico (Teek-oh) – A slang name Costa Ricans give themselves as a people.

Pura vida (Pure-ah vee-dah) – Literally means ‘pure life’. This phrase is woven into the fabric of peace-loving Costa Rican society. It can be anything from a greeting to an exclamation celebrating good luck or that you’re happy for someone, so expect to be hearing and using it a lot.

Upe (Ooh-pay) – A brief call that announces your arrival. Similar to politely saying ‘Hello?’ as you enter a shop at home when nobody’s ready at the counter.

Mae (Mah-eh) – Similar to ‘mate’, ‘dude’ or ‘bloke’ back home, this is a friendly way for Costa Ricans to address the guys.

Diay (Dee-ay) – This could mean anything from ‘hey’ to ‘well’ to ‘however’. It’s a word that can be slotted into speech to open a sentence or connect information. For example, ‘Diay, look at that sunny beach!’

Media naranja (Med-ee-ah nah-ran-hah) – Literally ‘half the orange’, this is how Costa Ricans refer to their partners, in the way we’d say ‘other half’.

Salado (Sal-ah-doh) – Directly translates as ‘salty’, but it’s used in the same way we’d say ‘unlucky’ in English.


One – Uno (Oo-no)
Two – Dos (Doss)
Three – Tres (Trays)
Four – Cuatro (Quot-roh)
Five – Cinco (Sin-coh)
Six – Seis (Sayss)
Seven – Siete (See-ett-ay)
Eight – Ocho (Oh-cho)
Nine – Nueve (New-ev-ay)
Ten – Diez (Dee-ezz)

Eating out

Bon appetit – Buen apetito (Bwen app-eh-tee-toe)
Cheers! – Salud! (Sal-ood)
Waiter – Camarero (Cam-ah-reh-roh)
What’s today’s set menu? – Cual es el menu del dia? (Coo-wal ess ell men-ooh del dee-ah)
Please can I have the bill? – Me trae la cuenta, por favor? (Meh trah-eh la coo-en-tah, por fav-or)
I don’t eat meat – No como carne (No com-oh car-nay)
I don’t eat fish – No como pescado (No com-oh pess-cad-oh)
It’s really delicious – Esta riquisimo (Ess-tah ree-kizz-ee-moh)

Food and Drink terms

Meat – Carne (Car-nay)
Fillet – El filete (Ell fill-ett-ay)
Tenderloin – El solomillo (Ell soll-oh-mee-lyo)
Soup – La sopa (La soh-pah)
Seabass – La lubina (La loo-bee-nah)
Prawns – Las gambas (Lass gam-bass)
Potatoes – Las patatas (Lass pat-ah-tass)
Chips – Frites (Free-tass)
Salad – La saladilla (La sal-ah-dee-lyah)
Sandwich – El bocadillo (Ell boh-cah-dee-lyo)
Fizzy drink – El refresco (ell ref-ress-coh)
Beer – La cerveza (La sir-vay-sah)
Wine – El vino (Ell vee-no)
Red wine – El tinto (Ell tin-toh)
Coffee – El cafe (Ell caff-ay)
Wine glass – La copa (La coh-pah)
Drinking glass – El vaso (Ell vass-oh)