Costa Rica’s famous mantra ‘pura vida’ — a reflection of optimism and positivity among the people — extends to its film sector. After more than a year of waiting, the introduction of tax incentives by the government to help attract international productions to shoot in the country is proof positive that a buoyant attitude is rewarded.
In December 2021, Costa Rica enacted the film investment attraction law, which aims to promote investment in and development of international film productions, co-productions and activities.
“We are sure the package of incentives, including an 11.7% return on all budget lines invested in Costa Rica without a cap, will accelerate the growth of the audiovisual service industry in our country,” says Costa Rica film commissioner Jose Castro. “Costa Rica has shown constant growth in the past five years without any such incentive, so with one we are confident it can only increase the number of productions and grow our film and TV sector.”
Castro says the new incentives, regulations and procedures will be open to applications from May 2022. No actor, director or producer working on an international production in Costa Rica will be subject to tax of any kind while employed in the country.
The plans were finalised and enacted as Costa Rica found itself hit hard by Covid in 2020. International productions decreased by 95% at the start of the pandemic but the territory moved swiftly to put in place safe protocols to allow local production companies to continue filming.
National Geographic, Amazon, Hulu, Discovery Channel, Netflix, HBO and Disney have all shot in Costa Rica as well as television programming for the BBC, PBC, NBC and CBC. “As soon as our borders opened in mid-2020, we had a lot of projects coming in and that has been the dynamic ever since,” says Castro.
Nathalie Alvarez Mesen’s magical realist drama Clara Sola is set in a remote area of Costa Rica. It dominated the 2021 Swedish Film Awards, known as the Guldbagges, picking up five prizes including best picture and best director.
Other recent projects include Todd Robinson’s The Last Full Measure starring Sebastian Stan, William Hurt and John Savage; Amazon’s reality adventure series The Pack; and Netflix’s reality show Restaurants On The Edge.
More info: Jose Castro, Costa Rica film commissioner - firstname.lastname@example.org
Obtaining a permit in film-friendly Costa Rica is pretty straightforward with no especially onerous rules. A standard permit takes up to 15 days but national parks may require longer. Shutting down a street is possible but will also require more notice. Obtaining permits is relatively straightforward. Production service companies that can help include Costa Rica Filming Locations (CRFL) and Costa Rica Film Support (CRFS).
With cities dotted across the Central American country, Costa Rica boasts a robust telecommunications infrastructure, a highly regarded healthcare system and a safe and secure environment for filmmakers. Politically, the country is considered comparatively stable. Costa Rica is not unionised and production crews are more cost-effective than in Europe and the US.
The country is a pioneer in ecological shooting methods and sustainable power sources, including hydroelectric dams and solar and wind power plants. It is one of the highest ranked Latin American countries for English-language proficiency.
Small private studios are available, up to around 10,000 square feet, and there is a variety of audio post-production facilities. Costa Rica can comfortably host up to four film productions simultaneously. The quantity and quality of crew is also growing every year. Local universities are working with Costa Rica Film Commission to develop classes, workshops, seminars and training tools.
Costa Rica is famous for its pristine national parks, which make up around 20-25% of the county’s entire land mass. These include Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Tortuguero National Park.
In terms of geography, the country boasts various types of forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs and numerous volcanoes. It also has both Caribbean and Pacific Coastlines, complete with palm trees, different colour sands and impressive surf breaks. There is a wide array of agricultural crops including coffee, banana, corn and rice. Costa Rica can be a good double for other parts of the world like the Alps and Africa. In El Salto, Liberia, for example, there is an African-style safari park complete with giraffes, deer, ostriches, camels, zebras etc.
While Costa Rica’s geography is the big draw, the country also has some interesting architecture including modern villas, government buildings, stately homes and palaces, town squares and parks. In poorer parts of capital city San Jose you can also find Brazilian-style favelas.
Costa Rica has a tropical climate. The sun shines throughout the year although there are extensive periods of rain (May to November is worst). The driest period for filming is December to April. Keep in mind there are also regional variations between the East and West Coasts, and also between lowlands and uplands. Best to check with a local fixer or production services company first.
Costa Rica boasts myriad location options and diversity for its relatively small size. Bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, Costa Rica spans about 20,000 square miles. It offers producers a wide range of tropical filming conditions. Despite its small size, the country boasts 6% of the world’s total biodiversity and wildlife. There are two international airports: Juan Santamaria in San Jose, situated in the centre of the country, and Liberia International Airport (Guanacaste Airport) in the northern city of Liberia. Both have regular direct flights from the US, Europe and the UK.