The easy guide to employee background checks in Costa Rica


May 3, 2023

When it comes to international employment, it's essential to take extra steps to verify identity documents to protect your company and remove any potential risks. If you're hiring in Costa Rica, consider doing background checks and reference checks to make sure you're hiring the right employee or contractor.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Costa Rica has seen an uptick in fraud cases, including deception, computer scams, and identity theft. According to Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation Department, there's been a significant increase in the use of false identification with the rise of remote working, where the perpetrator poses as a member of a respected company.

Keep reading for a guide on how to run comprehensive and legally compliant employee background screenings and employment verification in Costa Rica.

Table of Contents

  • Are you legally required to run background checks on Costa Rican employees?
  • Is it legal to run background checks on Costa Rican contractors?
  • What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Costa Rican employees and contractors?
  • What types of background checks are illegal in Costa Rica?
  • When should you conduct Costa Rican employee background checks?
  • The easiest way to run a background check on a Costa Rican employee or contractor
  • Background check mistakes to avoid in Costa Rica
  • Frequently asked questions about background checks in Costa Rica

Are you legally required to run background checks on Costa Rican employees?

In Costa Rica, running pre-employment criminal background checks or credit reports isn't mandatory, but express and informed consent in writing is necessary before conducting them.

Employers can request the necessary information including date of birth and ID number to run criminal record checks, education verification, credit history, and employment verification for identity validation if relevant to the role.

It is also the employer's responsibility to prioritize data privacy, protect the applicant's personal information and maintain their confidentiality, and use the information gathered in the background check only for legitimate purposes.

Costa Rica has one of Central America's most robust data privacy laws. In 2011, Costa Rica passed a law to protect the collection, processing, and use of personal and sensitive data of individuals. Informed consent, in writing, is required before personal data can be collected, including background checks.

Is it legal to run background checks on Costa Rican contractors?

Yes, it’s legal to run background checks on prospective contractors in Costa Rica as long as you have their informed consent. It will also help you do due diligence and standardize your onboarding process.

What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Costa Rican employees and contractors?

In Costa Rica, based on the role you're hiring for, you have different background screenings available to validate your candidate's identity, including civil records, criminal history, driving records, and more. Any checks you may run fall under Costa Rican privacy laws. Make sure to stay compliant to avoid sanctions.

Here's each type of check in more detail:

  • Criminal records. In Costa Rica, the criminal record check is national and goes through the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), the judicial investigation department.
  • Civil records. You'll need the individual's name, date of birth, and address for the civil record search. This local-level check searches the Civil Registry for births, marriages, divorces, deaths, lawsuits, or legal judgments against the individual. In some cases, it will include immigration status as well.
  • Employment history. You can contact previous employers within the last seven years to verify their title, dates of employment, professional references, and reason for leaving. Explicit consent is needed from the candidate if reaching out to the current employer.
  • Reference check. As the employer, you can contact any professional references with the phone numbers provided by the candidate.
  • Education degree verification. In Costa Rica, verifying the highest degree completed by the employee is common. In this case, the institution will be contacted to confirm dates of attendance, degree details, and graduation year.
  • Credit reports. Credit reports are standard in security and finance jobs in Costa Rica and give access to the candidate's credit history, bankruptcies, and court cases, if applicable.
  • Driving records. If a job requires driving, employers can access driving records through a driver's license office to check that the applicant's license is valid and there are no previous offenses.
  • Government ID check. With fraud rising, this authentication check allows the employer to validate and verify the candidate's cédula and other identity documents.

What types of background checks are illegal in Costa Rica?

  • Questions about personal sensitive data. The data privacy law protects candidates, and pre-employment screenings cannot ask about sensitive personal data, including the individual's race, political opinions, religion, socioeconomic condition, medical information, and sexual orientation.
  • While running a criminal background check is common, you're legally prohibited from discriminating against candidates because they have a criminal record, as this would violate Costa Rica's anti-discrimination laws. A candidate should not be discriminated against solely because of their past, per the Constitution of Costa Rica's right to equal treatment under the law.
  • Requesting a medical records check through the social security administration is not recommended. You can't discriminate against a person with disabilities and refuse a job based on their medical history under the Costa Rican Equal Opportunities Law. The employer must provide reasonable accommodations as well.

When should you conduct Costa Rican employee background checks?

Background checks in Costa Rica should be conducted during the pre-employment screening process and before sending the legally compliant employment contracts or offer letters required for full-time positions by the government. Employers can then be sure employment will be offered to the candidate and the right expectations are shared.

Employers should also notify the job applicant that a background check will be conducted and obtain their written consent.

The easiest way to run a background check on a Costa Rican employee or contractor

There are several different companies that can run background checks on employees in Costa Rica, including Rippling, RACSA, Zinc, and Info Cubic. The easiest by far is Rippling because background checks are directly integrated into the onboarding flow.

Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling will send the offer letter and new hire paperwork—and automatically run a legally compliant background check and e-verify the results. See Rippling today.

Background check mistakes to avoid in Costa Rica

  • Assuming background checks in Costa Rica are the same as in the US. In Costa Rica, standard background checks come with different information than in the US and are split over a few different types. Due to privacy laws, the government encourages employers to seek out only the relevant data to the role to avoid compliance issues and personal data protection.
  • Not getting employee consent. Costa Rica's privacy laws also require employers to obtain written consent from applicants before beginning the background check process. The employer must also be transparent regarding the data's use, processing, and storage.
  • Doing the background check after the offer letter. In Costa Rica, verbal offers are not allowed for full-time employees. The government requires an offer letter, or employment contract, with rigorous requirements, so you want to be sure that you want to extend an offer. It's recommended to do the background check before the offer stage.
  • Collecting sensitive personal data. It's important to comply with Costa Rica's personal data law and avoid collecting sensitive demographical data about the candidate. You should limit background data collection to what's necessary for the role.
  • Skipping the background check. Hiring internationally requires a long list of requirements and verifications to comply with local laws. You may be tempted to skip background screening, but background checks are vital to protecting your company and ensuring you're hiring the right person for the job.

Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Costa Rica.

Frequently asked questions about background checks in Costa Rica

Are background checks legal in Costa Rica?

Yes, background checks are legal in Costa Rica, provided they are conducted in compliance with Costa Rican data privacy and anti-discrimination laws.

Employers must request informed consent from job applicants to run a background check, including criminal record checks, education and employment verification, and professional references. It is not recommended to ask for sensitive information, like medical records, as it cannot be used to discriminate against job applicants based on Costa Rica’s Equal Opportunities Law. By law, you must let the candidate know how their information will be used and stored.

What language do you use for background checks in Costa Rica?

Background checks in Costa Rica are conducted in Spanish by the authorities. Any foreign background checks and documents provided must be translated into Spanish.

How do privacy laws affect background checks in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica's rigorous framework surrounding personal data privacy impacts background checks. The Data Protection Law regulates how personal data is accessed and processed by public and private entities, giving the individual the right to cancel the use of their personal and sensitive data.

Because of this law and its aim at fostering data minimization, employers in Costa Rica are encouraged to obtain and process only the minimum amount of personal data necessary to hire and operate their businesses.

The country's data protection authority (PRODHAB), which enforces the Data Protection Law, aims to protect the personal data of its citizens by monitoring the use of personal data by public and private entities operating in Costa Rica. If violated, PRODHAB will impose penalties and sanctions.

Do different industries in Costa Rica require different background checks?

It is up to the job role and the employer what background checks are needed to be successful in the position. An employer should only request what’s needed. If a position requires driving, you should require driving records in addition to the criminal record screening. Or it’s expected that employers in the finance and security industries request a credit report too.

How far back do criminal background checks go?

Criminal background checks in Costa Rica can go back to when the applicant turned 18 years old and became a legal adult.

What are the benefits of running background checks in Costa Rica?

With phishing attacks on the rise in Costa Rica, it’s vital to verify candidate information to avoid risk to your company. In 2021, Intel Costa Rica issued a fraud alert that fake recruiters were using the company name to obtain personal information from job candidates.

Background checks come with many benefits for employers, including:

  • Reduce security risks. Background checks can help filter out job applicants that are looking to commit fraud or create a data breach within the company.
  • Onboard top-notch employees. Background checks not only help verify education and work backgrounds to confirm details, but also to indicate that the employee is reliable, trustworthy, and will succeed in the role.
  • Avoid workplace fraud. Background checks, while not infallible, help protect your company’s reputation in-country and weed out fraudulent job seekers and scammers.
  • Reduce liability. Background checks help companies avoid hiring talent that engages in illegal activities, harmful behavior, or has past misconduct. Onboard new hires and run background checks with Rippling.

Onboard new hires and run background checks with Rippling

With Rippling's Talent Management System, you can seamlessly onboard new hires and set them up for success. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling does the rest—including running a legally compliant background check and e-verifying the results.

Ready to hit the ground running with every new hire? See Rippling today.

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: March 26, 2024

The Author

Muriel Vega

A freelance tech and B2B writer based in Atlanta, Muriel focuses her work on human resources and workplace trends and creating engaging content for SaaS companies. She has traveled the world, but her favorite place to work is Mexico City.