Rich Coast. Delicious Coast. Abundant Coast. However you want to translate Costa Rica into English, it conjures images of palm trees and stunning beaches and lush interior rainforest. And parrots. Lots and lots of parrots. I have a friend who spends a month down there every winter, and who can blame him?

But there’s quite a bit more to this Central American nation than umbrellas you sit under and umbrellas poking out of an icy beverage. Costa Rica has more teachers than soldiers, they say. Its economy is one of the healthiest and it’s the most politically stable in Central America, and it enjoys free trade with several of its neighbors and the United States.  Since 2016, serving process in Costa Rica has been subject to the strictures of the Hague Service Convention, regardless of which U.S. or Canadian venue is hearing the matter.

Some background is in order, if you’re so inclined, before we cut to the chase.

  • The roadmap to the overall process—the recipe to our Secret Sauce.
  • The structure of the Convention itself is discussed in this four-part series.
  • And an absolutely critical note: the Hague Service Convention does not pertain to subpoenas.  Repeat after me—you can’t just SERVE a subpoena abroad.  You have to file a Hague Evidence Request (on in the case of Costa Rica, a Letter Rogatory)  Dramatically different from serving a summons or notice.

Here’s how service is done in Costa Rica:

Article 5 Service

  • Translate the documents. Yes, into Spanish. Yes, it’s required. Opt to not do this… well, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
  • Fill out a USM-94. Be very careful about ensuring that it is complete and concise (including all of the entered details in Spanish), and make sure that it is signed by a court official or an attorney.  If it is not, make sure that the person signing is commissioned by the court.
  • Send to the Central Authority.
  • Sit tight. It may take a while—likely several months, from submission to return of proof.  The judge is just going to have to accept that fact, because there is no realistic alternative.

Article 10 alternative methods

  • Article 10 options may or may not be available– we don’t know, because Costa Rica’s declarations aren’t known. As such, don’t get cute.

Seriously—that’s all there is to it in Costa Rica.

Bonus practice tip #1: if the idea is strategically sound, ask the defendant to waive service.  Note that I didn’t say accept— I said waive.  There’s a very important difference.

Bonus practice tip #2: if you’re defense counsel, always question the validity of service effected on your overseas client.  The plaintiff may not have done it correctly.

Interestingly, the seminal case regarding electronic service, and its validity under the Mullane doctrine, would produce a dramatically different result to today.  At the time of Rio Properties, Costa Rica had not joined the Hague Service Convention.  Were the same facts at issue in 2024, electronic service and the Convention would conflict violently.