Building an Economy in Tropico 3

Building an Economy in Tropico 3
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Tropico 3 Economy

The gameplay in Tropico 3 is typical of a building and management simulation but the political angle adds an extra edge to proceedings and it can prove difficult to run a successful economy. In the campaign there are multiple routes to success but each island is suited to a specific approach. In the sandbox mode you can decide for yourself how to build a rich tropical paradise. You can find out more about the game in our Tropico 3 review. In this article we are going to offer up a few hints and tips which should help you get the most from the economic side of your game. This will be a two part guide so in the second article we’ll look at politics and keeping your citizens happy.

Choose your Leader

Before each game you are offered a list of leaders to choose from or you can create your own leader. All of them have various skills derived from their background and their rise to power. They also each have two specific qualities and two specific flaws. Try creating your own leader so you can examine the affect of each of the categories.

The best approach is to create a leader uniquely suited for each individual level. The brief for each mission should give you an idea of what type of leader would be best. For example if your aim is to create a popular tourist destination then you want to select Well Traveled (see screenshot). Sometimes you’ll need to play the level to discover what qualities would serve you best but since many of them are tricky it is often a good idea to start one simply to check out the island and then restart with a tailored leader once you know what to expect.

Spend Wisely

Tropico 3 coffee farm

You’ll start each game with limited cash and there are penalties for going into the red so you have to spend carefully and cleverly to get your economy going. To begin with you want some industry that will bring in the cash. You need to see what your island would be best suited for, so select a farm and then check the map for green spots (see screenshot). The best cash crops are coffee, sugar and tobacco. Start by placing a couple of farms and making sure they are served by roads. Now let the game run on until the farms are producing exports.

Stay in the Black

It is very important not to go into the red because it will affect your foreign relations and if you go more than $10,000 into debt you will be slapped with a spending ban. Your country costs money to run and it will trickle away month after month. The more people you employ and services you offer the higher your costs go, so don’t spend every last dollar, keep an eye on the rate at which your money decreases.

Foreign Aid and Edicts

Every January you will receive foreign aid from the US and USSR. The amounts depend on how close you are to either country. If you annoy them or keep going into debt this aid will be reduced. You should build a Diplomatic Ministry early on because it allows you to enact two very important edicts. The first USSR one gives you half price tenements and apartment buildings. This will save you an absolute fortune so do it as early as you can. The second edict is the US one which offers half price power stations and airports. You won’t need to enact this until later in the game but make sure you do it before you build a power station and you’ll save loads of money.


Your other sources of income are exports, which go out every time a ship docks and tourism. It will take a couple of years for your farms to start producing and for the goods to be transported to the dock but you should start seeing a profit. Alternately you could go the tourist route but we’ll take a look at that later. A solid income is the foundation of every game so always consider this first.

Wages and Rent

Tropico 3 construction menu

You should keep a close eye on the wages in your almanac and make sure that you stay on or above the Caribbean average. It is sensible to pay your soldiers especially well because they have guns and you’ll rely on them to put down coups and kill rebels.

When it comes to rent the best approach is to keep your housing full so drop rent prices. They earn you so little cash anyway that you’ll hardly notice. Building apartments (after the Russian edict which makes them half price) and dropping the rent to $1 is a good plan and will keep your people happy. It will also keep the number of shacks down. Everyone hates shacks and they breed crime so in the long term you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle by providing enough housing.

Developing Industry

If you want to really rake in the cash you can’t stop at exporting the raw materials. It is good to have a variety of farms, maybe a fishing hut and a lumber yard but if you want big profits you have to develop industry further. The easiest industry to set up fully is tobacco. Provided you have suitable land for tobacco farms set up at least three and then buy a Cigar Factory. You will need high school educated workers to man it. Alternately you can go for sugar farms and a Rum Distillery or a mixture of coffee and pineapple farms or fishing huts with a Canning Plant. A lumber yard and a Furniture Factory will bring in the wealth too.

This next stage in your industry will require better educated workers so it is worth building a high school in preparation so you can hire up some workers to populate your new factories before you build them. Remember to check the additional options within the factory menu because you can often buy upgrades which improve profits or productivity. A couple of industries running at full capacity should keep the cash rolling in. As you increase your production remember to employ more Teamsters because they are the men who move your raw materials and finished goods around and you need plenty of them to keep things flowing.

Developing Tourism

Tropico 3 tourists

It is a bit tougher to develop tourism than industry but the advantages are fat wallets walking around your island and spending a trickle of cash all the time. This can help you stay in the black more efficiently than a big export every few months. To begin with you should still set up at least some basic industry to make sure you have some cash coming in. In order to get tourists to visit you’ll need to build a Tourist Dock.

Most islands have more than one beach. The best plan is to develop an empty beach as a dedicated tourist trap so build your tourist dock there and link it up via roads to your main town. You’ll need to select hotels and then check for the best areas to build, they’ll be green, the brighter the better. You should also make sure you build things to keep the tourists happy. The best option is to go for things that entertain tourists and locals alike so restaurants, pubs and the cabaret are good starters.

If you have an Aztec pyramid on your island develop it into an attraction and put the entry fee down to attract a steady stream of visitors. As the cash rolls in you can start to place more tourist attractions. To get the really big money you’ll need electricity, just remember to enact the US edict for half price power stations before you buy one. You also need to remember that the hotels and tourist attractions need staff and if you don’t want unsightly shacks scaring your visitors make sure you build some houses near the tourist area – they don’t mind nice ones just don’t go building a tenement.

Swiss Bank Account

You can try and squirrel away some money in your Swiss Bank Account for your retirement. This is basically corrupt and it will not benefit you in the game although it may give you a higher score at the end. You can build up the cash by enacting dodgy permits with the Building Edict or taking various backhanders from the pop up dilemmas. Personally I tend to avoid it altogether.


Most economies rely on a fluid workforce and Tropico 3 is no different. You need enough people to fill all of your jobs but you want to stop short of high unemployment. You can find unemployment in the Economy page of the almanac. It is best to build an Immigration Office as early as possible because it will encourage more incomers and you’ll need them to kick start things at the beginning. Once you have things up and running and you notice unemployment creeping up you can switch to Skilled Workers so a percentage will be educated or if you want to stop it altogether choose Tropico First and only hired foreign experts will gain entry.

This should be enough to get you up and running and the money rolling in but that’s only half the battle. For hints and tips on politics and keeping your citizens happy check out the next part of our guide.

If you’re hungry for more Tropico 3 then check out the Absolute Power expansion.

This post is part of the series: Tropico 3 Guide

A two part guide for Tropico 3 helping you to build a successful economy, balance the political factions and make your citizens happy.

  1. Tropico 3 Guide: Economy Hints and Tips
  2. Tropico 3 Guide: Politics and Happiness Hints and Tips