1. Find A Job
While Costa Rica is an attractive destination, finding a job there can be challenging. With a highly literate, skilled local work-force and very tight residency laws, there are few opportunities for foreigners, and those that are available are largely restricted to people who already have Permanent Residency and have been sponsored by a potential employer for a work permit. Employers cannot legally offer any job to a foreigner unless it cannot be filled by a Costa Rican. In almost all cases, fluent Spanish is essential.
Wages are low, and while the cost of living is also lower than in the UK and the US, you need to earn above the national average to be comfortable. In urban areas the average salary is around US $9000/UK £7000 per annum: at least $1100/£850 per month is needed to cover basic costs and expenses. The economy has slowed in recent years, and the unemployment rate is around 11.5%.
Some care is needed when hunting for jobs: in particular, jobs teaching English that are advertised abroad can be scams. There are opportunities for academics in certain technical fields, and these are advertised in reputable academic journals and websites, and covered by special residence arrangements. Skills in IT, Programming and Networking Technology, combined with good soft skills, are an advantage.
Working hours are longer than in the UK and much of Europe: expect a basic working week of 43 hours. Once you have worked for your employer for 50 weeks, you are entitled to a minimum of two weeks’ paid leave annually. Minimum wage levels are set by the National Council on Wages and reviewed every six months.
Expats may live in Costa Rica and telecommute to jobs in other countries, but they must be paid from outside Costa Rica and their employer must not have connections to the country. This is a popular choice for many expats as a way of making a living while obtaining Permanent Residency. You may also buy and own a business in the country, but you may not work in it before becoming a Permanent Resident.
It is illegal to work in Costa Rica without being a Permanent Resident and penalties are strict. Unless you are married to a Costa Rican, you must first establish some form of temporary residency. While there are special arrangements for academics and researchers, for most people this involves becoming a Rentista for a minimum of three years.
A Rentista is an overseas national who lives in Costa Rica for at least four months a year, and either has a guaranteed and provable income of at least US $2500/ UK £2000 a month originating from another country, or has made a deposit of at least US $60,000/ UK £46,500 into a Costa Rican bank. Residence as a Rentista must be renewed every two years, which involves once again producing proof of income, or making another deposit of $60,000/£46,500. Once you have completed three years of residency, you can then apply for Permanent Residency, a process which takes about a year. Documentation must be up to date, translated into Spanish and notarised by an appropriate legal authority in your country of origin.
You may bring your spouse and any dependents under 18 with you, but they must undergo the same residency process before they are legally able to look for work. Domestic partnerships between same-sex couples are legally recognised and same-sex marriage is due to be legalised by May 2020. Unmarried partners may have to apply separately in order to accompany you.
Few jobs are advertised internationally, and networking is an important tool in finding employment. It helps to be a member of an appropriate professional body or industry organisation as a way of building contacts. The English language newspaper The Tico Times carries jobs advertisements in English; and LinkedIn, Glassdoor and the local version of Craigslist can be useful resources. At present, recruitment agencies are not widely used. Direct applications are rare. Interviews are formal, and you must provide both a physical and an electronic copy of your CV.
Employers will accept qualifications from overseas universities and bodies that are officially recognised by the country in which they were gained. You can check this on your home government’s website. However, certificates will need to be translated into Spanish and notarised.
2. Apply For A Visa/Permit
Whether or not you need a visa in order to enter Costa Rica depends on your nationality or country of residence, the purpose of your visit, and how long you are planning to stay. If you are unsure about whether or not you require a visa, you can check the requirements by country on the official government website.
Fines of $100 per month are issued if you overstay your visa, and your return may be subject to restrictions, depending on how long you have overstayed. Depending on your nationality, your passport will need at least one day of validity beyond the date you are due to leave Costa Rica.
You will likely be required to provide evidence of either return or onward travel. Failure to do so could result in you being refused entry to Costa Rica by immigration officials. You may also be asked to show proof of sufficient funds for the duration of your visit. UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit, as well as airside transit.
A departure tax of $29 is applicable if you are leaving Costa Rica by air. Usually this is included in the price of your flight ticket, but it is best to double check your details, or to confirm with your airline provider or travel/tour company, prior to departure.
You may require a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate if you are travelling to Costa Rica from South America and/or sub-Saharan Africa. For example, countries such as: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Venezuela. You must have the vaccination at least 10 days prior to travelling to Costa Rica.
There are several different types of visa available to foreigners who wish to spend time in Costa Rica, whether they want to stay on a temporary basis, for an extended recreational visit, or to study or work. The categories for visas in Costa Rica include:
There are a total of five public universities in Costa Rica, as well as several private ones. You and your educational institution are in charge of obtaining a student visa and study permit. Usually your school will apply for your student permit, but you must supply them with all of the required documents.
You will need to find employment before you can apply for a Costa Rican work visa. You and your employer will have to prove that the position you are taking could not have been filled by a Costa Rican national.
Provisional visa for rentiers and investors
Investors meeting a set criteria, and property owners renting their property for income (rentiers), can apply for a provisional visa to allow them to stay in Costa Rica on a more long-term basis. This does not entitle them to work legally in Costa Rica, although they are often eligible to set up a business in Costa Rica and are entitled to an income from it. In this instance, they cannot work in the business themselves, and will have to employ local staff.
Provisional visa for retirees
Provisional visas are available for retirees wishing to spend a length of time in Costa Rica longer than the average tourist visa or tourist exemption period (90 days). This is provided that they can show evidence of sufficient funds and/or pension income to be financially independent.
Provisional visa for having close family ties with a Costa Rican national
A provisional visa or a temporary residence permit will allow you to spend time with your family or close friends in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days. This does not automatically entitle you to work in Costa Rica, or to live in Costa Rica on an indefinite basis.
All visas for Costa Rica will need to be applied for in advance, at your local embassy or consulate, and you will need to supply a number of supporting documents. For example:
• Completed and signed application forms
• Letter of invitation, enrollment/acceptance or employment (whichever is applicable)
• Your original passport, along with copies of the passport pages with biometric data
• Proof of sufficient funds (if applicable)
• Recent passport-size photos of you that meet passport specifications (i.e. white background, clear headshot, colour photo, etc.)
There are high levels of restriction in place when it comes to what work foreigners can do in Costa Rica. This is in order to protect local workers, by ensuring that foreign workers do not take jobs that locals are equally qualified to do. This means that in order to work in Costa Rica, the specifications are quite tight. Only Costa Rican citizens or permanent residence holders are allowed to work in Costa Rica without prior authorisation. Prior authorisation means that you must have an offer of employment already in place, and in order to achieve this, you will need to possess a set of skills, qualifications, or experience that is in shortage in Costa Rica.
Note: If you have a temporary residence permit, this is not the same as a work permit, and will not automatically entitle you to legally work in Costa Rica.
The Costa Rica work permits available include:
• Permit for artists, athletes, and entertainers
• Permit for professional and technical guests
• Permit for transferred staff
• Permit for preventive maintenance services and corrective post sales management
• Permit for working in a specific occupation (not listed above)
• Permit for working as a domestic worker
• Permit for self-employed individuals in agriculture, construction or service sectors
• Permit for self-employed individuals in a well-established company
• Permit for temporary workers
Work permit, study permit, and temporary residence permit applications can be made at your local embassy or consulate, or at the department of immigration in Costa Rica (Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria) if stated.
Other permits that may be required by some individuals include study permits for students and temporary residence permits for stays in the country exceeding 90 days. You can only become a Costa Rica permanent resident if you have a Costa Rican blood relation or if you have lived in the country with a temporary residence permit for a minimum period of three years.
3. Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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4. Rent Or Buy Property
Renting property in Costa Rica is fairly simple, and long-term leases are usually for a period of three to 12 months. You can find both furnished and unfurnished properties, although unfurnished ones will likely have no refrigerator or washer/dryer. Furnished properties will often come with cutlery, crockery and even bed linen.
The monthly price is almost always negotiable, so don’t be afraid to haggle. Your rental contract should include the name and details of the two parties, a legal description of the property, a detailed description of the property and its condition, and notes about the furniture and any other items that are included.
Changing utilities into your name will be difficult, so usually landlords will keep the power and water in their own name. However, these costs are not usually included in the rent.
Before renting a home, you should check it for damages, The easiest way to do this is to hire a home inspector. If you do not wish to do this, you should check the plumbing, roof and electrical systems yourself. What you see is what you get, and if something doesn’t work when you view the property, it’s unlikely to have been replaced when you move in.
The law in Costa Rica heavily favours renters, and landlords must make emergency repairs within 10 days. You will need to pay a deposit, which is usually equivalent to one month’s rent.
Questions to ask include:
• Does the property operate with weekly or monthly pricing?
• Does rent include the cost of maintenance, such as cleaning or gardening?
• How long is the notice period?
Property prices in Costa Rica are generally quite high. If you are looking to rent an apartment or house, you can expect to pay between $400 and $900 per month for a small apartment, and up to $3k per month for beach-side luxury condos or private villas. Although the rent prices are high, the cost of living is relatively low.
Foreigners have the same rights as citizens and residents when it comes to purchasing property, with just two exceptions. As a foreigner, you won’t be able to purchase an INDER registered property, or a property in a Maritime zone. You’ll only be allowed majority ownership if you’ve spent the last five years living in Costa Rica.
You may be subject to some restrictions, depending on where you are buying. The National Register will show any restrictions the property may have, as well as building restrictions on plots of land.
In Costa Rica, you’ll need to pay a deposit of around 10%. Like in many other Latin American countries, getting a mortgage as a foreigner is very difficult. You will need to obtain legal residency, which will mean renting for a long period of time. Owner financing is generally safe for both seller and buyer, with a loan to value (LTV) ratio of up to 50%. This is a good short-term option, for between two and five years.
The first stage of buying a house is making an offer. You and your agent will make a suitable offer, which is then presented to the seller. Once there’s an agreement in place, the 10% deposit (or whatever is agreed) should be paid within two weeks. This is usually held in an escrow account, and, in Costa Rica, third party companies are used. Final closing can be up to 60 days after both parties have signed the contract.
Property tax rates in Costa Rica are very low, just 0.25% a year. Closing fees can be expensive, but, in Costa Rica, the buyer pays half and the seller pays the other half. These fees normally come to around 4% of the purchase price.
You should always hire a lawyer when purchasing property, and never the seller’s lawyer, even if their fees are much lower. You should also hire a surveyor, and get a thorough home inspection before finalising the offer.
If you are looking to buy property, then you will find that prices vary. For example, a beachfront condo with great views will cost you upwards of $500,000, while an apartment in the capital, San Jose, will cost you around $1,600 per square metre. Wealthy US buyers are driving up property demand, particularly for oceanfront houses and villas.
5. Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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6. Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Costa Rica health insurance
CCSS funds are put into a central pool. The system used to be run by the Ministry of Health, who have now adopted a steering role, and the responsibility for most care is now held by the CCSS itself.
As an expat, you will be eligible to sign up with “La Caja” for a small percentage of your income. It has been mandatory since 2010 to join the scheme if you are a citizen or have residency papers, but you must be a legal resident via an approved scheme such as a Pensionado or Rentista. You will be required to sign up to the Caja as part of your immigration process.
If you are not signed up for residency, but are visiting the country, you will only be entitled to emergency treatment at a state hospital or clinic unless you have private travel insurance.
All citizens, and expats who have residency permits, are eligible for state healthcare insurance.
If you are employed, then your employer will sign you up to the Caja. They will then give you a receipt of registration called the “orden patronal.”
If you are self-employed but have residency, you will need to sign up at your nearest regional government office. They will then direct you to an EBAIS (Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral de Salud or Primary Healthcare Provider), your nearest local clinic, who will issue you with a carnet (an insurance card). You may need a utility receipt as proof of residence and you will need to show your residency permit from the Department of Immigration.
Although you need residency status, you do not have to be living in Costa Rica full-time to qualify for the Caja.
The Costa Rican healthcare system has a strong focus on preventative medicine. It provides 100% coverage for:
• visits to doctors
• medications (including dental and eye-related)
• some pre-existing conditions
The Caja allows dependants (spouses, parents, and children) to be covered under your health insurance.
7. Open A Bank Account
Costa Rica has a wide range of different banks, with options for both state-owned and private banking. Citibank and Scotiabank have branches in Costa Rica, along with several other international banks. Workers, students or residents can open an account with any bank in Costa Rica however only some of Costa Rica’s banks offer accounts to tourists. You can normally open an account in Colones or Dollars (Colones is the official currency of Costa Rica but Dollars are widely used), and some private banks also offer Euro accounts. Foreigners may find that the level of service they receive in Costa Rican banks is below the standard they are used to in their own country but it is advisable to treat this as the norm and not take it too personally. There is a lot more paperwork involved with banking in Costa Rica and therefore everyday transactions are a much more laborious process.
There are many benefits to opening an account with a state-owned bank. Your deposits will be guaranteed and they have a more extensive network of branches and ATMs throughout the country. This is particularly important if you are based in a rural area as you may not have access to many of the private banks. The normal process is to open a ‘savings account’ which will accrue a small amount of interest on the balance deposited. Debit cards are used widely with these types of accounts and it is possible to receive an international debit card which can be used abroad. The main drawback of using a state-owned bank is that they tend to be much busier with very long queues – particularly on the 15th and 31st of each month which are the most common paydays for Costa Ricans.
The benefits of using a private bank are that there are shorter waiting times and a faster service, and that their services are more likely to be bilingual.
When opening a bank account you should check the specific requirements of the bank you are applying to and should visit the bank in person. The usual requirements are as follows:
- You must present your DIMEX card (Documento de Identidad Migratorio para Extranjeros). DIMEX is an identity card given to all foreigners living in Costa Rica. If you are in Costa Rica as a tourist then you need only show your passport.
- You will be asked for a minimum deposit when opening the account. This can vary between different banks and different types of accounts, and can be anywhere between $25 – $1000.
- You will be asked to provide a utility bill as proof of residence.
- You will need to provide proof of income.
- If you are a US citizen you will need to complete several tax forms and documentation to inform the IRS that you are opening an offshore bank account.
Here is a list of the contact details for the most popular banks in Costa Rica:
Citibank Costa Rica
Private, international bank
Tel: +506 2299 0299
Banco de Costa Rica (BCR)
State-owned Costa Rican bank
Tel: +506 2211 1111
Banco National de Costa Rica
State-owned Costa Rican bank
Tel: +506 2212 2000
Private, international bank
Tel: +506 2505-7000
BAC San Jose
Private, international bank
Tel: +506 2295 9797
Private, international bank
Tel: +506 2519 1300
Many banks offer English language services, however are unlikely to offer services designed specifically for expats. Typical opening hours are 9am – 4pm on weekdays, with some banks opening longer on evenings and opening at weekends. Many banks have online banking services through which you can pay utility bills, property taxes and other payments.
Overdraft facilities are available with the large international banks such as Citibank and Scotiabank. If you are looking to take out a loan in Costa Rica you must have a residency permit and normally be in employment. The interest rates for loans will vary between different banks therefore it is worth doing some research to find the best rate. The requirements for taking a loan will also differ from bank to bank but they may ask you to provide any of the following:
- Passport and other forms of ID
- Social security number
- Income tax statements
- Bank and credit card statements
- Certification of home ownership
8. Transfer Money
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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9. Learn The Language
Situated in Central America, Costa Rica borders Panama and Nicaragua, and has both Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coastlines. Costa Rica is well known for its move to carbon neutrality, and virtually 100% of its electricity is generated from green sources.
The population of Costa Rica is a little over five million. More than three quarters of the population live in urban areas. There is also a large expat community, again mostly living in or near the capital San Jose.
Costa Rica is a stable and well-developed country, with medical supplies and fruit being major exports, and financial services also being a major contributor to GDP. Ecotourism is also very popular, with many coming mainly to soak up the fantastic variety of scenery.
If you are moving to Costa Rica to explore, work or retire, you will need to consider the ease with which you are able to communicate. One of the best ways an expat can begin to integrate and feel more comfortable in any new country is by learning the local language, at least to a point where daily transactions can be achieved in the native tongue.
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica, being spoken by almost everyone in the country, although there is a considerable range of dialects and accents. There are also a few recognized indigenous minority languages, as well as a Caribbean (English-based) patois. Other European languages are spoken by their respective communities.
Education is a very high priority for the government, and more than 10% of the adult population has some proficiency in the English language. With the official drive for more tourism, that number will only increase as English is taught at all levels in schools and universities.
However, if you are intending to travel outside the major urban areas, you will find that the level of English language comprehension is much more limited, so you may well encounter some difficulty communicating unless you have at least some basic Spanish phrases and a good phrase book.
There are a number of good international schools in Costa Rica to help you reach your required level of fluency in Spanish. These can be found on the internet and either applied to in advance of arrival, or when you are settled in your chosen destination. To achieve a foundation in the Spanish language before you go, or indeed to consolidate it when you arrive, there are a large number of courses available on the internet – some of which are free up to a certain level. A simple search will give you a wide choice.
Linguistic experts generally recommend an immersive learning experience, as the quickest way to attain fluency in any language, and immersive courses, and personal coaches can be found locally in most major Costa Rican cities.
In daily life, you will be constantly exposed to the Spanish language, and whilst you may find it daunting to begin with, a little persistence and practice will rapidly improve your ability to communicate effectively. If you are planning to go out to Costa Rica as a couple, it can be a good idea to make a pact to speak in Spanish together during your time out of class. Immersing yourself in Spanish language television and newspapers is also highly productive. You may find locals willing to coach you or converse with you perhaps over a coffee or a glass of wine.
You may also find that English is used in the workplace in a few international companies, such as IT, banking, airlines and tourism, but it would be unwise to count on this. Jobs are more frequently advertised as bilingual.
If you wish to work in Costa Rica, one extremely popular employment sector is in teaching English. Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have a university degree and a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Several international schools offer language teaching posts, usually on six-month or yearly contracts. These are available to anyone with a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. TEFL courses are available in Costa Rica, with offers of potential jobs at the end of your course. However, relevant experience will generally give you more choice and higher pay.
Most language teaching jobs would be in the larger cities. Depending on your lifestyle, rates of pay may, or may not be sufficient to allow you to stay permanently, but for a working holiday, it can be fun and rewarding.
If you intend to teach English in Costa Rica, it is preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find teaching work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality. You are most likely, however, to find work in either public schools or private international institutions. You should be paid more in the private educational sector.
There may also be some demand for translation or interpretation services between Spanish and English, for instance in translating newspaper articles into English, if you have a high level of proficiency.
There are many bilingual jobs advertised in different employment sectors, especially in San Jose. These would generally require a good level of Spanish, but can sometimes be secured before you go.
10. Choose A School
The government of Costa Rica spends more than 6% of GDP on education, well above the OECD reporting average. The literacy rate stands at around 97%. Additionally, there has been a significant government-led drive to create extra vocational qualification opportunities for Costa Rican children, particularly those from under-privileged backgrounds. The education system overall is very highly regarded in Latin America. There are over 4,300 schools here.
State education in Costa Rica is compulsory for ages 5 – 15, and is provided free for all children. The system has undergone massive reforms under a series of government-led drives to improve equality and standards. English is widely taught as a compulsory second language throughout the public school system.
There are a number of fee-paying private educational institutions at all levels (often denominational), and many of these may be at least partially subsidised by the government.
There are also a large number of independently run international schools, where multilingualism is strongly encouraged, and generally classes are given in English.
If you are lucky enough to be coming to Costa Rica, you will find that the education system here is very different from the UK or US systems. For a start, all lessons in state schools will be conducted in Spanish, although a few private schools may offer a bilingual curriculum (typically Spanish in the morning, English in the afternoon).
State education provisions are divided into several levels:
• pre-education (before age 7)
• primary education (from 6-7 to 12-13)
• secondary school (from 12-13 to 17-18)
• higher education (18+)
The first three years of secondary school are compulsory, after which students can choose to continue with general academic studies, or to enter a technical school or vocational college, where training programs include medicine, construction, engineering, IT, agriculture and many other fields.
Tertiary education is provided by colleges and universities throughout the country, many of them private.
The curriculum at all levels is set by the Ministry of Education, with the express aim of offering a consistently high standard of education, with an emphasis on improving equality.
For various reasons, some expat families will be looking at the idea of homeschooling their children. This is viable in Costa Rica, and although it is not legally recognised (it tends to be ignored by the authorities), there is a support network of homeschoolers throughout the country, and also online organisations to help you further if you choose this route.
There are several private schools in Costa Rica. Many of these schools are faith-based, which you may wish to factor in to your choices. Private schools may have almost the same curriculum as state schools, but they are not fully dependent on government funding for extra activities and extra classes, which makes them a popular choice for expat families. Fees and curricula will vary considerably, and need to be checked locally.
Additionally, there are a large number of international schools, generally running on US, UK or European curricula, with a few also originally having been set up by various branches of the Church. Many of these international schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), with compulsory subjects and a number of electives. The IB is widely recognized throughout the world by further education institutions, for those wanting to go on and attend foreign universities.
A few of the many international schools (at various levels) to consider –
• American International School of Costa Rica, Heredia
• United World College Costa Rica, San Jose
• Lincoln School, San Miguel
• International Christian School, San Miguel
• Anglo-American School, Concepcion
• European School, Heredia
• Lakeside International School, Gaunacaste
There are many others throughout the country.
International schools are in general very popular with expats, so it will be necessary to contact your chosen school as soon as possible to secure a place for your child. Fees can also be quite expensive, which may need to be factored in to contract negotiations with your employer.
Further education is provided for Costa Rican nationals and foreign students at a mixture of public and private universities and colleges. Private universities will have their own fee structures. Many expat children do at least look at local further education opportunities here, especially if they intend to stay in the country after attaining a degree. However, whilst Costa Rican universities are held in high regard, many students will choose to continue their studies abroad, and in general, the Costa Rican education system is extremely well set up for their academic achievements to be recognised, allowing them to fit in wherever they go in the world.