Since abolishing the army in 1948, Costa Rica has become known as a peaceful oasis in the midst of a turbulent region. Active volcanos, exotic wildlife, lush rainforests, and sandy beaches are just a few of the reasons Costa Rica has become a popular destination. The Ticos (native Costa Ricans), however, are the reason people decide to stay. Friendly and full of life, Pura Vida (pure/full life) is at the very core of Costa Rica. Learn to enjoy each moment, eat abundant amounts of gallo pinto (rice and beans), and earn a living working abroad in Costa Rica, whether teaching English, working in tourism, or joining the conservation efforts saving the pride of Costa Rica, their diverse ecology.
San José is the location for you if you enjoy working in the bustle of urban life. San José is the capital city and where the majority of jobs in Costa Rica can be found. San José offers several museums, cafes, schools, and tourist attractions. It is a hub for teaching, tourism, and call center job opportunities in Costa Rica. Its central location in Costa Rica makes it an ideal jumping-off spot for weekend excursions. In fact, there is nowhere in the country that is more than a nine hour drive away from San José.
Valle Central is the mountainous area surrounding San José, and where the majority of Ticos live (two-thirds of the population) and they often commute to work in the big city. While San José is known for being crowded, chaotic, and the epitome of urban, the surrounding terrain is full of parks and some of the most pristine natural areas in Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s biggest exports are coffee and bananas, much of which is grown in the agriculturally rich Valle Central.
Guanacaste is the perfect location for those looking to work in environmental jobs. Guanacaste is home to the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and numerous national refuges, which protect historical and biological sites and species, including the largest tropical dry forest in Central America. Turtle and other conservation efforts are abundant along the pacific coast of Guanacaste.
Limon sits on the opposite side of the country, the Caribbean coastal province is full of conservation employment opportunities. Mountain ranges, thick rainforests, several wildlife refuges, and indigenous reserves dot the Caribbean coast, including the ecologically diverse Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre, Barra del Colorado, and Parque Nacional Tortuguero, and more.
Jobs in Costa Rica
Primary education in Costa Rica is both free and compulsory so the number of educated and qualified natives is extensive. In fact, the literacy rate in Costa Rica is the highest in Central America. This often makes jobs in Costa Rica difficult for foreigners to to find outside of the following select fields.
Teaching English. Since education is so important, and tourism is the biggest revenue source, this is the most common job in Costa Rica available to foreigners. You must be fluent or often a native English speaker in order to teach English in Costa Rica, and a TEFL/TESOL certification, bachelor’s degree, and up to three years of experience may be required. English teaching jobs are available all across Costa Rica, and there are some programs that offer in-country certification. Teaching jobs generally require a six to 18 month commitment.
Tourism is extremely important and prominent throughout Costa Rica, creating a variety of job openings for foreigners. Waiting tables, bartending, or guiding tours in resort towns are the most common jobs in Costa Rica in the tourism industry. A proper educational background and bilingual abilities make even more opportunities available.
Environmental & Conservation Work. Its peaceful reputation and pura vida lifestyle aren’t the only things that attract tourists to Costa Rica; it is incredibly biodiverse and has the highest number of species per square kilometer in the world (an astonishing 615). Costa Ricans are very passionate about their green landscape, a quarter of which is protected by their constitution making environmental and conservation work high-demand fields where foreigners can find jobs in Costa Rica. Environmental jobs in Costa Rica often revolve around the seasons. Turtle conservation, for example, is a controversial but extremely important effort currently in Costa Rica, but the workload can experience a lull from November to February when the turtles are not nesting.
Despite the slow pace of the Tico lifestyle, punctuality is expected in the business world. A formal handshake is appropriate when meeting colleagues, though close friends may greet one another with a kiss on the cheek.
Basic Spanish is preferred but not always required. There are some job opportunities in Costa Rica, especially in the tourism field, that require being bilingual or will only accept foreign applicants from certain countries.
Salary & Affordability
Although prices in Costa Rica are lower than in the U.S. or Europe, you won’t get rich working abroad in Costa Rica, if you spend wisely you can cover the cost of living while having enough leftover to explore on weekends and holidays. You can generally expect to earn $500 to $800 per month teaching English abroad in Costa Rica. There are a few exceptions that offer as much as $1800 per month for experienced teachers, but it is not the norm. Salaries in the tourism sector are largely dependent on educational background or experience and can range from $200 to $2,000 per month. Basic environmental work positions are often filled by willing, ambitious volunteers or unpaid interns, so specialization and education will be useful in finding paid employment.
Prices in Costa Rica are significantly higher than other Central American countries, especially in the more touristy areas and during the dry season and holidays. On average, you can expect to pay $300 to 800 per month for a furnished apartment, depending on your personal preference, $150 to $200 per month on groceries, and around $100 per month for entertainment. A typical lunch can cost around $5 to $10, however sodas offer cheap local food-counter-style stops where you can get yummy authentic meals for less than $3. Tipping is customary for some services, such as housekeeping and tour guides. A ten percent tip is automatically added to restaurant bills, but if it is not, you may choose to leave a small tip to show appreciation.
While the colón is the national currency, U.S. dollars are accepted most places as a result of the high tourism in Costa Rica. Regardless, local meals (like at sodas), bus fares, and other small items should still be paid in Colones.
Accommodation & Visas
To legally work in Costa Rica, you must obtain a work permit. Applying for a work permit is extensive and can take up to or over 90 days to be approved. Therefore, it is recommended to start the process early! Since you must be a resident to apply, the first step is to apply for temporary residency in Costa Rica. Next, you should start gathering the required forms and materials needed to apply for the permit. This includes: a payment, two passport size photographs, a receipt of fingerprint registration, your birth certificate and criminal record, copies of your passport, a statement from your employing company, various legal documents from the company, and a letter explaining why you are applying for the work permit. While the majority of jobs in Costa Rica for foreigners will be contracted in-country, one way to significantly ease the work permit process is to get hired by a multinational company who will transfer you to be based in Costa Rica.
Accommodation will vary based upon your job and location. TEFL/TESOL programs that offer in-country certification prior to job placement will often provide housing in homestays with local Ticos. This is especially common in San José. Hostels are an inexpensive option when traveling around, but may not be the most realistic if living and working in Costa Rica long-term. Most employers will expect you to find your own place to stay in houses or apartments around town. Tourism and seasonal jobs are the most common exception.
Benefits & Challenges
- Pura Vida. Pura Vida is the common response to the question “how are you?” and is extremely evident in the everyday life of the Ticos. Costa Rican’s are happy to share what they have, opening their homes, hearts and favorite surfing spots to friendly visitors. Living in Costa Rica is a great reminder to slow down and gain perspective in stressful situations.
- Lengthy Process. Although Costa Rica is an incredible place to travel, it can be a difficult place to get a job abroad. The process of finding a job, getting a work visa, and earning a living wage can be long and discouraging. It’s not easy, but like most things that take work, it’s worth it.
- Very Wet. Working in Costa Rica during the rainy season (May through November) is not for the faint-hearted. Investing in a quality rain jacket, boots, and pura vida attitude however, can dispel any rainy day blues!
- Communicating. Costa Ricans value relationships and harmony, and communicate in a non-confrontational, non-committal style. It is best to avoid pressure or conflict during negotiation, and it is considered extremely rude to raise your voice in public.