The beautiful beaches, lush rainforest, and temperate climate make Costa Rica a popular destination for tourism, business, and teaching English alike.
The government of Costa Rica has allocated a large portion of their resources to the education system, raising the national literacy rate to 95%, the second highest in Latin America.
With a better educated population, jobs become more demanding and require additional skill sets. This means English teachers are in extremely high demand since most Costa Ricans need to learn the language to remain competitive in the job market.
In short, Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for ESL teachers in Latin America, and it provides a number of job options.
FINDING A JOB IN COSTA RICA
Although many teachers dream of teaching in a seaside town, the majority of jobs are concentrated in the Central Valley around the capital of San Jose, Santo Domingo, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago.
The area of San Pedro within the capital is an extremely popular destination for teachers since the University of Costa Rica and Universidad Latina are located here. Many college students seek private language instruction to build their resume in order to increase their chances for a high paying job after graduation.
Like many jobs in Central and South America, it can be difficult to obtain a position from outside the country. Although there are postings on international job boards from time to time (such as in our English Teaching Jobs in Costa Rica section), many schools will not hire you unless you interview in person.
For those searching for a job while in Costa Rica, there are many jobs advertised within the classifieds section of local newspapers. To obtain a position from your home country, you will most likely need TEFL/ TESL/TESOL certification or a contract arranged through an agency.
When to Find an English Teaching Job
Since the school year in Costa Rica is from February to December, the best time to obtain a teaching position in a school is January/February. Many schools seek to fill positions in the months leading up to the beginning of the school year, so it may be beneficial to plan a trip in September to begin the job search.
There are, however, a number of places which hire year round, and so getting a job outside of that January/February window is not completely out of the question.
TYPES OF POSITIONS AND SALARIES
With the high demand for English teachers, there are a variety of options for native English speakers. Job opportunities advertised online will generally come with more requirements.
Since most English students attend university or are business professionals, there are many more teaching positions with adult students.
How Much Do English Teachers Make in Costa Rica?
On average, teachers earn between 300,000-600,000 CRC ($600-1,200 USD) per month for 20-25 hours per week. Most contracts are for one year or less and rarely include benefits.
Public and Private Schools
Even though the government has poured many resources into national education, the public school system is still relatively poor. Books, computers, and other classroom materials are in short supply. For this reason, public schools have much lower wages.
Private schools vary in quality, but some have solid reputations. It is wise to observe lessons and speak with other teachers before accepting a position. If you prefer to work in a traditional school, the best time to apply is between October and January since this is the end of the school year; this is when contracts end and teachers may decide to change schools.
Teaching English in Universities
There is also a high demand for English teachers at the collegiate level for those who are qualified. Most tertiary institutions conduct classes in Spanish, although there are a few small private universities that offer English courses. Since private universities charge higher tuition, these schools will usually have better wages. University positions will usually require more experience and graduate degrees; those who are bilingual will also receive preference.
Private institutions are a major employer of ESL teachers and a great option for new teachers. They provide valuable experience, administrative support, and training while working with a staff of many foreign teachers. Large chain schools like Berlitz Costa Rica and English First Costa Rica are some of the largest employers of ESL teachers.
Language schools provide supplementary education and tutoring that cater to students’ schedules. This means most hours will be in the evenings or on weekends. Wages are typically higher than of the state school system, but TEFL certification and experience will get you higher starting wages.
Tutoring is a popular option for many teachers looking to supplement their income. Private classes also often bring in higher wages than any other job opportunities. There are also many businesses that hire English teachers to improve the language skills of their employees.
It is important to ensure private instruction is not in breach of any work contracts before recruiting students. Once you begin your search, your network and social skills will be your greatest asset. Teachers generally charge 10,000-17,500 CRC ($20-35 USD) per hour, but this will vary on your personal qualifications.
The teaching requirements for Costa Rica are much lower than in more developed countries. Since there is such a high demand, native speakers with a bachelor’s degree will have no difficulty finding work while in Costa Rica.
As a general rule, job offered before arrival will also come with more requirements, such as requiring TEFL / TESL / TESOL certification and experience. While this is not always the case, having certification and experience will definitely increase your job prospects and starting wages. Candidates with experience and graduate degrees will also receive preference, especially at the collegiate level.
Many schools will also require a work visa. That said, numerous teachers choose to work illegally and renew their tourist visa every 90 days.
WORKING LEGALLY IN COSTA RICA
As mentioned above, many teachers choose to work on a tourist visa. Obtaining a work visa tends to be a long and tedious process. Most schools will not assist teachers with contracts less than one year because of the time and expense involved. If you choose to go this route, be advised that deportation is a potential consequence for teachers working in Costa Rica illegally.
A school or company must sponsor you for a work permit, which is valid for six months. These are renewable through the department of immigration and must be approved by the labor department as well.
It takes approximately 90-180 days to obtain the work permit, and an additional 30-60 days to obtain the work visa. The visa application must be submitted while in Costa Rica, and you will need the following documentation:
- Valid passport with at least 6 months remaining beyond travel dates
- Completed application
- 4 passport photos
- Employment contract with letter of invitation from the company or school
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of diplomas and certifications
- Proof of financial resources
- Statement of good conduct and background check from the Costa Rica Ministry of Security
The immigration office may ask for the originals of these documents or additional information. These requirements are subject to variation and changes, so it is best to contact the nearest embassy or consulate to verify what you will need. For assistance locating the nearest office, you can visit EmbassyPages.com – Costa Rica.
COST OF LIVING
Salaries for English teachers in Costa Rica generally provide for a comfortable lifestyle with enough spending cash for trips to local attractions. Although earnings aren’t enough to pay off large debt, you may be able to save some, depending on your budget, of course.
Personal spending habits and location will largely determine how your finances go, but if you live simply and shop locally, you should have more than enough. Living in San Jose or other large cities will cost significantly more, but these are where most teaching positions are located.
The local currency is the Costa Rican Colon, which has an exchange rate of 500 CRC = 1USD as of July 2013.
Housing will be the largest expense, which is why many teachers find a roommate to reduce this cost. If you choose to live alone, one-bedroom apartments range from 200,000-250,000 CRC ($400-500 USD) depending on the location.
If you live farther from the city center, you will need to commute. Transportation costs are extremely affordable, with a one-way ticket set at roughly 350 CRC ($.75 USD) and a monthly pass totaling about 15,000 CRC ($30 USD).
Food and grocery bills will also be significantly less than developed industrialized countries. Cooking at home will save you money, but there are restaurants, especially near the universities, which provide cheap meals. Inexpensive restaurants usually range from 2,000-4,000 CRC ($4-8 USD). For a more complete list of market prices and entertainment costs, you can visit Numbeo – Costa Rica.
Like many other developing nations in Central America, crime has steadily increased in recent years. Costa Rica has limited funds, meaning the police force is understaffed and inadequately trained.
Your largest concern in Costa Rica will be opportunistic theft and drug related crimes.
Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places. Thieves, pick-pockets, and muggers often work in groups and prefer large crowds.
Don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables on your person, leave your electronics and alternate financial resources locked somewhere safe, and use a taxi when traveling at night.
Using common sense and keeping a low profile is the best way to prevent most crimes.
The Drug Scene
Costa Rica is situated between the largest drug producing country (Colombia) and the largest drug consuming country (USA). There is a steady flow of drugs from South to North, and Costa Rica sees its share of this reality.
There are simple precautions you can take to prevent yourself from being victimized. Steer clear of the drug scene; it attracts unwanted company, impairs judgment, and leaves you vulnerable to legal prosecution.
Seventy percent of the country’s population is located in the Central Valley, with San Jose located in the center of this highland plain. Costa Ricans (commonly referred to as ticos/ticas) from outlying areas are drawn to the universities and job opportunities here. Due to the number of multinational corporations and teaching positions concentrated in the region, it also means the majority of expats tend to settle here.
Some of the most popular areas for expats around San Jose include Escazu, where the American ambassador chooses to reside, the upscale historic district of Santa Ana, the well-priced suburb of Alajuela, and the densely populated Heredia. Other popular destinations include Grecia, Cartago, and Sarchi.
Outside of San Jose, you will find many groups in the mountain towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde. There are also many retirees attracted to the beaches of Guanacaste, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, and Puerto Jimenez along the Pacific Coast. Along the Caribbean Coast, many expats settle near Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo.
There are over 60,000 expats, mostly from the United States and Canada, spread throughout the country. If you choose to settle in one of the larger cities or beach towns, there will likely be some type of expat community nearby.
Transportation in Central America is limited, especially within the diverse and rugged terrains of Costa Rica. There are only two international airports, meaning you will fly into either Limon or San Jose. From there, you can catch a domestic flight or charter a plane if you have the resources. There are also a number of ferries that service the peninsula and coastal areas. For schedules and rates, you can visit NicoyaPenisula.com.
Most likely, once you arrive, you will be traveling by bus like the large majority of the population.
Costa Rica is often included on backpackers’ treks through Central America, with many travelers needing transit to Nicaragua and Panama. And so a trip to either of these destinations is a well-worn path.
You always have the option to rent or buy a car, but the public bus is the most convenient and accessible option. Buses run frequently, are reasonably comfortable, and usually punctual. It is best to use the “directo” buses when possible to reduce your travel time. For more information about bus schedules and destinations, you can visit TheBusSchedule.com – Costa Rica.
For such a small country, Costa Rica has an amazingly varied terrain—from the meadows near Guanacaste, to the mountains near Monteverde and La Fortuna; from the lush forest surrounding the Arenal Volcano to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.
ESL teachers have the option to explore Costa Rica in their time off, hiking volcanoes, zip lining through the canopy of Cloud Forest, lounging in hot springs, relaxing on the beach, and observing the wildlife in one of the most bio diverse countries in the world.
San Jose is the political, economic, and cultural center of the country, with numerous historical buildings, museums, theaters, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues. While in the capital, you can explore the exquisite collections at the Jade Museum and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. For pleasure seekers looking to enjoy the nightlife, salsa is at the heart of Costa Rican culture. For those who do not have natural rhythm, you can take salsa lessons to ensure you don’t stand out among the crowds.
For those seeking to experience the natural wonders of Costa Rica, this country has some of the most amazing national parks and nature preserves in the world. Costa Rica’s innovative conservation laws allow you to experience some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, and Tortuguero National Park are among the most popular destinations. Ecotourism is highly developed, with many locations to enjoy nature walks, bird watching, and surfing.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, but due to tourism and international business, English is also commonly spoken. There are also areas where Italians, Germans, and French have settled on the coast and retained their languages. These same areas on the Caribbean coast also have many immigrants from Jamaica, who speak an English creole dialect. Indigenous languages are also spoken by the tribes who inhabit the remote regions such as the Talamanca Mountain Range.
As an English teacher, you will be expected to instruct in your native language. However, if you are bilingual, it will increase your marketability and job opportunities. Spanish will also make daily life and interactions much easier. It is common for many schools to offer Spanish instruction to its teachers. It is easy to learn, but like any language, it will require time and practice.
Costa Ricans are known for their friendly, laid-back demeanor and hospitality, but there a few things you need to know about living in their country. They have their own, unique Latino culture and values. Time moves more slowly, so expect to wait. This can be a good opportunity to learn some new Spanish phrases or catch up on some reading; the sooner you learn patience and adapt to this, the better off you will be. Also, learning Spanish will definitely make life easier and daily interactions more enjoyable.
Many tourists also experience stomach problems due to the local diet and water. The water is considered potable, but it is wise to purchase bottled water or boil it before consumption. Make sure to properly wash all fruits and vegetables to remove any traces of bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and pesticides. Once you have adjusted to the new diet, be adventurous and try the local cuisine; you will not be disappointed.
Costa Ricans place a high value on personal appearance, which means if you are a teacher looking for a job, you should be well groomed and dressed to make a professional first impression. Men should wear slacks and a nice shirt. Women should wear nice pants or a skirt/dress.
Many backpackers unconcerned with how they appear to locals pass through Costa Rica, and ticos (Costa Ricans) have created their own derogatory term for the way foreigners appear when they travel, “gringos cucinos” – which translates to “dirty gringos.” As someone looking for a professional position, you do not want to be lumped into this group.
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