Teaching English in Costa Rica (Country Guide)

If you plan to teach English in Costa Rica, you arguably chose the best option in Central America. Not only does it have countless job opportunities, but the country is beautiful and easy for Westerners to acclimate to. This post helps you to find a job to teach English in Costa Rica and build a happy life.

Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries to teach English abroad in Central America, and for good reason. There is high demand for ESL teachers and the visa policy is quite relaxed. It’s a country of stunning nature, vibrant people, and progressive policies.

The life expectancy in Costa Rica is one of the highest globally, the literacy rate is 96%, and the country regularly scores well on the annual Human Development Index and World Happiness Report. Costa Rica has no standing army, and the country’s motto of “pura vida” signifies a life of simplicity, peace, and gratitude.

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For such a small country, Costa Rica has much to offer. In spite of its tiny size, the country hosts an impressive 5% of the world’s biodiversity, 121 volcanic formations, and over 100 protected natural areas. There are more monkeys, butterflies, and hummingbirds here than almost any other country in the world. There are lush mountains, ethereal cloud forests, vibrant beaches, and picturesque towns.

The food is simple and fresh, and the cost of living is low. Locals (affectionately called “ticos”) are revered for their kind and calm demeanors. Public transportation is widespread and affordable. With so many attractive qualities, it’s no surprise that nearly everyone who visits is captivated by the country’s beauty and charm.

Teaching English in Costa Rica is a fantastic way to explore the country and culture. Many locals use English in their jobs and studies, so there’s a high demand for learning and improving English skills.

Teaching English in Costa Rica the country guide

Basic Requirements to Teach English in Costa Rica

As Costa Rica’s tourism industry has grown, the need for locals to learn English has also increased. Many teenagers and adults enroll in English classes in order to set themselves apart and remain competitive in the job market.

The hiring season is year-round, although January and June are typically the best months to find jobs to teach English in Costa Rica. A Bachelor’s degree is preferred, and almost all employers require a TEFL certificate.

In very few cases, teachers may be able to find work simply for being native speakers – but it’s not recommended to pack up and move there without a verified certification.

Most jobs are concentrated in the Central Valley – specifically in and around San Jose, Santo Domingo, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. Teachers do find work in smaller towns and along the coasts, although the hours and pay may not be as plentiful as in larger cities.

Job Opportunities and Salaries for ESL Teachers

Most people who teach English in Costa Rica work for private schools or language companies. It’s possible to interview and secure a job before arriving, although the majority of teachers do so after they’ve landed in the country. In general, employers prefer to have in-person interviews with prospective teachers.

Teachers typically work for one or two private schools or language companies for 20-30 hours per week and then supplement their income with private lessons.

The vast majority of opportunities will be teaching adult learners or college students. Lessons are typically conducted in a classroom setting, either within a school or language institution. As is common with adult learners, the style of teaching is more serious and focused around the students’ individual needs. Whether they’re studying to pass an exam, trying to improve their conversation skills, or learning a specific subject in English for their jobs, it’s best to cater your teaching style and materials to the needs of your students.

The sunset in Manuel Antonio
The sunset in Manuel Antonio

Private lessons are common as well, and these may be conducted at schools, cafes, or student homes. Many university students seek private English lessons to enhance their job candidacy. Large and prestigious universities like the Universidad de Costa Rica, located in San Jose, represent prime markets for teaching private lessons.

Visa and Work Permit

A big benefit of teaching English in Costa Rica is the ease with which you can live and work legally. All you have to do is enter the country on a tourist visa, and leave to renew it every 90 days (“visa run”). It’s legal to teach on a tourist visa, so most teachers simply use that method unless they plan to stay permanently.

The best part about Costa Rica’s visa system is that it gives teachers a reason to explore nearby countries. Since employers understand the requirements to renew the tourist visa, most of them allow teachers to take long weekends every 90 days to visit Nicaragua, Panama, or other easily accessible countries, and re-enter Costa Rica with a renewed visa.

Compared to the hassle that many teachers undergo to obtain visas and teach in other countries, the process required to teach legally in Costa Rica is a breeze.

Applying for a Job Teaching English in Costa Rica

Applying for work in Costa Rica is straightforward. Although some teachers arrive with a job already lined up, the majority begin their searches after they’ve arrived.

If you plan to interview in the country, be sure to bring a copy of your TEFL certification and CV or resume of teaching experience. Previous experience is not required to land a job, although any practicum or work with ESL learners will boost your competitiveness.

If you aren’t TEFL certified yet, you can take a 4-week TEFL class in Heredia, Costa Rica. An adviser will assist you in finding a job and all the necessary steps to teach in Costa Rica legally.

To begin the process, it’s best to first decide where you want to live. If you’re planning to move to a larger city like San Jose, this may mean exploring the neighborhoods and deciding on the general area that you like best. Once you’ve done that, you can apply to schools and language companies that are based nearby, rather than having to commute all over the city. Typically, teachers find jobs by emailing schools or dropping off their application materials in person.

If you prefer to begin your job search from home, some common sites and job boards include Dave’s ESL Cafe and Costa Rica Job Search. Alternatively, you can research specific schools and companies based in the city and neighborhood that you want to live in, reach out to them directly with your credentials and let them hire you to teach English in Costa Rica.

Obtaining Medical Insurance

English teaching jobs in Costa Rica come with few benefits if any. Medical insurance is no exception – employers will rarely offer it to their teachers. However, healthcare is affordable and high quality in Costa Rica. Compared to healthcare in the United States, the same drugs and procedures are a fraction of the cost (sometimes up to 80% cheaper). Most doctors train in the US or Europe, and many of them speak English.

As a foreigner living in Costa Rica, you can have access to the government-run universal health care system, or the private system. Both offer quality and affordable care, although the universal system typically has more patients and longer waits.

Because the cost of healthcare is so low, some people forgo insurance altogether and simply pay cash for their medical visits. If you prefer to get insurance, certain policies from the U.S. and Europe are accepted in Costa Rica, so you may not even need to get a local insurance plan.

Canoeing in the Drake Bay, one of the various activities you can do in Costa Rica
Canoeing in the Drake Bay, one of the various activities you can do in Costa Rica

Finding Accommodation

Teachers are usually required to find accommodation themselves, although some schools will provide assistance in the process. It’s common for teachers to first live in a hostel or homestay close to the school while they find a more permanent place to live.

If you’re interested in a homestay, your employer may be able to recommend families for you to live with. In fact, some people prefer to stay with a local family and remain in their homestay for the duration of their teaching contract. If you would rather get your own place or live with roommates, you can browse the options on Craigslist or Encuenta24.

Living with roommates is a fantastic way to save money and expand your social network in a new country, especially if you live with locals. Rent, plus all utilities, is typically about $300 per month in the larger cities like San Jose and Heredia. If you choose to live alone, your housing costs may be anywhere from $500-800 per month.

Living Costs and Financial Considerations

The average monthly income for people teaching English in Costa Rica is about $700-1,000. Although it seems low, the cost of living is comparable. Some teachers can live on as little as $500 per month, although the average figure is closer to $600-800. This assumes that you’re splitting the cost of housing with roommates; otherwise, your cost of living may be over $1,000 per month.

It’s possible for teachers to save money in Costa Rica, but not common. Since there are countless opportunities to travel within the country and around Central America, most people spend their disposable income on travel and cultural activities.

Although the cost of living in Costa Rica is high for Latin America, it’s refreshingly low if you’re used to living in the U.S. or Europe. Groceries are fresh and affordable, although certain imports like beer and specialty items are pricey. A typical Costa Rican meal called a “casado” (consisting of meat or fish, rice, beans, a salad, and a drink), costs about $4. Phone expenses range from $10-30 per month. Travel within Costa Rica is cheap; it’s possible to ride across the entire country by bus for only $10, and hostels cost about $10-15 per night.

Credit cards are not yet accepted everywhere, especially in smaller towns, so you should bring a debit card or set up a local bank account. Employers typically help teachers set up bank accounts upon their hiring. One last tip is to bring at least two credit/debit cards with you. It’s not unheard of for ATMs to “eat” debit cards, and you wouldn’t want to be stranded without another option for withdrawing money.

Some Helpful Advice for Your Stay in Costa Rica

One thing for teachers to keep in mind is that time does not operate the same way in Costa Rica as it does in most Western countries. Time there is less strict and more fluid. If you have an appointment or a meeting with someone, they may not consider it a problem to arrive late. For many people, it’s simply custom to arrive 15-30 minutes after the agreed-upon time. In situations like this, it’s best to adopt the “pura vida” attitude and relax while you wait. When you teach English in Costa Rica, your employer may have a policy about how to handle class tardiness and absences; if not, you should inquire about their preferred response.

Costa Rica, in general, is a very safe country, although it’s imperative to remain aware of your surroundings and use common sense. Instances of pickpocketing or mugging are not uncommon in the larger cities, so keep your valuables in safe and hidden locations. Speaking Spanish is not necessary since many Costa Ricans speak English, although learning at least the basics will help you connect with locals and engage with the country on a deeper level.

There’s no shortage of fantastic places to explore around the country, so be sure to visit as many regions as you can. Some spots that you shouldn’t miss are the cloud forests of Monteverde, the volcanoes of Arenal, the beaches and parks of Manuel Antonio, the Caribbean vibe of Limon, and the waterfalls of Montezuma. You should also visit as many “sodas” (mom and pop restaurants) as you can, sample the different versions of “casados,” and try the many different flavors of “batidos” (smoothies).

Come and Teach English in Costa Rica – it’s Wonderful

Overall, Costa Rica is a wonderful option for teachers and expats to live. It’s easy to fall in love with the “pura vida” lifestyle, and most people who call Costa Rica home never want to leave. In spite of its small size, it boasts an impressive list of attractions. Breathtaking nature, educated and engaged citizens, peace and security, and high quality of life are just some of the many qualities that will draw you in and make you want to stay forever.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching English in Costa Rica (Country Guide)”

  1. Avatar

    HI! I’m a high school English teacher in the United States and I have quite a few ELLs in my classes. My bachelors’ degree is in Applied Linguistics. I don’t plan on making the move for two more years, but would obtaining a TEFL or a TESOL certification make sense now, or should I wait and get it closer to when I would arrive? Also, which certificate is preferred?
    Thank you!

  2. Avatar
    angelina cariaga

    To teach in Costa Rica one earns $300 to $1000 but the living expenses is $2000.
    So, that’s hardship. Please explain.

    1. Marcel Jimmy

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Kindly tell me: Where did you get those numbers from? And what exactly should I explain?

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