Teach English in Costa Rica

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Flag of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is obviously appealing in many ways: beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, lush rain forests, and a temperate climate make this country an obvious choice for tourism, business, pleasure, and...teaching English! The demand for English teachers is very high here, as most Costa Ricans need English to get a higher paying job or to simply have a competitive edge when it comes to finding a job. Lets face it, having a second language looks really good on a resume.

Costa Rica is one of the most popular countries for English teachers, and there are a ton of options for teachers here. Most of the teaching jobs in Costa Rica come from private language institutes, where native English speakers and a TEFL certificate are requirements for landing a job. The jobs are located in the Central Valley, which includes the capital, San Jose, as well as other major cities, such as Heredia and Cartago.

  • Peak Hiring Times: all year for most language schools, generally January-November.
  • Average Cost of Living: $600-$1000 depending on where you live and transportation costs Save or Break Even: Break even.
  • Work Visa: NOT easy to obtain. Schools will sponsor you usually after working there for one year, as the visa is expensive.

As mentioned before, the most popular places to find teaching jobs are concentrated in San Jose and the surrounding area, especially in San Pedro, where the University of Costa Rica and Universidad Latina are located. There are lots of students in this area, and they want English to use for job interviews and resumes. Teaching adults is more common than kids here for this reason. Most of these schools also hire year round, although the peak times for hiring are January-May, but, as most schools don't usually hire in the middle of the year, the best time to begin your job search is probably October-December, as this is when contracts end and teachers change jobs or go to other institutes.

Another thing to keep in mind when applying for jobs is that most jobs in Costa Rica will not hire you until you are in the country, at which point you can call the school/institute and schedule an interview in person. This is common practice in Central and South America. The good news is, most will hire you if you interview in person, but it's good to plan a trip to Costa Rica just for finding a job.

One quite large factor to consider is there really aren't teaching jobs on the coast. A lot of foreigners come to Costa Rica expecting to teach English in a coastal town while spending the weekends at the beach. There are few jobs on the coast, but it takes some serious patience...be prepared to relocate to the Central Valley. Don't worry, there are tons of beaches here and most are easily accessible by bus for relaxation on the weekends.

Costa Rican beach
Costa Rican beach at sunset

As mentioned above, most jobs will come from private language institutes or schools, and sometimes universities, if you're qualified enough. There are some opportunities to work with kids, although most of these are in a volunteer type position.

The only two requirements you really need to teach English in Costa Rica are a CELTA/TEFL certificate and being a native English speaker. Most countries in Latin America don't even require degrees of any kind for teaching. if you don't have a TEFL certificate, there are lots of great opportunities to take a course at language institutes, and you might even get hired at the institute you take the course from!

As with everything in Costa Rica, work visas take a long time, and are difficult to obtain. This is because of the requirement that jobs go to Ticos, as opposed to foreigners, unless it's a job that Ticos can't do (like teaching English).

A school or company must sponsor you...which might be difficult if you're only interested in staying in Costa Rica for less than a year. Typically, when you obtain your work visa it will be valid for six months from the date of issue. Work permits are renewable and can be submitted at the department of immigration. They must be approved by the work department as well.

To apply, you must be able to provide several documents. These items are submitted to the migration office in San Jose. Upon submission, your application must be attached to a statement from the company that you will be working for. The Costa Rican Social Security office will need to send verification that you have no outstanding financial obligations.

Other necessary items:
  • A copy of your birth certificate
  • Photocopies of your passport
  • Your marriage certificate (if married)
  • Proof of adequate financial resources
  • A statement of good conduct from the police
  • Submit to a background check by the Costa Rican Ministry of Security
  • Up to 4 passport size photos
  • Copies of your diplomas or any other qualifications (like your TEFL certificate)
  • Join any professional associations available in your field

On average, the monthly salary for an English teacher in Costa Rica is $1,000. This probably sounds small compared to the average wage in the United States, but it is more than two times the normal Costa Rican salary of $400/ month. You can live more than comfortably on the monthly salary here, with enough money for a nice place to live, groceries, transportation money, as well as a budget for frequent trips to any beach, volcano, or other beautiful attraction that Costa Rica has to offer.

School in Costa Rica
Teach at a school in Costa Rica

The average cost for an apartment in the San Jose area is around $300. Obviously sharing an apartment with someone is cheaper, and for this reason, not many people live alone. In general, food also is cheaper than in the States, and buying groceries is going to save you way more than eating every meal out (even though most restaurants, especially near the university, are relatively cheap). In terms of a meal out, it really depends...for the most part, meals rang from $4-$8 per person.

There is a fine line between being strict and laid back in the classroom, and it all depends on the school or institution that you work for. A language institute is more likely to have lenient rules in terms of classroom management, letting you (the teacher have more reign in terms of rules. Obviously, working with adults as opposed to kids means less discipline rules.

Ticos dress very nicely for work and take pride in their appearance. In general, the dress code is business casual (again, it depends on the school/institute where you're teaching). This means no flip-flops, shorts, jeans or beachwear!

Greetings in Costa Rica are a kiss on the cheek.

kids in Costa Rica
Work with children in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the best teach abroad destinations in the world! Enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica while learning about the culture and making life-long connections. You will teach students English but also learn about life and culture from your students. With so many benefits to teaching in Costa Rica, why wait?!

Contributed by Caitlin Peterson

Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona, Caitlin has been living in Costa Rica since late October 2012. Follow her travels at Speak Compassion.

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