Teach Abroad

8 Insider Tips for Teaching English in Costa Rica

Lindsay Hartfiel

Lindsay is a born-and-bred Wisconsin girl with a heart that lies in Costa Rica. She is the editor-in-chief of Native Foreigner, which is a digital magazine for travelers returning from an extended time abroad.

Costa Rica’s magnificent coasts, lush rainforests and exotic wildlife attract an increasing number of foreigners looking for a tropical retreat. From zip lining…to whitewater rafting… to surfing, Costa Rica boasts a thriving tourism industry that is largely dependent upon locals who possess English language skills. As a result, foreigners interested in teaching English are flocking to this small Latin American country for its beauty, safety and economic stability.

Teaching in Costa Rica is a fun and exhilarating experience but it can also be a lot of work. Here are 8 tips for finding, securing, and succeeding at the right teaching job in Costa Rica!

Recommended programs for teaching abroad in Costa Rica

1. When and Where to Find Teaching Jobs

The majority of teaching jobs in Costa Rica are located in the Central Valley, which is home to the capital city of San Jose. Halfway between the Pacific and Caribbean shores, about 75% of the population resides in this area. While jobs in the Central Valley are plentiful, opportunities outside of the city, especially along the coasts, are limited.

Individuals can inquire and apply for jobs in Costa Rica from their home country, but it is much easier to secure a teaching position if you are in Costa Rica. Skype interviews may be increasing in popularity, but many schools still prefer an in-person meeting and tend to arrange interviews within a few days of receiving applications. Teachers are hired year-round, but peak hiring times are in December/January and again in June/July.

2. Requirements

Although the majority of teaching positions in Costa Rica don’t require a Bachelor’s degree in Education, most employers do expect at least a certification to teach English. Due to the competitive nature of employment, speaking English is rarely enough to land a teaching job.

Those interested in obtaining the proper TEFL certification can do so either in their home country or in Costa Rica. Several schools, including Costa Rica TEFL, and International TEFL Academy are just a few of the schools that offer intensive four-week TEFL training courses in Costa Rica.

3. Speaking Spanish

Many Costa Ricans will be able to converse with you regularly in English, but making a commitment to study the local language will add depth to your experience and overall enrich your understandings of your students. If you were to take a few hours of Spanish classes in your free time, you will be able to better empathize with the struggles your current students face while learning a new language. You’ll be able to have more meaningful conversations with your students, families, colleagues, etc. Overall, it’s a win-win!

Focus especially on learning the correct pronunciation for locations and other related-proper nouns within Costa Rica; this will help lessen students’ confusion if you were to describe these places. It is also a good idea to learn how to say each student’s name properly (all it takes is a little practice to master rolling those R’s!)

4. Types of Teaching Jobs

Language Schools
There are several language schools and institutions located throughout the country. These schools, which often offer both Spanish and English classes, employ a large number of native English speakers. Teachers working for a language school should expect to teach a combination of group and private classes. Textbooks, a curriculum and other materials are generally provided.

Costa Rica has several public and private universities that hire English teachers. Although many require a background in education, some universities — such as Politécnico Internacional and Universidad Nacional — hire those with a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certification.

Business Classes
With a growing number of multinational corporations with business operations in Costa Rica, including Intel, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, English courses for business professionals continue to increase. These classes, offered by institutes such as English2Go, are generally taught on-site.

Private Classes
Teachers who would like more flexibility in their schedule can offer private classes. Private lessons can generate a higher hourly rate since teachers set their own fees without going through a school or institution. However, teachers offering private classes must find their own students and provide their own materials.

5. Volunteer Teaching

For those interested in volunteering as a teacher, there are several opportunities throughout Costa Rica. Organizations such as Projects Abroad and EVOLC offer a variety of volunteer teaching positions that range from a few weeks to an entire year. Although these are generally unpaid positions, accommodation is typically included.

6. Work Visas

It is often up to the school or institution in Costa Rica as to whether a work visa is required. Due to the difficulty in obtaining a work visa, most schools and institutions do not require you to have one. Since most passports act as a 90-day visa, teachers generally hop across the border to either Nicaragua or Panama every three months to “renew” their visa.

As most contracts in Costa Rica are a 6-month minimum, you can usually expect to do this visa run at least once during your stay. Instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, relish in the opportunity to see a new country! Any excuse to travel, right?

Most contracts can be extended dependent on your performance. Do your best, and you’re sure to have the opportunity to enjoy Costa Rica for even longer than you had originally planned.

7. Salary and Cost of Living

The salary for English teachers in Costa Rica is between $600-800 per month for a full-time teacher (20-24 teaching hours per week). Some teachers earn more or less depending on the school and the number of hours they teach. Due to the relatively low cost of living in Costa Rica, this is generally sufficient for housing, food, general necessities and entertainment. However, most teachers are not able to save money while teaching in Costa Rica, so it is recommended that teachers do have some back-up savings to cover any unexpected costs, especially enough to cover your first few months there.

ESL teachers in Costa Rica often work on a split schedule, where you will teach both mornings and evenings and occasionally on weekends. Take advantage of your afternoon free time to prepare your next lessons, study Spanish, or try your luck at an adventure sport!

8. Culture and Etiquette

Although Costa Ricans are known for their laid-back lifestyle and friendly demeanor, teachers are expected to show a high level of professionalism. Working in the Central Valley, teachers should expect a more formal environment where business or business casual attire is required. In rural and coastal areas, where the environment is more relaxed, the dress code may be more informal.

Costa Ricans tend to operate on “Tico time,” meaning they are rarely on time. As a result, teachers either must accept their students’ tardiness or implement classroom regulations if they want students to adhere to a class schedule. Same-day cancellations and no-shows are quite common. In this relaxed, “pura vida” culture, teachers must frequently reinforce class assignments and rules.

No matter how you find and prepare for your teaching position in Costa Rica, you are sure to have an amazing experience. If you follow these tips and keep an open mind, you will have nothing to worry about. For those who have already taught in Costa Rica, what tips and advice would you share with others?