Looking to spend a semester on “tico time?” With warm weather year-round, beautiful beaches, and lush rainforests, Costa Rica is an attractive and affordable option for study abroad. Though it’s best known as a vacation hotspot for surfers, Costa Rica is now an up-and-coming study abroad destination for American students looking for Spanish language-intensive programs. It’s also one of the most environmentally friendly study abroad options, as Costa Rica was recently named the “greenest” country in the world. So pack your sunscreen, grab your Spanish-English dictionary, and hop on the three-hour flight from Miami, because study abroad in Costa Rica is waiting for you!

San Jose

San Jose is the largest city in Costa Rica, with a population of 370,000. The city is safe, clean, and full of beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, as well as modern office buildings. The National Theater and the Gold Museum are popular with students, as are San Jose’s many open-air plazas and cafes. The capital of Costa Rica offers a number of study abroad options for American students. The enormous public University of Costa Rica is the largest and best known university in Costa Rica, specializing in engineering and the sciences. The small, private Veritas University offers classes in art and design, as well as Spanish grammar and vocabulary for international students. Both universities partner with American schools like the University of Kansas to offer study abroad programs in specific disciplines.

Heredia

Heredia is another popular destination for study abroad students, as it is home to one of the largest colleges in Costa Rica, the public National University of Costa Rica, which specializes in ecology and education. Heredia is located only 10km (6.25 mi) from San Jose, and it is quite easy to get between the two cities by bus or train.

Monteverde

Monteverde is a small town in Puntarenas that has become a premier ecotourism destination owing to its proximity to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Many American universities, including the University of Georgia, offer programs in ecotourism, ecology, biodiversity, and sustainability with their local partners in Monteverde. Though Monteverde itself is in a tropical, mountainous region of the country, it is also not far from the beautiful beaches along Puntarenas’ coast.

How to Choose a Program

Before choosing a study abroad program in Costa Rica, you should carefully consider the subjects you want to study and academically prepare for the intense Spanish language immersion.

Language

The national language of Costa Rica is Spanish, and you will rarely hear English outside of the tourist areas. Additionally, it is almost impossible to find English-language courses in Costa Rica’s public universities, except in the education departments. Most American partner schools also emphasize that their courses will be taught entirely in Spanish, and some even offer homestays with tico families in order to promote rapid language learning.

Housing

Many tico students continue to live with their parents while studying at university. Consequently, most study abroad students choose to live with tico host families while in Costa Rica to get the full experience. Host families are also a great way for students to practice their Spanish outside of the classroom and to learn new vocabulary and slang.

Academic Life

Ticos, or Costa Rican natives, are fairly relaxed with regards to education. The entire nation of Costa Rica runs on “tico time” (a fancy way of saying that everyone is always late), so don’t expect your 2.00 PM class to start on time, even on the first day. Classmates usually know each other extremely well at the university level, as they are all enrolled together in the same carrera, or major, for all four years.

Additionally, secondary schools are more specialized in Costa Rica than in the US, so many tico students enter university with some experience in the subjects they want to pursue. Consequently, for some specialized subjects like engineering, you may need to enroll in a lower-level class than you would in the US.

What to Pack

What you pack for your trip will make all the difference in how comfortable you will be. If you need help, we have a guide specifically dedicated to what you'll need to pack for Central America.

Social Life and Student Culture

When not in class, many tico and American students spend their free time hanging out in open-air plazas and cafes, reading, tanning, and playing soccer. Restaurants that serve cocina tipica, or typical Costa Rican food, are also popular student hangouts around meal time, as they offer some of the most delicious (and cheap!) food for students, as well as live music on special occasions. Even the smallest Costa Rican towns have nightclubs, which are guaranteed to be packed almost every night of the week with locals, tourists, and international students dancing to loud reggaeton music.

During university holidays, students usually elect to travel around Costa Rica, visiting the country’s beautiful national parks, animal reserves, and pristine beaches. The many religious holidays also offer students a chance to experience Costa Rica’s Catholic heritage first-hand through outdoor plays, live nativity scenes, and parades.

Contributed by Sarah Reynolds

Students can obtain scholarships through their home universities or the American universities that run programs in Costa Rica. Program providers also offer scholarships.

Study Abroad Programs in Costa Rica

Displaying 1 - 15 of 111 programs
EF International Language Campuses
EF Language Year Abroad in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9 •3 reviews

Study Spanish in an adventurer’s mecca. Learn how to surf, explore the...

CEA Study Abroad
CEA Study Abroad in San José, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9.79 •14 reviews

San José, the capital of Costa Rica, blends urban life and natural...

CIEE
CIEE Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde
Costa Rica
9.83 •24 reviews

Explore the biodiversity in Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Reserve, beaches...

CIEE
CIEE Open Campus Block in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
10 •3 reviews

Monteverde has been at the forefront of field study in environmental...

CIEE
CIEE Summer Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde
Costa Rica
9.25 •4 reviews

Wake up to the sound of howler monkeys at our unique biological base...

CIEE
CIEE Summer Tropical Ecology + Conservation in Monteverde
Costa Rica
10 •2 reviews

Spend the summer exploring Costa Rica’s diverse and imitable...

CIEE
CIEE: Design Your Own Semester Abroad
Multiple Countries
9.5 •2 reviews

With CIEE's, you can design your very own semester program in up to...

CIEE
CIEE Sustainability + the Environment in Monteverde
Costa Rica
10 •1 review

Watch your Spanish skills bloom in Monteverde as you dig into today’s...

API
API Study Abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
8.5 •4 reviews

Located in the central valley of Costa Rica, San José is a vibrant...

API
API Study Abroad in San Jaoquin de Flores, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9.14 •7 reviews

San Joaquín de Flores is a charming, colorful and quaint colonial town...

USAC
Costa Rica: Puntarenas - Spanish, Ecology, Latin American Studies
Costa Rica
9.66 •38 reviews

Study abroad with the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) in...

USAC
Costa Rica: Heredia - Spanish Language, Ecological, and Latin American Studies
Costa Rica
9.33 •24 reviews

Study abroad next summer, semester or academic year with USAC in...

USAC
Costa Rica: San Ramón - Life Sciences, Spanish Language, and Culture
Costa Rica
9.6 •15 reviews

USAC invites students interested in pursuing health, ecology, and...

CIS Abroad
CIS Abroad - Semester in Costa Rica - Universidad Veritas
Costa Rica
9.18 •11 reviews

On our Semester in Costa Rica program, you’ll live minutes from the...

ISA (International Studies Abroad)
ISA Study Abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Rica
9.4 •10 reviews

Study in the economic, cultural, and political capital of Costa Rica -...

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Costa Rica a good place to study abroad?

    Costa Rica can be a great place to study abroad for those looking to enhance their Spanish skills while enjoying beautiful beaches and a relaxed, friendly environment. There are many positives to living in Costa Rica: it's generally considered to be a safe travel destination, it's possible to have fun on a budget, and Costa Ricans are generally very open and welcoming. Costa Rica is a safe and fun study abroad destination!

  • How much does college cost in Costa Rica?

    Studying abroad in Costa Rica can cost as little as a semester at a U.S. state school (around $7,000). Typically, you will need to have strong Spanish skills in order to direct enroll at a local university for this to be the case. Provider organizations are typically more expensive and can cost up to $16,000 for a semester. These programs will often offer fully inclusive packages which include housing, meals, and in-country support. By directly enrolling at a university, you should expect to have to cover many of these expenses on your own which could cost an additional $3,500 after airfare and program fees.

  • What subjects are taught in Costa Rica?

    Subjects taught in Costa Rica run the gamut -- you can expect to find courses in the arts and humanities, sciences, social sciences, business, marketing, languages, and everything in between. You can also take classes that are specific to Costa Rica, like Costa Rican arts and culture, politics, and history. Many programs offer the choice to study in English or Spanish.

What People Are Saying

Hi! My name is Esmeralda and I have a Global Leadership Diploma from Centre for Executive Education within the University for Peace, Costa Rica. This diploma offers a myriad of different courses that...

girls smiling

This was my first time traveling outside of the U.S. and it was life changing. This trip was a great way to make new connections because you never know who you will meet along your journey. I had met...

1 of the 7 World Wonders

I found out about Verto Education at a time in my life when I really needed to know that there was another way for me to begin life after high school. I feel so lucky to have been able to travel with...

Our last night was truly sad and sentimental. All of the excitement of going home was followed by the sadness of leaving such beautiful places and wonderful people.

Related Study Abroad Articles