With San Jose being in the center of Costa Rica, adventure is always within reach for the student abroad. Whether it is zip-lining across rainforest canopies, hiking near an active volcano, lounging on one of the many beaches, or just taking in the stunning vistas, Costa Rica has it all.

Photo credit: jmenard48.

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


Even though it is a major city, San Jose is extremely affordable. The local currency is the colon, but many businesses accept US dollars. Be sure to know the exchange rates in order to get the best value for your money. ATM machines are readily available in the city, and credit cards are taken at most places as well.

While the city of San Jose itself can be very affordable, educational programs don’t come cheap. There are, however, many scholarships available through several study abroad providers including AIFS starting at $500. There is a whole section devoted to scholarship information on their website. CEA also offers scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 for full programs and $500- $1,250 for summer or short term study. Students should also consult their own university financial office for any scholarships that the home school may be offering. Programs range from just a couple of weeks to a full year abroad, so study abroad is an option for any budget.

Culture and Immersion

San Jose is the capital city and the largest in the country. This bustling metropolis is home to a majority of the country’s population and the perfect launching point for a well rounded study abroad experience. One of the first things to notice about Costa Rica is the friendly locals, many of whom speak English.

There’s no shortage of interesting attractions to feed the mind and the soul in San Jose.

  • Mercado Central- where you can find an assortment of delectable treats and plenty more.
  • Avenida Central- a street closed off to cars and buses where shops, restaurants, and street performers can be found.
  • El Pueblo- the hub of San Jose nightlife. Everything you could want from a college town including a chill night to kick back and enjoy a cocktail or a full night of dancing until the sun comes up.
  • If shopping is more up your alley then the San Pedro Mall is a must see. Not only can you find an assortment of stores to suit any taste, there is a movie theater and a large food court.
  • There are many theaters and parks throughout the city including the Teatro Nacional where you can take in an orchestra or musical concert or ballet.
  • For an afternoon of culture, visit Museo Nacional where you can take a walk through Costa Rican history, the Gold Museum, Jade Museum, or the Museum of Costa Rican Art. Most museums even offer student discounts.
  • Eat like a local at one of the many sodas where you can get a tasty and affordable meal.
Culture Shock and Support

Any move abroad is filled with excitement and some potential difficulties. Knowing the details of the study abroad program will help make the transition to life in Costa Rica much easier. Each university and study abroad program offers different support and educational opportunities, so it is important to do plenty of research and know exactly what is included in terms of support and services. Many study abroad providers offer a home-stay option. This is a fantastic way to get the full cultural experience and develop Spanish language skills at the same time. San Jose has a high percentage of international students, so there are unlimited opportunities to network and build friendships from all over the globe. There are several expat websites with information about local services and community events to connect with other expats and students.

It’s also a good idea to register with the US Embassy in San Jose for travel updates, country information, or if you need any passport services while you are abroad.

Insider Tips

While San Jose does have a bus system, it is usually easier to get around the city on foot. This is a wonderful way to truly explore all San Jose has to offer. If you are looking to get out of town for a couple of days, the Coca Cola Bus Terminal has both domestic and international connections. If shimmering coastline is more to your liking, the Pacific coast is also within a two hour drive from San Jose.

Some other interests may include:

  • Arenal, an active volcano, is a must see for all visitors.
  • For a bit of solitude visit Tenorio Volcano National Park to see the Rio Celeste- a stunning light blue river and lagoon.
  • Get inspired by the Guanacaste region in the northern part of the country where interesting wildlife and beautiful beaches abound.

“Pura Vida,” a popular saying by the locals meaning “full of life,” is the perfect way to describe the rich experience that any study abroad in San Jose would provide. Pack your bags and get ready for the adventure of your life; Costa Rica awaits!

Contributed by Erin Dowd

Study Abroad in San Jose

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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.

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