Volunteers to San José, Costa Rica – the economic and cultural hub of the progressive, Central American country known by most for its biodiversity – experience the best of both of these worlds. Nestled in a lush valley in the central, mountainous, coffee-growing region, the city provides volunteers with year-round, comfortable climate and tropical ambiance. Inexpensive and reliable long-distance buses make for easy weekend getaways to coastal locales or in search of quetzals and cloud forests.

In San José, the natural side of Costa Rica melds with the amenities, everyday bustle, and intellectualism of urban life in Central America’s most cosmopolitan city. Furthermore, as the center of political and social developments, volunteers will find a larger, more diverse pool of volunteer positions than anywhere else in the country.

San José is a large city so there are many volunteer opportunities. The volunteer programs are mostly dedicated to helping children and helping community development. Most types of volunteer programs are separated into short-stay, and long-stay durations. Short-stay volunteers will usually work on projects that are currently underway. In contrast, long-stay volunteers have the ability to start their own projects.

Education

Thanks to an educational initiative which requires English as a second language in the national curriculum paired with a healthy tourism industry, Costa Rica has a high demand for language teachers fluent in (but not exclusively) English, French, German, and Chinese. Many language teaching positions are concentrated in the capitol. A plethora of volunteer and paid positions are open at private San José language institutions, public schools, and community centers.

Social Work

Underneath the surface of an impressive several decades of material and economic development in Costa Rica remain some unresolved social issues and Costa Rica is hard at work improving the value of life for more vulnerable populations. Volunteers can help promote the rights of women, youth, and elderly by working in orphanages, centers for the elderly or disabled children. Volunteers are needed in these institutions for day-to-day running of the homes/centers, teaching art and computer skills, and improving facilities.

Healthcare

Costa Rica provides universal health care for its citizens and is known for having some of the highest quality of medical care in Latin America. However, volunteers with medical experience are needed in hospitals and clinics throughout San José to help at-risk Costa Ricans. A higher level of Spanish is usually necessary, but depending on fluency and experience volunteers can assist with vaccinations, maternal health and deliveries, suturing wounds, and public health campaigns.

Volunteering Tips

Volunteer Support: San José has a lively expat community and volunteers living in and around San José can link up with other expats for socialization or advice through online organizations such as Internations and the women oriented forum, ExpatWomen. Any paid volunteer program should assist volunteers in finding housing, and most offer language courses as well. The U.S. embassy also recommends registering with their website and will contact all Americans living in Costa Rica in the unlikely case of a national emergency.

How to Save Money While Volunteering: Learn to love rice, buy local and eat comida typica at a Costa Rican soda. Pick up some Spanish and barter in the markets. To cut costs on rent, try volunteering at one of the many youth hostels in San José in exchange for board, or seek cheap housing with university students or in one of the city’s suburbs, such as Heredia. Housing outside of the city center tends to be less expensive.

Where to Live in San José: There are numerous neighborhoods in San José, each supporting their own, unique vibe. Barrio Amón/Barrio Escalante is San José’s historic neighborhood, convenient for those without private transportation, but the center of San José’s sex industry. The posh, western area of Escazú/Santa Ana attracts many expats but is expensive. Close to the airport is the family-friendly neighborhood of Belén while Heredia, also north of the city, is popular amongst university and study abroad students. Universidad de Costa Rica is located in San Pedro/Curridabat and popular for students, English teachers, and those looking for affordable, shared housing. Los Yoses is close to downtown and houses many embassies and a happening nightlife and restaurant scene in Rohrmoser/La Sabana attracts young professionals. More information can be found on GoCentralAmerica.about.com.

How to Make the Most of Your Volunteer Experience: Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are known for their hospitality and clear, easy to learn Spanish. Make the most of your time in San José by befriending locals or living with a host family and working on your Spanish. Volunteering in one of the most up and coming Central American capitals is a great opportunity to develop language skills, learn more about Latin American culture, and acquire professional experience.

Stay street smart: Rape and murder rates are relatively low, but petty theft and pick-pocketing are real problems. According to the United States Department of State, Costa Rica ranks in the top three countries for passport theft. Don’t let the threat of theft deter you from volunteering in San José but be smart. Avoid parks and walking around town after dark, wearing flashy jewelry, and be extra vigilant in downtown to prevent theft.

Health and Safety of Volunteers in San José

Hepatitis B, A, and Typhoid shots are recommended before traveling to Costa Rica. San José is malaria free but antimalarials are recommended for travel to Limon province. Rare cases have been documented in other parts of the country and more information can be found at CDC.gov. San José has a high standard for medical facilities, and while travel insurance is recommended, many expats note “paying out of pocket” as one of the most affordable options for dealing with medical emergencies while living in Costa Rica. In case of emergency, Clinica Biblica is San José’s top private clinic, located downtown and staffed with English speaking doctors, while Hospital San Juan de Dios is the centrally located free public hospital. Be prepared for long waits at San Juan.

Contributed by Jessie Beck

Guide Author
Jessie Beck
Go Overseas Writer

Volunteer Programs in San José

Displaying 1 - 15 of 41 programs
International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Costa Rica from $370 with IVHQ
Costa Rica
52 reviews4 interviews

Trusted by 110,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

Maximo Nivel
Volunteer in Costa Rica with Maximo Nivel - Best Rated Projects
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176 reviews7 interviews

Costa Rica is known for having progressive environmental and social...

Maximo Nivel
Best Rated Volunteer Abroad Programs in Latin America
Multiple Countries
39 reviews

Maximo Nivel is a locally based organization in Costa Rica, Guatemala...

Frontier
Costa Rica Climate Change Project
Costa Rica
11 reviews2 interviews

Located alongside Central America, Costa Rica is hidden between the...

A Broader View Volunteers Corp
Volunteer with Sea Turtles in Costa Rica, Pacific and Caribbean Coast
Costa Rica
9 reviews

Volunteer in Costa Rica Most national parks offers on-site shared...

The Leap
Turtles + Plastic Ocean Conservation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
11 reviews1 interview

Your time will be spent on the Nicoya Peninsula where you will...

Volunteering Solutions
Volunteer in Costa Rica | Most Affordable & Trusted Projects
Costa Rica
3 reviews

Volunteering in Costa Rica will surely be one of the best experiences...

EVOLC - English Volunteers for Change
EVOLC - English Volunteers for Change
Costa Rica
16 reviews6 interviews

English Volunteers for Change in Costa Rica sought to increase Costa...

Love Volunteers
Make a REAL difference in Costa Rica - From just US$229!
Costa Rica
3 reviews1 interview

Through our partner in Costa Rica, Love Volunteer is seeking...

International Service Learning
Sustainable Health and Medical Service Learning Programs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
6 reviews2 interviews

Assist in providing community and medical services to those in need...

Global Crossroad
Volunteer in Costa Rica- Lowest Fees & Trusted Since 2003
Costa Rica
7 reviews

With Global Crossroad's volunteer programs in Costa Rica, you can...

Global Routes
Global Routes | Costa Rica
Costa Rica
5 reviews

This transformative 4-week program in Costa Rica focuses on authentic...

Frontier
Animal Rescue in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
1 review

Set between tropical Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Costa Rica is one...

GoEco
Top Volunteer Projects in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
4 reviews1 interview

Experience Costa Rica and "pura vida" while helping local communities...

Vista Hermosa Farm Project
Vista Hermosa Farm Project in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
4 reviews

Our program will provide a hands on educational model for visitors and...

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I volunteer in Costa Rica?

    From jungles and fishing village to remote beaches and cloud forests, volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica are available across the country. Depending on the type of volunteer work, the capital city of San José, is also a great place to volunteer.

  • Do I need a visa to volunteer in Costa Rica?

    If you have a passport from the USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea or Schengen area, you do not need a visa. Your passport (valid for three months upon entrance) will allow you to stay for up to 90 days.

  • Is Costa Rica expensive?

    Costa Rica is more expensive than other countries in Central America, but can still be affordable. To give you a general idea, here are a few cost of living prices: $3 for a beer, $7 for a meal at a restaurant, and $350 to rent a one-bedroom apartment per month.

What People Are Saying

Turtle week

So much fun, everyone extremely friendly, staff very friendly and welcoming, helps you grow as a character and you do really feel you are making a difference to the local community. Such an amzimg...

Diving

This is an amazing one of a kind experience. The staff is amazing and passionate about conservation and do a wonderful job of educating volunteers on there purpose and issues with marine life and...

Standing in front of the white board in our classroom with my assistant teacher and 5 of our students holding up peace signs and being silly on the last day of class.

I began looking for volunteer trips and companies years ago in middle school (I am now 23) as I had always dreamed of having this opportunity. I found IVHQ a few years ago and have kept going back to...

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