Everything you need to know about teaching English in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a lush, tropical country and is famed for its hospitable locals and remarkable biodiversity. It is also one of the only countries where a photo of a beach applies to teaching English, as once you are outside of the capital San Jose, chances are that you will be teaching very close to a beach. Most of the teaching work is located in the larger cities of Costa Rica, such as in Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia, but this article will look predominantly at alternative destinations which outshine city life in almost every way. 

Where is Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is wedged in between Nicaragua and Panama and has two coastlines looking onto two formidable bodies of water: the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. This Central American nation has long been a favorite for North Americans wanting to head somewhere south in search of a rainforest/beach paradise and remains to this day a hugely popular destination for tourists and teachers of English, who flock to this safe, tropical gem located in an otherwise turbulent region of the world.

Costa Rica is quite a laid back country when it comes to requirements for teaching. All that is officially required is that you have an international TEFL certificate from a reputable school. Complications can arise due to the popularity of the country as a teaching destination – meaning you will sometimes be asked for proof of university studies too if a school is overwhelmed with job applications.

Costa Rica has long been a popular destination for teachers of English and shows no signs of slowing up on its demand. Costa Ricans, otherwise known as Ticos, require English to have a competitive edge when finding work in Costa Rica or abroad, and you will generally find your students to be extremely friendly, motivated, and well-mannered.

Monthly salaries come in at around US$600 to US$1,000 per month, and while this might not sound like much it is enough to live off. You shouldn’t plan on saving any money though by teaching English here. Costa Rica is definitely one of the destinations where you earn enough money to live a comfortable local lifestyle, and get to enjoy living in a stunningly beautiful environment at the same time.

The start-up costs are also relatively affordable – especially for North Americans who can take advantage of cheap flights into Costa Rica.

We mentioned at the start of this article about safety. Apart from some areas of San Jose, you shouldn’t experience any safety-related issues in Costa Rica. It’s definitely one of the more safer countries in Central America and definitely a recommended destination compared to Mexico for example, which is no longer a destination we can recommend due to the surge of violet crime there over the past decade.

Teaching in San Jose

San Jose (San José) is the largest city in Costa Rica and is also its capital. Located in the center of the country, in the Central Valley, it is where you will find the highest concentration of teaching English jobs and is often the first place where teachers set up shop. The weather here is pleasant too, boasting a mild climate. One of the benefits of teaching in San Jose is having the ability of being able to juggle city life with beach life, and the nearest beach at Playa Jaco is only a two hour (US$5) bus drive from the capital.

As with many countries that we have written about on our school blog, it really is necessary to be on the ground, in-country when applying for teaching work: schools here rarely recruit from abroad and will want to see you in-person before offering you a teaching position.

It’s essential that you dress smartly at your interview and when you are teaching classes as Costa Ricans place high importance on appearance. Men should wear grey/black trousers and a shirt and tie, and women should wear a blouse/shirt with grey/black trousers or a skirt. The tie btw is optional when you are teaching classes but shouldn’t be overlooked for the interview process. There isn’t much else that puts a Costa Rican off so much more than a gringo looking like they just got back from the beach, so make sure to leave your beach bum look for the beach only.

Once you have interviewed and been offered a teaching position, you can expect to be teaching approx. 20-25 hours per week. This is more than enough time to leave you with opportunities for discovering the country on your days off but please bear in mind that all new teachers tend to spend a lot of time at first on planning lessons, so at the beginning you might find yourself working 10 or more extra hours a week on lesson preparation. This will naturally decrease as you gain more and more experience until you find yourself being able to come up with quality lessons more or less on the fly.

Teaching in Monteverde

Monteverde is located in the mountains, in northwestern Costa Rica, and is most famously known for its Cloud Forest Reserve; sheltering a dizzying array of wildlife species. It is also here that you can experience its biodiverse forests in the clouds, and where you can enjoy the magical freedom of using suspended bridges to walk above the forest canopy. There is a healthy amount of teaching work to be found here and we recommend basing yourself in this town if you enjoy being active and exploring nature.

There does seem to be a lot of false information on the internet regarding the legalities of teaching English in Costa Rica. Many sites will tell you that it is fine to arrive on a (90 day) tourist visa, and then to simply take visa runs every 90 days from then on to renew your tourist visa while you are teaching in Costa Rica. Although this is common practice, it isn’t legal to work in Costa Rica in this way and if you do want to become legal to teach here then it will be necessary to obtain a work permit.

It can be a little frustrating at times because many schools will try to convince you that the best option for you and them is for you to do a visa run every 90 days to either Panama or Nicaragua, and will provide teachers with long weekends every three months in order to facilitate this system.

If you interview for a school and they strongly suggest this option then you will need to weigh up the benefits of handling the visa situation this way and how much you need the job at the said particular school. If you are serious about teaching English in Costa Rica long term then we strongly suggest that you find a school which will help with your work visa; meaning you will be fully legal and will enjoy the benefits that come with this status.

You might be asked at customs about your intentions in Costa Rica. If you are asked, you shouldn’t say that you are here to teach English. Even if you have a firm job offer. The reason for this is because when you first enter Costa Rica, you will do so on a tourist visa and you won’t yet be eligible to officially gain employment in the country. Stating that you are here to work when you arrive on a tourist visa could result in finding yourself on the next plane home. So coming as a tourist and then locating a school that will help you through the work visa process is how we would recommend applying yourself when traveling here to teach English.

Teaching in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca sits slumbering on the Caribbean coastline and is a surfer town located in the southeast of Costa Rica, close to the border with Panama. There is perhaps no other place in the country more in tune with the off-beats of Reggaeton than P V de T and it is here that you truly can expect to be teaching in close proximity to a beach. The only downside to this destination is the high competition for jobs in this stretch of paradise, so expect to do more door knocking on schools than in other destinations.

Housing is one of the factors which teachers find a little confusing when first arriving to Costa Rica and most teachers choose to hole up in a hostel or take the gamble on a homestay until they have secured an apartment.

We definitely recommend finding roommates to share accommodation with, or choosing to live with locals, as the costs then will work out at around US$300 per month for rent, plus all utilities. If you do choose to go it alone and find an apartment for yourself then that price can increase to anywhere from US$500 to US$800 per month.

Schools generally don’t help with providing accommodation so it’s best to do some research before making the trip to Costa Rica. Encuentra24.com is a good place to begin your search if you are looking to live alone. For shared accommodation, we recommend speaking with other teachers either at your school or at the hostel you might find yourself staying at when you first arrive. Like anywhere, the longer you remain in the country the more your local knowledge will expand and the greater your chances will be of landing your ideal apartment.

Teaching in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is most notably famous for its national park, and is a bustling town located off Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, close to the harbor town of Quepos (internationally famed for its big-game sport fishing.) For a town of its relatively small size, Manuel Antonio packs a big punch. It also has a good beach vibe and boasts some of the most idyllic white sandy beaches in the region. While work is more difficult to find here, with persistence it is possible to find teaching possibilities and would be our number one choice of destination.

The majority of teaching English work available in Costa Rica is teaching adults or college students. It is possible to teach children but the wages tend to be significantly lower for this age group and unless you enjoy volunteer work we recommend focussing on teaching adults.

The different teaching options are to be found teaching either at academies, learning centers, or teaching private lessons. Most teachers opt to start off teaching exclusively at an academy or language center, and then tend to pick up private students as they progress through the school year. Private students tend to come in the form of university students or business professionals looking to progress in their English-speaking abilities and these classes pay anywhere between US$5 to US$15 per hour.

Once again, we do recommend finding a school that will assist you in the work visa process as then you can be rest assured of your legal status and you can also enjoy the same perks other Costa Ricans enjoy.

While it is possible to find work at any time in the year, the main hiring season is at the end of January, when the new school year begins. The school year then ends in December and this is also a strong time in the year for securing teaching work.

Important to note here is that schools will often employ a teacher last minute – mid-January until late January – and this is due to the schools often not knowing how many students will be enrolling onto a course until literally in many cases the last minute. We recommend contacting schools at the beginning of January by emailing them before your departure with your CV/resume, and then following up when you have arrived with a personal visit. This will provide you with an overall idea of which schools will be hiring when, and will provide you with the opportunity of having already made contact with a school when you make contact with them again upon your arrival. Even if a school is willing to recruit you from abroad we do recommend arriving first to check out the school to see if it is the right fit for you.

Teaching in Guanacaste

Guanacaste is a province bordering the Pacific, located in northwestern Costa Rica, and is another destination famous for its beaches and biodiversity. The region effortlessly combines tropical paradise vibes and pristine shorelines with beautiful mountain ranges and other worldly volcanoes, and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The capital of this province is the economic and urban center of the city of Liberia, where there are plentiful job options to go around in this formidable rival to teaching in San Jose.

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