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Teaching English in Costa Rica: Content Index

Teaching qualifications

Costa Rica is often referred to as an ESL Kick-start for English teachers. The logic being that, due to low wages and few long-term prospects, many teachers short on experience can use the opportunities there to add beef to their resume. While this is true, some basic qualifications are necessary.

Almost any school will require a university degree – the discipline does not matter – and a TESOL/TEFL/CELTA or equivalent qualification. A degree in teaching or ESL instruction, at the Bachelor or Masters level, is an acceptable substitute for the TESOL certificate. Most institutes will offer their own variety of training prior to giving class time. However these are more geared to understanding their own methodologies and logistical procedures than teaching instruction.

While a basic knowledge of Spanish is a plus for living in the country, it is not a requirement for acquiring a teaching job.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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Where'll I be working?

Most of the ESL jobs in Costa Rica are in the private sector. That is, working for private language institutes that provide language services to private companies. As mentioned previously, Costa Rica is home to many Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard and DHL, that require their employees to speak English for a myriad of reasons. Working for companies that service these clients is what most EFL teachers do in Costa Rica.

Other options do exist. The most lucrative ESL job in Costa Rica is teaching for an American School. These schools are elementary or high schools that have curriculums either exclusively or predominantly in English. They are private schools and the tuition for students is very expensive. As a result, the recruitment process for staffing is extensive and positions difficult to obtain.

Working in the public sector, either in public schools or public universities is essentially impossible without a work visa or residency, neither of which the public sector will offer you aid in obtaining. As the pay is also low, this is not an avenue that many teachers pursue.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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Working conditions and salary


Working conditions vary depending on the school and the part of the country in which you’re residing. As mentioned in other sections, the most common ESL position in Costa Rica is working in and around the San Jose area working for private language institutes which service Fortune 500 companies.

Given this, teachers can expect to work anywhere from 12 to 25 hours a week for roughly USD$8 - $10 per hour. Lesson planning, preparation time and travel time are not compensated for. Some institutes are known for better treatment of employees than others, so it's key to do your research into where you’ll ultimately be working.

Classes in-company (on site) are generally early in the morning (7am) or in the afternoon or evenings, when the employees of those companies are not working themselves. A common joke among ESL teachers in Costa Rica is that they work from 7 – 9 twice a day.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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Getting a visa

Getting a work visa in Costa Rica is incredibly difficult. American schools are essentially the only institutions that will go through the process of helping teacher obtain a visa. As mentioned elsewhere, those positions are few and far between.

There are two main reasons institutes refuse to go through the process. The first is that it’s very expensive to sponsor a teacher for legal status, and the second is that the return on that financial investment is not often worth the risk. For most, Costa Rica is a destination to gain experience before moving on to other, more lucrative locations. The visa process is lengthy and expensive for schools. If a teacher is only going to be in Costa Rica for 6 months to a year there is minimal point in them going through that process.

The result is that the majority of instructors are forced to leave the country every 90 days – for 72 hours - to renew their tourist visas. This is extremely common and EFL instructors in Costa Rica are often given a free pass in this regard as they are providing a service to the country’s populace that most Costa Rican’s cannot provide to the same standard. Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s neighbours, are the most common destinations for ‘visa runs.’

Residency in Costa Rica can be obtained through marriage, the birth of a child, or making a sizable financial investment to apply for an investor’s visa.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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Regardless of where a teacher finds employment, they will be on their own to find their accommodations. Costa Rica, and most of Latin America for that matter, is not like Asia or The Middle East in this respect. In Asia and places like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, it is almost custom for a school to find a place to stay for their teachers.

In Costa Rica this is not the case. While, once on the ground, schools will be more than willing to give advice and local tips on where to live, all teachers are on their own to cover the cost of rent.

The ELT News guide to living and teaching English in Costa Rica was compiled by Andrew Woodbury.

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  • Teaching qualifications
  • Where'll I be working?
  • Working conditions and salary
  • Getting a visa
  • Accommodation



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