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How to Teach English in Costa Rica: Beginner’s Guide

If you think you’d potentially like to teach English in Costa Rica, an exquisite tropical nirvana, as a foreign ESL (English as a second language) instructor, consider this your one-stop guide for everything from cost of living to teacher requirements to how to get hired ASAP.

costa rica beaches

Playa Chiquita, a beach close to Puerto Viejo

Why Teach English in Costa Rica?

First of all, the Costa Rican economy in recent decades has grown substantially, and with it demand for foreign English teachers has boomed. There are plenty of jobs available.

According to the UN Human Development Index (HDI), Costa Rica ranks fifth in all of Latin America in that metric, so it’s reasonably advanced compared to neighboring countries. It also ranks 12th in the World Happiness Report, and 7th in the Press Freedom Index, so, all things considered, it’s a great choice to make your new home.

As far as fauna and climate, biodiverse Costa Rica is home to a rich array of rare species you won’t catch back home in Iowa or wherever. The climate is tropical year-round, so you can leave the winter clothes behind.

red eyed tree frog

Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

Pros/Cons of Living in Costa Rica

Here are a few of the pros of choosing to teach English in Costa Rica:

  • If you’re from North America, it’s way closer than many other foreign ESL destinations in Asia or Europe
  • The cost of living is lower than in some other destinations
  • Non-native speakers can easily find work here
  • Non-degree holders (high school graduates) can also work in Costa Rica (see other places you can teach abroad without a degree)
  • Recruiters/agencies can connect you to schools
  • The absolutely stunning tropical environment and natural features you won’t find anywhere else (1/4 of the land in Costa Rica is protected, meaning it’s free of modern development)

The Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio National Park

Of course, as with any destination, there are cons to consider when weighing Costa Rica against other ESL host countries, such as:

  • Relatively low salary compared to other ESL destinations
  • The visa process is long and arduous (but your agent/school should be able to help)
  • Short-term contracts (less than a year) are rare

What are the Requirements to Teach English in Costa Rica?

Teacher requirements are where Costa Rica really distinguishes itself from other ESL spots around the globe. Jobs abound for non-native speakers and non-degree holders. Don’t have a degree? You can also see how to teach English in Thailand without a degree or consider teaching English in Mexico or Colombia.

Here are the basic requirements to teach ESL in Costa Rica:

  • TEFL certification. This is particularly important if you don’t have a degree and/or aren’t a native speaker because it shows that you’ve invested in learning how to effectively teach English as a foreign language. Check out TEFL Hero’s comprehensive, self-paced 120-hour online course. It’s fully accredited, affordable, and available to complete at your leisure.
  • Valid passport
  • English fluency

For some positions, such as higher-paying ones at universities and international schools, you will likely need a college degree, previous teaching experience, and/or native speaking status.

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TEFL in Costa Rica: Salary and Cost of Living

costa rican currency

The Costa Rican Colon (CRC) is the currency of Costa Rica

Let’s briefly discuss how much teachers generally make in Costa Rica and how the pay stacks up to the cost of living.

How Much Do Teachers Make in Costa Rica?

Teachers in Costa Rica generally make $600-$1,000 USD/month, so the pay rate is relatively low compared to other countries that offer double or triple that salary.

Pay on an hourly basis, rather than salary, is usually $10-$15/hr.

Some schools provide accommodation, use of a motorbike, free meals, or other perks that can shave off monthly living expenses.

What’s the Cost to Live in Costa Rica?

costa rican cuisine

Enjoy the traditional plate of “Casado” – a delicious combination of rice, black beans, plantains, salad, corn, and meat.

The cost of living in Costa Rica is relatively low compared to what you’re likely accustomed to back home.

Per Numbeo, here’s what you can expect to pay for everyday goods and services in San Juan, the capital city and most expensive locale in the country:

  • Eggs (regular) (12): $1.98
  • Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range): $3.30
  • Cigarettes 20 Pack (Marlboro): $2.14 (but please don’t smoke)
  • Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre: $500.96
  • Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 915 sq ft Apartment: $123.60

Numbeo estimates the cost of living in Costa Rica is 33% lower than in the United States, although that’s a rough estimate and varies depending on urban/rural locations.

Can I Save While Teaching in Costa Rica?

Yes. Most teachers live very well on $1,000/month or less. Whatever else you make, you can likely put away for a little nest egg whenever you return home or wherever you go after Costa Rica.

Types of English Teaching Jobs in Costa Rica

Like other countries, there are several types of English teaching jobs available in Costa Rica, each with slightly different pay rates and relative benefits/drawbacks. Here are a few of the most popular.

Private Language Schools

Private schools are the most abundant source of ESL jobs in Costa Rica. They are also the easiest to transition into for new teachers, as they usually provide the curricula and teaching materials, and even often the lesson plans, that you’ll need to effectively instruct students.

There’s also a large variety in terms of the clientele. Some cater to adult learners like business people while others specialize in training small children. Class sizes can be large or small.

Private language school pay is usually $600-$1,000/month.

International or Bilingual Schools

“International school” is actually a specific designation that means the school’s curricula focus on global culture, the school is outside of the national system, a majority of the staff is non-local, and instruction is usually delivered in English.

They cater to wealthy expat families and local elite. Their tuition rates are high. Correspondingly, their pay rates are also high. In fact, international schools pay the most out of any type of school in Costa Rica.

Along with the higher pay, though, comes more competition and more stringent qualifications.

Most teachers will need at least a TEFL and university degree, but may need a more advanced (master’s level) degree and/or teaching experience to get hired.

Pay at international schools in Costa Rica is usually $1,500-$3,000/month.

University / College

universidad de costa rica

Campus of the Universidad de Costa Rica

University ESL work is the second-most lucrative behind international schools. The qualifications are, generally, TEFL certification and an advanced degree. Most institutes of higher learning have ESL requirements that students must meet as part of their majors, so there are many positions available to foreign teachers.

Universities in Costa Rica include:

  • Universidad de Costa Rica
  • Universidad Nacional Costa Rica
  • Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología – ULACIT
  • Universidad Latina de Costa Rica
  • Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica

Universities in Costa Rica generally pay ESL teachers $1,200-$2.200.

Where to Teach English in Costa Rica

The highest concentration of ESL jobs in Costa Rica are located in dense population centers, most notably:

san jose costa rica

San Jose is the largest city in Costa Rica

  • San Jose, the capital and largest city
  • San Pedro, the head city of Montes de Oca canton, in the San José province
  • Heredia, the capital of Heredia province, 10km north of San Jose

How to Find Jobs Teaching English in Costa Rica

Now that you have a better idea of what to expect out of a job and what’s expected of you as the teacher, how do you get the show on the road, get in the classroom, roll up your proverbial sleeves, and get to work?

Let’s discuss…

When to Start

There are jobs available at schools in Costa Rica, especially private language institutions, year-round. However, the bulk of positions become available in January and June. You’ll have more luck if you time your applications around these periods or shortly before.

Where to Start

The two primary ways by which teachers land positions are a.) job recruiters and b.) online job boards.

Recruiters take some of the hassle out of the job search process, having already established a relationship with several schools that are actively hiring teachers. The only real downsides to using recruiters are that some of them can be shady and all of them take a cut of pay from the school for their services (although this doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically make less than you otherwise would have if you got the contract on your own.

Minimize risk of the first negative (the shadiness issue) by vetting recruiters before signing on. If possible, talk to current and former teachers to confirm they are legit.

Teachaway, for one, is a well-regarded recruiting firm that places teachers in Costa Rica, but there are others as well. Footprints Recruiting is also legit.

The second route, which I would recommend more, especially if you already have some experience in the global ESL industry, is online job boards. 

LinkedIn, although a little more involved than a simple job board, is also a great resource to consider, in particular for higher-end work.

How to Get Hired

Here are a few tips to get hired ASAP:

  • Time your applications for January and June, if possible, or slightly prior
  • Polish your resume. There are many free resume builders and templates online.
  • Create an email template that you can use to quickly fire off emails with just a few changes like proper nouns
  • Create a professional headshot to include in applications
  • Scan your passport and include that in applications (with passport number and other sensitive information blacked out)
  • Commit to two email applications daily
  • Follow up after any interviews with a quick thank-you note

If you follow these tips, and you meet the basic requirements outlined above, you’re almost guaranteed to get hired in short order.

What Visa Do You Need to Teach English in Costa Rica?

To legally live and work in Costa Rica, your school or company will need to sponsor a work visa for you, which is valid for six months and subject to renewal.

When you’re negotiating with a potential school or employer, always make sure that visa support is part of what they offer. Most schools that routinely hire foreign workers offer this perk, and it’s indispensable to you as an alien in terms of time, money, and headaches. Trust me; you don’t want to try to navigate any foreign bureaucracy on your own. It won’t end well.

FAQs About Teaching English in Costa Rica

Let’s discuss some of the most frequently asked questions vis a vis ESL in Costa Rica.

Is it safe to teach in Costa Rica?

Yes. Costa Rica is one of the safer countries in Latin America in terms of crime rates. However, foreigners should exercise certain precautions as with traveling in any foreign country.

Can I save money teaching in Costa Rica?

Most teachers live very comfortably on less than $1,000/month. Any extra income is savable.

Can I teach in Costa Rica without a degree?

Yes. It’s possible, and even common, for foreign teachers with no degree to find work. However, if you don’t have a degree, consider getting a TEFL certificate to pad your resume.

Are English teachers in demand in Costa Rica?

Yes. The rapidly developing and internationalizing Costa Rican economy has created high demand for foreign ESL teachers.

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Costa Rica requires a TEFL

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