Guide to teaching English in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an incredible country filled with beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, lush rainforests, and a temperate climate, making this destination a fantastic choice for tourism, business, pleasure, and teaching English!
The demand for English (ESL) teachers is very high in this Central American country, as English proficiency is required for many higher-paying jobs in Costa Rica, often in the tourism industry or with multinational companies expanding into the country.
Interested in becoming an English teacher in Costa Rica? We’ve got you covered! Keep reading to learn more about the types of teaching jobs, average salaries and benefits, and how to get an ESL teaching job in Costa Rica!
Types of teaching jobs in Costa Rica
There are four main English language teaching options for teachers in Costa Rica, which vary in requirements, benefits, and workloads. Regardless of the type of English teaching job you're interested in, it is required, or at least highly recommended, that you're TEFL certified.
Private Language Schools
As the most popular type of employer of English teachers in Costa Rica, private language schools are an excellent option for finding jobs. Generally, the school will provide you with the teaching curriculum, including any textbooks and materials needed to teach your classes. Class sizes vary, and you can teach both private classes and groups of students.
Teaching English at a university in Costa Rica, and most countries, is significantly more competitive. Typically, you will need higher qualifications than for a private language school, including previous teaching experience in addition to a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, such as TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA.
Language institutes offer business-level English classes in Costa Rica to help adults develop skills due to a growing presence of large corporations expanding into the country. Teaching business English at language institutes will mean working before or after business hours to accommodate the students’ schedules.
Tutoring and offering private lessons are good options for English teachers who are experienced educators and want more flexibility in their schedules. Since private tutoring is one-on-one in Costa Rica, English teachers can charge a higher hourly fee. Although this seems like a better option than working at a school, with private tutoring, you will have to build up your own clientele, which can prove difficult, especially in a country in which you don't have an established network. Otherwise, you can take on private lessons to supplement your other teaching income as long as it doesn’t violate the contract with your school and is permitted on your visa.
Average salary and benefits for teaching English in Costa Rica
On average, an English teacher's monthly salary in Costa Rica is between $800-$1,000 USD. While less than the average wage in the United States, Costa Rica has a more affordable cost of living, so that salary goes a long way. If you want to supplement your income, many English teachers take on private students or teach English online.
Depending on your employer, you may also receive a benefits package as part of your compensation. These will vary but often includes accommodation or a housing allowance.
Cost of living in Costa Rica
You can live more than comfortably on the monthly English teaching salary in Costa Rica, with enough money for a nice place to live, groceries, transportation money, as well as a budget for frequent trips to any beach, volcano, or other beautiful attraction that Costa Rica has to offer. Here is a list of common expenses and their average cost in Costa Rica:
- One-bedroom apartment in a city center: $453.64
- Basic utilities: 65.69
- Monthly public transportation pass: 34.91
- A meal at an inexpensive restaurant: 6.89
- Domestic beer: 1.96
- Cappuccino: 2.41
Where and how to find housing
As with finding English teaching jobs, most expats will search for housing in the Central Valley. When searching for an apartment or house to rent, consider the proximity to the school or institute you work at as well as the bus route. Public transportation in Costa Rica is very inexpensive and a great way to get around, so a convenient bus stop is crucial.
If you're renting an unfurnished property, understand that it will likely be completely bare. Additionally, many properties have not been updated recently and are quite old. Always ensure you understand what is included in your lease, such as utilities. Additionally, if you plan on tutoring or teaching English independently -- it is illegal to run a business out of a residential rental property, so keep that in mind.
Where to teach English in Costa Rica
The most popular areas within Costa Rica to teach English are in the Central Valley, which includes the capital, San José, and other major cities, such as Heredia and Cartago. This is where you will find most of the private institutions looking to hire TEFL certified English teachers.
How to get a job teaching English in Costa Rica
Like most countries, there is regular turnover for English teaching jobs in Costa Rica. Applying during peak hiring season will help maximize your options and likelihood of finding a job that fits your goals.
Where to find jobs
Teaching English to adults is more common than to kids in Costa Rica. There are third-party providers, such as the ones below, who help place teachers with open positions in Costa Rica, and some even offer TEFL training and certification.
When to apply
The school year in Costa Rica typically begins in early February. Since most schools don't hire in the middle of the year, the best time to start your job search is between October and December, as this is when contracts end and teachers change jobs or go to other institutes.
Common qualifications to teach in Costa Rica
The two requirements you need to teach English in Costa Rica are a TEFL/CELTA certificate and to be a native English speaker. Most countries in Latin America don't even require degrees of any kind to teach English. If you don't have a TEFL certificate, there are lots of great opportunities to take a course at language institutes, like International TEFL Academy, where you get job search guidance and networking opportunities. You might even get hired at the institute you take the course from!
Work visas in Costa Rica
Work visas in Costa Rica take a long time and are difficult to obtain. This is because of the requirement that jobs go to citizens (Ticos) instead of international workers unless it's a job that Ticos can't do (like teaching English).
A school or company must sponsor your visa, which is expensive and might be difficult if you're only interested in staying in Costa Rica for less than a year. Typically, when you obtain your work visa, it will be valid for six months from the issue date. Work permits are renewable and can be submitted to the department of immigration. They must be approved by the work department as well.
To apply, you must be able to provide several documents. These items are submitted to the migration office in San José. Upon submission, your application must be attached to a statement from the company you will be working for. The Costa Rican Social Security Office will also verify that you have no outstanding financial obligations before the visa is approved.
Other necessary items:
- A copy of your birth certificate
- Photocopies of your passport
- Your marriage certificate (if married)
- Proof of adequate financial resources
- A statement of good conduct from the police
- Submit to a background check by the Costa Rican Ministry of Security
- Up to 4 passport size photos
- Copies of your diplomas or any other qualifications (like your TEFL certificate)
- Join any professional associations available in your field
Classroom culture in Costa Rica
It is imperative to research and understand the cultural nuances you will experience in the classroom while teaching abroad. There can be vast differences in the way students and teachers interact, so ESL teachers should be respectful and understanding while adapting to a new classroom environment.
Classroom & work culture
There is a fine line between being strict and laid back in the classroom, and it all depends on the school or institution you work for. A language institute is more likely to have lenient rules in terms of classroom management, letting you (the teacher) have more reign in terms of rules. Obviously, working with adults as opposed to kids means fewer disciplinary rules.
Ticos dress very nicely for work and take pride in their appearance. In general, the dress code is business casual (again, it depends on the school/institute where you're teaching). This means no flip-flops, shorts, jeans, or beachwear!
Additional culture & etiquette tips
Costa Rica has a vibrant and unique culture. It was once the point where the Mesoamerican and South American cultures met. As a result, Costa Rica developed new styles of art and music influenced by both cultures.
Here are a few more important tips to know before visiting Costa Rica:
- Shake hands and make eye contact when meeting new people
- A kiss on the cheek is a common greeting among friends and family
- Pura Vida is a common way to say hello. It translates to pure life or good life
- Dance genres, like soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia and swingers, are important cultural pasttimes
- Costa Rica is renowned for its exquisite cuisine that’s a blend of Mesoamerican, Spanish, and African influence
Teaching Programs in Costa Rica
View the latest teaching job postings on our job board.
Is it expensive to live in Costa Rica?
Generally, the average rent for an apartment in the city center is $300. As an English teacher making an average of $1,000 per month, you should be able to live comfortably due to the low cost of living.
How do I get a work visa for Costa Rica?
To get a work visa in Costa Rica, a school or company must sponsor you. You will have to fill out an application, attach the school's statement of work, and provide proof that you don't have any debt in Costa Rica. Work visas last for six months and can be renewed.
Do you need a degree to teach in Costa Rica?
No, generally, you do not need a four-year college degree to teach English in Costa Rica. Many teaching positions do not have this requirement. However, it's a good idea to take a TEFL course to be more competitive for job opportunities.
How do I become a teacher in Costa Rica?
To become an English teacher in Costa Rica you should be a native speaker and have a TEFL certificate. Although a teaching certificate isn't required, it will open more job opportunities to teach English abroad.
Do you need to know Spanish to teach in Costa Rica?
Great question! the simple answer is no. Schools that are looking for teachers to teach in English, often employ an assistant teacher who can communicate with students in their native language if need be. You may also find that if you are living within the community, you can quickly learn some basic conversational pieces.