Everything You Need to Know to Work and Travel in Costa Rica
I was 23 years old when I packed three suitcases, a surfboard and a cat that had adopted me and moved to Costa Rica.
Over the next eight and a half years, I taught at two private schools, worked as a private English tutor, babysat children and dogs, sold handmade jewelry and eventually pursued my true calling of being a writer and made a career out of that.
For those who are determined, passionate, hardworking and innovative, working and traveling in Costa Rica is possible—whether for a few months or a lifetime!
Here’s what you need to consider and know before you show up in Costa Rica ready to work and travel.
Why you should work and travel in Costa Rica
One of the best ways to learn and practice Spanish is by creating a full immersion experience. A prolonged work and travel trip in Costa Rica is the perfect opportunity!
By working at a school, hostel, animal rescue center or permaculture farm, you will have the chance to interact and connect with the local people in their native language.
You can also get a leg up in Spanish before going to Costa Rica and maintain an immersion environment during your stay, even when you’re not surrounded by locals. A language learning program, such as FluentU, can help you achieve this.
With FluentU, you can watch subtitled Spanish media clips to hear natives speak and to learn about the culture. You can also use the program to download videos and word lists, so you can learn when you’re out of Wi-Fi range at Costa Rican animal sanctuaries or permaculture farms.
When you explore a place as a member of the community rather than as a tourist, you will become part of the environment.
Working and traveling in Costa Rica is your chance to experience the country on a different level than most short-term tourists experience.
Opportunity to stay in Costa Rica long-term
Whether you are committing to a paying job, internship work exchange or volunteer program, working while you are in Costa Rica creates the chance to stay longer.
The longer you stay in Costa Rica, the more you will be able to see and do.
Make new friends from around the globe
Costa Rica attracts people from all around the world. Oftentimes, work opportunities that involve specialized skills or interests, such as working with children, animals, conservation or hospitality, attract like-minded individuals.
When you land that ideal job in Costa Rica, it is likely that you will be surrounded by people who share at least a few common interests.
Learn valuable life and work skills
Costa Rica is an inspiring classroom. There are endless chances to learn lessons and skills that will serve you well in your future.
By working and traveling in Costa Rica, you will not only improve your Spanish language skills, but also your travel, leadership, team working and problem-solving skills.
You could also learn how to live a more environmentally-conscious life and gain the confidence to share those lessons with others.
What to know before working in Costa Rica
Legal length of stay
Passport holders from the United States, Canada and most Latin American and European countries do not need a special visa to visit Costa Rica. So if you want to enter the country and search for a job after you arrive, you have 90 days to live as a tourist.
You are, however, required to possess proof that you will be leaving Costa Rica before the 90-day allowed time is up. This proof can come in the form of an airline or bus ticket that states your date of departure.
If you plan to stay in Costa Rica longer than 90 days, you will need to make a border run to receive another 90 days. Most people either cross into Nicaragua or Panama.
You are supposed to remain out of Costa Rica for at least 72 hours. In order to come back into Costa Rica, you will have to prove again that you will be leaving before your new 90-day stamp expires.
Obtaining a work permit
Obtaining a work permit in Costa Rica is very difficult. If you are caught illegally working, though, you will likely be deported and not permitted to re-enter Costa Rica for upwards of ten years.
The only way to get a work permit is to land a job with an established company that can prove that your specialized skills are necessary. You and your future employer must then go through a lengthy application process in order to request a legal work permit.
Types of jobs available to foreigners
The most common types of jobs that are available to those who want to work and travel in Costa Rica include teaching English, exchanging room and board for work at a hostel, working at an animal rescue center or sanctuary, volunteering at a permaculture farm or off-the-grid community, teaching yoga and leading retreats.
Many people who live on a more full-time basis in Costa Rica have their own businesses or work from home for international companies. Starting and operating a business in Costa Rica is actually far easier than obtaining a work permit.
Average income in Costa Rica
It is not cheap to live in Costa Rica. In fact, the cost of living is some of the highest in all of Central America.
The average hourly wage in Costa Rica is 7.74 USD. Obviously, like anywhere else, the hourly or monthly rate is dependent on the job type and specific qualifications required.
Average cost of living in Costa Rica
The cost of living on or near the coast or places popular with tourists is far higher than places that are more inland and removed from the tourist trail.
A single person in Costa Rica can live comfortably on 1,500 to 2,000 USD per month. However, this amount is dependent on the part of Costa Rica and the type of lifestyle you want to live.
You can definitely live on a much smaller budget, especially if you do not own a vehicle, do not live by the beach, and shop at the local farmer’s markets instead of the bigger grocery stores.
In order to live and thrive in Costa Rica, you must get creative in generating income, learn how to live more like a local than a tourist, have an outside source of income and/or have a solid savings account.
You cannot legally earn money in Costa Rica unless you have a work permit, have a permanent residency card, own your own business or are a digital nomad. So your best bet is to find a way to exchange your time and work commitment for room and board.
How to find work opportunities in Costa Rica
The most effective way to find work in Costa Rica is in-person when you are in Costa Rica. The saying “it is all about who you know” could not be more valid here.
Many opportunities for work, whether for monetary compensation or as an exchange, will present themselves when you are in Costa Rica and mingling with the locals. Most small businesses and organizations do not advertise on international platforms.
Volunteer organizations and education centers that offer internships and work exchanges do commonly provide that information on their websites, though.
It is a good idea to think ahead of time about what types of jobs you are interested in. You should also consider which areas of Costa Rica you want to explore. Then conduct a narrowed-down internet search.
Ways to work and travel in Costa Rica
Work as a teacher in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is renowned for its extraordinarily high literacy rate, a whopping 97.8%, and exceptional international schools. The majority of the international private schools are located in the Central Valley. However, you can also find a few along the Pacific coast.
If you are an experienced teacher or have your teaching certification, there are opportunities to land a job teaching at one of these schools. If you work at an international school, assistance obtaining a work permit is often a perk awarded to teachers who sign a multi-year contract.
The ability to communicate proficiently in English is a highly-prized skill set in Costa Rica. For this reason, native English-speaking educators are often considered specialized assets that international schools need.
The key to finding a teaching job in Costa Rica is to directly contact the schools you are interested in.
Some schools that are worth checking out include American International School of Costa Rica, Country Day School, La Paz Community School and The British School of Costa Rica. There are, however, dozens more.
Work exchange opportunities
As mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to obtain a work permit in Costa Rica. A fantastic alternative is to participate in a work exchange program.
A work exchange does not compensate monetarily, but rather by providing room, board and sometimes other benefits.
There are work exchange programs that involve working at an animal sanctuary or on an organic farm. Work exchanges can sometimes be made at hostels, hotels and surf shops.
The Monkey Farm is a non-profit organization that offers work exchange programs in Costa Rica.
Volunteer work programs
Costa Rica is an amazing volunteer destination. There are ample opportunities to volunteer with animals, land and ocean conservation, permaculture farms and within off-the-grid communities. And that is just the beginning!
These are the most popular types of volunteering in Costa Rica, but there are also opportunities to volunteer in healthcare, education and community development.
Volunteering is hard work, but highly rewarding. Volunteering in Costa Rica offers a unique chance to contribute in a positive way to your new community, as well as a chance to deeply explore and connect with that particular part of Costa Rica.
Punta Mona, Rancho Delicioso, the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center and Amigos of Costa Rica are five reputable non-profit organizations to get you started on your search for the perfect volunteer work opportunity.
Where there is a will, there is a way. If you are determined to work and travel in Costa Rica, you will find your way. Just like I did!
Jenn Parker is a native Floridian who has been living in Costa Rica since 2010. She is an avid writer, traveler and nature lover on a mission to surf the earth and share her stories. She writes for multiple publications, including a collaborative blog called Ocean and Oak.