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Unlock Adventure and Opportunity: Guide To Teaching English in Costa Rica

Updated: Jan 18

Why Choose Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is one of the most attractive destinations for those looking for opportunities to teach English in Latin America. While it does have tourist resorts that mainly attract young American tourists, it is a rich and varied country and you can experience authentic central American culture and life there. The central part of the country is urban and is where most of the teaching jobs will be available, but you can live in San Jose and spend your weekends on day trips to the Carribean coast with its reggae culture or to the Pacific coast with its beautiful open beaches and surfers, or to rainforests, volcanoes or even different countries, with both Nicaragua and Panama easily reachable by bus from the major cities. Costa Ricans are rightfully proud of their incredible natural environment and biodiversity, as home to 5% of the species on the planet, in spite of covering only 0.03% of the landmass.

What's it like teaching English in Costa Rica?

Kara is a CELTA tutor and her first job abroad was in Costa Rica. She says that arriving in Costa Rica was a baptism of fire as far as Spanish was concerned. She had GCSE Spanish, but had to learn a lot of Spanish very fast and made progress very quickly once she arrived. She liked starting her career abroad in Costa Rica because the country was safe and affordable and a gentle introduction to Latin America. "I could go out to a night club in San Jose and then get the bus home (an hour's journey) without worrying about my safety. I could also get a colectivo - a kind of shared taxi where you had to sit and wait at the taxi rank until there were enough people to fill the car."

As a vegetarian, Kara didn't find it difficult to find food in Costa Rica. The national dish is 'casado', a mix of rice, beans, plantains, a fried egg and some meat, and she was easily able to get the same dish, but with a chunk of cheese instead of meat. "The fresh fruit was amazing - mangoes like I'd never tasted before, and when I had an avocado there, it felt like a completely different food from the avocado we have in Britain. We would go out and get nothing but bread and avocado and it was a really tasty meal."

"There were some differences I really wasn't expecting. I didn't have an address. Streets in my city didn't have names and houses didn't have numbers. All our post went to a PO box and if I was telling a taxi driver where to go, I'd have to tell them to go 200 metres south of a particular tree and stop at the house with the white door. And the tree that we all used for navigation wasn't even standing any more!"

Are English teachers in demand in Costa Rica?

It is relatively easy to find work in Costa Rica and you'll always find listings for teaching jobs on sites like Serious Teachers. Of course, most of the jobs are in San Jose and other central cities and towns, though there are some jobs available in coastal and resort towns too. However, even if you don't like the idea of city life, don't worry. You can live in San Jose and still get to the beach easily every Saturday and Sunday on a Tica Bus. The academic year in Costa Rica starts in February, so even though jobs are available year round, the best time of year to look for a job is December/January in the run-up to this.

Teaching English in San Jose

Unlike many capital cities, San Jose isn't a tourist trap. Most tourists will spend their time on the coast or in the 25% of Costa Rica that is protected as a nature reserve, and might only spend a night or two in San Jose on their way somewhere else. That said, San Jose is a modern city, with plenty of places to enjoy yourself, whether that is museums, cafes, pubs, parks or historic buildings. It's a city where you can get by with very little Spanish. It's a tolerant and welcoming city. LGBTQ people have equal marriage rights and employment discrimination on the basis of secual orientation is illegal. There are more schools and teaching jobs available in San Jose than anywhere else in the country.

Where to find English teaching jobs in Costa Rica

Most teaching jobs in Costa Rica are in language academies. Some of these are run by chains and some are small independent operations. Most students at these schools study in the afternoons and evenings after they've finished school or work. There are also jobs teaching English in businesses in in-company classes (often organised by language academies), and there are a few jobs in universities and in international schools teaching bilingual curriculums. Most people will work for private schools, in a largely unregulated sector, with some very good schools and some less good ones, where there is demand for lessons with native speakers of English. When you're trying to figure out if an employer is good or not, it can be a good idea to google them, you could ask in one of the TEFL forums on Reddit or you could even ask for an email address of an English teacher currently working there. There are agencies that recruit international teachers for schools in Costa Rica, but you can often get a better deal by contacting schools directly.

How Much Do English Teachers Make in Costa Rica?

An English teacher can expect to make between £500 and £800 a month in Costa Rica. This is enough to live comfortably in a country with a low cost of living. Salaries are a little higher in universities and international schools than in language academies. If you find that your teaching salary isn't high enough, you can supplement your earnings by teaching online or doing private tutoring if needs be.

Requirements For Teaching English In Costa Rica

The language teaching scene in Costa Rica is largely unregulated. This means that there are no national guidelines or rules on whether or not you need a degree to teach. However, most good language schools will require that any teachers have a degree, as well as a CELTA or equivalent. You do need a work permit to teach in Costa Rica, and you will need a school to sponsor this before you arrive in the country. Unfortunately, there is a black market for teachers and some schools will hire teachers who arrive on 3-month tourist visas and do a visa run to neighbouring Nicaragua or Panama to renew their status.

Cost of Living in Costa Rica

Life in Costa Rica is considerably cheaper than in the UK. As a richer country than its neighbours, it's more expensive than other parts of Central America, but is substantially cheaper than Europe. Rent is, on average 46% cheaper than in the UK. Fresh food at market stalls and eating out are also very affordable and public transport and getting around the island costs very little - a monthly bus pass can cost as little as £24.

Costa Rica has a lot to offer - a new culture and stunning scenery, beaches and jungles, at an affordable price. As a safe country where North Americans are frequent visitors, it's somewhere you can have authentic Latin American experience, the famous Pura Vida, without too much of a culture shock.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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