Things You Should Know Before Teaching English in Costa Rica

Thinking about living the “pura vida” life? You are in for an incredible journey! 

Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with breathtaking scenery, diverse wildlife, and kind-hearted people that will make you feel right at home.

As someone who has taught English in Costa Rica, I can vouch not only as a witness to the amazing views and delicious food, but also to the life-changing impact Costa Rica has on your personal development and the overall confidence you can gain from teaching English abroad.

No matter where you’re going, it is still important for every individual to do ample research before making a decision to teach abroad.

So to make it easier, here are a few things you should know before teaching English in Costa Rica.

What qualifications do I need to teach English in Costa Rica?

Teaching English in Costa Rica is not as strict in comparison to many other countries in the world. While a bachelor’s degree is sometimes preferred, it is not required, and no experience is necessary. Costa Rica is also open to non-native speakers, and it is possible to find a teaching position without TEFL certification.

In short, you need to be a fluent English speaker with at least a high school degree, and have an interest in living and teaching English in Costa Rica.

However, obtaining a TEFL certificate is becoming a common requirement for teaching positions due to the growing EFL (English as a foreign language) industry. Also, if you earn a TEFL certification (check out our TEFL training program in Costa Rica) you are able to receive better teaching opportunities, higher salaries, afford better housing, and simply have more income to explore the wonderful country that is Costa Rica.

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What are the different types of teaching jobs in Costa Rica?

Once you are aware of the minimum qualifications required to teach English in Costa Rica, you should know what types of teaching jobs are available there. If you are TEFL certified, you are able to teach in private language institutes, public schools, companies/businesses and universities to name a few. 

Most teaching sites/schools will include teaching Monday through Friday with less than 40 hours of teaching time. However, depending on the teaching site, you will need to be flexible about what times you are willing to teach based on their scheduling needs and preferences.

Private Language Schools:

If you are teaching in a private language school then you may be required to teach after normal school hours. Private language schools offer English classes as additional educational services in Costa Rica which means students are often learning after school or work. This will allow you to meet a variety of age groups and language levels, therefore increasing your overall teaching skills.

Public and Private Schools:
Whether working in a public or private school, it is important to be open and flexible. Certain schools may not have the funding for the highest monthly wage so it’s important to keep the experience in mind and not just the paycheck. Between the two, private schools may have more potential to pay you a higher monthly wage. Either way, you will be making a difference in the lives of children who may not have had an opportunity to learn English otherwise. These positions offer a set schedule Monday – Friday with weekends and public holidays off.

Working in a university will most likely lead to the highest salary in comparison to the other teaching sites listed above. However, in addition to a TEFL certificate you will most likely need to have at least a bachelor’s degree (sometimes a Master’s degree or higher) to teach in a university setting.


Sometimes corporations or large companies will hire English teachers to help their employees learn English. This may mean working as a freelance teacher, or a salaried position, but often the pay is competitive and the hours are during normal business hours. If teaching adults and focusing on specific kinds of English (like business) is your cup of tea, this might be perfect for you.

Private Tutoring:
Private tutoring allows you to develop your own classes, build your own clientele, as well as establish your desired hourly rates. Most teachers love the one-on-one teaching environment and the freedom to work as much or as little as they want. There is also ample opportunity here to swap languages — you teach them English and they teach you Spanish!

Overall, Costa Rica hires English teachers all throughout the year! This means you will have a pretty good chance no matter what time of year to land a teaching position from at least one of the teaching sites listed above! 

Do I need to obtain a work permit/visa to teach in Costa Rica? 

While the answer to this question varies depending on where you’re from, generally, if you are traveling from the United States, Canada, or the majority of Europe then you will not need a visa initially since you can travel up to 90 days without one. If you plan to stay longer, you’ll need to get a tourist visa (and this is sufficient for teachers coming from countries who require an initial visa).

Keep in mind that you need a valid passport to get a visa. If you need an extension after 90 days than you will need to apply for one with the Department of Immigration.

teaching english in costa rica

How much can I earn teaching English in Costa Rica?

Depending on your school/center, you can make anywhere from $700 – $900 U.S. dollars per month. This may not sound like much, but it is enough to live in Costa Rica. Check out our Country Comparison Chart for more helpful information to better prepare you for teaching English in Costa Rica.

Plus, if you want to get even more specific you can use a cost comparison calculator to compare where you live now and where you want to teach. 

What are additional sources of income to support my time teaching English in Costa Rica?

Beyond teaching English at your site in Costa Rica, you can earn additional income by offering private tutoring services in your surrounding community. Personally, I did private English lessons for adults after regular class hours and it was a great way to build not only my teaching skills, but also improve my Spanish speaking abilities. It is also a great way to become a more active member of the community and to create friendships along the way.

If you prefer an alternative method to private tutoring, teaching English online is another excellent way to earn income. Teaching online allows you to have a flexible schedule that won’t interfere with your regular onsite classes. Plus, you will gain invaluable experience teaching English in a remote setting that you can continue even after your time in Costa Rica! 

What are some teaching essentials I need to bring to Costa Rica?

Beyond packing regular items for your trip, it is important to gather the essentials to ensure your time teaching English in Costa Rica is a success. A few things to add to your packing list include a copy of important documents such as your resume, degree, certifications (TEFL), laptop and any teaching materials (pictures, flashcards, pens/pencils, books, etc), along with professional clothing to wear when you teach. 

living abroad in costa rica

What are some important customs in Costa Rican culture?

Before going to another country to teach, it is important to learn about their culture. Doing so allows you to better adapt to your new environment and build community with strangers. If you take time to research a country’s culture before visiting, it shows respect to the people who live there, the students you will teach, and future friendships you will make.

It will certainly help you know how people greet one another so you aren’t surprised when a stranger kisses you ever so lightly on the cheek and offers you a cafecito (a small coffee) when you first arrive! The kiss is a totally normal greeting that I wasn’t expecting, so don’t be surprised when it happens to you.

It’s also good to note that Costa Ricans are more formal than many Spanish speakers and commonly use the “usted” conjugation to refer to “you” instead of the less formal “tu”. It is a sign of respect.

Another Costa Rican custom you’ll quickly become aware of is “tico time”. This doesn’t mean any time in particular, but simply refers to how Costa Ricans understand meeting times in day to day life. For instance, if someone agrees to meet you at 9 a.m. for a meal or for an activity they may be a few minutes late (like 9:30 a.m.!). It is not considered rude, so please don’t be offended if your person arrives a few minutes after your agreed meeting time. You may miss out on a great experience!

A majority of locals practice Catholicism as their religion and attend Catholic church services such as mass, communions, baptisms, and other services as a regular part of community life. Although I’m not a practicing Catholic, I attended a service with my host family and it was a great experience.

These are just a few of the cultural differences you’ll want to be aware of, but you’ll experience many more and that’s all part of the fun of immersion travel. Don’t be afraid to try new things and to learn more about a new culture or place!

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What are some fun things to do during my downtime in Costa Rica?

When you’re not teaching, make sure to take some time to explore the country! Costa Rica’s diverse landscape allows for unforgettable memories whether visiting San Jose (the capital), museums (this one has a butterfly garden), volcanoes like Arenal Volcano, beaches, hiking to waterfalls, going on an authentic coffee factory tour in the mountains (best coffee ever, trust me), or whatever else may suit your travel heart.

It’s also great to give back and to get to know people in your community. See if there are any activities you can volunteer or lead at your teaching site.

During my time in Costa Rica, I assisted in a community trash clean-up. I got to see more of the beautiful landscape, help their local environment, spend more time with my students, and help them practice their English while we worked. It built a stronger bond with my students which translated into more engagement in my classroom the following week.

So, are you ready to make a difference? Are you excited about the potential to travel to a new country? If so, Costa Rica may be the place for you! 

Words by Melody Lipford.