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Teaching English in Costa Rica: How to Prepare

Teaching English in Costa Rica

When, Where, and How to Land a Job

Costa Rica landscape
Sunset in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of WorldTeach.

I lived and taught English in Costa Rica for almost three years. Costa Rica is largely a lush, tropical country known for its hospitable people. In Costa Rica you can experience their own unique version of traditional Latino culture, dance to salsa music, and escape the big city of San Jose where many jobs are located to the tropical beaches.

For most Costa Ricans, speaking English is a way to get hired or move up the ladder in their jobs or careers. This means that many people need to know English, and there are many ESL jobs available.

If you are considering teaching English in Costa Rica, here are a few tips that might help you along the way:

Search for the Job While in Costa Rica

First of all, there are not many schools that will hire you from overseas. However, many will hire you on the spot if you walk into their office, speak English, have a college degree (in anything), a TEFL certificate, and an agreeable personality. Many companies will hire you during the perio in which you are on your tourist visa.

Proper Appearance

Costa Ricans place a high value on appearance, and a neat, professional appearance will make a good first impression during an interview. Men should wear slacks and a nice shirt to an interview, and women should wear nice pants, or a skirt. The laid back, “I just got back from the beach” appearance turns Costa Ricans off. They even have a special derogatory name for the way gringos look when they are traveling, “gringos cucinos,” which means “dirty gringos.” Editor's note: We believe it is a matter of respect and good manners to adapt to the way of living in traditional cultures such as Costa Rica and elsewhere, of course.

Certification Not Absolutely Necessary

As for TESOL certification, it is generally necessary as years go by. Some schools here do not require certification, but it is a huge plus, and likely will result in a slightly higher starting salary. Most language schools in Costa Rica do not provide enough TESOL training to develop a comfortable feel for teaching English to natives. Therefore, getting some sort of TESOL training before you arrive in Costa Rica, or while in the country, is highly recommended.

When hiring, some schools make no differentiation between a TESOL degree that was earned in two weeks on the Web and cost $200, and a course that cost $4000 and was completed in six months. Again, the teaching environment is becoming more competitive with so many wishing to work in the idyllic surrounds, so having a certificate from a recognized institution is always a plus. Having a Master's in TESOL will impress the employer and improves your changes of landing a job, but you will not necessarily be paid extra for your expertise.

Teaching Income in Costa Rica

On average teachers make about $600-1000+ dollars per month in 2015. You may supplement your income by teaching private classes to businessmen. While teaching around 20-25 hours per week for a private language school, I usually made about six hundred dollars a month. Although this sounds low, I actually got by on that income just fine. In Costa Rica this represented enough money to live in a basic apartment, go out for beer after work, travel to the ocean a few times a month, and generally enjoy life. Your income will not enough to save money or pay off big student loans. Most people come here with a few thousand US dollars to spend, which is recommended both for start-up costs and to enable travel to the many fascinating and often less expensive nearby countries during available free time.

When to Look

It is also important to look for a job at the appropriate time of the year. In Costa Rica, the school year begins at the end of January and ends in early December. The best time to be looking for work is at the beginning of January through February and there is another hiring season starting in July. For the first season, It does not hurt to get a resume in at the beginning of December such that employers have you in mind when they are hiring. Teachers are often hired at the last minute.

The tendency for last-minute hires is due to the fact that schools do not wish to offer jobs until they know how many students are actually enrolling for the new year. After the beginning of the year, the next big opening for jobs usually comes in April, when some North American teachers quit and head back to the states for the summer. A few jobs become available in September, but after September, it is difficult to get hired until the following January.

Types of Schools in Costa Rica

Other important factors to consider are the type of school that would be the best fit for you, your length of commitment, and where you want to live. Most paid teaching jobs in Costa Rica are located in the Central Valley. San Jose, the capital city, has many schools, but it is noisy, polluted, and can be a little dangerous until you know your way around the city. There are some schools located in smaller surrounding cities such as Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. I consider these areas more livable, but it all depends on where you feel most comfortable and what is most important to you.

I worked for three schools after I arrived in Costa Rica.

The first school for which I worked, The Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center, offered a volunteer position teaching English and environmental education to children in the northern, rain-forested region of Costa Rica.

Pro-English (now Pro-Language) in San Jose was the second school for which I worked, and there I was able travel around the city and give private English classes to businessmen. This job was the most lucrative, but it was stressful to travel downtown all day, and the noise and car exhaust could soon drive anyone crazy.

I then worked for Intercultura in Heredia. The school was well run, and had a supportive community of teachers to rely upon. But it is now primary a Spanish language school.

In sum, Costa Rica is a great place to teach. The students are laid back and friendly. Weekends it is easy to jump on a bus, and lay out on a tropical beach with warm water while drinking the cold, relatively cheap beer. Costa Rica’s most famous saying says it all: “Pura Vida” or "life is good".

For More Information

Below is a list of schools that you can contact for further information, as requirements and pay change on a regular basis—as in any economy.

Language Corps Costa Rica offers year-long programs that include training and job placement in Costa Rica or anywhere in the world.

Costa Rica TEFL offers certificate courses that include training and job placement in Costa Rica or anywhere in the world.

Escuela de Idiomas Berlitz is the local franchise of the international Berlitz chain for adults, kids and features company classes as well.

Idioma Internacional specialize in teaching business English.

New Learning Academy in Costa Rica regularly has job positions teaching English.

Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center offers courses and potential jobs in teaching English as a second language in one of the fastest growing ecotourism destination in Costa Rica.

Greenheart Travel provides assistance for those with TEFL certificates already to find jobs in Costa Rica and offers a program for you to gain a English teaching certificate (TESOL) while in Costa Rica.

ITTT TEFL offers training and job placement to teach English in Costa Rica.

For more information on teaching English, visit the websites above as well as forums, such as ESL Cafe, for a discussion of jobs and issues teaching English in Costa Rica.

Visit Transitions Abroad's section for teachers for more resources on teaching in Costa Rica, and for move resources on living in Costa Rica please visit Transitions Abroad's Expatriate Resources for Costa Rica section.

Laura Dulin taught English for over three years in Costa Rica and holds TESOL Certification and a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology and Literature. She has traveled throughout Central America, Europe, and worked six summers on a boat in Alaska.

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