Teaching English in Costa Rica
When, Where, and How to Land a Job
I have lived and taught English in Costa Rica for almost three years. Costa Rica is 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 to 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), and have an agreeable personality.
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.”
Certification Not Absolutely Necessary
As for TESOL certification, it is necessary mainly if you want to land a job from overseas. Many schools here do not require certification, but it is a plus, and might 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 is recommended.
When hiring, most schools usually 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. 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.
On average teachers make about five US dollars per hour. You may be paid a few dollars more per hour to teach private classes to businessmen. Teaching around 20-25 hours per week for a private language school, I usually make about six hundred dollars a month. Although this sounds frighteningly low, I can actually get by on that income just fine. In Costa Rica this represents 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. It is not enough to save money or pay off big student loans. Most people come here with a few thousand US dollars to spend, which enables them to travel to nearby countries in their 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. It does not hurt to get a resume in at the beginning of December such that they 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.
Type of School
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 in 2001.
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 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 is well run, and has a supportive community of teachers to rely upon. It also offers teachers free Spanish classes.
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, cheap beer. Costa Rica’s most famous saying says it all: “Pura Vida” or "life is good".
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.