Latino music, shaking of the hips, stunning sunsets that set a beautiful backdrop to the untouched natural beauty; what’s not to love about Costa Rica? Not so long ago Costa Rica wasn’t even whispered when people pondered about where to go and teach ESL. Nowadays, Costa Rica’s friendly locals and government have opened the doors welcoming thousands of tourists each year and not to mention a great deal of teachers wanting to instruct the locals English. Teaching English in Costa Rica is like teaching in paradise – there are after all very few places that you could actually hold your English class on the beach and get away with it.
Working as an English teacher in Latin America, more specifically Costa Rica has its challenges. But these challenges are quickly outweighed by the spectacular surroundings you’ll soon find yourself in as soon as your toes are between the sand. In fact Costa Rica is an extremely popular destination for English language teachers seeking employment.
With its convenient proximity to the United States and its ever-increasing tourism industry, Costa Rica features on the top 10 list of places to go for English teachers. Costa Rica is by far the strongest and most stable country economically in Latin America; and it’s because of this closeness to the states and boost in economy that locals find themselves needing to brush up on their English language skills.
San Jose is the bustling heart and capital city of Costa Rica and this is where all the action is when it comes to ESL positions in Costa Rica. Not only is San Jose the economic hub of Costa Rica, it also has strong trade agreements with the USA, Europe and Asia, which is why there’s a huge demand for proficient English speakers. Other popular places to go and teach in Costa Rica include some of its other more prominent cities, which are situated in the Central Valley region including Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia.
One of the best things about teaching English as a second language in Costa Rica (other than the picture perfect scenery) is that there are plenty of teaching positions and the hiring of new teachers is a rolling process throughout the year. However, if you want to better your chances in finding work in Costa Rica, you should really aim to arrive at the beginning of January or April. There are two kinds of contracts that are generally issued by English school owners in Costa Rica – either 6 month or 12 month contracts. One of the biggest differences between Costa Rica and some of the world’s other popular ESL teaching destinations is that you really ought to be in the country to have a better chance of finding work as many of the positions aren’t advertised internationally.
There are a few different kinds of teaching jobs in Costa Rica that you might want to look into with the private language institutes being the most popular. These kinds of schools offer a variety of classes that you must be open to teaching, however, you’re more likely to teach adults as now English language learning is part of the public school curriculum. Teachers in private language institutes are expected to teach around 25 hours per week, Monday to Friday.
Another option is private language tutoring in Costa Rica. This will take time however, as most people rely on word of mouth for English teachers. You’ll need some time to build up your reputation wherever you are, but if you do manage to find a few private students, it’s an excellent way of supplementing your income. It really depends on what you’re teaching and where, but a private English tutor in San Jose could expect to receive about $20 USD per hour, which is excellent if you compare it to the low cost of living.
Another popular kind of ESL teaching in Costa Rica is volunteer teaching. It’s still a relatively poor country despite the wealth of San Jose and in and around Costa Rica you’ll be able to find a number of reputable and rewarding volunteer teaching programs. Teachers in such programs aren’t usually paid; however, they are given food and board to compensate a little. Popular volunteer teaching programs in Costa Rica include EVOLVC.
With regards to qualifications needed in Costa Rica, you’ve got a better chance of being employed without the necessary TESOL qualifications if you’re already in the country. However, if you’re looking to secure a well paying teaching position in Costa Rica, it pays to have some sort of specialised teaching qualification under your belt. When it comes to your TESOL qualifications, all the school cares about is whether you have it or not and not whether it was done online or in a classroom. For some nationalities, which don’t need visas, it’s not necessary to have a degree; however those with higher education will always be favoured more.
Unless you’re a US citizen or have been hired by a reputable English school from your own country, it’s very difficult to obtain the right papers and an official working visa. There are a lot of schools however, who are willing to take those teachers that enter the country on a tourist visa. A tourist visa allows you to stay up 90 days in Costa Rica after which you’ll be required to leave the country for a period of time (72 hours) until you can re-enter on another tourist visa.
If you work the standard 25 classroom hours per week, you can expect to earn around $1,000 USD per month. It may seem low and less attractive than other countries; however, this is almost two times the average salary in Costa Rica. Like it was previously mentioned, it is possible to supplement your income and some teachers find themselves earning a collective amount of approximately $1,500 USD. Some of the average prices in Costa Rica include:
A cheap meal for one: £4.50
A pint of local beer: £1.20
A regular coffee: £1.40
0.33l Water: £0.80
One-way ticket on local transport: £0.40
One-bedroom apartment in the city centre: £280
One-bedroom apartment outside city centre: £240
Even though it seems like a laid back country, you need remain professional especially when interviewing or teaching – in other words your beach attire is not appropriate despite your surroundings and you will be judged as a ‘gringos cucinos’, a derogatory term for backpackers meaning ‘dirty gringos.’
You’ll fall in love with Costa Rica, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few obstacles to overcome. Business can somewhat be ‘disorganised’ and without warning you could find yourself with extra students in your class or even extra classes that you’re not prepared for. In some cases, it’s just better to go with the flow because the same goes for cancellation of classes – a lot of the time they come without warning.
Costa Rican business hours are from 8am-6pm. Your hours will revolve around your students’ schedules, so you can expect scattered hours or split shifts. You’ll have a chance to have a little bit of downtime in between your lessons, however, you’ll also be expected to do a bit of traveling to different locations for lessons throughout the day since most of your lessons are likely to be in-house business English lessons.
The great thing about teaching ESL in Costa Rica is the people are so friendly and willing to learn. You’ll have a great time inside and outside the classroom from teaching diverse groups to surfing awesome waves and exploring lush jungles. What’s not to love?