Finding Work in Costa Rica
Many share the dream of living and working in Costa Rica. As you begin your job search, remember that while Costa Rica may be paradise, employment is a serious subject. As you would with any major life decision, do your research and ask all relevant questions before committing to a move abroad.
There are two main factors to consider: obtaining a work permit and managing your salary in relation to the local cost of living. Obtaining a work permit is the most difficult step in the process, as Costa Rica has very strict laws governing foreign workers. Since the local work force is highly educated and skilled, the government protects its citizens by ensuring that, whenever possible, local positions are held by Costa Ricans. In practice, this means that foreigners are granted work permits only for positions that they are uniquely qualified to fill. Some examples include high-level management, private teaching jobs, and mid-level positions within IT companies.
Many companies that recruit English speakers from abroad will try to obtain a work permit for their employees. They may also help with relocation costs and set you up with an apartment close to your workplace. If you receive a job offer from a company unwilling or unable to secure a work permit for you, be aware that you would be working illegally. Working as a tourist without a work permit could result in deportation.
If you are interested in working in Costa Rica but cannot obtain a work permit, you have two additional options. The first is to work online as a telecommuter for a company based outside of Costa Rica. Common telecommuting positions include writing, IT consulting, translation, and sales/telemarketing. These positions provide flexibility and comparatively high salaries.
Your third option is to apply for residency. Only permanent residents are permitted to work for Costa Rican companies, but pensionados (retirees) and rentistas (annuity holders) are allowed to own a company and collect income. Inversionistas (investors) and company directors are permitted to work for and receive income from their companies. Owning a business provides limitless options: open a surf shop on the beach or start a consulting company for expats making the move – play to your strengths, and you could have a very lucrative income. Depending on your residency type, you’ll be entitled to upgrade your status to permanent resident after three to five years, at which point you may work for any company you choose.
As you search for a job in Costa Rica, keep your cost of living and salary requirements in mind. The average salary is less than $500 month, but most expats have found that expenses – even if you share living costs with roommates – rarely dip below $650 per month. In fact, $1200 is a more realistic budget for a moderate lifestyle: a nice apartment or small home, a diet rich in local goods, liberal use of public transportation, and the occasional evening out.
TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, is one of the most popular options for foreign workers in Costa Rica. Generally, you will need to speak English as your first language, and have either TEFL or CELTA certification. Though the average salary for English teachers is a generous $5-$7.50 hourly, in most cases you will not be paid to prepare your classes (5-10 hours weekly) or travel to offsite locations (15-20 hours weekly). Most teachers work about 20 hours per week – earning around $450-$650 per month.
Monthly Salaries for popular English-language positions:
Call Center: $500
English Teacher: $500-$800
IT Professionals: $2000+
Sportsbooks: $500 base + commissions
Tour Guide: $300-$500 + tips
Travel Agent: $300 base + commissions
Upper-level Management: $2500+