Teaching English in Costa Rica – Advice from an ESL Professional

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At first glance, teaching English as a second language seems perfect. It’s a job that pays you to expand your travel horizons. Little formal training is required, and the plus side is that if you’re reading this, you already know English. It’s also true that Costa Rica currently has a high demand for ESL teachers. However, before you book your one-way ticket, there are some things you should consider.

teaching english in costa rica

Inside the halls of a popular language school in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is currently a hot spot for foreign development. Many corporations that you are familiar with, including Intel, Bayer, DHL and Del Monte, have main offices in Costa Rica. The country is relatively safe compared to its neighbors and quite a few natives speak English, making it a good investment for companies. This in turn means that many corporations are looking to teach their employees English, and that many Costa Ricans want to learn English to bolster their job prospects.

Despite this, you will not make as much money teaching English in Costa Rica as you will in places such as South Korea, China, and some Middle Eastern countries. There are many things that contribute to this fact, but the bottom line is that teaching in Costa Rica will give you just enough money to get by and make frequent trips to the beach. If you have debts haunting you in your home country or if you’re trying to save, this might not work for you.

Another thing to consider is that most jobs will not help you pursue a work visa. Some well-established academies and high schools require that their employees have visas, but the majority will be keen on letting you take time off every 90 days to hop over the border and renew your tourist visa. On the one hand, this allows you a built in three-day weekend and the chance to see another country. However, if you’re not comfortable with this arrangement, make sure to speak with potential employers about this before accepting any jobs.

One of the most difficult adjustments to working in Costa Rica is recognizing and coping with the differences in how businesses are run. You may be used to a work environment that is more rigid and conventional, but in Costa Rica, you may find that you must be flexible and open-minded in order to succeed at your place of work. You may be assigned new classes or new students without adequate warning. Your hours may change or the highway you take to work may be inexplicably closed. Preparing yourself for this unpredictability in advance will save you many a headache.

teach english on the beach in costa rica

English classes in Costa Rica can be taught surfside.

While the above-mentioned factors will certainly not hold true for every teaching position, there are indeed more variables to consider when contemplating a move to Costa Rica. You must decide whether to live in San Jose, the capital and largest city, or an outlying town. San Jose offers more job opportunities and all the accompanying benefits of a metropolis. A job in a beach town will mean access to paradisiacal coastlines, but also a stiflingly small population and little access to many of the luxuries you may take for granted in your current location. If you fear a situation in which everyone in your town knows your name, and what you did on Friday night, moving to San Jose might be your best bet.

While these considerations may seem daunting, teaching abroad is almost always a very rewarding experience. While every job is different, many positions at private academies only require you to work part time, leading to a very stress free lifestyle. Another benefit to working in a country where demand for English is high is that most students are very eager to learn, making the teaching experience that much more enjoyable. In fact, your students will likely serve as invaluable resources in helping you adjust to a new language, an unfamiliar city and a different culture.

15 Responses

  1. Kendra

    These are some great things to consider when thinking about whether or not to move to Costa Rica to teach English- I hadn’t thought about the possibility of the highway being mysteriously closed as I try to get to work! Also, Jennifer, did you live in San Jose or another town?

  2. Jennifer Mayer

    Thanks for your comment! I chose to live in San Jose because of the number of available jobs and modernity in general. I would often fantasize about moving away to the beach, but many beach towns in Costa Rica are very small and undeveloped. I do know some people who after living in San Jose chose to move out to the beach, so it really just depends on how you feel about small towns and big cities.

  3. Frontier

    There are other options like smaller town/city like San Isidro, which is definitely smaller and cosier, but is close to the beach (and the people are friendly).

    Additionally, the option of doing community work/teaching in on the beach is an alluring prospect for anyone – we run projects and which allow you to teach in Costa Rica and get involved in the local community.

    Thanks for the article :)

  4. navtravgirl

    I am currently in Costa Rica for a while and I am looking into teaching english. Are there standard teaching books or tools that you use? Did you bring materials from outside of Costa Rica or can you get them here?

  5. Jennifer Mayer

    From my experience, each company or school has it’s own set of books and it’s own curriculum. I have never heard of anyone bringing materials from the US, unless maybe you decide to become an independent tutor. All the materials I used in Costa Rica were provided to me by my employer, although I believe they can be purchased at stores such as Universal. The internet is also a great and often used resource for ESL lesson materials!

  6. kerribowers

    Great, reliable report.
    Check out: Proyecto Montezuma

    http://www.proyectomontezuma.org

    TEFL teacher training program that teaches free English classes at two local elementary schools and area adults. ESL teachers should be well-trained in not only effective English teaching, but also in culture adaptation and understanding as well. Proyecto Montezuma offers English teaching volunteer positions, in additional to monthly TEFL teacher training courses.

    Keep up the great teaching!
    Pura Vida!

  7. Jennifer Mayer

    Hi Bill,

    I haven’t heard of that type of arrangement before, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be arranged. I would try looking up schools in Costa Rica via Google and sending them an e-mail. Good luck!

  8. Kristen

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m looking for elementary school teaching opportunities in more rural, environmental preservation driven areas. Do you have any advice on good ways to find these schools and apply? Thank you.

    Kristen

  9. rbrennan

    Hey Jennifer,
    I’m from the US and have taught English in Peru and Spain, and am ready to teach and live in Costa Rica. I’m in the US now, but could travel to Costa Rica within a month or so. Where do you suggest I start in terms of getting a job? Is it possible to set something up from here or should I just show up in San Jose and start looking? Thanks!
    -Ryan

  10. megarot

    I am considering moving to Costa Rica. Of course I’ve looked at the option of online work but as a supplement I’m also considering teaching English.

    1) Is it necessary to be fluent in Spanish? Or how much should you know?
    2) How difficult is it to live as a Permanent Tourist (90 days in, 3 days out)? I have read that it’s illegal but not necessarily illegal in the sense that it is written into the law.
    3) How difficult would it be to find a teaching job in say San Jose? Will I need to spend a month or 2 in Costa Rica just searching for a job?
    4) How many hours of work did you normally put in a week?

  11. katiemac9184

    HI!

    I am also considering moving to Costa Rica. A simple question, should I just get there and look for a teaching job? I have a CELTA qualification…how easy is it to get work there that is not teaching corporations English. I would be really grateful for any help or advice, cheers.

  12. Parker Kelly

    Teaching experience both in USA as well as abroad…I would welcome the opportunity to live and work in Costa Rica. My present contract will be fulfilled by the end of June 2012.

  13. Heide Conahan

    I would love to speak to someone that has first hand experience teaching in Costa

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