Teaching English in Costa Rica

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Hot Springs in Arenal, Costa Rica

A hot springs resort near Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

I’m floating in a natural hot spring under a black velvet sky sparkling with a million sundry stars, savoring the luxurious feeling of the rich revitalizing minerals as they wash over my body, relaxing and invigorating my mind, body and soul. I can feel the occasional deep earthly vibration from Arenal Volcano’s rumbly tummy. I think to myself, “Is this real? This is perfect. This is living.” And then it gets better.

The next morning I step outside on to the terrace to enjoy my morning cup of Costa Rican coffee while wild blue morpho butterflies float and flutter around the garden, dancing between tropical birds and iridescent hummingbirds that are buzzing around an array of exquisite flowers. As I enjoy a delicious plate of fresh cut papaya, pineapple, and mango, I hear some monkeys playing in the nearby trees and look up to see baby howler monkeys swinging from branch to branch in a lively game of chase while their parents watch from close by.

Just then, a fearless pizote saunters up to me to investigate my breakfast plate, hoping for a handout, but it’s already gone and time for me to return to my home in the city. As I drive back to the Central Valley, I promise to return to Arenal’s hot springs soon, but not too soon. First, I need to continue my goal of visiting new places in Costa Rica every other weekend.

blue butterfly

Blue morpho butterflies pause long enough for me to snap a photo!

Costa Rica is the land of biodiversity and microclimates and it’s possible to drive 15 minutes in any direction and experience completely different weather and landscape. White sand beaches, black sand beaches, deserts, volcanoes, national parks, rivers, waterfalls, jungles – it’s wild! Even in the Central Valley, you are never too far away from secluded nature. It’s easy to find yourself surrounded by lush green jungle, a kaleidoscope of flowers, and a menagerie of animals. You can even have this in your backyard if you wish. For me, this is a huge part of the magic of Costa Rica and the main reason I chose to live and work here.

A second factor in choosing Costa Rica as my international home was the proximity to the United States, my previous home. Trips back home to the southeast to see friends and family are easy, short, and relatively inexpensive.

In order to live in Costa Rica and afford this type of lifestyle, I teach English at a local university, 30 hours per week.

I have no prior experience teaching English, but had no problems finding a job here in Costa Rica and even found a company that sponsored my TESOL certification. Most companies require certification to teach English in Costa Rica and some will even offer a work visa. Although some companies make exceptions, a foreigner is legally not allowed to work in Costa Rica without a work visa. Without a work visa, most foreigners are required to leave the country for 72 hours every 90 days in order to renew the tourist visa. The law is different depending on what country you are from.

The average monthly salary for an English teacher in Costa Rica is $1000. This doesn’t sound like much compared to a normal wage in the States, but it is 2.5 times the normal Costa Rican salary of $400 per month. $1000 a month gets me a nice place to live, groceries, transportation money, and a budget for frequent trips to the beach, hot springs, or other areas of the country. For my next trip, I’m hoping to go to the Osa Peninsula to explore Corcovado National Park and to swim with the dolphins!

This article was originally published in International Living.

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27 Responses to “Teaching English in Costa Rica”

  1. Emm
    January 9, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Hi Erin, I’m currently teaching English in Spain, but i’m looking for a little change for next year….could you tell me more about how you started your life in Costa Rica? How you found your job? Chose a city? etc….Thank you so much!

    • Erin Morris
      January 13, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      Wow that is a big question!! They’re great questions, though. I think I’m going to type something up and post it instead of just replying here. Thanks for commenting :)

  2. Tara
    January 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Hi,
    I’m really loving your blog, im planning on moving to Costa rica sometime around march or april, and was wondering if you could post more on the moving process, like what to bring with you, finding places to live, ive seen in a recent post you were saying you had moved round the central valley quite a bit, maybe a break down on the pro’s and cons of the different areas round there?

    Tara

  3. adriana
    February 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    Hi there! I was wondering what University you’re teaching at? I have been trying to do some internet research on this topic and there’s not much good stuff out there, so finding your article was relieving.

    • Erin Morris
      February 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      I’m teaching in the Central Valley, in Heredia. Most schools are located there, not on the beach like a lot of people dream of. I sent more info to your email…

  4. Charlotte
    February 26, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Erin! I love your blog :) I am currently working towards my TEFL qualification in the hope to go and teach abroad in September .. ideally in Costa Rica. I was wondering if you could give me any tips or advice on where and how to start looking for jobs? I live in the UK and would love to get something lined up before I go out there, do you think that’s a possibility? I’d love to hear from you!

  5. March 27, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    I think if I was to teach English somewhere it would be Central America… the lifestyle agrees with me haha. Thanks for the info!

    • Erin Morris
      March 27, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      It agrees with me, too heehee :)

  6. May 21, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    This is a great post! I’ve personally taught English in South Korea for several years. Although I do earn a considerably higher salary it is not relatively high in Korea which means a decent amount of my salary is spent just on living conditions. The fact you earn 2.5 times as much as a local would allow you to really live comfortably and save at the same time.

    • Erin Morris
      May 21, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      “really live comfortably and save at the same time” – NOPE. The people making $400 a month are extremely poor, live further away from town, and live with numerous family members. You could save if you lived like that, but what gringo is going to … can do that? The ones I know that attempted it ended up spending all their money on drugs and alcohol to numb the fact the were living in squalor because they didn’t have a supporting family unit to help out in the situation.
      On $1000 a month you can live comfortably in Costa Rica, but you are not going to save any money unless all you do is work and save. That would be sad to live here and not explore the country, though.
      …speaking of South Korea… that destination comes up a lot in conversation around the lunch table. It’s like the golden goose egg for those of us here learning to live with less… “Did you hear you can make THIS much in South Korea?!” ;)

  7. Mike
    August 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Erin;
    I just read your “IL Postcard” and wanted to say hi from around Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.
    I’m currently house sitting outside the small town of Puerto San Luis. I’ve only been here for a couple of days and am looking forward to the next 2 or 3 months. If you’re in the area again, drop me a note and we may be able to enjoy of cup of this great coffee.
    A little like you (I’m retired), I wanted to continue my travels and looked for a way to do so; I’ve taken up house sitting and travel writing to subsidize traveling. While it’s only been a year since retiring, I’ve had five house sitting assignments and have found it an easy way to visit an area for a while at a much lower cost. It is truly enjoyable, and I’ve met many expats from around the world and have seen things you normally don’t see.
    Keep sharing your adventures.

    Mike
    Have fun, Travel safe
    Travel Thru My Eyes
    Let’s GO

    • Erin Morris
      August 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

      HI Mike! Lake Arenal is gorgeous! I hope you enjoy your time there. Housesitting is an interesting way to travel, I bet you have/are going to collect a lot of great stories.
      I’m actually not retired. I run my own graphic design business and teach English part time to mix it up and give life some variety. …I thrive on change :)
      Thanks so much for stopping by and introducing yourself. See you around!

  8. December 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    You forgot to mention that if you teach as a foreigner without a work visa or residency. You’re working illegally…….

    • Erin Morris
      December 6, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Read it again.

  9. Joyce
    December 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Hello, I am thinking about maybe teaching and/or tutoring English to native Spanish speakers, just wanted to know if you had to be fluent in Spanish to teach? I know quite a bit, but not yet fluent. Thanks!

    • Erin Morris
      December 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      They learn best with immersion, so you don’t need to know any Spanish. Although it does help to understand why they are making certain errors.

  10. Toni
    January 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    I was wondering what it’s like to teach English there. How long have you been doing this? Do you have your own curriculum? I know you said you work about 30 hour a week. So about how many classes is that?

    I’m moving to Costa Rica in February and I’m looking to teach English. Do you speak any Spanish at all?

    • Erin Morris
      January 24, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      The experience of teaching English in Costa Rica is different depending on where you work. Usually, the curriculum is set and you are expected to develop your own course content. Again, classes and hours depends on where you are working. I am fluent in Spanish, but you don’t need it to teach English.

  11. Daniel
    April 4, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    Hey, Erin,
    First off, thank you for writing such an informative (and aesthetically pleasing) blog. It’s been really helpful. I’m hoping to spend next year teaching English in Costa Rica and I was wondering about TEFL/TESOL programs. They can be pretty pricey (especially on-site) and I was wondering what you meant when you said a company sponsored yours. Did they pay for it. Also, your setup of working 30+ hours at a university sounds exactly like what I would like to do. I’m planning on getting TEFL/TESOL certified and then heading down in the summer to start looking for jobs. Any suggestions of universities or institutions in the central valley? Also, how easy is it to pick up private English lessons on the side?

    • Erin Morris
      April 4, 2013 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks for the nice compliment.
      A school sponsored my TESOL, but that is not standard. It was kind of a right place at the right time situation. They saw that I had been here for years and wasn’t planning on going anywhere, I had experience but needed the certificate to legally teach at their school, so as an incentive for me to join, they volunteered to pay for it.
      The online certificates are sufficient but you really learn so much more with an on-site certificate. Some of the on-site certificate schools here guarantee placement upon successful completion. If you do not have experience, I would recommend doing that to ensure a job!
      If you do an online cert, check out the esl forums to read reviews so you can hopefully avoid the crappy schools.
      It’s super easy to pick up private lessons on the side, but you also need to ask the question: how often do students show up to private lessons? because the answer is hardly ever. When they do, they often have an excuse as to why they can’t pay you that day. Besides, if you are shooting for 30 classroom hours per week, you will not have time or energy to teach privately outside of school.

  12. John
    April 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi Erin,

    I have been looking into teaching English in Costa Rica and I’m having a difficult time choosing a school to get my TEFL or TESOL or CELTA. CELTA seems to be more internationally recognized (if received from a school accredited by Cambridge University) and would be useful if I decided to teach in another country, but none of the schools in CR are accredited by Cambridge. What do most reputable schools in CR look for when hiring their English teachers? Can you recommend a school or schools to get my certification?

    • Erin Morris
      April 18, 2013 at 8:44 am #

      It all depends on what type of school you want to work for. Are you in Costa Rica already? If not, I’d say get the certificate that you think will be the most beneficial to you, which sounds like you think it’s the CELTA, and then come to Costa Rica.

  13. Jack
    May 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Do you recommend any certification programs in Costa Rica? I live in San Jose and would like to start visiting a couple to see if it feels right.

  14. Cody
    June 5, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Hi Erin,

    I’ve been in Costa Rica for a couple weeks now; I’m staying in Alajuela with a friend and finishing my TESOL certification as I begin looking for jobs. I was wondering what you know about health benefits. Is health insurance offered very often? And if not, do you know of any cheap, affordable alternatives?

    • Erin Morris
      June 7, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      It’s not common to find a job as an English teacher with CAJA benefits, although technically I think they are required to give them to you. Don’t fight for it – it’s not really worth it unless you like waiting in line at 5am for hours just to make appointments. You can see a private doctor in Alajuela and Heredia for about $15 – $50 a visit. It’s only $10 way up in the mountains. If you feel you need health insurance, look into travel health insurance or global health insurance.

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