Can one find a small one or two bedroom place? Cost?
You can find housing between $150 and up. For $150 you get paper thin walls and mold OR a nicer place far away from all the action with a long commute. For $350 you can find a really nice house or apartment anywhere. The average is $250. Expect to share a place – living alone is not common here. Rent sometimes includes utilities and a housekeeper, so always check to make sure of what exactly you will be paying for.
Keep in mind, too, that distances can be deceiving here. If you are looking for convenience, and you do not own a vehicle, you really need to find somewhere super close to your job to avoid hour+ commutes during rush hour. My house is 10 minutes away from school in a car unless it is rush hour – then it is at least an hour away. During the rainy season, add another 30 minutes.
Regarding transportation, if one is trying to get to their work place, how is the bus system (Mexico’s was confusing for me. Often could never figure out how to get around to various places and drivers weren’t much help with my limited Spanish being a problem).
Ohhhh transportation in Costa Rica…If you were confused in Mexico, you will be confused here. Buses are privately owned, so they all look different, with different routes, different fares, and different schedules. Bus stops are not usually marked – you have to look for the congregation of people in most places. There might be a sign on the bus with the origin and final destination, but you have to ask the driver AND some of the passengers where it is going and where it will stop. Specifically if it will stop where you want to be. Ticos do this too – it can be hard for them, so it will be that much harder for you.
You also have to get used to the fact that Costa Rica does not have street addresses. The directions here are told in terms of cardinal directions, landmarks (that might or might not still be there), and meters. For example: go straight east for 200 meters by the ICE to the church and go straight another 300 meters, it will be by the hardware store = go east for 2 blocks, then go by ICE on your way to the church (whichever way that is!!! You have to use your eyeballs.), then go straight 3 blocks and look for your destination by the hardware store. Any of those landmarks in the directions could be long gone with something else standing in their place. Note that 100 meters = 1 block. You have to keep asking if you are going in the right direction. Good thing is, Ticos are so friendly and will help. But be careful, sometimes they want to help too much and will say they know the way to please you when they actually don’t. Good rule of thumb: ask 3 times, and go with the most popular answer.
Regarding Pay. For a full-time job, is that 40 hours per week? I note you said something about employers trying to get you to work more for the salary agreed to or ignoring Holiday pay, etc. Is $1000 per month about the wage for a teacher? I know it varies depending on exact job and location.
Wages for teachers here vary wildly. Generally, $1000 a month is for 30 contact hours (actual time in class) in the Central Valley. The pay breaks down to about $8 an hour. This does not include lesson planning or grading – you are expected to do that on your own time. There are laws in place that require employers to treat employees fairly, but I have seen time and time again employers trying to skirt the law and take advantage. I won’t sugar coat it. It happens. It sucks. Everyone is trying to get ahead here. You have to love Costa Rica to live and teach here – this is not the place to get rich teaching. Come for the experience, not the money.
One of my pet gripes in Mexico was the constant noise everywhere and the insensitivity in the culture to those who want it quiet so one can sleep. Is noise a problem in the community where you live?
Noise… well, San Jose is a city, so don’t live there. Same goes for any downtown area of any of San Jose’s suburbs, like Heredia, Alajuela, San Pedro… I live in Belen and it is super quiet, but on the bus it takes that much longer to get to the city center where all the schools are. Solution: get a car or motorcycle (they are about twice as expensive in Costa Rica as in the US).
You also need to like dogs. Dogs are everywhere and although I don’t really pay attention to barking I can imagine someone who hates dogs and barking would freak out here. Birds, too. If you don’t like birds chirping, don’t bother coming here. (I actually heard someone complain about the birds chirping. This is Costa Rica. Costa Rica = wildlife!)
Something else I’ve noticed is that a lot of my neighbors enjoy singing at anytime of the day. I actually like that. I love most everything about the culture in Costa Rica.
My final 2 cents
Just remember – everyone’s different, so everyone has a different experience in Costa Rica. This is compounded due to the fact that the law, order, and infrastructure are still developing.