The salary for someone teaching English in Costa Rica is £400/$600 a month. This sounds low by western standards but is relative to the cost of living and more than double the local average salary at $400 per month. This means that you can live like a local very comfortably and will also have some free cash to indulge in some luxuries or travel throughout Central America too. Most TEFL teachers in Costa Rica don’t try and save money or pay off student loans back home, quite simply because the exchange rate is poor between the Costa Rican and western currencies. Teaching English in Costa Rica is perfect if you’re looking for your TEFL experience to be about more than just a pay check.
As most Costa Ricans live at home until they’re married, 1 bedroom apartments are usually occupied by businesspeople and so can be expensive. Expect to spend around 60% of your monthly income on rent if you opt for a one bed city-centre flat, costing around £390/$650 including bills. Apartments in the suburbs cost significantly less, at around £350/$70 and are a good option if you would prefer to have a larger disposable income.
The cost of food is fairly average too with a 3 course meal in one of Costa Rica’s restaurants costing £12/$15. If you plan your meals ahead or cook at home with friends, you’ll spend even less.
The nightlife here is also very affordable, with an English teacher’s wage easily funding many nights out! Start off with a nice meal in a restaurant, costing approximately £5/$7, and wash it down with half a litre of beer for £1/$2. Most people teaching English in Costa Rica integrate well with the local community and most of your leisure time will be spent with both Costa Rican and expat friends.
Admittedly not the most flavoursome of foods, traditional Costa Rican food consists mostly of rice and bean dishes, and is very cheap. A typical Costa Rican dish is Arroz con Pollo – chicken served with sweet potato and chayote (it looks like a pear but tastes like a cucumber!) and whilst it may not wow the tastebuds, most dishes are inoffensive and tend to appeal to everyone.
Drinks-wise, you have to try the national liqueur, Cacique Guaro, which translates to ‘burning water’ and is made from sugar cane. It can either be drunk with a mixer or if you’re feeling brave, neat… just make sure you’re not teaching the next day!
Average yearly-round temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius means you’ll be able to pack away those jumpers for good if you make the move to teach English in Costa Rica. There is frequently heavy rain, but luckily, it doesn’t experience the hurricanes that Central America is notorious for with the last one ripping through the country in 1998.
Whilst TEFL employers in Costa Rica don’t typically provide English teachers with accommodation, they will help you find somewhere suitable; and as the most developed country in Central America, accommodation is a higher quality than elsewhere. In the larger cities (where you’re most likely to find a job teaching English anyway), the standard of housing will be what you are used to at home; and although accommodation is more old-fashioned in the smaller towns, as the rent is cheaper, it’s to be expected.
The three larger cities of San Jose, Manuel Antonio and Heredia have the majority of English teaching opportunities in Costa Rica. This is in part due to the large populations but also down to the biggest international businesses and prestigious universities. Within these cities, the bulk of Costa Rica’s teaching opportunities are filled by the two largest language schools, Berlitz and English First who i-to-i partner with.
As you head out into rural Costa Rica or towards the coast, independently run language schools become the dominant TEFL employers. If you do choose to teach English at an independent school (which can be an amazing experience) then it’s worth considering how well established the school is and how secure your job might be if the student retention rate were to drop.
Regardless of size, most employers in Costa Rica recruit for their language schools between the months of September and December.
There are comprehensive bus services in Costa Rica’s larger cities, and with one-way tickets costing just 40p/$0.70, if you choose to live in the suburbs and teach in the centre, you’ll be able to get to work quickly and cheaply.
It’s also worth noting that despite a lot of so-called ‘taxis’ lining the streets of the cities, the only legal taxis are the red ones, with a yellow triangle on the side. The number of illegal taxis is a big issue, and not only should you avoid them for your own safety (these taxis are notorious for their scams) if the transit police stop them whilst you’re in the car, it’s highly likely that both you and your luggage will be left on the side of the road. Nevertheless, the cities are small and easily explored on foot, so it’s unlikely you’ll need a taxi.
If part of your TEFL adventure involves visiting other parts of Central America, they you’re in luck! The national airlines of Natureair and Sansa offer affordable flights to other Central American cities: you can get a return ticket from San Jose to Managua (Nicaragua) for £165/$270 per person, taking just 1.5 hours – perfect for a quick weekend getaway!
If you want to live amongst other English teachers in San Jose, have a look in the area of Escazú – a 15 minute bus ride from the centre, this place boasts a range of restaurants serving international cuisine, and excellent shopping
If you see a painting of a broken heart by the side of the road, walk past carefully, as it signifies a place where someone was killed in an accident.
Appearance is very important to the Costa Ricans and many well-qualified English teachers have been rejected for a position, despite a sparkling resume, because of their casual attire. As you may meet potential employers anywhere in Costa Rica its worth wearing clean, smart clothes at all times.
If you’re keen to find out more about teaching in Costa Rica then you’ll want to check out the i-to-i TEFL free guide. You’ll find out loads more useful information on finding your first job, where you can teach and how to negotiate the best salary package.
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