Updated 4 days ago

A low unemployment rate and a strong economy set Costa Rica apart from its neighbours. If you have fallen in love with the jungles and mountains of this biodiverse country, then read this article to find out more about how you can live and work there.

Over 50,000 North American expats are living in Costa Rica — from surfers and conservationists to young families and retirees. Some foreigners find work before they arrive in the country, while others come with their CV, hoping to find a position that will allow them to live in this Central American paradise.

Most expatriates tend to live in beach towns or the Central Valley region, as this is where you can find the majority of jobs. Expats can sometimes be hired in the fields of tourism or real estate, but the most widely available jobs for foreigners involve teaching English or working in a call centre.

Many foreigners work in schools, teaching English as a foreign language. Providing you have a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA qualification, this can be a nice way to earn a living in the country, as the average hourly salary for English teachers tends to be relatively generous, although you do only get paid for classroom time (and not preparation time or travel).

Although many international companies have opened offices in Costa Rica, competition is still fierce for positions, especially as Costa Rica has a well educated (and cheap) workforce, and if they do hire foreigners, there is a tendency to simply relocate employees from international offices.

Work in Costa Rica

There are strict labour laws in Costa Rica — foreigners must be sponsored by an employer, and prove that they are taking a position that cannot be filled locally. This means that it can sometimes be difficult for foreigners to find a job legally. Although it is possible to apply for a work permit, these can be difficult to obtain, and it's advisable to avoid a job offer from a company that is unwilling or unable to secure you a work permit, as you risk being deported if you are employed without a valid permit.

However, don't let this deter you as there are still several paths you can take that will allow you to legally earn an income in Costa Rica. For example, if you have skills in a field that would allow you to freelance or work remotely from anywhere in the world, you could consider living in Costa Rica while 'telecommuting' to a job that is based outside of the country. Popular jobs include IT consulting, web design, copywriting/editing, and translation, and this type of work can provide flexibility, as well as a better income than what you may get by working for a company in Costa Rica. Telecommuters tend to be among the expats who live most comfortably in Costa Rica. As long as you receive your paycheque abroad, this is a completely legal way to earn an income to support you in the country, but you will still need to go through the process of applying for residency.

If you have legally resided in the country for around five years, or have a child born in Costa Rica, you may be eligible for permanent residency, in which case you won't be subject to any employment restrictions. And the same would apply if you marry a Costa Rican and are granted unconditional temporary residency.

Being self-employed or starting your own business can be another good way to work in Costa Rica, as the government has made this a relatively easy process in order to create more jobs for locals. You don’t even have to be a resident of the country, as a 90-day tourist visa allows you to buy an existing business or to start your own. If you intend to invest in the country, you could qualify for inversionista (investor) residency and would be permitted to legally own a business, in which you could collect an income. Do be aware that, while foreigners are allowed to own a business, they are not allowed to work in them, as you'd be considered to be taking away a potential job opportunity from a Costa Rican. If you are an executive, you may alternatively be eligible for representante (representative) residency, which would grant you the right to work as a director of a Costa Rican company.

Requirements

To work in the country as a foreigner, you'll need a temporary residency or a work permit. However, be warned that there are so many residency requests that it can take much longer than 90 days to approve applications (approval generally takes between three and eight months). Consequently, many companies hire foreigners as consultants and pay them a stipend that is referred to as a servicio professionale. so that they aren't technically an employee. The downside to this arrangement is that you will need to leave and re-enter the country every 30 to 90 days (depending on your nationality and your arrival stamp), but it is a potential way to procure employment without breaking the law.

If you find a job in Costa Rica, your employer will need to apply for your work permit and submit the following documents to immigration (an official translator must translate all documents that are not in Spanish, and all documents must carry an Apostille certification).

  • A notarised copy of all your passport pages
  • A signed application form issued by the Department of Immigration, along with the receipt for payment for each page of the application request.
  • A letter, including your name, nationality, age, occupation and address, that details the reasons for your work permit request. This must be signed in front of a lawyer or an employee at the Department of Immigration.
  • Two recent passport photos
  • A certified copy of your birth certificate
  • A criminal record history from the country where you have been living for the previous three years.
  • Proof that you have registered your fingerprints at the Ministry of Public Safety
  • Proof that you have registered with the Costa Rican consulate
  • A job offer, signed by your employer, that details your role and salary
  • Proof that the company is up-to-date with its CCSS (Caja) payments, insurance payments, and municipal and income tax payments
  • Corporate and employer certification

If you entered Costa Rica as a tourist and would like to request temporary residency, you will also need to deposit an additional US$200 with your application. Do note that your application will not be accepted on the final Friday of the month.

Salary expectations

Costa Rican salaries are generally lower than salaries in North America or Europe, and the average monthly wage hovers around the US$500 mark. It's important to bear in mind your cost of living before you accept a job, as a shared furnished apartment or small home can cost from between US$300 and US$800, while your groceries could set you back around US$200 a month; and you may also wish to budget enough for travel and entertainment. Taking everything into consideration, including day-to-day needs, such as public transport, it is likely that you may need to earn between US$1,000 and US$1,500 per month to live a comfortable lifestyle.

If you work about 20 hours a week teaching English as a foreign language, you're likely to take home around US$750 each month. If you are a qualified English-speaking teacher, you may be able to find full-time work at a bilingual private school and earn a much higher salary of around US$1,200 a month, as well as additional benefits. Do be aware that, while you could earn more than the average wage in Costa Rica by teaching English, you may still struggle to cover expenses if you are accustomed to a high standard of living.

IT professionals and upper-level management positions earn considerably more, at around US$2,000 to US$2,500, while working as a tour guide or in a call centre may only make you around US$500.

To check whether a job pays minimum wage, take a look at the Labour Ministry's website, which publishes the minimum wage for most jobs.

Finding a job

If you haven't found a job before reaching Costa Rica, then it's worth checking out Costa Rica's version of Craigs List, or scoping out the listings in the English-language newspaper, The Tico Times.

Joining a networking group, such as Costa Rica Central Valley Living Info; an expat club, such as The Women's Club of Costa Rica or the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR); or a Facebook group, such as Expatriates in Costa Rica or Costa Rica Friends, can also prove a fruitful exercise, as local contacts can point you in the right direction and give you advice as to how best to proceed. And, if you are looking for a job as a TEFL teacher, you can contact local language schools directly to see if any teaching jobs are available.

 Useful links:

Expat.com – Job offers in Costa Rica
Expat.com – Work in Costa Rica Forum
Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social www.mtss.go.cr
Busco Empleo – Public Employment Service www.buscoempleocr.com
El Empleo www.elempleo.com
Linked In www.linkedin.com
Craiglist costarica.en.craigslist.org

Costa Rican British Chamber of Commerce http://britchamcr.com/en/home/
International Chamber of Commerce Costa Rica http://www.iccwbo.org/
Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce http://www.amcham.co.cr/

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.