Study in Costa Rica
Updated 2018-10-12 15:00

Costa Rica is an attractive and affordable country in which to study, with one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America and a strong educational system, from primary school to university level. Read this article to find out more about studying on 'Tico' time!

After abolishing its army in 1949, the country's defence budget was rightfully reallocated to fund education, among other valuable initiatives. The Ministry of Culture aimed to replace the military with 'an army of teachers', and human development has been an essential element when it comes to developing the school curriculum.

Education is encouraged at every level in Costa Rica, and this high-quality scholastic environment attracts students from around the world. Several renowned universities, as well as a network of bookstores and publishing houses, have put San José on the map as a nucleus of academic life in Central America. And Costa Rica has become a particularly popular study-abroad destination for those looking to enrol on intensive Spanish language programmes, as it provides the ideal opportunity for language immersion, as well as offering exposure to local dialects and native languages, such as Jamaican creole.

Where to study

There are more than 60 universities in Costa Rica ' of which six are featured in the QS Latin America University Rankings 2018, and two are also featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2018.

Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) is considered to be Costa Rica's best institution and is ranked 19th place in Latin America. It also continues to strengthen its global standing and comes in 411-420* in the world rankings.

As well as being Costa Rica's highest-ranking institution, it is also the country's oldest university and has the largest student enrollment. UCR's main campus can be found in the city of San Pedro, which is not far from the capital of San José.

Another of the nation's prestigious public universities is the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica, which comes in 48th place in Latin America and offers a broad spectrum of programmes. The main campus is located in Heredia, which is a popular student city that is just 11 kilometres from San José.

Other universities that feature in the 2018 Latin America rankings include the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología (ULACIT) and the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica.

If you're looking for a more intimate study experience, you may wish to enrol at a private institution, as these tend to be much smaller than public universities and often specialise in a particular subject. For example, the INCAE Business School claims to be the best business school in Latin America; the non-profit university, EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda), specialises in agricultural sciences; and the UN-mandated University for Peace attracts graduates who are interested in peace studies.

Spanish language institutes can also be found in Costa Rica's cities, coastal towns, and even rural mountain areas. These schools offer students of any age the opportunity to learn the national language, experience Costa Rican daily life, and travel around the country. Most schools tend to offer about 20 hours of Spanish classes per week in a small group (although private lessons are available) and require at least a two-week stay. Some special programmes are also available, such as medical Spanish, Spanish for teachers, or business Spanish, and you can often customise a course to suit your needs. Programmes tend to be reasonably priced and also offer cultural activities, such as cooking and dancing classes. Many students looking for an immersion experience choose to live with a local family during their time, where they will often have a private room, as well as meals and laundry included.


Costa Rica is a reasonably affordable country to study, as the cost of living is comparably lower than in many other countries. Food, transport and entertainment come with low price tags, and you can find accommodation in the capital of San José for less than US$600/month, while rent can be even cheaper in rural areas. Although a homestay can end up costing more, it does offer an additional insight into the culture, as well as extra time to practice your Spanish language skills if this is your main aim.

Tuition is arguably the most variable cost when it comes to studying in Costa Rica, as different programmes offer different experiences, durations and qualifications, so are difficult to compare. However, direct enrollment at an institution tends to be much cheaper than studying through a study-abroad programme provider, which can end up costing over double the price.

Some of the everyday expenses that you should consider when studying in Costa Rica are rent, utilities, meals, mobile phone data, local transport and travel (don't miss the opportunity to explore the country in your spare time). Some of these costs may be included in your study programme or accommodation arrangements, and you can make things cheaper by taking public transport, sharing a room with a friend when travelling, or enjoying free activities, such as hiking or swimming in the ocean!


If you wish to study full-time for a long duration at a Costa Rican university, you'll need to go through the official visa process to obtain a student visa. Otherwise, you will be considered a tourist and will only be allowed to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days, depending on your nationality. When your tourist visa expires, you will need to exit and re-enter the country if you wish to stay in the country for longer.

You can either obtain a provisional student visa before you arrive in Costa Rica, or you can enter the country as a tourist and apply for a student visa after your arrival. While both options are legal, the main difference is that, if you obtain a provisional student visa from your nearest Costa Rican consulate in advance, you can save money as you won't need to apply for a change of status once in Costa Rica.

Whether you apply for a provisional student visa in advance or a student visa once you're in the country, you should be prepared to submit the following documents:

  • A passport that is valid for at least six months after your exit date.
  • Apostilled copies of your birth certificate (do not bring your original birth certificate, as it won't be returned).
  • Apostilled copies of a criminal record check (this background check must be issued by a federal or national authority, not a state or city authority).
  • A notarised affidavit of financial support, which must be certified by a CPA, who will issue a certification of financial solvency to Costa Rican Immigration.
  • A bank account statement or official bank letter from whoever is providing your financial support for the duration of your programme, certifying that the account is active and has funds.
  • Embassy registration (all foreign nationals studying in Costa Rica must register with their embassy and provide proof of registration).

It's also advisable to scan and email yourself a copy of your passport and credit/debit cards just in case you lose them or they are stolen while you are studying in Costa Rica. It is also worth bringing about a dozen passport photos for various photo IDs.

As legislation can easily change, it's important to contact your nearest Costa Rican consulate before you travel to find out up-to-date information with regards to obtaining a student visa. The institution where you will be studying should also be able to give you advice.

Useful links: Study in Costa Rica Forum
University of Costa Rica UCR
National University of Costa Rica UNA
Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería
Oficina de Asuntos Internacionales y Cooperación Externa
4ICU ' Directory of universities in Costa Rica
Top Universities
Times Higher Education World University Rankings

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.