Your Costa Rica Resource

Thinking of moving to and living in Costa Rica? Learn from our experience - we are your resource. Click here if you're living in Costa Rica and would like to be a contributor.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Border Run: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - Part 1

By: Bruce

Well, Lisa and I are officially back from our first border run. We went to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - which is just north of the Costa Rican border. Anyway, I've decided to split this up into two separate posts: the first post (this post) will be more informational - talking about what the border crossing was like, recommendations, what to look out for, and also how we actually got from San Jose to the tiny surfing town of San Juan del Sur. The second post (which should be up in the next couple of days) will be all about our time in the town, where we stayed, what we liked, didn't like, where to eat, etc etc. Oh and I'll be including pics as I go.

So to begin at the beginning, Lisa and I used the company Tica Bus to take us from San Jose to Rivas, Nicaragua. Really, what you would do is buy a ticket to Managua and get off the bus in Rivas. We got tickets for the 6am bus on Friday morning (I recommend taking as early of a bus as possible) with hopes of arriving in San Juan del Sur sometime that afternoon because we hadn't reserved a hotel room or anything (and had heard that because it is the low season, we wouldn't have to worry about reservations). So yeah, aside from the bus being extremely cold that morning (which is a great trade-off considering the alternative is no A/C), the 4 hours or so that it takes to get to the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border was quite nice and comfortable, and we both slept most of the way. Tica Bus has quality busses. Unfortunately it is the time outside the bus (at the border and upon arriving in Rivas) that can be frustrating, time-consuming, and very very confusing. But hey, that's why this blog is here, and that's why you read it, right?

The Border Crossing:
Just to get this out of the way, the border crossings (both into and out of Nicaragua) take time, a lot of time, like 1.5-2 hours. Expect that, and expect the process to involve far more waiting than efficiency. Just keep in mind that border jumps are part of living in Costa Rica, and remember that your destination is THE BEACH. Our friends back home may not have to endure "la frontera" but they also don't get to have weekends at the beach in November or whenever.

Unfortunately there is no "border manuel" that is passed out before you arrive, so you wind up following the herd mentality - and that's okay. Before you get off the bus, the bus driver or an employee of Tica Bus will collect everyone's passports and their customs/declaration forms and he will put them, indescriminantly, in a plain plastic bag. This is very strange to see if you are American. We all want to protect our passports at all cost. That is a ticket home (or out) if necessary, and it is very strange to just hand it over to someone who sticks it in a plastic bag and takes it off the bus. My first thought after handing it over was "gee, I wonder how much he's gonna get off the street for my passport." Either way, its okay, its just how the expedite (and I use that term very loosely) the border crossing process.

So you've given up your passport, and now you're told get off the bus. Why are you getting off? What do you do after you get off? We didn't know, and I doubt more than 10% of the passengers knew - but you do it because everyone else is. Find comfort in the herd. Once we got off the bus, we were disoriented and unsure of where to go or what to do, but we saw a line that had formed from the bus' passengers entering a building, so we decided to join. It's not that easy though, because it's not just you, the passengers, and the border. There's also a mob of men and women all carrying MASSIVE wads of money (see picture) screaming and yelling at you, trying to bargain with you, and take note of this, TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU.

Exchanging Money: Again, like the passport thing, this is going to feel very strange, but you need to do it. The best place/way to exchange your money (I recommend taking dollars becuase you'll get a better rate) is to do so with these renegade money changers while you wait in line. Now you're probably saying, "now Bruce, didn't you just say they are trying to take advantage of you?" Yes I did, but this is where a little bit of pre-trip prep is MANDATORY. Before you leave for Nicaragua, research the Dollar(or Colon) to Cordoba (Nicaragua's currency) exchange rate, and have bench marks for about what you should get for like $20, $50, or whatever amount. This way, when you decide to pay attention to one of the many money changers (all look about as un-official as the other) you will know if they are trying to cheat you and you can move on to someone more honest.

Story: So Lisa and I did NOT do our research, we only vaguely remembered a friend saying that it was like 19 Cordobas to the dollar. When we stepped off the bus we were unexpectedly bombarded with these screeming money changers. We decided to talk to one once we were in the line and we told him that we wanted to exchange $50 (just to see how this process worked). Then the man whips out his little 30cent calculator and "shows us how he's converting" - I guess to "prove" that the math is right. So he put in 50 and proceeded to divide by 19 while pressing a few buttons very fast, and he came up with 2.61. At that point he says, "okay, I'll give you 261 Cordobas for your 50 dollars." Anyway, long story shorter, I said "let me get this straight, its about 19 Cords to the dollar, we have 50 dollars and you're telling me that that is 261 Cords." He says yes, shows me the calculation again (which, again, involved dividing 50 by 19) and finally I said, sir, that makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. I took the calculator and multiplied 50 by 19 (as it should be done) and before I could press enter, he took the calculator back and said "no, no that's not how it's done - I am an official money changer (and he had a makeshift badge to prove it) and that's not how you calculate." At this point, maybe 5 minutes after the convo began, I told him, you know what, I don't think so, no thanks.

Ultimately, Lisa went up and asked an american that we had met who had lived in Nicaragua and he told us we could reasonably expect to get about 350 Cords for $20. So basically that first guy was trying to give us about $18-19 worth of Cords for $50. Thanks but no thanks. We ended up exchanging our money with other people for a rate close to 350cords/$20. Moral of the story? Do your research so that you aren't that ignorant tourist that gets taken advantage of.

Crossing the Border (continued): So with the money changing out of the way, we finished waiting in line, get our passports back, stamped, etc and got back on the bus about 45min-1hr after we got off. Well gee, I was thinking, that wasn't so bad, now we're on our way. Not so fast. After you get back on the bus, you drive about 5 min through the border to the Nicaragua side, stop, and get off the bus again - only this time everyone needs to get ALL their luggage out from under the bus. My recommendation - pack light, it will make life a lot easier, and everyone wheres shorts and t-shirts anyway. After you get your bags, you stand in yet another line (see picture), this time to pass through customs. There are "random" bag checks at the end of the line, but I put that in quotes because I didn't see a single American/non-central american get searched. They pretty much just wave you through (apparently it's mostly a formality). After that you get back on the bus and about 1.5-2 hours from the time you reached the border, you are finally continuing to Rivas.

From Rivas to San Juan del Sur: Like I said earlier, you get a ticket to Managua, but stay alert because you need to get off at the town of Rivas which is only 30-40 min after the border crossing. When you get off the bus, go straight to the Tica Bus office and schedule your return bus (which you've already paid for if you bought round trip tickets - and you SHOULD buy roundtrip if you're planning on coming right back to CR). But stop in the Tica Bus office to make sure you RESERVE SEATS for the ride back. After that, the only thing separating you from both San Juan del Sur and the beach is a taxi ride on quite possibly the most poorly maintained "paved" road I've ever seen (and that's coming from someone living in Costa Rica - the pot-hole paradise).

Lisa and I had met some fellow gringos on the bus who were also going to SJdelS so we decided to try and split a cab 6 ways. One driver claimed to
have a Land Cruiser that would fit all 6 of us and he would charge only $3 per person. You can expect to pay a total of about $15 to get a taxi to SJdelS, so if you split that between a few people it's pretty cheap. Anyway, this experience got sketchy when the driver asked me (the spanish speaker) to go with him to get the Land Cruiser. I gave Lisa my backpack, passport, and anything worth any money, said a prayer, and went with the driver to the mechanic. Yes, the cab that was to take us to San Juan was at the mechanic. The driver told me it was only getting paint touch ups, but when we arrived the mechanic was underneath the SUV WELDING IT. Hardly a touch up... but anyway, que sera sera I suppose. I got in the SUV, met up with the rest of the group and we were on our way.... sort of. About 10 min into the drive we heard a some-what alarming noise and the driver calmly turned to us and said "oh shoot, I forget to put water in the engine" (in other words, it was severly overheated). So he got out, put up the hood (see picture), disappeared, and reemerged with two 2-liters of water that he poured in the engine. After that, all was good (except for the back door bouncing open occasionally - luckily there was no lost luggage) and we arrive in San Juan del Sur with enough time to find a hotel, get some sun-time on the beach, and see a gorgeous sunset (see picture at the end of the post).

Okay, WHEW that was a lot. Lisa, I beleive, is going to write next about the actual town of SJdelS (which was a really great place), finding a hotel, where to eat, what to do, etc etc. So look out for that early next week (this weekend we're going to the beach again - Playa de Coco - so I can get my scuba certification). Thanks for putting up with my writing, and as bad as it may sound, the trip up there (and back) really wasn't bad at all, and the more prepared you are for what to expect, the better it will be.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dispatches from Nicaragua

So I don´t have a whole lot of time to write, because I´m sitting in an overheated internet cafe in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, but I wanted to say that despite the week or so without an entry, Lisa and I are still going strong down here, and we are currently in the middle (or near the end I suppose) of our border-jump. Briefly, if you didn´t already know, in order to renew your tourist visa, you need to leave CR every three months for 72hrs and then reenter. Lisa and I are doing that now in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We´ll be back tomorrow night, so expect a more detailed (complete with pictures) entry tomorrow or tuesday. Just checking in. Pura Vida.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Football in Costa Rica: Heredia vs. La Liga de Alajuela

By: DJLera

In every corner of America except the United States, football is life. Brazil, Mexico and Argentina have produced some of the best players and teams in the world and tiny Costa Rica is on the rise. In the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, this country of 4 million fielded a team that made it to the final 32. On that day I’m told the entire country was wearing red. For anyone living here for an extended period of time, I highly recommend attending some matches or partidos. The excitement and atmosphere are unlike anything I have experienced in the United States. Plus you will learn some very interesting and colorful words. Costa Rica has twelve football clubs that are divided into two groups. Matches are generally played on Sundays, but weeknight games are not uncommon. Without doubt the two best teams are Saprissa (San José) in purple and La Liga (Alajuela) in red and black. These teams have the most money, the most fans and the biggest stadiums. On Sunday I went to see La Liga play Heredia in Heredia. Tickets can be bought at the gates up to one day before. You have options, usually including, sun or shade and numbered or unnumbered seats. I was in the sunny numbered seats which cost about 4.000 colones, a price my Tico friends found quite stiff. Like any sporting event you can buy food and drinks from wandering vendors. They even sell ponchos should you be caught in a downpour. Football is not a sport that stops for weather, as demonstrated on Sunday. After 15 minutes of heavy rain the field looked more like a lake, but the fans were not phased. All in all it was a great experience even though Heredia lost 2-1. For more info you can check out the Costa Rican Football Federation’s website or read the back pages of any local newspaper.
Click to view Lisa and Bruce's entire photo album from the football game:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Video Entry: Introduction & Teatro Nacional

We are about to try something brand new for this blog, and something that I hope will work well and receive a good response. Lisa and I have recently recorded a short video introducing ourselves and would like to make these "video entries" a part of Costa Rica Classroom. Please view the video, read about our night at the Teatro Nacional, and leave comments telling us whether or not you'd like us to continue posting video entries.

So as we explained on the video, Lisa and I decided to treat ourselves to a night on the town last night. We got dressed up and went to downtown San Jose to the Teatro Nacional to see a flamenco ballet titled "Tiempos Flamencos". I had seen a flamenco show when I was abroad in Spain, loved it, and encouraged Lisa to go with me to the show here in Costa Rica. We both wanted to see what the Teatro Nacional was all about, so this was a perfect excuse. I wish I had pictures to share of the theater, but it has been raining for about 2 days straight, and I didn't care to get my camera wet, but the theater is absolutely magnificent. It is certainly reminicent of old, elegant, ornate theaters that I have seen in movie or on TV. As for the show itself, it certainly matched the venue in terms of beauty. Again, I wish I could have taken pictures or video of the show itself, but that, as you would expect, is prohibited.

Anyway, I guess this entry serves multiple purposes: to test out the option of posting video entries, to introduce ourselves via video, and to mention the little cultural activity we afforded ourselves here in Costa Rica.

Again, I'd love to read any comments you have about the video entry, or any other part of this post.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Who are the students?

By: Bruce
I don't intend this to be a very long post, which is probably a relief to many of the readers, but it is a topic that confuses a lot of people. So here it is: who are you going to be teaching if you decide to teach ESL down here in Costa Rica? The answer: maybe not who you'd expect.

You will generally not be teaching highschoolers or elementary school students in a normal classroom setting. In stead, you will most likely be teaching in a private language institute where students go after/before work or school. For the most part, I'd say the students are between 20 and 35 years old and they are most likely taking the English classes in order to improve their salary at a current job or to find a new, higher paying job.

The reality down here in Costa Rica, is that because of the burgeoning tourism industry as well as the vast number of American companies (everything from Hewlitt-Packard to online gambling sportsbooks) that have decided to move some opporations to Costa Rica, there is a huge demand for English speaking Costa Ricans. This is because the workforce here is generally less expensive to employ (compared to the US) yet still quite educated. These jobs are highly covetted by Costa Ricans because they pay, on average, much much higher than other jobs. In fact, I've heard that even some call-center jobs (jobs most Americans really wouldn't want) pay better salaries than doctors receive down here (or so I've heard).

In order to get these jobs, however, the workers must speak a rather high level of English (almost perfect grammar, large vocabulary, and some accent reduction). So these are the people are most likely going to be your students - young business professionals (or aspiring business professionals) who are really going after the higher paying jobs that require a high level of English. Now keep in mind that this is a generalization. Some students are studying the language because they want to travel or just have a desire to learn. Either way, the good thing is that most of these students (regardless of why they are taking English classes) are doing it because they truly want to, and this often translates into high motivation and a lot of enthusiasm.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why Costa Rica & why teach ESL?

By: Bruce It seems to me that there are a number of people out there that definitely want to live abroad and teach English, but they aren't exactly sure where they'd like to live. Maybe they have narrowed it down to Latin America, maybe to Central America. Either way, I'm not here to persuade or dissuade you, but I would like to tell you why I have chosen to live in Costa Rica and teach English.

The easiest answer, I suppose, is, why NOT Costa Rica? It's beautiful, tropical, (relatively) safe and stable, it has beaches, and rainforests, and volcanoes, and the quality of life is very good compared to other Latin American countries, etc etc. I really could go on and on, but really, those were only a few of the MANY variables that contributed to my decision to make the move to Costa Rica. So, let me start by giving you my background. I first came to Costa Rica just like the millions of others who have come - as a tourist. I came 2 and a half years ago with my family, and we did the basic tourist trip: fly into Liberia, drive to Arenal Volcano (go to Tabicon Hot Springs), drive to Monteverde (do a canopy tour, hike around with a guide, see wildlife, etc), then head to the beach to round out the trip. This vacation, needless to say, was absolutely amazing; so much so that it truly piqued my interest in the country of Costa Rica.

Feeding off the interest that my vacation generated, I began to study and write about Costa Rica in school. My major at Wake Forest was Political Science and I minored in Spanish and Latin American Studies. Clearly the region, and specifically Costa Rica interested me. Within those concentrations, I focused on the development of Latin America. Specifically, I wrote my senior honors thesis on Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America, and Costa Rica is perhaps one of the most dynamic countries in Latin America in that respect. I wrote about Costa Rica many times, and the more I researched, read, and wrote about Costa Rica, the more I thought I would (or HAD) to spend a real amount of time here - not as a tourist, but as a tenant. Only then, I figured, would I really be able to understand the culture around all the things that I had read and written about.

So that's my background - how and why I became interested in Costa Rica, and where that interest took me. Now I'd like to talk a little bit about where I hope this experience will take me. Like I mentioned before, I was a Poly Sci major in college with a specific concentration on Latin America. Furthermore, as my thesis paper would suggest, I am very much interested in development, and more specifically, how private foreign direct investment can aid (if not fuel) such development. That said, I would very much like to eventually enter the private sector working for a multinational corporation or consulting firm that deals with or in Latin America. Perhaps I'll wind up in sales, maybe business development, or possibly developmental consulting. At this point I don't really know for sure, but what I do know is that I cherish this opportunity that I have given myself to truly experience the region that I want to eventually do business with.

So essentially, by coming to Costa Rica to teach English, I have afforded myself the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that I would very much like to know inside and out for the future. Do I plan to teach (English or any other subject) as my long term career? No. I am loving it, and depending on how I like the work a number of months from now, perhaps I'll use teaching ESL as way to take me to other countries inside Latin America and around the world. But really what I want everyone to understand is that teaching ESL is a ticket to living in and experiencing just about any culture in any country throughout the world.

Hopefully now you understand not only why I'm teaching ESL, but also why I have chosen Costa Rica. I don't know, perhaps the short answer to why I have decided to move to CR to teach English is "because I can - because I'm young, I have few responsibilities, and I want to see the world" but the reality is that there are so many variables that contribute to why one makes a decision like this. So, to anyone reading this blog and perhaps toying with the idea of moving to Costa Rica or anywhere else in the world, consider the value of the EXPERIENCE. I know that personally, for better or for worse, this experience is something that I will be able to use and talk about the rest of my life.

Oh, and I apologize for this long, perhaps non-cohesive post. I think I may have done it more for me than anything.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some more email Q & A: TEFL certification

Is the entire [TEFL] course done via internet? How did you pay them? How long did it take you to do? Do you get a certificate in the mail? Who are these people? Are they recognized widely? Like in other Latino countries?

--Yes, the entire course is done over the internet.You are given 6 months to complete the course, and I did it in about 2 1/2. You can do as many as 2 units (out of 20) per day. The units are supposed to be about 5 hours of work each, but I found that most were shorter than that. I took the course over the summer, when I did a lot of traveling, so I would work hard on the course for a few weeks, than take a few off. You can completely work at your own pace. I think the average rate to finish the course is about 3 months, which is not difficult, at all, even for a very busy person. Also, I paid by credit card over the internet, but it was a safe transaction, and I felt very good about the company.

You do get a certificate in the mail, though no one has ever asked to see it. Regarding their recognition, I can only relay what I read on their website, but again, no one has ever asked where I got my training. To them, TEFL is TEFL. The website is

Hopefully this clears up some more questions about the ever elusive TEFL topic. If you'd like to know more, please feel free to ask!

If you have questions that you would like to email to me or any of the other contributors, please feel free. Post a comment, or click on our names in the top right to send us an email. Also, if you wouldn't mind having your email and answers included on this Blog, please give us permission to post it anonymously.

This is a random photo from our trip to Manuel Antonio (I figured random photos might spice up the blog). Anyway, as you can see, you can make bus stops out of just about anything - including a boogie board, house paint, and a little barbed-wire.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

E-Mail Q&A: Budgeting, Visas, San Jose, Travel


I found your post on Dave's and checked out your blog. It looks like a good start, great idea! I completed a celta course not long ago and now I'm on the job hunt. Costa Rica is one of the countries that I'm looking at. Could you help answer a few questions about working in Costa Rica?

My biggest concern is budget. From what I've read, teachers generally make about $700 per month. Is that enough to live comfortably and leave room for a little saving? I'm planning on going to grad school next fall, so it'd be nice to come back not entirely broke!

Also, do you know if jobs can be arranged before arriving, or is it best to arrive and start knocking on doors? I read something about visas taking a long time and being quite expensive. Do most teachers work illegally? How have you found San Jose? It looks like you were able to enjoy traveling around right away.

Thanks and good luck with the blog.

Hello T.M.,

First of all, thank you so much for checking out our blog, and I hope it remains a useful resource for you. I'm going to tackle your questions below:

1. Budget - Regarding the $700, that seems like it would be at the high end of what teachers would make. Some schools pay asmuch as $6-7/hr and if you can build up a full working schedule (maybe 30 hrs/week) then you'd be making more than $700/month. Unfortunately its not really easy (at least right away), to build up a full schedule. You'll probably start by teaching 1 or 2 classes (at maybe 4-8 hrs per class per week) and then build up your hours as more classes open. That being said, you can actually very easily live off of $700/month. A reasonable rent for a small furnished apartment is about $250-350/month, food is relatively inexpensive, and you can travel the country on the cheap as well (as long as you don't have extremely high standards). But again, it will take a little while to build up hours, so you'll want to bring some start up cash to keep you going for the first few weeks.

2. Finding Jobs - From my experience and from the research I did before arriving, it is very very difficult to secure a job before coming down to CR (unless you want to pay a company to find a job for you, which is NOT worth it). It's best to have about 10-20 resumes printed off before you come, and once you get settled in, check online to see where schools are, and go knocking on doors. Some schools will be anxious to hire, others have a short "training" programs, and others are just going to take a week or so to get back to you. But rest assured, there is a huge demand down here for English teachers, and with the CELTA training, you will have very very little difficulty finding a job.

3. Visas - I wouldn't expect to get a work visa here. They are very strict about it, and like DJlera said in his post, you need to get sponsered by a company and even then it's expensive. That's okay though. Just about every gringo I know down here is illegal and we all make (or plan to make) border runs to renue our visas every 3 months. It's just a part of life I suppose, but it allows you to see Panama, or Nicaragua, or some other nearby country.

4. San Jose - Before actually coming down here, Lisa and I fully expected to live in some neighborhood of San Jose (maybe San Pedro near the University), but we wound up lucking out and getting a condo in Heredia (a nice suburb of SJ) through a contact in the states, and we've loved living a little bit outside the city. Plus, Heredia actually has a decent number of language schools, so we don't have to travel into San Jose everyday. I'd say that SJ is neither a nice city nor a really bad one. There are areas that are quite nice - Sabana Park is a great place to go Saturday and Sunday mornings, but there are other areas you'll want to avoid (especially at night). This is why we like living a little outside of the city; we can choose when to actually go down there (actually we will probably be going to the Teatro Nacional next week to see a Flamenco performance - which we're excited about).

5. Traveling - From our experience, traveling can be quite easy and quite cheep. We took a bus from SJ to Manuel Antonio for a weekend and paid about $5 each way for the tickets. Now, we haven't been here too long, so don't have a lot of travel experience, but our philosophy is that, yeah we're here to teach, but more than anything we're here for the experience, and traveling throughout Costa Rica is integral to that experience.

Alright, well, I hope that sufficiently answered your questions; please keep checking the blog as those same questions and more will probably be adressed in more detail in the future.

Thanks again,

If you have questions that you would like to email to me or any of the other contributors, please feel free. Post a comment, or click on our names in the top right to send us an email. Also, if you wouldn't mind having your email and answers included on this Blog, please give us permission to post it anonymously.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Teaching, part 2

By: Lisa

A note on finding schools to work at: Look everywhere and send everyone your resumes. And then call them two to three days later. Look in the classifieds of the Tico Times, AM Costa Rica, and Costa Rica Look on Craig's List. Walk into schools that you see, resume in hand, and be ready for an on-the-spot interview. These all work, and Bruce and I can attest to them. Most of all- be persistent and patient! It's Costa Rica, and you really have to make the first couple of moves if you'd like to see a job materialize.

In the first two weeks that we were here, I went on a few job interviews, and in each one, they asked about the TEFL training they saw on my resume. Everyone knew what it was, and they even seemed semi-impressed by it. So at the very least it shows you are serious about teaching English in a foreign country. Maybe it's that little something extra that gives you a 'one-up' on others, but again, it's not a guarantee for a job.

I secured my first job at Butler Academy (in downtown Heredia) after an interview, some class observation, a mock teaching session, and some tandem teaching. That may seem like a lot to put a potential teacher through, and it may seem like a lot to go through to get a job, but it was very worth it. Their process and attention to detail when selecting a professor really reflects the quality of their school. Again, like I said, I am not a seasoned veteran in the teaching realm, far from it, but along with my resume (perhaps even the TEFL training) they saw potential in me, tested me out for a few weeks, and then began giving me classes. This school is by far the best run, most focused and organized school I have looked at, and it shows in their careful teacher selection. I am incredibly happy there, both with my colleagues, the caliber of the students, and the classes in general. I'm sure I'll write more about them in the future.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Teaching, my story Part 1

By: Lisa

Hi all,

So, my introductory post is a bit overdue, especially due to the fact that you've all seen my face a number of times. Well two, to be exact...I'm that girl standing on Bruce's right at Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Both were amazing places, and Bruce and I look forward to going back to each at some point.

Anyway, even though Bruce and I have only been here for 7 weeks, we've both had very different job search experiences, so hopefully the combination of our experiences, compounded with the experiences of those of you reading (and hopefully contributing to) the blog will be relevant to a wide group of people.

Before I go on, I'd like to offer you a brief disclaimer: I'm sure that during the term of this blog, we will name schools, and other people will name schools that they have had experiences with, be them good or bad. However, we are not here to 'promote' certain schools for any personal purposes. We have noticed on other websites that many people write posts or messages promoting a certain school, and it is discovered later on that this person was earning a commission for everyone that contacted the school from the blog. However, and I hate to be all 'school-teachery,' that will not be tolerated here. The information and experiences on this blog will be kept completely objective and free of posts used for ulterior motives. So please do not use this sight for personal gain from commissions on recruiting students. Find another venue for that. Other than that, we welcome your ideas, advice, experiences and stories! Enough of that, let's talk about Costa Rica!

So, basically, my journey into the Costa Rican job market began early this past summer. I made the decision, after much deliberation, to get my TEFL certificate. After hearing conflicting reports on whether or not it is needed, I decided to bite the bullet and do it. I had little to no teaching experience, a college degree in English, and I spoke no Spanish... so I thought the TEFL would at least be one thing I had going for me. And hey, even if my interview at a school was in Spanish (unlikely at an English school, I know), but I'd at least be able to communicate the letters TEFL and hopefully get somewhere that way. Basically it was my safety net going into the unknown. I signed up with ITTT, an online affiliate of TITC. The course was $295 ( a bit pricey for a safety net, but it was the best one I came across), and it included 20 units (roughly 100 hours) of both teaching skills and language awareness. The course itself had some positives and negatives, which I'd be happy to write about if people are curious, but on the whole, I'm very glad I completed the course. Did it make me an incredible teacher? No, but it did help me to better plan and organize lessons, control my class, and review many English intricacies that I have had to teach my students. To answer the magic question about whether a certificate is needed to obtain a job in Costa Rica, no, it is not necessary; however, in my case, it was the safety net that I needed.

That is all I will write for now, but Bruce and I look forward to being in an online conversation with all of you!

Insight on Work Visas & General School Info

By: DJlera

Work Visas

The majority of institutions and schools will not help you with a work visa and confusion abounds. It is impossible to get a work visa without the sponsorship of a company. If you do get sponsorship the process can take anywhere from 8 to 16 months. If for some reason your visa application is rejected you will be ¨invited¨ to leave the country within 10 days. Now like many things in Costa Rica, these laws are not carefully enforced. Many places openly encourage foreigners to make ¨visa runs¨ to the border every 90 days. Some even pay up to $50 to help out renewing your tourist visa. This basically means leaving Costa Rica for 72 hours or 3 days. Note that the border police do not stamp time. While border runs appear to be almost commonplace, do be warned that at the very worst, I mean in your nightmares, you could be subject to 30 days imprisonment awaiting deportation should something go totally wrong. I have no idea if this has actually ever happened, but it is apparently part of the immigration law here. Double standards clearly exist in Costa Rica. Because getting a work visa is a lengthy and expensive process (schools can spend up to $800 making you a legal worker) they will usually ask for at least a year commitment from their teachers.


There are hundreds of places to teach English in Costa Rica ranging from universities to cultural institutes to mom-and-pop schools. Some have excellent reputations and some have terrible reputations. This is a good resource to start with: Transitions Abroad - Teaching English In Costa Rica.

Some of the better higher education institutions are the North American Cultural Institute, the British Institute, Univerisidad Interamericana and Universidad Latina. Some other decent organizations are Intensa and Conversa. At places like these you can expect to make at least $500 per month working around 24 hours per week. (That´s 24 hours in the class). For those seeking more money, look for work at the elementary and high school level. Because there are more students at this level, pay is higher. Also for some reason it is apparently easier to obtain a work visa. Some good places to work that I´ve heard of are: Blue Valley, Lincon, Country Day, American International, European School and for those who are down with praying at work, International Christian School. These are all international schools and you should expect to earn no less than $750 per month.

Well that´s all I´ve got for now. Everything mentioned above is heresy, so any updates or corrections are greatly welcomed. Pura vida!

Please feel free to comment on or make any additions to what DJlera as just said. Simply click "comments" below and speak your mind.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weekend Away: Manuel Antonio National Park

By: Bruce

You know, one of these days I'll actually post something specifically relevant to teaching ESL in Costa Rica, but as far as I'm concerned, traveling and enjoying yourself while living here is equally as important as the teaching itself. So with that said, let me tell you about the trip to Manuel Antonio National Park that Lisa and I took this past weekend.

First of all, getting there in the first place was interesting. Lisa teaches classes at night, so we couldn't realistically leave on Friday afternoon, so we decided to get up as early as possible on Saturday morning and return Monday morning. Perhaps the most useful resources I've found thus far regarding traveling in Costa Rica are 1. A bus specific map of San Jose which shows where to catchbuses to various places in the country - because there isn't a central bus station and 2. a PDF file listing the complete bus schedule for all of Costa Rica (arrival and departure times and locations, travel duration, etc.) The Bus Map of San Jose can be found by clicking HERE and the Bus Schedule can be found HERE (Click on "Itenerario de Buses" on the left hand side). Those are both VERY helpful resources - especially if you don't plan to buy a car down here and want to do some traveling.

Anyway, based on the information we got from the Bus Schedule, we decided it would be best to catch the 6:00am Direct bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio/Quepos. That would get us to the beach by about 11am for less than $5 each way! Granted we had to get up at 4am to get a 5am bus from Heredia to San Jose... Regardless, what's important is that we were checked in to our hotel (Hotel Karahe) in time to spend a few hours on the beach before the inevitable afternoon rain (its rainy season down here).

So Saturday was spent on the beautiful beach in front of our mostly decent hotel (we aren't staying in luxury, but it's certainly a step above most hostels - our own villa, free breakfast, etc). Unfortunately, however, because we had to get up so early and were further fatigued by swimming in some great waves and sunbathing, we decided to take a "nap" at 4pm and didn't wake up until midnight! (at which point we brushed our teeth and went back to bed). The positive thing, though, is that to truly enjoy the area, it's necessary to get up earlybecause without daylight savings time and with the afternoon storms, sunlight is a premium enjoyed in the mornings. Needless to say it wasn't too difficult to get up early Sunday morning.

So on Sunday, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed for Manuel Antonio National Park, where, as a foreigner, you can enter for $7 and hire a guide (if you choose to) for about $20 per person. If you really want to see all the wildlife that the park has to offer, I would recommend hiring a guide; however, if you prefer to be a little more independent and have good eyes, a guide really isn't necessary. Once inside the park we hiked around a little on the network of trails (specifically we hikedSendero de Punto Catedral which took us up to a cliff overlooking the ocean - it was breathtaking) and spent the restof the morning on the pristine beaches of the national park. Oh and as an added bonus, (as you can see in the picture) on the way out we saw some spider monkeys playing around in some trees near the trail.

Sunday night we thought it would be fun to go into town for a later dinner and stay out at the bars for a few hours - the town is full of young surfers so we figured the bars would behoppin'. Unfortunately, and to our surprise, there was hardly anyone out when we got to town at 9:30. In fact, we only found one place to serve us food at that hour, so we got some nachos, a couple beers, and headed back to the hotel. So here's a recommendation: eat early, and if you want to go out and party, consider either going out Friday and Saturday nights or going into nearby Quepos.

Anyway, that's about it. We got up Monday morning, took the 9:30am direct bus back to San Jose, and we were back home in Heredia by about 2pm. Overall it was a fantastic weekend away and a successful first journey away from the Central Valley.

To see the rest of my photos from Manuel Antonio click HERE to go to my web-albums.