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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,

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