So you took a trip to Costa Rica, fell in love with it and want to make a more permanent existence here. You're not alone. An estimated 600,000 expats live in Costa Rica, and while the majority is from Nicaragua, at least 100,000 come from the United States. Many are retired, others come with flexible jobs from their home country and still others arrive with resumes in hand.
So how do you find a job in Costa Rican paradise? One alternative is Costa Rica's craigslist.com, where ten to fifteen Costa Rica jobs are posted a day. Another option is contacting local language schools for English teaching jobs, checking the listings in the English-language paper The Tico Times or joining a networking group such as (if you are female) the Professional Women's Network.
Jobs for Expats in Costa Rica
The most widely available jobs for foreigners are teaching English or working in call centers. While these positions pay above the average wage ($500-$800 per month) in Costa Rica, someone accustomed to the higher quality of living of developed countries will find the salaries barely stretch to cover expenses.
Competition is stiff for positions in the dozen or so international companies (Intel, Hewitt Packard, Boston Scientific, etc.). They tend to hire from Costa Rica's highly-educated workforce or relocate their own employees from foreign offices.
Those who live most comfortably are people who can find 'telecommute' employment from abroad. While telecommuting is legal under Costa Rican law, expats must still go through the process of applying for residency and their paycheck must be received abroad.
Other industries that hire expats include tourism, real estate and self-employment (or starting one’s own business).
The Legal Requirements of Working in Costa Rica
It is illegal for any foreigner to work without temporary residency or a work permit. Yet, because the Immigration Administration is so inundated with residency requests and is taking well beyond 90-days to approve applications, most people begin working without the required paperwork.
A common practice is for companies to hire foreigners as "consultants", paying them stipends known locally as servicios professionales. This way, foreigners are not considered employees and therefore are not breaking the law. The downside is that foreigners working this way still must leave the country every 30-90 days (the number of days depends mostly on what country you are from and on the mood of the customs agent who stamps your passport on the day of your arrival.) Those working as consultants also must pay voluntary insurance with the public health system.
Costa Rican laws do permit foreigners to own businesses in Costa Rica, but they are not allowed to work in them, as this is seen as taking away a potential job of a Costa Rican.
Cost of Living
When searching for employment in Costa Rica, it's important to consider the cost of living. Furnished apartments will cost anywhere from $300 to $800; groceries run between $150 and $200 a month; and most visitors will want to budget something in for travel and entertainment, costing a minimum of $100.
Salaries from English-teaching or call center jobs can cover basic living expenses, but will rarely be enough to allow for saving. Many have to work two or three jobs to maintain a standard of living they are accustomed to. Others work until their savings run out. If you are worried you are being paid under minimum wage, the Labor Ministry publishes the minimum wage for almost every job.