- Emanuele Casabona
Finding other expats to share experiences in San José with, helped me a lot. Thanks to InterNations.
The Costa Rica job market is strong with a relatively steady 8% unemployment rate. However, this rate largely applies to residents of the country.
If you want to know how to find a job in Costa Rica, you should be aware that it is difficult. Costa Rican law heavily favors employing residents over temporary expats, and foreigners may only take up employment once they have permanent residency. But do not let this stop you from pursuing your Costa Rican dream. Working as a self-employed person is a popular option in the country, and entrepreneurial expats should look into opening their own business.
If you are lucky enough to find a job in this tropical country, you will find yourself enjoying relaxed working days and a welcoming business culture. The average salary is low, only about 283,000-565,900 CRC (500-1,000 USD) per month, but so is the cost of living. Expats interested in Costa Rican work opportunities should look into the tourism, hospitality, conservationism, and tech industries.
Interested? Read our Working section to learn more about how to apply for a job in this country, whether or not foreigners pay into social security, and how long is maternity leave.
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How to Get a Job in Costa Rica as a Foreigner
How can you get a job in Costa Rica as a foreigner? While the process is straightforward, actually landing a position it tough. This is because Costa Rican law dictates that local residents must be considered for jobs before foreigners. If a company makes an offer to an expat, they will have to prove that the foreigner was more qualified than any local candidate.
If you are offered a job in Costa Rica but not a work permit, it is advisable to not accept the position. While working illegally does happen in Costa Rica, you risk considerable fines, deportation, and blacklisting if you are caught. Although the road to getting a job in this country is difficult, it is worth it.
Requirements and Eligibility for Working in Costa Rica
The main requirement to work in Costa Rica is being a permanent resident. It is possible to take up employment with a temporary permit, but this is on a case-by-case basis and up to the discretion of the Department of Immigration.
One way to get a job and a work permit in Costa Rica is by being a highly skilled worker. You should have, at the minimum, a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s or higher is preferred. You should also have multiple years’ experience in your profession. This is because you and your employer will need to prove that you are more qualified than a local candidate. Costa Rica has a highly educated population, so this will be a hard task.
How to Apply for a Job in Costa Rica as a Foreigner
Costa Rican-style CV/Resume
A Costa Rican-style resume is similar to a North American one. The top of the CV should include your contact information, including an international app such as Skype or WhatsApp. You should list your education and work history in descending order, starting with your most recent degree/position. If you have a lot of work experience, be sure to only highlight the most relevant experience for the job to which you are applying.
Other CV/Resume Tips
- It is not common to include a photo with a Costa Rican CV.
- If you are applying for a job within the hospitality or tourism sector, it is important to mention any language skills you may have.
- It is a good idea to have a Spanish translation copy of your resume ready.
Cover Letter Tips
The cover letter is your chance to speak in detail about your relevant work history as it pertains to the job for which you are applying. Be sure to keep the letter to one page and try to address it to the job recruiter, hiring manager, or HR manager, if possible.
Like your resume, it is a good idea to have a Spanish version of your cover letter.
References and Qualifications
As the job market is so competitive for expats in Costa Rica, it is a good idea to have a list of references for every job that you apply for. This should be a list of three or four former employers, colleagues, or professors; people who can speak to your competency and work ethic. Be sure to give your references notice when you apply for a job, so that they can be prepared to speak about your qualifications.
How to Look for a Job in Costa Rica
What is the best way to get a job in Costa Rica as a foreigner? There are several job search avenues that expats can take. For starters, you have the option to search for a job from abroad or you can land in the country on a tourist visa and look in-person. Keep in mind that there is an extra 113,200 CRC (200 USD) fee to change a tourist visa into a residency visa and work permit. You can read more about this in our Visa and Work Permits section.
It may surprise you to learn that speculative applications are a common practice in Costa Rica, especially with foreigners. These are unsolicited resumes and cover letters sent to prospective employers. In your cover letter you should highlight the type of job you are looking for, rather than talking about one specific position.
Speculative applications can be sent to any type of company in Costa Rica, but some of the best places are:
- schools (both traditional schools and language schools);
- tourism industries, such as hotels, resorts, and restaurants;
- adventure and theme parks.
It is also worth contacting the local Chamber of Commerce and asking for a list of companies in the area where you would like to live.
There are plenty of online job sites that expats can peruse for vacancies. In addition to global sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, job seekers should also look at the following:
- ESL Café;
Expats should also check out the classifieds section of the online magazine: The Tico Times.
Both local and international recruitment agencies are great places to start your Costa Rican job search. A skilled agent can take a look at your qualifications and job requirements, and help you find a position that best fits your needs. InterNations can help connect you with the right agency. Whether you are looking for full-time work in this Latin country or seasonal employment, we will find a recruiter who will help you achieve your dream of living in Costa Rica.
No matter if you have an interview in-person in Costa Rica or via a video-call, be sure to be on time and dressed appropriately. Costa Rica is laidback and a “beach vibe” pervades even in the mountain towns, but an interview still calls for modest clothing. Women should wear nice blouses and slacks or a business dress. Men do not need a suit jacket, but a button-up shirt and dress pants are ideal.
A great way to look for jobs is to network with other expats. They will share your experience of the difficulties of securing employment and a work permit. Before you arrive in the country, look into expat networking groups on sites like Facebook and InterNations. And when you arrive in the country, check out the social events, where you can meet other expats either for business networking or pure socialization.
Job Opportunities for Foreigners in Costa Rica
One of the most popular ways of working in Costa Rica as a foreigner is through an inter-company transfer. Many international companies have offices here, and this type of transfer allows for easy access to a work permit and residency visa.
If an inter-company transfer is not an option for you, here are some other careers where foreigners will find the most opportunities in Costa Rica:
- English teacher;
- call center agent;
- IT specialist;
- seasonal worker at a hotel or adventure park.
Popular industries include tourism, hospitality, conservation work, and real estate.
Minimum Wage and Average Salary
The average salary in Costa Rica is low: about 283,000 CRC (500 USD) per month. The cost of living in this country is also low, but, thanks to housing costs, expats will find that anything below 565,900 CRC (1,000 USD) per month will require living paycheck to paycheck.
What is the Minimum Wage in Costa Rica?
Instead of a minimum hourly wage, Costa Rica has minimum salaries for professions. This rate accounts for 8-hour workdays and differs based on whether the job is for a skilled or unskilled worker.
In general, the lowest minimum wage for any profession in Costa Rica is about 9,600 CRC (17 USD) per 8-hour workday.
CRC USD Per hour 1,200 2.10 Per day (8 hours) 9,600 17.00 Per week (40 hours) 48,000 85.00 Per month 192,000 340.00 Per year 2,304,000 4,070
For a closer look at the minimum wage per profession in Costa Rica, see the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social’s website (the Ministry of Labor and Social Security).
What is the Average Annual Salary in Costa Rica?
The average annual salary in Costa Rica ranges between 2,304,000 and 8,601,600 CRC (4,070-15,210 USD).
What is a Good Salary in Costa Rica?
The salary you require in Costa Rica depends on your individual living situation. Are you a single expat happy to have a room in a shared house? Are you a family relocating for work? The type of housing and luxuries you want will greatly affect what is considered a good salary for you.
For most expats, it is possible to live in Costa Rica comfortably on a monthly 566,000-848,900 CRC (1,000-1,500 USD) income per adult. This means an expat couple should hope to earn together 1,131,900-1,697,800 CRC (2,000-3,000 USD) per month. A family with children should aim to earn a bit more.
The Most In-Demand Jobs and How much They Pay (Monthly)
Profession CRC USD Teacher 169,800- 566,000 300-1,000 Accountant 2,300,000 4,000 Nurse 24,800,000 43,800 Software Engineer 1,131,900 2,000 Architect 2,020,000 3,600 Marketing Manager 2,790,000 4,900 Product Manager 1,006,080 1,800 Web Developer 4,240,000 7,500 UX Designer 1,202,600 2,100
As with any type of work in Costa Rica, the hardest part about being self-employed will be obtaining a visa. Because of the country’s strict hiring laws favoring locals over foreigners, only expats with permanent residency may take up self-employment. However, there are a few avenues expats can explore if they are determined to work for themselves in this country.
How to be Self-Employed in Costa Rica
Expats should note that the easiest way to become self-employed in Costa Rica is by having some money saved up. Even if you move to the country and start freelancing, government officials may view your earnings as income that could have been made by a Tico resident. Therefore, in order to first become self-employed here, you must already have a substantial amount of savings. (This is a big reason why Costa Rica is so popular with retirees. The money they receive from savings, pensions, and retirement funds is considered an unearned income.)
The Rentista Visa
While this may not seem like an easy freelancer option, if you can prove an unearned income of 2,500 USD per month for two years, you can live in the country legally while continuing your freelance work. The 2,500 must come from unearned income, such as a retirement pension, savings, real estate property, etc. It cannot be a form of payment earned from work.
Special Category Visa
This visa is exactly as it sounds—for expats who fall into a special category that does not qualify for any other visa. While the Costa Rican Department of Immigration lays out the various subcategories that qualify under this visa, approval is also up to the discretion of the immigration officer. That means, if you can make a strong enough case for your need to live in Costa Rica as a self-employed person, you may get it.
One subcategory under this visa is Trabajador de Ocupación Específica por Cuenta Propia en Sectores de la Agricultura, Construcción y Servicios: Specific Occupation Worker Self-Employed in Agriculture, Construction and Services. This applies to expats who move to Costa Rica to work on farms, help in conservation projects, and other such endeavors.
You can read more about these visas and how to obtain residency in Costa Rica in our Visas and Work Permits section.
How to Start a Business in Costa Rica
Another way to be self-employed in Costa Rica is by starting your own business. This will allow you to apply for an Investor visa. An important criterion to keep in mind is that you will need to prove how/why this business is a benefit to the Costa Rican economy. This means, you will need to hire workers. As the business owner/investor, you cannot work for the business.
Steps to Starting a Business in Costa Rica
- Choose Your Business Type: Once you have decided to start a business in Costa Rica, you will need to decide on the type of business. You can register either a sole proprietorship or a corporate entity. The most popular choice is sole proprietorship (Sociedad Anónima) because your personal income and assets will not be at risk.
- Open a Bank Account: It is mandatory that all Costa Rican business owners have a local bank account. See our Bank and Taxes section for more details on how to open an account.
- Obtain a License: You will need an operator’s license in Costa Rica. This is called a Patente Comercial. You will also need to request a zoning certificate (Certificado de Uso de Suelo) as well as any other licenses relevant to your business. For example, if you choose to open a bar or a spa, you will need a license from the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud).
While opening a business in Costa Rica may be easier than trying to find traditional employment, it is still a complicated ordeal full of bureaucracy and paperwork. Keep in mind that all documents will need to be translated into Spanish. We advise all entrepreneurial expats to employ the expert relocation services of InterNations to help you get started. We not only assist with visa advisory services to ensure you are applying for the correct investor visa, but we can also arrange the services of a local lawyer to help you establish your business.
Top Self-Employed Jobs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an ideal country to be a freelancer. The cost of living is low, and the temperature is always beach-ready. Below are some of the most popular freelance jobs for expats living in the tropical country:
- writing and editing;
- software developer;
- graphic designer;
- teacher (online or in-person such as a surf instructor or ESL tutor);
- career couch;
- business consultant.
Freelance jobs involved in the wedding industry are also especially popular in this country famed for destination nuptials. Such professions in this industry include:
- makeup artist;
- event planner;
- hair stylist.
Self-Employed Benefits Costa Rica
One benefit to being self-employed in Costa Rica are the amount of taxes that you will pay. As our Banks and Taxes section explains, income tax in the country is low and any income made from abroad is not taxed. Therefore, if you live in Costa Rica, but work remotely for a company in your home country, you will not be taxed on that income.
Self-employed income made from a Costa Rican source is taxed at 10-25% depending on the amount you earn.
Other benefits to being self-employed in this country include high-speed internet throughout the country, a variety of coworking spaces (largely located in San José, but also in some beach communities), and a network of other international freelancers to build a community with.
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It is important to familiarize yourself with the business culture in Costa Rica if you are moving there for work. In general, workplaces are relaxed. English is widely spoken, but you will want to learn Spanish in order to communicate more easily with your colleagues and business partners.
Things to Know about Costa Rican Working Culture
- Although the workplace attitude is relaxed, Costa Ricans value punctuality when it comes to business. However, do not be surprised if meetings are delayed up to 30 minutes sometimes.
- You should greet people with a handshake, rather than an embrace or kiss on the cheek, which is common in other Latin American countries.
- Do not greet someone by their first name unless you are invited to do so.
- Business cards are exchanged often.
- Business negotiations may be slow until a mutual decision is agreed upon. If you come from a country where meetings are quick and to-the-point, you may feel frustrated.
- Costa Ricans value honesty and directness when working with others.
- If you are invited to a business dinner, it is polite to bring a bottle of wine, flowers, or chocolate. It is also customary to invite your spouse or partner along.
Costa Rica Dress Code
Although Costa Rica is a hot, humid country, workplace culture dictates a certain level of modesty. Women should wear nice dresses, skirt, or pant suits. Tops should not be too low cut. Men should only wear full business suits for formal occasions. In the workplace, they should lean towards button-up shirts, nice slacks, and dress shoes.
Social Security and Benefits
Obtaining a social security number in Costa Rica is required of all citizens and residents (both temporary and permanent). There are three main categories expats can register under:
- employed (Trabajador);
- self-employed (Trabajador Independiente);
- voluntary (Asegurado Voluntario).
To renew a residency permit, you will be required to show proof that you are registered within the social security system.
What is a Social Security Number in Costa Rica?
Can a foreigner get a social security number in Costa Rica? Yes, and it is mandatory for all residents.
Social security is the responsibility of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (Costa Rican Social Security), or CCSS/Caja. This number registers residents with the tax authorities. With this number, residents pay taxes on property, employment, capital gains, and more. Funds gathered from social security go into pensions for retirees, the public health system, and other government sponsored needs.
How to get a Social Security Number in Costa Rica?
Applying for a social security number in Costa Rica depends on whether you are employed traditionally, self-employed, or if you voluntarily sign up as a temporary resident.
If you come to Costa Rica as an employee, your employer should enroll you in the social security system. Both you and your employer will have to pay into the social security fund (your employer will typically pay the most). The amount taken out of your paycheck will depend on your salary.
If you are self-employed or a business owner in Costa Rica, it is your responsibility to register with the social security system. You will do this in-person at your nearest CCSS office. To apply, you will need to bring the following documents:
- valid ID;
- proof of residency status;
- utility bill;
- proof of business expenses and costs.
Expats who voluntarily enroll in social security are those who do not work in the country such as retirees, students, and those following a spouse to the country. Like self-employed individuals, volunteer enrollees will need to visit a CCSS office in-person and submit the following items:
- valid ID;
- proof of residency;
- utility bill;
- evidence of your reason for being in the country (i.e. university enrollment document, spouse’s work contract, pension certificate, etc.).
Social Security Card Costa Rica
There is no social security card in Costa Rica. Instead, your number should be listed on your DIMEX residency card. You can read more about this in our Visas and Work Permits section.
Social Security Benefits in Costa Rica
Benefits from social security go towards public services, such as:
- sick leave;
- retirement pension;
- domestic help insurance;
- adolescence work insurance.
Maternity and Paternity Leave
Maternity leave is a mandatory right in Costa Rica. If you work in the country and pay into social security, you are entitled to it.
How Long is Maternity Leave in Costa Rica?
Maternity leave in Costa Rica lasts for a period of four months: one month before the birth and three months after. If a mother gives birth to multiple children, the post-natal period of maternity leave is extended by one month per child.
If you adopt a child, you are allowed a total of three months of maternity leave.
Maternity Benefits in Costa Rica
Mothers will still receive their full salary during their maternity leave. Half of their salary will be paid through social security and the other half will be paid by their employer. Self-employed mothers are also entitled to maternity benefits as long as they have paid into the social scheme. These women will need to contact the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (Ministry of Labor and Social Security) for more details on the amount of money they can receive.
In addition to this, when mothers return to work in Costa Rica, they are allotted time for breast-feeding throughout the day. They are allowed one of the following:
- 15 minutes every three hours;
- half an hour twice a day; or
- one hour at the beginning or end of the day.
Paternity Leave and Benefits in Costa Rica
Paternity leave is only mandatory in Costa Rica in the public sector. All fathers in the public sector are allowed eight days of paternity leave upon the birth of their child. A longer amount is only granted in special circumstances, such as the death of the mother during childbirth.
Paternity leave within the private sector is up to the discretion of the employer.
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