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Education and Transportation in San José

Welcome to the Central Valley! San José and its metro area are the best choices for expats going to Costa Rica: You’ll enjoy a high quality of life and affordable prices. San José has different faces in different neighborhoods, though! Our guide has details.
Traffic in and around San José is not for the inexperienced.

Bilingual and International Schools

We have taken a detailed look at the Costa Rican education system in our article on living in Costa Rica. It’s safe to say that Costa Rica’s high standard of living and wealth stem to a large extent from its education. Enrolling your child in the local schools will guarantee a high-quality education and proficiency in one of the world’s most important languages.

However, the story is a different one if you consider repatriating when your offspring is old enough to go to university. The Costa Rican high school diploma might not be acknowledged or considered sufficient qualification (however high its quality standard) for entering tertiary education back home. US citizens in particular have lamented this at times.

Luckily, the San José metro area offers an abundance of bilingual and international schools of various cultural backgrounds, offering many different diplomas. Of course, the International Baccalaureate is one of them. The schools in question focus, for example, on the US, British, German, and Israeli systems.

All this comes at a price, however, it will be manageable on your expat salary. Some of the fine institutions in the area are:

Traffic Woes

First off: yes, you will be able to drive your car with your home license or international driver’s license, but only for up to 90 days. If you’re planning on staying longer, you should apply for a local one. The process is quite short and unproblematic, so you might want to get it out of the way early on.

Just like in many other expat destinations, it would probably be unwise to actively participate in traffic straight away, especially if you are an inexperienced driver. Descriptions of the Costa Rican driving style range from laid back to reckless, and pedestrians, cyclists, and animals are not a rare sight in the street. So if you absolutely need to drive a car, be alert and attentive.

Rocky Roads

Apart from the driving style, the quality and condition of the roads is your biggest enemy in traffic around San José. While the roads in the city and its metro area are paved (which you should not take for granted, as much of the country’s road network consists of dirt paths), their condition is somewhat worrisome. Expect potholes to pop up in front of you at all times, and be ready to react! Try not to drive at night if you don’t know the way to your destination well.

Also note that in order to ease traffic and reduce congestion, a license plate law was passed that bans private vehicles from metropolitan San José between 06:00 and 19:00 on weekdays, based on the last digit on their license plated and a rotation system. So if your license plate number ends in a 1 or 2, you cannot drive into San José on Mondays, those with 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, and so on.

Of course, we’d also like to remind you of the lack of street signs — and usually, lanes and traffic lights — which we have already covered in the article on moving to Costa Rica. In short: prepare for challenges!

Other Means of Transportation

There are three alternatives to driving, and only two if reliability is an essential factor for you. The train system in Costa Rica, including suburban trains around the San José metro area, frequently goes in and out of service, and it’d be best not to count on the existence of any railway connections when you embark on your expat assignment.

Taxis are a quick way to get around the city, but make sure to take the official ones: red cars with a yellow light and an inverted yellow triangle on top. You can also find official orange taxis which operate for the airport and charge slightly more than the red taxis. Taxis are required to use the meter for calculating fares, so always insist on turning the meter on if you get into a taxi to avoid getting ripped off by the drivers. Finding taxis should be relatively easy as they can be seen almost everywhere around the city.

Living in San José also comes with the added perk of staying in the central hub of Costa Rican bus travel. You can catch buses to every part of the country from the Coca Cola station. A word of warning, though: The station is located in the red light district, which is known for petty crimes such as theft.

Additionally, the city is serviced by a variety of bus lines, which will take you across town for negligible fares. Bus stops are usually grouped into areas: Buses to a certain district or suburb all leave from the same general stop. Buses to Escazú, for example, stop north of the Coca Cola station. Each district and suburb is serviced by various lines, so try to find out which line passes by a landmark or stop near your destination.


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