San José at a Glance
Working in San José
- The focus of Costa Rica’s economy has shifted from agriculture towards ecotourism and attracting foreign investment through Free Trade Zones.
- As such, multinational companies are the best chance for expats to find employment.
- Getting a work permit typically requires the help of your employer or immigration lawyers, though.
Not too long ago, Costa Rica was first and foremost known for its agricultural produce, and it was a rare person who thought of working in San José or anywhere else in the country as an expat. We don’t need to tell you how drastically times have changed: today, working in San José, the nation’s undisputed center of politics and economy, is a feasible option for expats looking for valuable professional experience in a beautiful country.
From the Agricultural Past…
The nation’s past is hard to miss. The many coffee plantations around the cities of the metropolitan area are testament of a time when working in San José had a lot less to do with microchips and foreign investments in technology. Agriculture still plays a valuable role for the country’s GDP, but San José and its metro area have long moved on to other sectors. The local population’s excellent education, training, and motivation have given the economy of San José and, in fact, the entire Central Valley a great reputation.
…to Today’s Tourism Boom
With the rising interest in ecotourism, a concept that Costa Rica as a pioneering destination helped shape around the world, working in San José’s tourism sector became a practical option for many Josefinos. With the international airport located just outside the city, San José turned into the first stop for almost everyone interested in visiting the country and its incredible environmental wealth.
(Expat) Employment in San José
Of course, the chances of foreign residents working in the agricultural or tourism sector are slim to none. The reason is simple: you only have a real chance to get a job in San José or anywhere else in Costa Rica if you are a highly skilled professional specializing in a field in which there is a lack of Costa Rican staff. Costa Rica is both very proud and protective of its workforce. And with good reason: the quality of education and vocational training in the country is outstanding, not only for the Central American region. We offer more details on the topic in the second part of this article as well as in our guide to working in Costa Rica.
Your best chance of finding employment in San José is being transferred within — or landing a contract with — one of the many multinational corporations that have discovered the benefits of San José and its metro area around the beginning of the 1990s. Nowadays, the list of multinationals working in San José reads like the “who is who” of today’s industry spearheads. Procter&Gamble, IBM, and Intel are just three world-renowned corporations which have long profited from the quality and skill of personnel working in San José.
FTZ in the Metro Area
With the many incentives Free Trade Zones offer foreign investors and multinational companies (see our article on working in Costa Rica for more details), it won’t come as a surprise that many of them opted to set up shop in San José’s metro area, in proximity to the nation’s international airport.
Heredia, just outside of San José proper, is a particular focal point for expats, with eight FTZs located in the city. Some of the biggest names in the international technology and pharmaceutical business have established offices and subsidiaries here. Intel, the world’s leading producer of microchips, is a large employer in the Central Valley and frequently has openings for qualified expats interested in working in San José.
See this page of the American University in Washington, D.C. for detailed info on the various business parks that make San José’s quasi-suburb so attractive for expats. You will also find info on the other business parks and FTZs in Costa Rica.
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