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  • Emanuele Casabona

    Finding other expats to share experiences in San José with, helped me a lot. Thanks to InterNations.

Employment 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.

San José Business Info for Expats

The Tico Workforce and Expat Opportunities

As a result of the quality of education of every level as well as vocational training in Costa Rica, expats often face a number of obstacles that may obstruct your goal of spending a few years working in the beautiful Central Valley.

Challenges for Future Expats

Firstly, the number of job openings for expats is limited by default, as foreign companies and investors have to fill at least 85% of jobs in their respective businesses with Costa Rican locals. After all, the Costa Rican government has perfected its system of attracting foreign investments in order to benefit its population and all the FTZ benefits are not provided without ulterior motive.

Secondly, in order to achieve your goal of relocating to and working in San José and its surroundings, you have to be a highly qualified specialist whose skills cannot be found in the local workforce. If your position could just as easily be filled with a Tico, your chances are rather slim.

Finally, as always, there is the issue of acquiring a work permit for your future home country. And in Costa Rica, this is not exactly an easy task if you do not have anyone to help you.

How to Acquire a Work Permit

The most important piece of advice we can give you on the issue of getting a work permit for Costa Rica is: Don’t try it on your own if you have other options. The red tape and bureaucratic obstacles that you will face during the application process are considerable, to say the least, and future expats who do not have a good grip of Spanish, and particularly Costa Rican “officialese”, might soon feel overwhelmed.

Let Professionals Help

To avoid this problem, you have a couple of options. Of course, it is the easiest, least stressful, and most convenient way to let your employer take care of it. The multinationals represented in the Central Valley often have teams and divisions entrusted with the sole assignment of handling all bureaucratic matters for the company’s future expats prior to their arrival in Costa Rica. If you are fortunate enough to sign a work contract with one of those companies, congratulations! You should not meet any more hurdles on your way to expat life in San José.

If the former case doesn’t apply to you, there is no need to worry. There is an abundance of highly qualified immigration lawyers with years of experience in the field of work permits. We recommend making use of their services, as this will considerably speed up the application process. As legal advice in Costa Rica tends to be very affordable, there shouldn’t be any reason for you not to consult one of these professionals.

Know Your Rights: Working Conditions in Costa Rica

In the private sector, the typical working hours are from 08:00 to 17:00 but may vary from company to company. This is also the case for break times, which usually include a 30–45-minute break for lunch and two 15-minute breaks for coffee. Generally, there is an imposed maximum of 48 hours per week that an employee could work, with lower thresholds for night shifts or mixed shifts. If you agree to work on a public holiday, then you’ll receive double pay. Two weeks of annual paid leave are also allowed for every 50 weeks of work.

The Social Security system covers all employees’ hospitalization and medical costs, among other things. The employer contributes around 26% of the total salary, while the employee contributes roughly 9%. The fund also covers maternity, disability, old age, and death. Around 3% of the salary that is deducted goes into the pension fund of an employee.

Business Etiquette and Costa Rican Culture

Before undertaking any kind of expat assignment, make sure you know what you are in for. Prepare yourself for the etiquette in the business world of your future home. We have compiled a list of useful tips in our article on business etiquette in Costa Rica.

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    Finding other expats to share experiences in San José with, helped me a lot. Thanks to InterNations.

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