So you took a trip to Costa Rica, fell in love with it and want to make a more permanent existence here? Trust me you are not alone. By 2011, there were already an estimated 600,000 expats living in Costa Rica and while the majority are from Nicaragua, at least 100,000 come from the United States and many more from Europe and Canada. Many are retired, but 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 the sunny Costa Rican paradise? One option is Costa Rica's craigslist.com, where ten to fifteen Costa Rica jobs are posted each 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.
Jobs for Expats
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.). Most of them tend to hire from Costa Rica's highly-educated and cheaper workforce or relocate their own employees from foreign offices.
Those who live most comfortably are people who can find 'telework' 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 has to be received abroad.
Other industries that often 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 in the country without a 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 in Costa Rica 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 and enter the country again 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 allow foreigners to own businesses in Costa Rica, but they are not allowed to work in them. They think of it as the foreigner is taking away a potential job opportunity for a Costa Rican.
Cost of Living
When searching for employment in Costa Rica, it's important to consider the cost of living in the country. 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 you to do any saving. A lot of the people with these occupations 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, check out the website for the Labor Ministry. It publishes the minimum wage for almost every job.