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Working in Costa Rica

Last Updated: Apr 27, 2012

business meeting working in costa rica
 - Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s strong economy and low unemployment rate are due in part to strict labor laws. In general, foreigners may not work in Costa Rica unless they possess a skill that Costa Ricans do not – making it very difficult for foreign workers to find legal employment. However, there are several ways to legally earn income in Costa Rica:

  • Permanent residency: There are no employment restrictions placed on permanent residents. Permanent residency is generally achieved through a first-degree relationship with a Costa Rican, such as a child born in Costa Rica. Additionally, other legal resident types (rentista, pensionado, etc.) may apply to upgrade their status to permanent resident after a set period of time, usually three to five years.
  • Temporary residency (unconditional): Unconditional temporary residency is granted to spouses of Costa Ricans. Like permanent residents, unconditional temporary residents are not subject to employment restrictions.
  • Pensionado (retiree) or Rentista (annuity holder) residency: Pensionados and rentistas are not allowed to work in Costa Rica, but they are legally permitted to own a business and collect income from that business. 
  • Inversionista (investor) residency: By law, inversionistas are legally allowed to own a Costa Rican business, collect income from that business, and also work in that business. 
  • Representante (representative) residency: Reserved for company directors, representante residency grants executives the right to work in a Costa Rican company. 
  • Telecommuter: Consider telecommuting to a job based outside of Costa Rica. Common telecommuting positions include writing, IT consulting, web design, translation, and sales/telemarketing. Many of these positions provide flexibility and comparatively high salaries.

People that do not fall into the above categories may also apply for a work permit, but keep in mind that work permits can be hard to obtain. Job offers from a company unwilling or unable to secure a work permit should be avoided – working as a tourist or without a work permit could result in deportation.

Practical Concerns

In addition to the legal aspects of working in Costa Rica, it is important to consider practical concerns. Compared to salaries in the United States, Canada or Europe, Costa Rican salaries are generally low – the average salary in Costa Rica hovers around $500 per month.

While $500 monthly may be enough to live simply in the country, most working foreigners live in beach towns or the Central Valley, where the majority of jobs are located. In these areas, a realistic budget for a moderate lifestyle – a shared apartment or small home, a diet rich in local goods, liberal use of public transportation, and the occasional evening out – is at least $1,000 to $1,500 per month.

TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, is one of the most popular positions for foreign workers in Costa Rica. Usually, teachers are required to speak English as their first language, and many schools require either TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certification. Although the average salary for English teachers is a generous $5-$9 hourly, in most cases, the wage applies only to class time; teachers are not paid to prepare classes or to travel to offsite locations. Successful TEFL teachers work about 20 class hours per week, earning around $450-$750 per month. A notable exception is for English-speaking teachers working full-time at bilingual private schools; salaries here are much higher ($800-$1,200 monthly) and may include partial relocation or living expenses.

Salaries for English-language positions 

  • Call Center: $500
  • English Teacher: $500-$1200
  • IT Professionals: $2000+
  • Sportsbooks: $500 base + commissions
  • Tour Guide: $300-$500 + tips
  • Travel Agent: $300 base + commissions
  • Upper-level Management: $2500+

Work Permit Requirements for a Specific Occupation

Foreign workers seeking a specific position within a Costa Rican company must present the following to Immigration:

  • Signed work permit application form issued by the Department of Immigration
  • A letter indicating the reasons for requesting a work permit. Must include the applicant's complete name, nationality, age, occupation, and address. This letter must be signed in witness of an Immigration employee, or a lawyer must authenticate the signature.
  • Receipt for payment of 125 CRC + 2.50 CRC (about 25¢) for each page of the application request
  • Two current, passport-sized photos
  • Proof of having registered fingerprints at the Ministry of Public Safety
  • Proof of registration with Costa Rican consulate
  • Certified copy of the applicant's birth certificate, issued within 6 months of application, certified by Apostille
  • Criminal record history, issued within 6 months of application, from the applicant's home state or country in which s/he has been living for the last three years, certified by Apostille
  • A notarized copy of all passport pages from the applicant's current passport
  • Authenticated job offer that details the applicant's prospective job functions and salary signed by the employer.
  • Proof that the employer is up-to-date with its CCSS (Caja) payments
  • Employer certification of income, balance, and status of results, issued by a CPA
  • Certification from the corresponding insurance entity, indicating that the company is current on the payment of its workers compensation policy, or proof of current payment, duly certified, or the original
  • Corporate certification of the company or institution with an expiration date not more than one month from presentation of the work permit request
  • Proof that the company is current on the payment of all municipal and income taxes

Application approval generally takes three to eight months. If the applicant entered Costa Rica as a tourist, and would also like to request temporary residency, s/he must deposit an additional $200 with his/her application. An official translator in Costa Rica must translate all documents that are not in Spanish, and all documents must carry an Apostille certification. Documents will expire within six months of issuance. Note that applications will not be accepted at Immigration on the final Friday of each month.

Required Documents for Temporary Workers

Foreign nationals (skilled workers, business executives, technicians, teachers, etc.) seeking temporary work experience or training in Costa Rica holding a non-immigrant visa will be required the following documents to file for a work permit:

  • Signed permit application form of the Department of Immigration
  • A letter signed by the company's legal representative or owner, and that explains what the worker's responsibilities will be, where s/he will work, and the length of contract
  • Recommendation from the Ministry of Labor authorizing the company or owner to hire foreign workers; this authorization must indicate the number of permitted foreign workers, work area, and type of work
  • A photocopy of all passport pages from the applicant's current passport
  • Two current, passport-sized photos
  • Proof of consular registration

Application approval may take up to one year. The company that sponsors a foreign national must be accredited by the Department of Immigration. Foreign nationals must leave the country upon his/her employment termination, and/or work permit expiration. Foreign nationals who intend to work in state or international companies, an educational center with special contracts, or as domestic servants are encouraged to apply for a Conditional Costa Rican Resident Permit so that they do not have to renew their work permit every six months. Note that applications will not be accepted at Immigration on the final Friday of each month.

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