Teach English in Costa Rica, Interview with Lisa Katerman

Teach English Abroad
Teach English in Costa Rica
Teach English in Costa Rica

How long did you teach English in Costa Rica?

I taught English from September 2006 through May 2007 in Heredia, Costa Rica. I graduated college with an English degree in the spring of 2006, and wanted to spend some time abroad while working.

Please tell us about your job?

I worked for a small school in Heredia, which is a suburb of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The school was geared towards teaching mainly adults, ages 16 and older, who wanted a job customer service job where they would be speaking English. Several American companies had recently moved down to Costa Rica, and they were looking for English speakers who would work at their call centers. We only accepted students who were already at a basic conversational level of English since the classes were conversation based. The school had four levels of classes: P1, P2, P3, and Fast Track. Each of the P classes were 8 week classes which met 4 times a week for 2 hours each. Fast Track met everyday for 3 hours and that class was specifically for those whose English and customer services skills only needed a bit of cleaning up. Students were interviewed upon entrance and placed in a class based on their interview scores. The majority of the students were in their 20s.

Most teachers taught 2-3 classes per day,  with Fridays mostly off, except for those who taught Fast Track, I didn’t have to take much vacation time, though it was available as long as you were able to get another teacher to cover for you. There were also a few holidays we had off, and several weeks off over Christmas.

What is Costa Rica like?

Costa Rica is a wonderful country. There is so much history, a unique culture, kind people, good food, so many places to travel… the list goes on! There is a great pubic bus system that can get you all over the country, and really, all over Central America. Costa Rica is filled with so many things to see: beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific (with VERY different feelings to each), volcanoes, rain forests, a cloud forest, and everything in between. I also traveled to Nicaragua and Panama, both by bus, and it was pretty easy. Also, beware of the rainy season and bring an umbrella with you wherever you go! You’ll find that out pretty quickly. If you’re a soccer fan, you’ll be in the right place. There are a lot of teams in Costa Rica along with some crazy fans!

The only downside to living in Costa Rica is that there is a decent amount of crime. Almost every American I met in Costa Rica was robbed in one way or another. Just keep your stuff with you, stay alert, and don’t be flashy with clothing, money or jewelry and you should be fine.

Overall, it’s a wonderful country, fairly easy to navigate, and a lot of fun!

Have you taught English in other countries?

No, Costa Rica was my only international teaching experience.

How did you find your first English teaching job?

I attempted to find a job before I went down to Costa Rica, but people I had talked to said that it was very unlikely to secure a job before going down and meeting with the people at the school. I did take an online ESL certification class over the summer, which certainly helped in the long run. After I arrived in Costa Rica, I did two things to get jobs:

  1. Walked around Heredia with a dozen resumes and went into several different schools.
  2. Answered help wanted ads in the Costa Rican paper for Americans, the Tica Times. I got better jobs from the second way, so I definitely recommend picking up the paper and answering ads for English jobs.

How easy is it to find English teaching positions?

It is quite easy to find an English teaching position. It is more challenging to find a well paying employment. A lot of times, you’ll start off at a job that doesn’t pay well in order to build up your experience, and then you can bring that experience to another school.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

Most schools only require that you’ve graduated from college and that you are a native English speaker. However, if you want to get a better paying job, you’ll most definitely need a Teaching English as a Foreign (Second) Language (TEFL/TESL) certificate and some training. You can get that certificate online for a few hundred dollars. I would HIGHLY recommend against traveling to Costa Rica to do a TEFL/TESL certification program in person. They charge a ton of money and cannot guarantee you a job.

How did you get your first work visa?

The school I worked at did not require me to have a work visa, so I did not get one. Work visas in Costa Rica are very difficult to get and they are very expensive. If you’ll be there for less than a year and you can find a place who doesn’t requite a work visa, don’t get one. If you’re planning to stay for longer and want to work at a private or international school, you’ll be required to get one. Be prepared to pay $800+!

What is the cost of living in Costa Rica?

The cost of living is quite low, except in the very touristy and beach areas. I paid $400 per month for rent, but this was for a really nice place. I was subletting from someone- three bedroom, two bathrooms, full kitchen condo with a back yard in a gated community. Utilities included. It was a great price. Other teachers I worked with paid much less. I would spend no more than $10 a day on food, and that’s with one to two meals a day out. Going out is pretty cheap if you’re just into the bar scene. There was the occasional cover of $5, but that was pretty unusual. Beer cost around $1-$2 at a bar. Other expenses included bus fare, groceries, gym membership, travel, and fun stuff. I never spent more than $1,000.

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

That’s a difficult question, because it depends on your lifestyle and how well paying your teaching job is. I probably broke even every month, but if you live very frugally, you can save a decent amount each month, even up to a few hundred dollars a month.

Are there many opportunities to earn income on the side?

I did not do any private work, but I did know someone who did private teaching, which did not pan out. One other person started as an English teacher and then purchased the school I worked at and was the owner and president. Mostly, English teachers remained English teachers. People in Costa Rica are very interested in learning English though, so there is a possibility to make money doing private lessons! You just need some patience with finding and keeping students.

Do you recommend Costa Rica for other English teachers?

Yes, Costa Rica was a wonderful place to teach. The students are quite driven, especially adults who want a high-paying job at a US call center in Costa Rica! One of the downfalls of Costa Rica is that people run on their own time, so students often show up to class late. Do not adjust for them, they will have to learn to arrive on time. The quality of life was wonderful. Costa Rica has a low cost of living, good food, amazing places to travel, inexpensive public transportation, and very friendly people. I highly recommend it.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?

Be patient and persistent. Research the country you’ll be in by reading blogs (like this one)! People love talking about their experience, and they are your best resources. Know about visas (both work and travel). Research where is a good place to live. Let go a bit and go with the flow- things will work out! Most of all, have fun and explore your country!

Costa Rica Classroom
Lisa Katerman on Facebook