Costa Rica is full of immigrants who travel to the country for its beautiful environment and high quality of life. If you want to stay there, however, you will run into the difficult legal obstacles surrounding employment. The Costa Rican government does not make it easy for foreigners to get their work permit, but there are several loopholes and paths to success that apply to people in different situations.
Question 1 of 5:Can I get a job in Costa Rica?
1You can work remotely from Costa Rica without a work permit. The most straightforward option for many immigrants is to work online for a company based outside of Costa Rica, or to work as a freelancer for foreign clients. You do not need a work permit for this as long as your work is unrelated to Costa Rica.
You still need to apply for a residency permit to stay in Costa Rica once your visa expires (30–90 days for a tourist visa, depending on your nationality). The big advantage is that this does not need to be a"permanent residency permit,"which is notoriously hard to get. As long as you earn at least $US2,500 per month, you can get a permit as a rentista.
2Work permits are only given to irreplaceable workers. Work permits are extremely difficult to get, as Costa Rican law requires employers to hire Costa Rican nationals if possible. If you have specialized or high-demand skills and can find an job offer in Costa Rica, you and your potential employer can apply for a work permit through the Dirección General de Migración. This process may take months, and will likely fail if the job could reasonably be filled by a Costa Rican.
You are allowed to travel to Costa Rica before submitting the application. Request a provisional visa from the Costa Rica consulate in your country.
There is an exception for Canadians under 35, described later in this article.
3You may own a business, but not work in it. If you have the funds to run a business, you are legally allowed to hire Costa Ricans, oversee operations as manager and owner, and receive an income. This is possible under any kind of temporary residence permit, such as the rentista permit. However, you cannot participate in any of the day-to-day labor; this must be done by Costa Ricans or people with permanent residency.
4You gain the right to work through marriage or three years of residency. A permanent residency permit allows a foreign citizen to work any type of job in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, this has strict requirements. To apply for this status, you must hold a temporary residence permit (not tourist visas) for three years. If you are married to a Costa Rican citizen, or have a Costa Rican parent or child, you can apply for a temporary residence permit as a spouse or relative. Unlike normal temporary residence permits, this one will allow you to work.
Question 2 of 5:How can I work in Costa Rica as a Canadian?
1Canadian citizens aged 18 to 35 may qualify for an easier application. The Youth Mobility program is a special arrangement between the two countries that makes it much easier to work in Costa Rica for temporary stays (up to one year). Besides meeting the citizenship and age requirements, you'll need the following to qualify:
Possession of CAD$2500 to cover your own expenses at the start of your stay
A clean Canadian police certificate (criminal record check), usually obtained through local police services or an accredited fingerprinting company
Health insurance for the duration of your time in Costa Rica, including coverage for hospitalization and repatriation
No dependents that would need to accompany you to Costa Rica
2Send your documents to the consulate first. Before you travel, the Costa Rican consulate in Ottawa will need to legalize the documents proving that you meet the qualifications listed above, including a birth certificate demonstrating your age. Check the consulate website for up-to-date forms and processing fee amounts for the"legalization of documents"service (typically US$40 as of March 2021).
These documents will also need to be translated into Spanish by an official translator for the Costa Rican government, but this can be done once you are in the country.
3You do not need a visa or job offer to travel. Young Canadian workers can enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa (good for 90 days), which is granted when you arrive in the country. Unlike most tourists, you can then apply for the right to work as soon as you find a job offer. To do this, bring your legalized, translated documents to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería in San José. The exact process may depend on which category of work you are applying for, but your future employer can accompany you and help you through the process.
Because of the special agreement between the two countries, you do not need to go through the usual work permit requirements. Most importantly, your employer can hire you for any job, not only jobs that cannot be filled by a Costa Rican citizen.
4Students, volunteers, and researchers are eligible for a special visa. The Youth Mobility program also covers young Canadians looking for internships, work placements, or academic positions (as a student, teacher, or researcher) in Costa Rica. Unlike people looking for work, you will need to get accepted into a program before you travel. Once you do, send the work contract or letter of acceptance as part of a request for the"Provisional Visa Special Category for Canadian citizens under the Memorandum of Understanding concerning Youth Mobility."Once this has been approved, you can travel to Costa Rica and finish your application for temporary residency under the same category, at the Dirección General de Migración in San José.
If it is difficult for you to travel to Ottawa to apply for a visa at the consulate, you are allowed to enter Costa Rica as a tourist and change your immigration status once you are there. This still requires you to legalize all your documents in advance, and will cost an additional US$200.
Question 3 of 5:How much do workers earn in Costa Rica?
1The average household earns about US$530 per month. This is based on 2020 data, and is around ₡326,500 in local terms. Keep in mind that this survey covers the whole country; wages are higher in the cities and lower in the countryside.
2A middle-class salary starts at around US$1,200 per month. This is based on 2018 data of about ₡743,000 as average for the middle quintile of earners. This is roughly the monthly wages of, for example, a full-time English teacher at a private school. Upper middle class workers such as IT professionals can earn twice this amount.
Minimum wage law in Costa Rica is based on the level of skill and education required for your field of work. If your job requires a 4+ year university degree, you cannot legally be paid less than 682,600 colones per month (about US$1,100).
Question 4 of 5:How much money do you need to live comfortably in Costa Rica?
1A comfortable lifestyle will run you around US$1,000 per month. If you are a middle-class immigrant from an affluent country such as the US, this is a realistic budget for the kind of lifestyle you are probably used to. This means a decent apartment in the city, and room in the budget for dining out and entertainment. Many immigrants spend more like $1,500 on a less frugal lifestyle.
2The bare minimum essentials cost about US$300 a month. Research from 2018 suggests that minimum monthly costs fall between 145,000 and 210,000 colones (roughly US$240 to 340) for a single person, or ₡400,000–560,000 (US$650 to 915) for a family. This covers only the cheapest adequate housing, food, health care, and transport. Note that this budget will be easier to live on in rural areas of the country.
3Housing costs are especially low in Costa Rica. Compared to the many cities suffering under sky-high rents, Costa Rica has cheap housing even relative to other costs of living. For example, rent in San José, Costa Rica is about ¼ the cost of rent in Los Angeles or London, even though most supermarket goods are about ⅔ the price. If you are moving from one of these cities, you may find your new wages go even further than you expect simply because of the massive difference in rental cost.
Question 5 of 5:What jobs are in demand in Costa Rica?
1Technical positions are in the highest demand. Engineers, technicians, and skilled tradesman are some of the most in-demand jobs in Costa Rica. If you are trying to get a work permit as a foreigner, your chances of success are much higher if you have this kind of technical experience and education.
2Call centers, English teaching, and tourism offer low-entry work. If you don't speak fluent Spanish or have specialized skills, the job market in Costa Rica will be tough. It is easier for English-speakers to find work in these fields, but you'll still be competing with many other applicants, and won't necessarily get paid great wages. Still, this is a way to pay your bills while you're getting on your feet and taking Spanish classes.
Note that working these jobs still requires a permanent residence permit or a work permit. In most cases this will be extremely difficult to get, and accepting the work without one is illegal.