Work in Costa Rica is a complex case. Getting a job in Costa Rica might feel complicated for the expat, depending on the situation. There are three reasons that compliment this statement.
First, Costa Rica is a very literate country. Primary education is free and mandatory, so the country leads the region in literacy rate. So much, in fact, the country is considered the only in the region free of analphabetism. The only close second is Panama, with an analphabetism rate of 5,5%. This makes finding a local candidate much easier, outside of very specific job openings.
Second, the unemployment rate is rather high, at 9,6% for 2016. This means there are few job openings, even with the government stating more employment opportunities than in past years. The national lives by the motto “Pura Vida”, and they take it seriously. The only strong economic center of Costa Rica is the capital, San José.
Third, you legally need residency and a work permit in order to work. The only way to get a work permit is with a residency, generally a permanent one. You can get special provisional residencies for work, but these generally relate to special cases and fields and are rare. Also, the law states that a foreigner should be hired for a position if only there are no Costa Ricans that can do it.
Costa Rican Job Market Overview and Opportunities for Work in Costa Rica
Even with these setbacks, expats have many ways to open doors for themselves in Costa Rica’s job market. The most popular fields of work that expats can take advantage of include:
Tourism is the biggest and ever expanding economy in Costa Rica. It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that it offers the most job openings for in the country.
Bilingual skills are primordial for expats looking for these kinds of jobs as this will create more opportunities. The most popular working positions include bartending, waiting tables, and tour guiding.
Talking about English skills. Teaching English is the most popular job for expats in Costa Rica. This is because of education standards, and tourism being the biggest income source. English teaching jobs are the widest in opportunities for English native speakers.
In order to teach English in Costa Rica, you have to be fluent in English and Spanish. You also have to get a TEFL/TESOL certification and even previous experience depending on the case. Some English programs offer certification inside the country.
Environmental Conservation and Voluntary Work
Voluntary work is available in many fields and through many NGOs and Ministries. They can range from internships, with the goal of building schools and houses, or environmental projects. Samples of these projects include turtle conservation during nesting, nurturing distressed animals and reinsertion, between many others.
Working For An Offshore Company From Costa Rica (or Telecommuting in Costa Rica)
Regarded as the best option for expats looking to live in Costa Rica, for a couple of reasons:
Telecommuting is unregulated in Costa Rica. There are no work laws that apply for expats in Costa Rica. You don’t need a sponsor, nor residence, nor anything to telecommute in Costa Rica. You just need a working laptop and your own skills. Many venture into the consultancy fields, writing, or coding.
Offshore earnings are 100% free of taxes. That’s right. Costa Rica applies the “principle of territoriality” which means work that comes from outside the country goes untaxed.
Starting Your Own Business
Another recommended solution is to start your own business. It works especially for expat retirees… Though they possess residency as Pensionados, their retiree status prevents them from having a work permit. And it doesn’t have to be a classic local business. Some entrepreneurs in Costa Rica work as videographers, service providers, tour guides, and much more. If your business also offers offshore services, that income is tax-free as well.