This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

Are You Overqualified to Teach English in CR?

Teaching English in Costa Rica is not for everyone. Many have trouble adapting to the culture. Some find the language barrier insurmountable. Others find the heat and seemingly endless amount of precipitation during the rainy season are reasons for sooner than anticipated departures. For some, however, the reason teaching English in Costa Rica is not a fit is because they are overqualified.


Being familiar with the nature of the beast is great – and basic – advice for anyone thinking about embarking on a new venture. Costa Rica, for obvious reasons, is constantly near the top of destination lists to teach English. It is a great fit for many demographics of teachers: the beginner, the retiree, the traveler and the non-committed, to name a few.

The common denominator is that no teachers in those demographics view teaching ESL in Costa Rica as a career.
I have received many emails lately from people looking for advice on teaching in Costa Rica. They send resumes, qualifications, names of prestigious language institutes where they have taught and their titles of seniority within those institutions. While certainly impressive, my canned response to all of these adventure seeking individuals is to know your market.

If you studied advanced linguistics, have a Master’s in TEFL, a PHD in ESL instruction or years of teaching experience at the College or University level, the reality is that you are overqualified for the majority of ESL positions in Costa Rica.
This of course doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come; it simply means that you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before doing so.

If you’re looking at a University position in Costa Rica, the answer is different. However, I’ll narrow the scope of this to what ninety-percent of ESL jobs in Costa Rica are: working in private language institutes.

Language schools treat their employees exactly the same regardless of background. If you are a linguistic PHD graduate or a college dropout with zero hours of classroom experience, you will be sitting next to each other on the bus on the way to your 6am class.

The teaching industry in Costa Rica doesn’t work in the same way as other places. It is not (entirely) experience based. This isn’t to say that an inexperienced teacher will be hired over a more experienced one. However, once hired, the job the expectations – and the employee management – are exactly the same.

This is where a lot of very qualified teachers run into some confusion. Language schools in Costa Rica do not have bank accounts filled with money they are not using. While advanced and prestigious qualifications may land you a primer position in the North American, European and Asian teaching markets, Costa Rica doesn’t work like that. The pay grade, starting hours, and employee management is uniform across the board.

The dirty little secret of teaching in Costa Rica is that language schools actually prefer hiring less qualified individuals. These are the teachers they can mold into the style of employee that fits their methodology. With more experienced instructors they run the risk of having the “That’s not how we used to do it at my University” discussion – a constant annoyance for academic managers.

The idea circles back to expectation management ( If you are a highly qualified teacher, but are simply seeking an opportunity to live abroad, hone your Spanish skills and do a little bit of teaching, then Costa Rica will treat you wonderfully. If you are an individual of similar educational prestige, but think that your qualifications will earn you a similar position of seniority here, then you will be disappointed.

This article originally appeared in the Costa Rican Times

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.


This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.