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

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When Should an ESL Teacher Come to CR?

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The reasons a person decides to move abroad to teach English in Costa Rica are many. For some it’s a gap year after university. For others it’s a first step in retirement. Others simply like the idea of escaping the cold winds of winter for a few months. Whatever the motive, the time of year that you decide to take the leap to Costa Rica should ultimately depend on what end you expect for yourself once here. 

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Just like there are high and low seasons for tourism, the ESL industry in Costa Rica also has points that are much busier than others. These are the end of January and the beginning of July.

The end of January is when everything has finally settled down after the Christmas/New Years break. In Costa Rica, and all of Latin America for that matter, Christmas can be considered a five month affair. With Independence Day in Costa Rica on September 15th, as soon as the 16th you can see Christmas decorations going up in stores and homes across the country. Without a significant holiday between Independence Day and Christmas, the festive anticipation ramps up very early.

With the entire country essentially shutting down for all of December, the ESL market goes with it. It takes until the end of January for people to settle back in but, once they do, the market takes off. The third week of January means back to business and everyone brings their New Year’s resolutions of learning a new language with them. This peak goes strong until April, when the surge is interrupted by another significant holiday: Semana Santa.

July marks the start of the other peak season, which runs until the end of November. With language schools doing most of their hiring in anticipation of these two peaks, those teachers looking to secure employment with the most hours should apply – or move to Costa Rica – just before January and July.

In comparing the two peaks of the ESL hiring season, January is by far the most saturated in terms of people arriving to Costa Rica. With it being winter in North America, the best weather in Costa Rica, and a fresh calendar it is the logical time to arrive.

Given this, a December arrival – and a November TEFL/TESOL course – is often ideal. A common trend to get a leg up on your competing applicants is to spend the month of November getting certified, using December to get your bearings and apply for jobs with the goal of starting to work when the market picks up steam in January. A late December or January arrival is often too late as many institutes do their hiring for the following year in the month of December.

With this said, securing a teaching job with 20 hours or more isn’t the goal of everyone. For teachers looking to move to Costa Rica to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere – and teaching more for enjoyment rather than dependence on the paycheck – coming in the low seasons may be more beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, jobs can be had in low season; the hours – and subsequently the earnings – will just not be enough to live off of. However, for many teachers in Costa Rica, money is not the primary objective. For many, this avenue of less is more is the better option. The pay is less, but so is the traffic, cost of living and beach congestion. If the experience of living abroad is what you’re looking for, and using a teaching job to pay the rent, then perhaps coming in a time not often associated as ideal might be a better fit.

January and July are the peak seasons of the ESL market in Costa Rica. If you’re looking to secure a job at those times, you’d be wise to arrive at least a month prior to your preferred start date. Coming in low season allows for more flexibility in terms of arrival date with the trade off of fewer employment benefits. When you decide to buy your ticket simply depends on what you expect from your time in Costa Rica.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

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Where do English Teachers Live in Costa Rica?

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Costa Rica English Teaching News  - One of the most common queries about teaching English in Costa Rica is the question of where a teacher will be living. It’s clear why this ranks high on the list. Among other things, when someone is thinking about a life abroad, they like to imagine what their apartment will look like and where it will be situated. While dreams of living on a Costa Rican beach and watching the sun set over the ocean every night might be realistic for some, it is not a realistic expectation for an aspiring ESL teacher. 

Ninety-five percent of ESL jobs in Costa Rica are found in the Central Valley. The few jobs that do exist outside of the valley are with very small institutes and teachers earn a very minimal wage or are actually volunteers. This is especially true in tourist rich areas like beaches, where schools do not have to entice teachers to come, and can simply take the ones who are willing to offer their services for little to no pay.

With this said, if money is less of a factor than comfort and surroundings, the available positions outside of the valley will suit you just fine. In addition to this there are more lucrative private school options, such as the Falcon International School just outside of Jacó Beach. These schools generally have great benefits and competitive salaries to institutes in San José, but are extremely competitive and available positions are far and few between.

For the other ninety-five percent that will be working in the valley, the options are plentiful.

San José represents almost all of the capital’s metropolitan area. However, once more acquainted with the area, you quickly realize that there are actually many different regions, towns and neighborhoods that have their own uniqueness – and Ticos will be quick to correct you for incorrectly calling an area San José that is not.
Case in point can be found with the airport. Any local will interrupt you before you even finish saying that the airport is in San José – it`s actually in Alajuela. So while living in or around the capital will be your most likely destination, in all likelihood you won’t be living right in San José.

With Cartago, San Pedro and Los Yoses in the east, Heredia to the north, and La Sabana, Escazú, Santa Ana and Lindora to the west, there are many great options for living. Where you end up should mostly, but not entirely, depend on where you find work.

In the ideal scenario you would be able to stay in a low-risk environment, financially speaking, such as a hostel while you carried out your search for employment. This way, you would be able to apartment hunt with a general understanding of where your school is located. While certainly not an end of the world scenario, the constant high volume of traffic and precipitation during the rainy season make commuting longer than necessary distances an annoyance worth averting if possible.

If the hostel option is not viable, most language schools are located in Escazú, Heredia or San Pedro so apartment hunting right off the bat in these areas would be safe bets.

In terms of cost, as a general rule the further west you go the more expensive rentals become. Santa Ana and Escazú, while beautiful and more ‘Americanized’ – especially in the case of Escazú – are expensive. The same goes for La Sabana, which is also extremely beautiful, centrally located and home to La Sabana Park, one of the city’s biggest attractions.

San Pedro is a college area with lots of Universities and bars. Rent is quite affordable and many younger teachers prefer to reside here. Heredia, located just north of San José, is the most economical option. Rent on two bedroom apartments can be had for little, but the downside for some is it is not as lively as other places and lacks things to do in the evening. Though, for some, this is a positive.

The San José area is where most English teachers in Costa Rica settle. Where they actually live, though, is usually not right in San José. The options are plentiful and diverse. A little research and exploration when you’re on the ground will serve you well.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Panama

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - Visa runs are a necessary part of life as an English teacher in Costa Rica. In part I of this series I discussed some of the options available in Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua. In part II, I discuss the other common destination for English teachers to take their mandatory vacation every 90 days: Panama.

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Part of the fun of a trip to Panama is the actual trip itself. Unlike Nicaragua, where Costa Rican bus company Tica Bus provides both comfort and ease in terms of getting to and across the border, no such service is available for the journey south. The only exception would be if you’ve decided to venture all the way down to Panama City – but more on that later.

There are a couple border crossings to choose from but the two most popular are the crossings near Golfito on Costa Rica’s Pacific side and at Sixaola, on its Caribbean coast. Sixaola, based on its proximity to tourist haven Bocas del Toro, is by far the most visited.

Calling Sixaola a town is an extremely generous exaggeration. The pueblo – quite literally – has a convenience store, a liquor store and an information booth that they call immigration. The local bus will take you right to where the border crossing is located. Once off the bus, walk up the hill immediately in front of you and get in line to get your passport stamped out of Costa Rica. After this you will – and get ready – walk across a bridge, which looks like it can’t hold an ant, over to Panama. Do watch your step as to not mistakenly plant down on a loose board.

When you arrive on the other side of the bridge, get in line once again to get stamped into Panama. At this point you can either continue on your journey by local bus or take up the services of one of the local taxis that will be waiting for you. If you have a group of people, or made friends during your bridge crossing, the taxis are actually quite inexpensive.

The most common and popular destination in Panama to fulfill your visa run obligation is Bocas del Toro. If you’re not familiar with this group of islands on Panama’s Caribbean coast, I highly recommend researching them as they truly are one of the great natural wonders in Central America. If you’re coming from San Jose, as most English teachers do, the trip to Bocas has two options. You can either head there from San Jose in one day, which would take about eight or nine hours depending on border traffic. The other option is to break up the trip by spending a night in Puerto Viejo, a popular and beautiful beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast situated about an hour by bus from the Panama border.

Whichever option you choose, once in Bocas you will marvel at its beauty. Bocas is a mix of a myriad of tropical islands, of which two realistically provide viable stay options. The main island, Colon, has numerous hotels and hostels at the disposal of its visitors. Colon is also home to most of the restaurants and nightlife spots in Bocas. If you like to party, you might consider this as your main hub.

If you seek a more tranquil experience, Isla Bastimentos is for you. The biggest island in Bocas, it is almost all jungle covered. The few hostels that do exist offer a very quiet and distanced experience. The island is great for hiking, exploring and is home to one of the more popular beaches in all of Bocas, Red Frog Beach, where, just as its name suggests, you can see rare red frogs.

Tours of all variations are plentiful in Bocas and for reasonable prices. One of the more expensive – maybe $20 per person – but also most worthwhile is the boat tour to Isla Zapatillas. Home to nothing but nature, you will be alone on a pristine island for the day with soft white sand, beautiful views and nothing but what you bring with you. This trip is a must.

While Bocas del Toro is by far the most common visa run destination in Panama, there are other options. Panama City is beautiful and gives a ‘big city’ feel not often found in Central America. If you can stomach the 16 hour bus ride – one way – from San Jose (or the alternative roughly $300 round-trip flight) it is definitely worth checking out. Panama City is also great for those who like shopping, as Panama is much cheaper than Costa Rica in general and Panama City has some great stores and even cheaper rates than other places in the country.

David is another great option for a quick visa run. Located on the western half of Panama, a crossing from Golfito is more recommended for this trip. The third largest city in Panama, it is only 30 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica enhancing convenience. While a nice place to visit to get a feel for ‘real Panama’ – as David is not as touristy as other places – there is not a lot to do. Nearby locations such as Boquete – including its famous hot springs Los Pozos de Caldera – and Playa Barqueta offer great attractions on your trip.

While just a sampling of things to do in both Nicaragua and Panama on your visa runs, the idea is that you are not limited to what you can do. The often maligned part of teaching English in Costa Rica can also be the most exciting. Both countries offer extensive possibilities and part of the adventure is finding them on your own.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Nicaragua

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - For most English teachers in Costa Rica working under the table is an unsettling reality. The thought of moving abroad to work in a country where you will not be a recognized worker is not something that would land near the top of many to do lists.

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While it can be a point of anxiety and stress for those that haven’t done it before, once in Costa Rica it is easy to see that everyone does it and it’s not really a big deal. From a legal perspective, ESL teachers are often given a free pass as they are providing a service to the nation’s population that the native population cannot provide to the same level.

Packing, traveling, where to go, safety, and passport stamps are all points that may leave a teacher sleepless a few nights before their trip. However, the silver lining of the unsettling nature of illegality for the English teacher in Costa Rica is it provides that same teacher the opportunity to do what many arrived to do in the first place: travel.

Any tourist is allowed to be in Costa Rica for up to 90 days of their original arrival. After this point they are considered to have overstayed their visit and can be subject to a variety of penalties based on different factors. As a result, English teachers embark on what is deemed ‘the visa run’- also called a mandatory vacation – every three months in order to renew their tourist visa and then return to their teaching position in Costa Rica.

The time you need across the border varies depending on who you talk to. When I arrived in Costa Rica over three years ago the company line was 72 hours. Nowadays some will tell you that length is still standard while others will claim you only need a few hours. Regardless of duration, the visa run is necessary and, if you’re going to go all the way outside of Costa Rica, you might as well enjoy yourself.

Where should you go?

Most choose options of convenience. This means going to border towns in either of Costa Rica’s neighbors of Panama or Nicaragua. Both offer diverse and interesting locations with a range of places to see and things to do. This column will focus on Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is a large and beautiful country filled with incredibly nice people. It is also the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, next to Haiti, and thus incredibly cheap for foreigners. The three most popular visa run locations in Nicaragua are: San Juan Del Sur, Grenada and Ometepe.

San Juan Del Sur is your typical beach town. Located on the pacific coast and not more than thirty minutes from the border it is easily accessible and a great place to hang out for a few days of R&R and away from your teaching job. Surfing isn’t the best right in town, but there are a number of high class beaches nearby with waves to challenge even the advanced surfer. It is very touristy so a lot of the locals speak English. On this trend, it is very easy to meet other travelers as it is a very well known attraction and collects travelers from all over the globe.

Grenada is about two hours by bus north of the border and is a beautiful Central American colonial town. Filled with art and history from the colonial era of Central America, it’s a great place to spend a day or two – but not three. Grenada is many things – deathly hot being one of them – and this includes boring after more than 48 hours. There is beautiful architecture, church towers to climb and even a fairly diverse nightlife. Two days though is all you will need here.

Ometepe is also a great option for your visa run. An island located in beautiful Lake Nicaragua, it is perfect for the nature lover. There is not much, if any, civilization. If you love hiking, climbing volcanoes and becoming one with your surroundings, Ometepe is for you. Given what it is, most combine Grenada and Ometepe into one visa run. This is in part due to their close proximity and also due to spending more than two days in either place is usually sufficient.

Be sure to check out my next column, where I’ll discuss some popular destinations in Costa Rica’s southern neighbor, Panama.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), 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.