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Costa Rica Jobs - Employ Me! I Speak English.
If you have been doing some online research for English-speaking job opportunities in Costa Rica, you may have been surprised to see just how many jobs are offered in English.
After the somewhat cumbersome registration process at www.latinjobs.com, you will find dozens of jobs in Costa Rica for Accounting, Administration, Computing, Customer Service, Engineering, Human Resources, Marketing, Production, Sales, Teaching, Technical and Tourism. On the date I accessed the site, 66 jobs were 'available' in English.
But what is the real picture to this seemingly rosy employment scene?
The 'availability' of these jobs advertised in English from the several online sites with English pages, or in the main daily newspaper La Nacion might present a somewhat overly optimistic view for an English speaker looking for work.
It's Not Just the Language.
Those situations are given in English mainly to weed out local Ticos whose English language skills aren't quite up to standard. Costa Rican and multi-national companies are fully aware that fluent English is essential in management, tourism and sales positions but this assumes that Spanish is your first language.
Placing those advertisements in English does not mean they are necessarily looking for native English speakers as in American, Canadian, British nationals with the requisite experience and skills. Education standards in Costa Rica are high compared to most Central or South American countries and there are dozens of bright and well-educated young 'Tico' graduates who can communicate perfectly in English, both spoken and written.
The advertisements are aimed at finding them. Conversely, for you, as an outsider, to be considered by one of the bigger companies, you will need Spanish. That said, there is no reason not to apply for any position you see that sounds interesting and that you are capable and qualified to do.
If you are a real expert as, say, an Internet marketing manager or software developer, program analyst or public relations executive then you lose nothing by applying and trying to convince the company of your unique skills that are just waiting to be applied in Costa Rica. The key word however is 'unique'. You must not take away jobs from 'Ticos', so your field of expertise has to be one that cannot be filled from within the country by a Costa Rican.
So what is out there that presents more genuine opportunities?
Frankly, unless you have those unique skills to convince a national company that they must have you, forget about engineering, medical, accounting, administration or production jobs. Qualified 'Ticos' in these areas are available and by law, foreigners cannot be given a job that can be filled locally.
Probably the most accessible jobs for foreigners are: Internet or Web site management, software development, sports book companies ('bookies', marketers and online gaming), teachers of English as a second language (ESL), international school teachers, seasonal tourism jobs and some environmental or science-research postings.
Some advertisements specify that you must have a car and a cellular telephone so whilst the phone won't cost you much, being a car owner will represent a large chunk out of your budget, which needs to be offset against your salary expectations.
Work Permits - No Papers, No Position!
To be able to work in Costa Rica legally for an officially registered company or organization, you are going to need a work permit, since, like many other countries, Costa Rica is not going to hand out jobs to expatriates that can be done perfectly well by their local workforce.
It is a bit of an 'egg or chicken first' situation - you need to get the job (or at least a firm offer) before you can get the permit and employers might not want to bother unless you have legal status. If your prospective employers want to hire you, however, getting a work permit can take about a month to process and obtain.
Once you have your permit, it must be renewed every year, and once your contract is over you have no right of residency. Larger, especially multi-national companies (over 30 staff) with a higher expatriate staff can apply to the Immigration Department to hire foreigners without making individual applications. Again, this permit is only valid for one year and must be renewed annually.
The labor code restricts foreign staff in both national and multi-national companies to 10%.The other option is to obtain full residency. Once a permanent resident, you can apply that your residency be "without condition" giving you the right to seek work on the open market, but this is not an easy process and permanent residency is only conceded after two years.
I don't want to cover starting up your own business in this article, because that is a whole other angle that deserves its own space, but it is worth serious consideration. You can purchase and own your own Costa Rica corporation without even visiting or living here and with just a tourist visa you escape the problem of 'stealing' local jobs.
Working with a good attorney and buying a corporation will cost you less than US$1,000 in Costa Rica so it's not an expensive process.
Thinking quickly through my business acquaintances, successfully owned enterprises vary from dry cleaning, wine production, T-shirt factory, teak farming, translations, running a dive company or upscale real estate business to owning a bar. There are also restaurant owners, B&B and hotel proprietors and others involved in tourism and catering industry and this is also something that we will deal with more fully in later articles.
The tourism and catering industry requires hard work, dedication, patience, lots of paperwork and regulations and a seasonal market, but several of my friends make a go of it with enough to live on even if there's little time to enjoy it!
Having said all that, it is, of course possible to pick up work on an unofficial basis and many expatriates have part-time or short 'contract' jobs that are not declared on the company's official pay roll. This can be convenient in the short term, but if you have any pretensions to long-term employment, you will have to, at some stage, go legal!
Forget about what you can earn 'back home'. On a job-for-job basis, salaries tend to be lower here unless you come in on a foreign hire contract previously established before you even set foot in Costa Rica.
For example, there is a big difference in teacher salaries at my son's school between the staff brought in from other countries and local teachers, even though some of the local staff are impressively experienced and have excellent qualifications (and are not necessarily Ticos, this applies to locally employed foreigners too).
A good management salary might be around US$2,000 per month (with the possibility of additional benefits like a car and help with school fees and housing), but jobs teaching English in one of the language schools wild pay around US$400 - US$800 per month and seasonal work in hotels, science projects and tour companies will often only offer accommodation and a much smaller wage, which isn't exactly a ticket to luxury living.
This can be balanced against a comparatively lower cost of living here. You can rent decent enough bachelor accommodation for US$300 to US$600 per month, especially if you choose the less trendy or expensive locations (outside Escazu for example).
Utilities are very reasonable. Food and drink are also cheap if you don't insist on buying imported products. Many of us dress quite happily out of the Ropa Americana stores (outlet or thrift shops) and if you don't have a health concern that requires frequent medical visits or medication, then your monthly outgoings can be as low as US$1,000 per month. That doesn't include any initial outlays, such as the car requirement in some job advertisements(as mentioned above).
You may feel that this sounds negative, but it is better to be realistic about the situation before turning up in the country hoping to find a high-salary job by the weekend.
Can You As A Gringo Expect To Get Hired for a Costa Rica Job Online?
In all seriousness, probably not! But you can certainly do much of your homework online and set up interviews for yourself before you actually visit Costa Rica...
Other jobs in English can be found at:
www.Economicos.com (La Nacion's Web site)
Costa Rica Taxes
Once you have been accepted for the job, the contract is signed and you are ready to start, you need to remember that, just like home, you are expected to pay tax on your earnings.
Employees don't come cheap here for companies so bear this in mind if you do wish to start your own business and perhaps employ people. An employer pays about 46% per annum on top of the salary for an employee. Social Security contributions are 22%, there is a substantial 'Christmas Bonus', severance pay, vacations and the 'INS' contribution for the state's monopolistic insurance.
As an employee, you can expect to pay up to 9% of your gross income, and it doesn't matter if you won't be in the country long enough to benefit from this. This also applies if you are self-employed.
Written by Vicky Longland who has an honours degree in English from a Welsh university and has spent thirty years in Latin America.