Some people will move down to Costa Rica with plenty of savings and investments to maintain them the rest of their lives; others have businesses in the U.S. they can keep running, or other passive income sources.
However, most people will face the reality that, although the cost of living may be lower in Costa Rica, you still need to work and make money.
In the Special Report: Working, Earning Income, and Making a Living in Costa Rica, you'll get an incredible amount of information, advice, and even specific companies that are hiring in Costa Rica!
But, for now, let's cover some basics. The vast majority of expats that live in Costa Rica and work in-country find jobs in these fields:
• Teaching English
• Booking for tourism
• Blogging, books, websites, and other online content
• Selling real estate
• Other jobs you can do
• Working for a U.S. or international company in Costa Rica
I’ll break down some information for a few of these here (but I cover them all thoroughly in the Special Report on working in Costa Rica.)
Teaching in Costa Rica
This position entails working as an in-classroom teacher at a school in Costa Rica. However, instead of working in the public school system (and taking a job away from a Tico,), you’ll want to apply to the private international schools, which often focus on a good portion of English in the classroom.
The pay won’t be anywhere near what you expect to make as a teacher in the U.S. or Canada, but I’ve found it’s enough to get by. Since you sign a contract, (usually for the whole school year) you’ll have stability, an on-time paycheck that doesn’t bounce, and probably get asked back if you do a good job.
There are plenty of international schools and they always need good teachers. So, these jobs aren’t too hard to find even without a lot of teaching experience beforehand.
You may have some opportunities to work in Costa Rica teaching English, as well, which may or may not be in the setting of a school classroom. Some expats choose to set up their own cottage private tutoring business, teaching English to Ticos, their children or business people. However, don’t expect to make high wages working with Costa Rican locals unless you can set up group classes that are sponsored by companies.
If you settle in a place with consistent Wi-Fi, you can even try to set up English lessons for a much broader clientele through Skype.
The vast majority of jobs you’ll find for foreigners in Costa Rica probably entail helping other tourists, foreigners, and vacationers visit and enjoy the beautiful country. This could mean working for a tour company that puts packages and activities together, office work and marketing, or actually going out on the tours with the clients, like 4x4 or motorcycle trips, fishing boat charters, and the like.
Many people start these cottage businesses themselves, but if you don’t have the capital, the business acumen, or you just don’t want the headache, simply approach another foreign-owned business and offer to help. Foreigners that own businesses in Costa Rica find huge value in using local Ticos, who speak the language and know the ways, but there is also a great need for someone who speaks English and interacts seamlessly with their clientele, which is other foreigners coming on vacation.
Of course, you can try to work for one of the big resorts or hotels in Costa Rica, although you’ll have to move pretty high up in the ranks before you enjoy a wage deemed considerable in your home country. Sometimes, people offer to work at smaller hotels, bed and breakfasts, or nature lodges not for cash (plata) but in exchange for room and board. You might be able to help them with marketing, work as the host or hostess several days a week, or be the on-site fitness instructor or yoga teacher. This arrangement can work out great if you find the right fit and once you have your housing taken care of and even a basic meal or two a day, Costa Rica won’t be too expensive at all.
Booking for tourism
Another way to make a living in tourism that you might not know about is being an intermediary between tourists and other services in Costa Rica. Once you have an established relationship with local Costa Rican hotels, condos, and realtors, it’s standard practice to pay a referral fee if someone brings you a client.
I’ve seen these as high as 15-20% of the total tourist’s bill, which means a $100 hotel stay could land you $15-$20 if you bring them a client. While this may not seem like a lot of money, add that up for a weeklong stay ($105-$140), and over the course of ten different tourists and hotels. That’s not bad money!
It works particularly well with high-end and luxury condos and homes for rent. Some of these go for $2,000-$5,000 USD a week during peak times, which can add up to a nice paycheck.
You can also make referral fees for bringing someone to a tour or activity, like zip-lining, a fishing charter, or scuba diving but these referral payouts probably aren’t enough for you to make a living – just beer money.
However, if you have built some trust and even friendship with the tourist, why not take care of them from start to finish during their stay? Another great way to do this is to pick them up and the airport and drop them off, whether you have your own car or rent a van/taxi, and charge a small fee for your time of course. In fact, offering complete vacation packages for one price with transport, hotel stay, and activities all included is a great way to advertise and attract travelers.
Being a booking agent or marketer for tourists takes a lot of time and hard work. To attract a steady number of tourists, you’ll need a professional website, a consistent marketing campaign, know current prices, hotel and housing inventory, send a million emails back and forth, and so on.
But it can bear fruit over time. There aren’t any significant costs or risk (which I love) and as far as I know (verify this with your attorney and CPA) you don’t need to establish a business entity since you’re not collecting any funds from tourists, just referring them over to the hotel and help them book.
Once your job is done, you have nothing more to do during their stay. You can work as little or as much on this business as you wish and I’ll say it again (because it’s that important): you won’t need a lot of money to get started, and you’ll be incurring little or no financial risk.
Be aware that you’ll experience some serious ups and downs in business based on the seasons. The “high” or peak tourist season runs December through March approximately, when hotels are sold out, and prices can double or even triple. I can’t stress enough the roller coaster nature of tourism in Costa Rica based on the seasons.
Even in super popular towns like Tamarindo, a lot of people literally don’t have money to pay rent or buy enough food in the slow rainy months like October. During that time, many businesses close their doors and are boarded up for a month to do repairs and avoid paying employees. But come December, nearly every local that works in tourism is scrambling, putting in 70-80 hours a week until they can’t even keep their eyes open.
In fact, a lot of rental properties make 90% of their income for the year during the few busiest months – or even weeks – of the high season.
So be prepared for feast or famine if you’re going to work booking Costa Rican properties for tourists.
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Thanks for reading and good luck on your move to Costa Rica!
The Official Expat, Norm
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