Ranked the happiest country in the world, who wouldn’t want to spend time interning in Costa Rica? Not only is Costa Rica known for having five percent of the world’s biodiversity, Ticos (native Costa Ricans) are highly educated and cultured. Locals embrace traditional arts, dance, food, and music and the pace of life in Costa Rica is more relaxed and casual than in other parts of the world. Those who chose to complete an internship in Costa Rica will find plenty of adventure after hours in the land of pura vida (pure/full life).
Surprisingly, the majority of internships in Costa Rica are not located in the heart of the capital city. Nevertheless, as the national business center, there are still plenty of options available for those looking for internship placements in San José. However, the best cities for internships in Costa Rica are: Alajuela, Cartago, San José, and Liberia.
The second largest city, Alajuela, offers up a bustling city landscape that is balanced by nearby butterfly farms, waterfalls, and coffee plantations. Alajuela is a convenient location for anyone looking to go on excursions or day trips.
Cartago, one of Costa Rica’s oldest cities and the first capital, features important religious sites and access to the Guayabo National Monument. While focused on computer technology, the city offers more than tech internship opportunities. Many placements offer the opportunity to participate in service-learning projects during the internships. Buses from Cartago to San José run several times an hour, so a trip to the big city is easy.
Liberia, located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, enables interns to be in close proximity to the exquisite Pacific beaches of Playa Hermosa and Playa del Coco.
While its main industries are tourism and coffee production, overall Costa Rica tends to offer more internship placements outside of teaching English or harvesting coffee cherries. Alajuela, Cartago, and Liberia offer up opportunities for gaining experience in the fields of biology, social justice, journalism, women’s studies, and sports management, just to name a few.
Popular internships in Costa Rica revolve around what the country is known for, it’s environment and biological diversity. Ecology, veterinary, zoology, and conservation-based internships are very common. However, you can find internship placements in Costa Rica across a wide variety of fields, such as healthcare and social work or social justice.
Internships can last anywhere from a short week, to six months or beyond, depending on the experience you’re looking for and the program. An important item to note is that additional qualifications may be required for internships revolving around specific biology, veterinary, or conservation efforts.
Additionally, while many Ticos speak English, Spanish is Costa Rica’s official language, and you’ll need Spanish proficiency for some internships, which have a language requirement. In general, it is recommended that interns heading to Costa Rica complete at least some language learning before their departure.
Salary & Costs
Most internship opportunities in Costa Rica are unpaid as a result of certain visa regulations. In some cases, interns can receive a stipend or bonus from the company they are placed with, but in most cases international interns will have to pay for internships in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica can be either an affordable or expensive destination depending on where you live and what kind of amenities you’re used to. Rural destinations will always run cheaper than big cities like San José, and compared to other countries in Latin America, Costa Rica is on the higher end. Rent can range from $400 to $800 USD a month. If you use public transportation instead of biking or walking, your monthly costs will be higher. Buying food at local markets with fresh produce will also save you some living costs while interning abroad in Costa Rica.
Accommodation & Visas
Most intern programs arrange homestays, and many others will cover the cost of all accommodations and meals through program fees. Homestays are common across the board for internship programs in Costa Rica, as dorms are not available for university students. Costa Rican students also often live with host families during their time away from home.
U.S. citizens (and several other nationalities) who plan to intern in Costa Rica for only a short time (less than 90 days) won’t need a tourist visa. However, for longer stays, interns should plan to apply for an unpaid volunteer or intern visa. International interns should also keep in mind that it may be necessary to apply for temporary residency, depending on their contract and timeline for interning. Job contracts, diplomas, and various certifications are needed for this process.
Benefits & Challenges
- Peaceful. Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have an army.
- Nature. With a reputation for being one of the best eco-tourist destinations out there, Costa Rica has a lot to offer enthusiasts of all things green and environmental.
- Language. Costa Rica is a great place to improve your Spanish skills. Evening language classes and immersion in homestay environments are sure to help you boost your skills.
- Safety. Traveling with expensive items in the city can be risky. Take care with your valuables and don’t leave things sitting out.