Two words: pura vida! If you don’t know what Ticos (Costa Ricans) means by this simple phrase, it won’t take you long to find out. Pura vida permeates life in this small Central American country, and you’re sure to fall in love with its laid-back, carefree philosophy. Studying abroad in Costa Rica is an exciting mix of academics and adventure, allowing you to have it all: try out hands-on conservation research and monkey spotting in the rainforest or participate in Spanish intercambios and weekend surf sessions. One thing is for certain: a study abroad program in Costa Rica is an experience you won’t soon forget.
It’s not hard to see why Costa Rica is the most popular destination for study abroad students headed to Central America. Cradled between two oceans, its leafy rainforests and idyllic beaches are easily confused for a tropical paradise. The government’s dedication to environmental conservation has created a successful ecotourism industry; therefore, studying abroad in Costa Rica will be a great way to experience the nation’s natural treasures firsthand.
No matter where you choose to study abroad in Costa Rica, you’ll likely spend some time in San José. The nation’s capital, economic center, and transportation hub, this city is a lively mix of business, universities, and cultural institutions. Many students choose to study abroad in San José in order to quickly acclimate to the Tico way of life, whether it’s catching a fútbol match at the Estadio Nacional, sipping on homegrown coffee at the trendy Café de los Deseos, or checking out artists’ wares at the Festival de Arte.
A short drive from San José is Heredia, a university town with deep historical roots. Colonial buildings overlook lush plazas, providing a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for student life. The National University of Costa Rica and Latin University of Costa Rica are both based in Heredia, ensuring great nightlife and plentiful street food options; go ahead and stock up on those tamales, empanadas, and some carne asada between classes.
If you’d rather leave the city behind and immerse yourself in the rainforest, head to Monteverde, home of the famed Cloud Forest Reserve. The nearest town to the reserve, Santa Elena, is small and filled with tourists, but if you’d rather spend your time in a biological research station than partying at the club, Monteverde is the place for you. In addition to countless nature hikes, the area offers tours of coffee plantations and the Monteverde Cheese Factory.
Study Abroad Programs in Costa Rica
Observing lazy sloths hanging from trees in a steamy jungle is a million times better than sitting in a classroom reading about them, right? Luckily, study abroad in Costa Rica offers incredible opportunities to learn about a vast array of environments and species, all while practicing your Spanish and studying Tico culture.
Many students are drawn to study abroad in Costa Rica because of its progressive conservation policies. Environmental protection is a priority for Costa Rica, and nearly 25 percent of its land is protected from development, making Costa Rica the perfect case study for students interested in conservation, environmental studies, and sustainable development.
Costa Rica’s extensive biodiversity is also a popular subject of study for international students, as this small country contains one of the world’s highest densities of species. Students of ecology and biology will be blown away by the opportunities to observe wildlife, participate in research projects, and spend breaks face-to-face with howler monkeys while studying abroad in Costa Rica.
For those interested in the linguistic side of things, Costa Rica is an excellent place to learn Spanish. Ticos speak clean, well-pronounced Spanish and, in general, are patient with foreigners who are learning the language. Spanish language classes are offered by many study abroad programs in Costa Rica, but if you’re not interested in learning Spanish, there are courses taught entirely in English, too.
Deciding when to study abroad in Costa Rica depends mainly on one thing: rain. The climate is hot and humid year-round, but the country does have a seriously wet rainy season from May to November. If you prefer blue skies, the spring semester is your best bet, but in a country covered in rainforest, be prepared for downpours!
Scholarships & Costs
Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest country to study abroad in Central America, but it’s an affordable location with plenty of options that can fit any budget. Whether you plan to spend every weekend exploring a new region or want to stick closer to home, the cost of study abroad in Costa Rica varies tremendously.
It’s important to look at ALL your options when researching study abroad programs in Costa Rica. Semester programs start at around $7,000, while summer programs typically cost from $3,000 to $6,000; these prices usually includes room and board, but not airfare. Be sure to find out exactly what each program offers, so you can make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, and not apples to plátanos!
Don’t forget to budget a weekly stipend for yourself too. Some study abroad programs in Costa Rica recommend setting aside about $100 per week for snacks, transportation, and weekend excursions, but frugal students can easily manage with half that amount. A typical casado meal at a local soda costs about $5 and a bus ticket is about $1. Remember that prices in tourist-heavy areas are usually higher than in smaller towns.
If that price tag looks a bit high, don’t worry (pura vida, remember?)! Many study abroad program providers will allow you to use financial aid to cover program costs, especially if you’re organizing the trip through your home institution. There are also a ton of scholarships and fundraising opportunities to help pay for your trip.
Accommodation & Visas
A big advantage of studying abroad in Costa Rica is getting the chance to see how Ticos live. Therefore, staying with a host family or sharing an apartment with other students will give you an insider perspective that will broaden your experience immensely. In fact, the majority of study abroad programs in Costa Rica offer homestay arrangements, which means you’ll be able to live with a Tico family and eat meals with them in their home. This is a fantastic option for students who want to practice their Spanish skills, gain an understanding of Costa Rican customs, and chow down on gallo pinto for breakfast every morning.
Another housing option is to share an apartment with other international or local students. If you’re still working on ordering ceviche at the local restaurant, it may be a bit difficult to negotiate lease terms with a Tico landlord; thank goodness that your study abroad program provider can take care of all of these pesky details and set you up with a short-term lease in a lovely flat, with utilities, and possibly even with a housewarming party included.
Visa requirements vary in Costa Rica, however many students won’t need a visa if they plan to study in Costa Rica for less than 90 days. On the other hand, if you plan to study in Costa Rica for more than three months, a student visa may be necessary. It’s important to verify visa requirements with your program provider well in advance, because visas cannot be obtained at the airport. Be sure to check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more information.
Benefits & Challenges
Branch Out. Costa Rica is an amazing country to try something outside of your comfort zone, while maintaining most of the comforts of back home. The opportunities for adventure sports are endless, from surfing and paddling to ziplining and horseback riding. The scenery alone will make the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica worth it, and you just might discover a new favorite hobby too.
Travel Easily. Travel is very enjoyable in Costa Rica due to its strong tourist infrastructure, and many locals are happy help out confused visitors, whether that be with funky bus schedules or verb tenses. Though, do try to learn a few phrases in Spanish before studying abroad in Costa Rica; being polite never goes out of style!
Make An Effort. The downside to Costa Rica’s tourist boom is that you’ll have to make a real effort if you want to immerse yourself in the local way of life. It can be easy to speak English, but practicing Spanish will enhance your experience and teach you all the Tico slang you never knew you were missing.
Study abroad in Costa Rica isn’t just a semester trip abroad, it’s the discovery of a new way of looking at the world and appreciating what’s around you. After experiencing this easy-going lifestyle, it’s likely that your first trip to Costa Rica won’t be your last.