The capital city of environmentally focused Costa Rica, offers unparalleled opportunities for volunteering abroad. Discovered by Christopher Colombus and home to many Spanish immigrants, a heavy European influence is still evident in the culture and architecture of the city of San Jose, contributing to the city’s charm. With a city centre that attracts more than 1 million working professionals each day, it is the focal point of Costa Rica’s economic and political development. There are numerous placement options for individuals who decide to volunteer in San Jose.
Projects & Placements
A plethora of projects are available in and around San Jose, but the most popular areas for volunteering in San Jose include sea turtle conservation, teaching, and community development. But volunteer placements in San Jose sprawl a range of other areas too, including, but not limited to, working in orphanages, environmental research, health care or even farming or agriculture.
Sustainability is a huge focus of volunteer projects in San Jose, so volunteers should be aware of how they are impacting the environment and local communities through their volunteer work. Eco-tourism programs are also common in Costa Rica in general, and San Jose is not an exception.
Volunteering programs in San Jose vary in length from one week up to one year, and while Spanish is useful, it is not usually required. For those interested in learning Spanish or developing their language skills while volunteering in San Jose, Spanish classes are prevalently included in volunteer programs or at the very least available throughout the city.
Overall individual who choose to volunteer in San Jose will have any placement at their fingertips; many volunteer organizations in San Jose offer placements in literally 20 different focus areas and projects, so if volunteers arrive and decide they’d like to try something new after a few weeks, there will be plenty of options.
Life in San Jose
It’s no surprise that Costa Rica is home to many expats and yogis, and is a location on many travelers’ bucket list. A combination of diverse wildlife, pristine beaches, and bustling cities gives Costa Rica an irresistible sense of calm coupled with vibrant culture and history.
With San Jose acting as the transportation hub for Costa Rica, it’s relatively easy to travel throughout the country. However, for first-time visitors, the public transportation system can be a bit confusing with a lack of schedules or a centralized bus terminal. Bus schedules and terminal information can be obtained in brochures distributed throughout the city, but beware that schedules aren’t always accurate.
The cost of living in Costa Rica is said to be comparable to that of a mid-sized city in the United States. The Costa Rican colón can be exchanged at any bank, with U.S. dollars being the most accepted currency. Visa is widely accepted in San Jose, while MasterCard and American Express are less preferred.
Accommodations & Visas
Volunteer programs in San Jose often provide assistance in obtaining a visa and arranging accommodations; however, you may have to pay for your own visa fees, which aren’t always included in program fees. Note that Americans do not need a tourist visa, but do require a valid U.S. passport and return airline ticket to enter Costa Rica. Check with the Costa Rican embassy and your program provider for more information about visas before you begin your journey to volunteer in San Jose.
When programs include accommodations, volunteers will find themselves most often living in a homestay or dormitory. Living with a host family is encouraged as it gives volunteers an opportunity to immerse themselves in Costa Rican culture while enjoying the famous Tico hospitality.
Benefits & Challenges
San Jose is rated as the safest city in Latin America, with decreasing crime rates and increased law enforcement support. While it’s always recommended to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense, Costa Rica has a largely peaceful history, as evidenced by not even having a military.
Volunteering programs in San Jose offer opportunities for volunteers to help develop the social, economic, and environmental components of Costa Rica, while learning to love the local culture and traditions.
In addition to being able to explore the city, those who volunteer in San Jose will be perfectly situated to discover the many other wonders of Costa Rica, including volcanoes, waterfalls, and beaches!