In order to legally work in Costa Rica, you must either be a citizen of the country or have legal permanent residence. Generally, to obtain permanent residence you must have held temporary residence for at least three years before applying.
Permanent residence or citizenship are the only two immigration statuses that carry no restrictions. Other residence options (rentista, pensionado, etc.) are considered temporary. With these visa options you can own a business but you cannot work in that business. Your responsibilities must be limited to management of the business. In other words, if you own a restaurant, you have the authority to oversee business operations, but you should not be tending to the cash register or waiting tables yourself—you must legally employ people to work and carry out the daily functions of a brick and mortar business. The law itself states: “The Temporary Resident may only carry out remunerated work or lucrative self-employed activities which have been authorized by the Department of Immigration. The Department will evaluate the recommendations of the Ministry of Labor and other criteria of convenience and opportunity in conferring any authorization.”
If you are highly skilled in an area where that job cannot be filled by a Costa Rican, you or your employer can apply for a work permit for one year, but this can be difficult to get. These laws are designed to protect workers here from foreigners who would take jobs that would otherwise be filled by a Costa Rican. It should also be noted that a work permit is not a form of residence and the two should be handled separately.
For these reasons, most expats either start a business or work online in some capacity. And that business doesn’t necessarily have to be a bricks and mortar restaurant, shop, or hotel. Many work as wedding planners, surf instructors, photographers… Some have their own online businesses, others are freelance writers or graphic designers. With online jobs you have the advantage of being paid in dollars and living in a lower cost of living location. Many take advantage of their portable income by having a flexible schedule—more time to enjoy the beach or a hike in the rainforest—and take the opportunity to travel throughout the country, the region, and the world.
Unless you have your Costa Rican citizenship or permanent residence, it’s generally advised to follow these guidelines—in addition to consulting an immigration attorney if you are pursuing a category in which you feel unsure about the law and how it would apply to you:
People who can work in Costa Rica without citizenship or permanent residence:
- Home-based businesses over the internet: Freelance writer, web or graphic design, trader—no physical location in Costa Rica, no employees: you’re in the clear. Just keep in mind that the income you’re earning online should be coming from outside of Costa Rica.
- Business owner (assuming you only have a form of temporary residence): You may oversee business operations as a shareholder, but cannot perform daily job functions as an employee of your own business.
People who can’t work in Costa Rica without citizenship or permanent residence:
- Service provider or self-employed: Think jobs such as a realtor, contractor, property manager or any professional like a lawyer or doctor.
- Employee working for a salary or set wage from a Costa Rican business: This would be seen as taking a job from a Costa Rican with the same skills.
Requirements and Eligibility for Working in Costa Rica
The main requirement to work in Costa Rica is being a permanent resident. It is possible to take up employment with a temporary permit, but this is on a case-by-case basis and up to the discretion of the Department of Immigration.
One way to get a job and a work permit in Costa Rica is by being a highly skilled worker. You should have, at the minimum, a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s or higher is preferred. You should also have multiple years’ experience in your profession. This is because you and your employer will need to prove that you are more qualified than a local candidate. Costa Rica has a highly educated population, so this will be a hard task.
How to Apply for a Job in Costa Rica as a Foreigner
Costa Rican-style CV/Resume
A Costa Rican-style resume is similar to a North American one. The top of the CV should include your contact information, including an international app such as Skype or WhatsApp. You should list your education and work history in descending order, starting with your most recent degree/position. If you have a lot of work experience, be sure to only highlight the most relevant experience for the job to which you are applying.
Other CV/Resume Tips
- It is not common to include a photo with a Costa Rican CV.
- If you are applying for a job within the hospitality or tourism sector, it is important to mention any language skills you may have.
- It is a good idea to have a Spanish translation copy of your resume ready.
Cover Letter Tips
The cover letter is your chance to speak in detail about your relevant work history as it pertains to the job for which you are applying. Be sure to keep the letter to one page and try to address it to the job recruiter, hiring manager, or HR manager, if possible.
Like your resume, it is a good idea to have a Spanish version of your cover letter.
References and Qualifications
As the job market is so competitive for expats in Costa Rica, it is a good idea to have a list of references for every job that you apply for. This should be a list of three or four former employers, colleagues, or professors; people who can speak to your competency and work ethic. Be sure to give your references notice when you apply for a job, so that they can be prepared to speak about your qualifications.
How to Look for a Job in Costa Rica
What is the best way to get a job in Costa Rica as a foreigner? There are several job search avenues that expats can take. For starters, you have the option to search for a job from abroad or you can land in the country on a tourist visa and look in-person. Keep in mind that there is an extra 113,200 CRC (200 USD) fee to change a tourist visa into a residency visa and work permit. You can read more about this in our Visa and Work Permits section.
It may surprise you to learn that speculative applications are a common practice in Costa Rica, especially with foreigners. These are unsolicited resumes and cover letters sent to prospective employers. In your cover letter you should highlight the type of job you are looking for, rather than talking about one specific position.
Speculative applications can be sent to any type of company in Costa Rica, but some of the best places are:
- schools (both traditional schools and language schools);
- tourism industries, such as hotels, resorts, and restaurants;
- adventure and theme parks.
It is also worth contacting the local Chamber of Commerce and asking for a list of companies in the area where you would like to live.
There are plenty of online job sites that expats can peruse for vacancies. In addition to global sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, job seekers should also look at the following:
- ESL Café;
Expats should also check out the classifieds section of the online magazine: The Tico Times.
Both local and international recruitment agencies are great places to start your Costa Rican job search. A skilled agent can take a look at your qualifications and job requirements, and help you find a position that best fits your needs. InterNations can help connect you with the right agency. Whether you are looking for full-time work in this Latin country or seasonal employment, we will find a recruiter who will help you achieve your dream of living in Costa Rica.
No matter if you have an interview in person in Costa Rica or via a video call, be sure to be on time and dressed appropriately. Costa Rica is laidback and a “beach vibe” pervades even in the mountain towns, but an interview still calls for modest clothing. Women should wear nice blouses and slacks or a business dress. Men do not need a suit jacket, but a button-up shirt and dress pants are ideal.
A great way to look for jobs is to network with other ex-pats. They will share your experience of the difficulties of securing employment and a work permit. Before you arrive in the country, look into ex-pat networking groups on sites like Facebook and InterNations. And when you arrive in the country, check out the social events, where you can meet other ex-pats either for business networking or pure socialization.
Job Opportunities for Foreigners in Costa Rica
One of the most popular ways of working in Costa Rica as a foreigner is through an inter-company transfer. Many international companies have offices here, and this type of transfer allows for easy access to a work permit and residency visa.
If an inter-company transfer is not an option for you, here are some other careers where foreigners will find the most opportunities in Costa Rica:
- English teacher;
- call center agent;
- IT specialist;
- seasonal worker at a hotel or adventure park.
Popular industries include tourism, hospitality, conservation work, and real estate.