Finding a job in Costa Rica is difficult. Costa Rican law heavily favors employing residents over temporary expats, and foreigners may only take up employment once they have permanent residency.
If you are lucky enough to find a job, you will find yourself enjoying relaxed working days and welcoming business culture. Expats interested in Costa Rican work opportunities should look into the tourism, hospitality, conservationism, and tech industries.
How to Get a Job in Costa Rica as a Foreigner?
Getting a job as a foreigner is tough enough because due to Costa Rican law, local residents must be considered for jobs before foreigners. If a company makes an offer to an expat, they will have to prove that the foreigner is more qualified than any local candidate.
If you are offered a job in Costa Rica but not a work permit, it is advisable to not accept the offer. While working illegally does happen in Costa Rica, you risk considerable fines, deportation, and blacklisting if you are caught.
Although the road to getting a job in this country is difficult, it is worth it.
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 of 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.
A Costa Rican-style resume is similar to a North American or European one.
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.
- It is not common to include a photo with a Costa Rican CV.
- 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.
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, you better should 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.
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.
Popular industries include tourism, hospitality, conservation work, and real estate.
As with any type of work in Costa Rica, the hardest part about being self-employed will be obtaining a visa. Because of the country’s strict hiring laws favoring locals over foreigners, only expats with permanent residency may take up self-employment.
However, there are a few avenues expats can explore if they are determined to work for themselves in this country.
Expats should note that the easiest way to become self-employed in Costa Rica is by having some money saved up. Even if you move to the country and start freelancing, government officials may view your earnings as income that could have been made by a Tico resident.
In order to first become self-employed, you must already have a substantial amount of savings. This is a big reason why Costa Rica is so popular with retirees. The money they receive from savings, pensions, and retirement funds is considered unearned income.
Another way to be self-employed in Costa Rica is by starting your own business. This will allow you to apply for an Investor visa. An important criterion to keep in mind is that you will need to prove how/why this business is a benefit to the Costa Rican economy.
This means you will need to hire workers. As the business owner/investor, you cannot work for the business.
Steps to starting a business in Costa Rica:
- Choose Your Business Type
- Open a Bank Account
- Obtain a License
You will need an operator’s license in Costa Rica. This is called a “Patente Comercial”. You will also need to request a zoning certificate (“Certificado de Uso de Suelo”) as well as any other licenses relevant to your business.
For example, if you choose to open a bar or a spa, you will need a license from the Ministry of Health (“Ministerio de Salud”).
While opening a business in Costa Rica may be easier than trying to find traditional employment, it is still a complicated ordeal full of bureaucracy and paperwork. Keep in mind that all documents will need to be translated into Spanish.
Self-Employed Benefits Costa Rica
One benefit to being self-employed in Costa Rica is the amount of taxes that you will pay.
Income tax in the country is low and any income made from abroad is not taxed. Therefore, if you live in Costa Rica, but work remotely for a company in your home country, you will not be taxed on that income.
Self-employed income made from a Costa Rican source is taxed at 10-25% depending on the amount you earn.
Other benefits to being self-employed in this country include high-speed internet throughout the country, a variety of coworking spaces (largely located in San José), and a network of other international freelancers to build a community.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the business culture in Costa Rica if you are moving there for work.
In general, workplaces are relaxed. Although the workplace attitude is relaxed, Costa Ricans value punctuality when it comes to business. However, do not be surprised if meetings are delayed up to 30 minutes sometimes.
- You should greet people with a handshake, rather than an embrace or kiss on the cheek.
- Do not greet someone by their first name unless you are invited to do so.
- Business cards are exchanged often.
- Business negotiations may be slow until a mutual decision is agreed upon.
- Costa Ricans value honesty and directness when working with others.
- If you are invited to a business dinner, it is polite to bring a bottle of wine, flowers, or chocolate.
- It is also customary to invite your spouse or partner along.
Although Costa Rica is a hot, humid country, workplace culture dictates a certain level of modesty. Women should wear nice dresses, skirts, or pantsuits. Tops should not be too low-cut. Men should only wear full business suits for formal occasions.
In the workplace, they should lean towards button-up shirts, nice slacks, and dress shoes.