Your Complete Guide to Paradise
Things have certainly changed here in Costa Rica since I came here 16 years ago!
I was 38 years young when I got here, and at that time I was in a distinct minority, especially when longtime residents are considered! Most of the permanent, long time residents were in the pensionado category, which meant they were either on a pension or disability. Most were in their 60’s at least, and many were older.
Then, of course, there were all of those “snowbirds” from Canada and the northern US. They came down here to Costa Rica usually in January with the start of the dry season, and left in March, April, or May.
So, most of the expats I had acquaintance with were older and on a pension, and had a lot of time on their hands to sit and drink coffee at their favorite coffee shop across from the park in Heredia, which was a major “hang out,” or elsewhere in an environment where they could sit and chat all day and watch the beautiful Ticas walk by.
There were, of course, some younger guys or gals who were in some kind of business for themselves as they had no pension to support them, but even most of these were in their late 40’s to mid 50’s, meaning that once again I was still one of the youngest ones in the crowd.
In the last 5 years or so, all of that has changed dramatically! Now, we have much younger, working age people coming down here, some of them still with kids in tow. And then there are also plenty of younger ones still who are almost still kids themselves, in their 20’s who are really looking for a job or something to do.
And, Costa Rica right now needs LOTS of people who speak fluent English and can’t seem to find enough. In fact, I read an article a month or two ago that said that the call centers that have sprung up all over the country all of a sudden will have a deficit of about 7,000 fluent or native English speakers by the end of the year!
WOW, how things have changed! When I got here there were no call centers, no sportsbooks or anything of that sort. Now, they are all over the place and they can’t get enough English speakers, which might actually put a break on the whole shebang unless this country addresses this problem fairly soon. After all, these international call centers have jobs to fill, and if they can’t fill them, they will have to ship those jobs off to The Phillipines or India or somewhere like that!
And, the problem really seems to be that there are not even enough qualified English teachers to fill the void. This would seem to make for a lot of good job possibilities, especially for the younger crowd who don’t mind the low pay.
Pay Scale Sticker Shock
What is really hilarious from time to time is the Gringo or Gringa who comes to Costa Rica thinking that they can make about as much as they do back home working at a local job here.
The first surprise for the uninitiated is the low pay scale of the local market.
To give you a perspective, PROFESSIONALS often make only about $1,000.00/ month here, and lower level employees generally earn even less! The lowest of the low, maids, gardeners, and security guards, for example, will be lucky to make $400.00/month – very lucky! Some will subsist on about $2-300.00/month, and, frankly I have no idea how they “make ends meet.” I guess they eat almost nothing but rice and beans, especially considering that most of them have large families to support.
But of course, you as the typical expat won’t be applying for jobs like those, I would imagine. But still, you are going to have to lower your expectations considerably, as well as your cost of living.
My suggestion if you are going to live off of local work, you should try to live as close to the regular Tico lifestyle as you can. Usually, an expat can live on about $800-1,000.00 per month if you adjust your lifestyle and living location. You aren’t going to get an Escazu mansion on those salaries, that’s for sure. In fact, you should consider the east side of town, except for most of San Pedro or Curridabat, which can also be fairly expensive. You will have to set your digs somewhere else – or find roommates if you are single.
In fact, that’s what a lot of people do here who are single and working – they share a house or apartment with other people and so can live perhaps in a more expensive and upscale area than they could living by themselves.
But what kind of JOBS can you expect to get?
Teaching English is one, but, despite the shortage of teachers, the pay is still relatively low. Expect about $800.00/ month tops, depending on your hours and payscale. I think the reason the pay is still so low in teaching despite the shortage of teachers is the fact that local students can only afford to pay so much, which puts a ceiling on how much the teachers can get paid. And even with tuition low by our standards, some students can barely afford their lessons even then, so the chances of the teacher’s pay going up a lot are pretty slim.
Be on the watch for those language institutes that run you all over town for part time wages. I once had a job like this. The pay was terrible and the students very far away and I was NOT compensated for my transportation time or costs, so I had to take the bus over long distances. So ask those questions before you get involved as to where your students will be and if there is a transportation allowance, because that is NOT standard here.
The other main profession that young expats go to is call centers where they are in high demand. Sportsbooks used to be the main employer of these people, but, since many of them have packed up and left due to lack of support from this government, other call centers are rapidly becoming the only choices.
And there are lots of those now, thanks to all of the multinational corporations locating here for customer service and support functions.
Procter and Gamble, HP, Fujitsu…. The list goes on and on, and reads like a who’s who of major corporations. There are lots here and more coming everyday.
And then, there are the others. You know, the companies that do telemarketing for all kinds of things from pharmaceuticals to financial services to real estate. They are on the second rung and have to offer more incentives to get people to work for them. While some of the big boys in the last paragraph might only pay you about $3.50/hr. plus bonuses for work that includes the weekends [I am not joking, last year when I was looking at the local job market, that’s one of the jobs that I found but did not take], the other companies, because they involve sales, which most people hate to do, will pay you maybe $5.00/hr. plus sometimes a nice commission so that maybe you will make between $1-2,000.00/ month for a 60 hour week. And THAT is a very nice monthly paycheck in this country!
By the way, for the most part, FORGET about doing any professional work here which requires a license, even if you manage to get legal work permission! Each profession has its own colegio, or professional association, which you MUST be a certified member of to practice your profession.
I don’t care if you are a great doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc., for the most part you will NOT be able to “transfer your license” here because the regulations stipulate in most cases that you must graduate from a local university. Of course, if you are a really SPECIAL doctor and they really need you, they might just make an exception – but then, you would have to deal with the local pay scale, which even for doctors is peanuts compared to what you would be used to making back home, unless you were in private practice, but then, they probably wouldn’t give you the exception. They would probably only give you such a waiver if you agreed to work for one of the Caja, or state run hospitals for X number of years, etc. Even then, I’m still not sure if you could do it.
Of course, one of the only viable options available is to work from home over the internet. That’s why we started Virtual Outsourcing Solutions, to give you a fighting chance. Just click on the link and register today.
Working Here Legally Isn’t Easy
OK, I have painted a pretty broad picture here, now, we need to talk about the legal issues, and some ways to get around them. It isn’t easy to legally work here, but there are some ways.
Now we come to the point where the rubber meets the road. There are only a few ways for you to legally work in this country, and most of them aren’t all that easy.
1. Permanent Residency You have permanent residency without restrictions. This eliminates anyone in the pensionado or rentista classifications automatically, as they specifically state that you may NOT work. That leaves permanent residents without restrictions and investor class residencies.
It is beyond the scope of this section to go deeply into the residency issues. For full details, simply click on the link to see our article on residency, where all of this will be explained in gory detail.
And, by the way, you most definitely may not legally work on a tourist visa.
2. Work Permit You or your employer has applied for and received a work permit for you. In most job categories, this is almost impossible. But, I have heard that language schools are now having a great deal of luck doing this, although not all. If you go the route of teaching English, you might want to ask your future employer if they can get this for you, as it will be a load off your mind to be working legally instead of otherwise.
Years ago, this wasn’t the case, and almost ALL English teachers were working here illegally as tourists. Which meant that if immigration had a raid on the school, the gringos could be seen running out the back door real fast, and I am not joking.
It also is possible to get work permission if you have some technical skill this country really needs, or if you are a corporate executive for one of the “big boys,” as they get a small “allowance” of people they can hire in this way to help administer the company or do some other important task.
3. Own Your Own Local Business This is the way most local expats “work” because you are allowed to be in business for yourself, which is not technically considered working. You normally form a local corporation, and you, as the owner and or president of the company, can legally draw dividends from the profits the company makes. This means you are NOT being paid a salary, you are working for “free” for your own company and taking out dividends, which is legal.
In recent years they have even been cracking down on this loophole. So, if you own a business, make sure that your employees are doing all the actual work and you are just supervising.
If you want to set something like this up, I have extensive legal contacts that can help you get this going fairly fast. Please contact us at our Customer Service staff by using the online form under contacts and we will be happy to help you.
Please see our page on doing business in Costa Rica for additional information.
4. Telecommuting This is a very popular option among many of the middle aged expats coming here. Many had a good paying job back home, and got their employer to agree to let them telecommute over the internet. This is an option here now, because in the last 5 years, high speed internet has become easier and easier to get and cheaper and cheaper. You can also do freelance work from home. There is a section below explaining how to get started in this fun and exciting career choice. This is legal for you to do because you are not working for a local company, and usually being paid either remotely or by check. In any case, your income is coming from outside the country, which makes it fine with no local tax consequences, as all money earned from outside the country is tax free here. When you add to this your exemption for living outside your home country for a certain period of time, you might be able to have your cake and eat it too with this exciting choice! [Each country has different rules. If in doubt, talk to competent tax advice from your home country, as each country is radically different.]
For years, many of the especially younger or more broke of the expats living here, primarily as perpetual tourists [PT’s], have chosen to work illegally.
To this days, MANY of the call centers, especially sportsbooks and those in sales or other jobs difficult to fill, have only been able to fill their positions by hiring illegal aliens. I applied for a couple of such jobs over a year ago now while I was testing the local job market, and at all of these operations I would have been the ONLY legal gringo working there!
Since there is such a deficit of proficient English speakers in this country, if you look you most certainly CAN find something – but there are risks involved.
The biggest risk is that if you are caught working illegally, you can be deported and not be allowed to return for up to 10 years. As mentioned above, English teaching has been another big source of “underground jobs” for those who need them.
But you will have none of the protections of the labor laws here, have the constant risk of deportation, and other potential problems. So, the bottom line is that it is better to work at something you can do LEGALLY rather than take the risk. This is much easier if you have a little bit of cash, a computer, and a high speed internet connection so you can telecommute, or maybe a little more money and a good work ethic so that you can start your own business. Feel free to submit your resume to Virtual Outsourcing at the link on the left and we will be happy to help you.
Remember, if you opt to go into your own business, business doesn’t have to be something big or fancy. You can simply incorporate and then offer whatever skills you have independently as your own business person. So, for example, instead of working as an English teacher for someone else, you could offer private lessons through your own company to individuals or groups. The first would be illegal while the second, while not perfectly legal, as a practical matter it is unlikely that you will get caught.
For more details and ideas, feel free to submit our contact form for more details.
Innovative Ways to Work Legally
If you just use your imagination, you can probably come up with some ideas yourself, but, below you will find some suggestions and resources for getting yourself set up so you have enough money coming in to live in paradise!
One way is to become part of a network marketing company and use your address from your home country to register, so as far as the company is concerned you are working from there, not here. The opportunity we provide does just that and they give you a debit card good worldwide so you can have access to your money worldwide.
We are working with this program now. For full details, click here.
Freelance Work and Telecommuting
More and more people are jumping ship on the corporate rat race and working from home on their own computer! Some are working a job “telecommuting” for one or maybe two employers. They log into their work at the virtual office and do customer service, telemarketing, and other tasks that can be done over the internet. With VOIP, this makes it even easier, and most employers have their own system set up. For those who don’t, you may need to sign up with Vonage, Skype or some other service where the prices are low so that you can make and receive all the calls you need to.
The trick, of course, is to either find that job or start getting those assignments. Below you will find some sites and / or books that we recommend on this subject. Good luck, and remember, once you get set up, you can work from ANYWHERE in the world! This will give you the flexibility to live were you want, and, often, set your own hours while you work from the comfort of your own home.
Here are some resources to help you:
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