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COSTA RICA - CountryHandbook

Your Country Handbook is your key to preparing for your program and understanding what to expect onsite. This tool is a result of constant feedback from student and parent evaluations as well as from the onsite directors who review these each year.

INTRODUCTION

Greetings from Sol Education Abroad!

You are about to embark on a life-changing experience. While abroad you will cultivate relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. Our mission is to provide you with an enriching and rewarding educational experience. As part of this mission we want to make sure that you have information about your program site before you leave.

Sol Education Abroad was founded under the principles of promoting cultural understanding and the lifelong study of foreign languages. While on your program you will learn about the unique cultures and people of the country you are studying in.

Please make sure you read this handbook, it is excellent preparation for your new adventure! Thanks for choosing Sol Education Abroad!

PREPARING FOR YOUR PROGRAM
  • Before you leave on your program we suggest you do some research about where you will be studying. It can make your experience that much more enjoyable and enriching!

SUGGESTIONS:

  • Read articles, books, and travel guides in order to familiarize yourself with the food, culture, and music (we recommend the Lonely Planet guidebook as a good source of information).
  • Study the maps of Costa Rica at the end of this handbook.
  • Keep a journal and blog documenting your experience abroad.
  • Read the local newspapers:

Tico Times (in English)
La Nación (in Spanish)

PASSPORTS

Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six months or longer beyond the dates of your trip. If your passport expires before the required validity, you will need to apply for a new one. Please visit the US State Department page for Costa Rica for the most current information as it does change.

For up-to-date fees and procedures, as well as other valuable travel information, visit the website for the US Embassy in Costa Rica. Currently, following provisions are in effect:

  • A passport valid for the duration of your stay.
  • A pre-paid airline ticket to exit Costa Rica (either to return to your country or to go to another country)

VISAS (semester students only)

For students staying under 90 days no special visa is needed (i.e winter break students and most summer students).

Costa Rica does not require that you obtain a visa until you arrive in the country. The stamp that you are given in your passport is the Tourist Visa. You will be allowed to stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days on this visa. To renew your Tourist Visa, you will need to leave the country before 90 days for a period of 72 hours. We organize an included weekend excursion to Panama so that you can renew your Tourist Visa. At the airport or at immigration, do not say that you are a student or they may request to see your student visa. Simply let them know that you will be traveling to Panama. If you are staying for a semester program, your SOL director will send you your Panama bus ticket as proof of onward passage by email.  Please make sure to print this document and carry it with you to the airport. Please note that any immigration, border or customs fees for renewing the Tourist Visa are not included in the program price and must be paid for by the student at the border crossings.

US DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Sol Education Abroad recommends that all students register with the US State Department (this is now known as Smart Traveler Enrollment Program "STEP") while overseas. This is very simple to do. Please visit the website to enter in the requested information.  Under the section titled “International Travel” (located on the bottom left hand side), click on the  “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)” link. STEP (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. You can read more about the benefits of this program on the website.

You will need an address and a telephone number to register. Please use the following info:

Universidad Latina de Costa Rica
Campus Heredia
Frente al Mall
Paseo de las Flores, Heredia
Costa Rica
Telephone: +506-2277-8000

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

Costa Rica is a cross roads of culture and species from North and South America. It is roughly the size of West Virginia, yet it hosts 6% of the world´s biodiversity. A leader in conservation, 29% of Costa Rica´s territory is protected as a national park or private reserve, making it the perfect place to explore the wonders of its unique ecosystems. Having abolished its military in 1948, Costa Rica is ranked as one of the happiest countries on the planet, according to the Happy Planet Index.

Geographic Location Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama.

Climate Tropical and subtropical Dry season (December to April), rainy season (May to November), cooler in the highlands.

Terrain Coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including over 100 volcanic cones, of which several are major volcanoes.

Highest point Cerro Chirripó 3,810 m (12,497 ft.)

Population: 4.9 million (2017 est.)

CLIMATE

Climate in the Central Valley

The Central Valley is over 1000 meters (3,280 ft) above sea level and has a cool and moderate climate. During the Costa Rican summer, from December to May, rain showers are infrequent and visitors can expect hot, sunny days. During the Costa Rican winter, from June to November, it is usually sunny and hot in the morning with a tropical rain shower in the afternoon. The rain is fairly regular especially in August, September, October and November, but it is usually for a few hours in the afternoon. In the green season, as this season is called, the Central Valley’s landscape is known for its lush verdant slopes and bright tropical flowers.

Climate in Heredia

Heredia, 1176 m (3,858 ft) known as the “city of flowers”, has a comfortable climate year-round of 24°C (75°F) during the day. Due to the altitude, nights are cooler and temperatures are about 18°C (65°F).The mountain slopes on the outskirts of Heredia offer a fresh, mountain climate.

SPANISH IN COSTA RICA

Costa Rica Spanish is considered to be one of the best forms of Spanish to study due to its clear accent and standard form. Something important to know is that Costa Ricans use “usted” more than "tu" for addressing each other, regardless of age and status, and more informally, “vos”.   

HOLIDAYS

Jan 1

Año Nuevo (New Years Day)

Apr 11

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas

March/April

Semana Santa (Holy Week - Spring Break) Thursday through Easter Sunday

May 1

Día del Trabajo (Labor Day)

Jul 25

Annexation of the Guanacaste Province

Aug 2

Our Lady of the Angels (Costa Rica’s patron saint)

Aug 15

Día de la Madre (Assumption Day, Mother’s Day)

Sept 15

Día de la Independencia (Independence Day)

Oct 12

Día de las Culturas 

Dec 24 & 25

Navidad (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)

TIME

Costa Rica is in the Central Standard Time Zone but does NOT observe daylight savings.

BUSINESS HOURS

Stores are generally open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday to Saturday. Banks are generally open from 10 AM to 5 PM, Monday to Friday. Some banks are open on Saturday mornings. Most stores and all banks are closed on Sundays. Restaurants and museums are generally open on weekends, closed on Mondays. Malls and supermarkets are generally open every day. 

PACKING RECOMMENDATIONS

Costa Rica has many micro-climates. We suggest you pack for a variety of temperatures. Generally, Costa Ricans dress very similarly to Americans from the US, but dress up more. Bring the clothes that you are normally used to wearing, and please carefully read over our packing recommendations!

LUGGAGE

  • You may bring 1 large suitcase, 1 small carry-on suitcase, and 1 personal item like a laptop. (Most airlines charge fees for additional checked baggage and overweight baggage. Check your airline’s website for details)
  • Backpack or duffel bag - you will want one bag big enough to fit up to 3-days outfits for weekend excursions.
  • Small day pack that you can take on day hikes, activities and to class.

 

GENERAL CLOTHING

  • Pack light--leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad
  • Laundry is done once a week by your host family. Make sure you are prepared to have a full week of clothing at a minimum.
  • Lightweight clothing (especially for weekend excursions)
  • Several pairs of shorts, jeans and pants. Bring long pants if you intend to volunteer at the local elementary school.
  • “Going out clothes”—something you can wear to go out to dance. For example nice jeans, a nice top, and nicer shoes (guys, pay attention here!). Some discotecas will not allow you to enter if you are wearing sneakers, shorts, sandals or athletic clothing. 
  • Sweatshirt/fleece/sweater/jacket—it can been cool or cold in the afternoon and night.
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket

FOOTWEAR

  • Comfortable walking shoes for walking in the city and light hiking. Make sure you break them in before your trip.
  • Fall Semester & Summer (rainy season programs): Rubber boots or waterproof shoes for walking to class. Rubber rain boots can also be purchased locally.
  • Sneakers for jogging, gym, soccer, or other sports.
  • Water sandals with a back strap (not flip flops) for rafting. You want shoes that you can get wet but will protect your feet and not fall off in a current. (Aqua Socks, Tevas or Chacos sandals, or sneakers.)
  • Flip flops 

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Flashlight (ideally re-chargeable) or headlamp
  • Reusable water bottle (we suggest the insulated kind)
  • Camera and batteries/charger
  • Laptop computer and flash drive/memory stick
  • Toiletries
  • Insect Repellent (preferably natural to protect ecosystems from harsh chemicals) 
  • School supplies: notebook, pens, pencils, English-Spanish Dictionary
  • Sun hat, sun glasses, and sun block (these are available in Costa Rica, but are much more expensive)
  • Compact umbrella
  • Bath towel to use at host family
  • Beach towel or Sarong for traveling to the beach/waterfalls etc. 
  • You can purchase shampoo, conditioner, soap, cosmetics, etc. in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that imported brands are more expensive than in the US. Ex. sun block is $20 a bottle in Costa Rica, shampoo is about $10 a bottle.

VOLUNTEERING DONATION WISH LIST

  • New or used children's books in English (Kinder - 2nd grade level)
  • School supplies (colored pencils, glue stick)
  • Art supplies (tempera paint, paint brushes, etc.) 

CARRY-ON

Bring an extra change of clothes & toothbrush in case your luggage gets lost or delayed by your airline. Keep all valuables with you in your carry-on.

LAPTOPS

You can definitely bring your laptop to work on academic projects, communicate with friends and family, and watch movies at home! This is an item that can get stolen or damaged easily so exercise caution.    

ELECTRONICS

If you do bring electronic valuables like a laptop, digital camera etc. please be aware that there is always a risk that these can get lost/stolen/damaged. It is a good idea to have expensive possessions insured while abroad—there are companies online that will do this for a fee. Whenever possible, leave valuables at your host family home for safekeeping. 

MEDICAL/SAFETY ITEMS

  • Prescription drugs to last for the duration of your stay, original prescription (some medicines may not be available in Costa Rica).
  • Extra prescription contact lenses.
  • Personal first-aid kit with band aids, aspirin, anti-bacterial gel, etc.
EXCURSIONS

Costa Rica has just about everything a student traveler could want - beaches, rainforests, mountains, and volcanoes. Excursions are a fundamental part of the abroad experience and are included in all summer and semester program unless stated as optional.

We carefully create weekend excursions that allow you to discover more about the country in which you are studying and are selected based on cultural and educational importance or sites of natural beauty. Entrance and transportation fees are always included. Before any excursion your director will go over the itinerary of the trip and what you should pack. 

Rain Forest, Hot Springs & La Fortuna Waterfall Trip (Arenal Volcano)

Experience the natural beauty that is the Arenal Volcano region. Arenal is a perfect conical volcano and has been active since 1968.  The area is blessed with natural hot springs thanks to the volcano’s geothermal activity. Your tropical experience will be complete as you relax in the soothing waters of the hot springs surrounded by lush tropical forest. The forests are filled with wildlife and in the mornings you are likely to awaken to the eerie sound of howler monkeys. On this excursion, you will visit one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls, La Fortuna, which drops from a forested cliff hundreds of feet above you into a beautiful natural pool below.

Pacific Beach Trip (Manuel Antonio National Park)

Manuel Antonio National Park is an escape to paradise. It is characterized by lush forests, tropical beaches, and abundant wildlife. Relax on the beach and hike with your director along the park’s many trails. Wildlife species range from white-faced monkeys to tree sloths and iguanas. Other species found here, though a little shyer, include macaws, ocelots, squirrel monkeys, and coatimundis. The forests are filled with wildlife and in the mornings you are likely to awaken to the eerie sound of howler monkeys. While at Manuel Antonio, you will have the opportunity to visit the white sand beaches located in the park boundaries.

The average temperature is 89°F (31°C). There may be mosquitoes at dawn and dusk. For this excursion you’ll pack very light informally—it’s a total beach environment!

Rainforest Zipline Canopy Tour

Experience the thrill of a zipline tour through the canopy of the Costa Rican rainforest! On this tour you will fly through the forest on a series of cables including the Tarzan Swing and Superman. You must wear pants and close-toed shoes for this activity.   

White-Water Rafting

One of the many allures of Costa Rica is the opportunity to experience the thrill of white-water rafting. Spend the day on one of Costa Rica’s pristine rivers. You will experience the rush of the rapids while surrounded by breathtaking, tropical scenery. You will pass through canyons and float by miles of virgin rain forest. Witness the native wildlife such as tree sloths and toucans, and enjoy surprises such as waterfalls along the river banks. And, of course, you’ll have the chance to take a dip in the cool waters. You need not have previous rafting experience to enjoy this excursion. The expedition is led by professional guides. 

Boquete, Panama (International Excursion)

Boquete is known as the cradle of gourmet coffee and colorful tropical flowers. Founded in 1914 by european immigrants, the town is home to a variety of microclimates spanning both tropical rainforest and tropical cloudforest. The charming village is located in the center of a mountain valley with roads that wind up through to the region's coffee and tea plantations, farms, rivers and forests. Nearby Barú volcano is one of the highest peaks in the country and on a clear day both the pacific and caribbean oceans can be seen. Boquete boasts 0% unemmployment, making it a safe and tranquil paradise in which to explore Panamanian culture and history.  Boquete is a temporary home to many Ngobe Indigenous families who come to work seasonally during the coffee harvest.  

This excursion is included for semester and academic year students as well as those staying for the 14 week summer sessions. It is offered as an optional excursion for students during the Summer IV session. Before the excursion the SOL directors will collect $30 USD in cash from each student which covers border fees. Lunches and dinners are not included. This is a four day excursion that includes round-trip ground, hotel, breakfasts, and tours. 

CULTURAL ACTIVITIES

Cultural activities are an important part of your experience. You will learn so much by going to classes but you’ll learn just as much, if not more, outside of the classroom, immersed in Costa Rican culture. These activities are designed to enhance your experience and show you more of what the site has to offer! Your director will announce the weekly cultural activities every week during your meetings. For summer programs there are 2 to 3 cultural activities a week. During semester programs they are more spread out and there are 1 to 2 cultural activities included a week.  Cultural activities include:

  • Heredia City Tour & Tropical Fruit Tasting
  • Traditional Costa Rican Cooking Class
  • Wildlife Rescue Center
  • Chocolate Tour
  • Coffee Tour
  • Indigenous Artisan Workshop
  • Latin Dance Class 
  • Soccer Match
  • Traditional Costa Rican Dance Class
  • Traditional Costa Rican Baking Class
  • Festivals
AIRPORT INFORMATION

Arriving to an airport overseas is arriving into the unknown but do not worry, one of your SOL staff members will be there waiting for you when you arrive! Here is what to expect upon touchdown at the airport in Costa Rica, which is small by normal airport standards.

IMMIGRATION FORMS

You will be given a customs form and an immigration form to fill out on your flight to Costa Rica. For your address in Costa Rica you can write your host family address in Heredia. Be sure to have your printed round-trip flight itinerary and passport in hand.  

  • Once you arrive, proceed to immigration (migración).
  • If you are staying for more than 90 days, then simply explain to the immigration officer that you will be traveling to Panama within that period and present your bus ticket as proof of onward passage.
  • Do NOT say that you are a student, because they will ask for your student visa, which you do not have.  
  • Wait in line for your passport to be reviewed and stamped.
  • Once you pass through this line you will take the escalator down to baggage claim. 
  • Once you get your luggage, exit baggage claim at one end. There are two customs booths (aduana). Choose one and put your luggage on the x-ray belt. Turn in your customs form. This is the last checkpoint before you walk out of the airport.
  • You will come to an exit.
  • You will see many people waiting outside for other passengers. This is where your SOL staff member will pick you up.
  • Before you meet your SOL staff member, you may be approached by a number of taxi drivers, hotel representatives, tour guides, and others offering to help you. Just tell them, “No thank you” and that you are meeting someone.
  • Look for a person holding the Sol Education Abroad sign.

Despite everyone’s best planning, flight delays, bad weather, and other unforeseen circumstances can impact your meeting with your SOL staff member at the airport. If for whatever reason, you do not meet your SOL staff member, just use the phone numbers given to you to contact your SOL director. Stay at the airport until we find you.

Be sure to contact your SOL director or SOL Headquarters if there are any changes to your arrival time such as a delay, cancelled or missed flight. 

AIRPORT DEPARTURE

Your director will arrange for your transportation to the airport when you leave.

AIRPORT DEPARTURE TAX

For Costa Rica there is an exit tax that you must pay before leaving. Check your airline to see if it is included. If it is not included in the price of your flight, you can pay the $29 at the airport in colones, US dollars, Visa or Mastercard or a combination of these. Once you pay the tax you are given a form that you have to fill out and give to the gate agent at your airline.   

MONEY

The Costa Rican currency is called the colón. To find the most up-to-date conversion please visit www.xe.com. We suggest that you travel with both a debit card and US dollars in cash. Make sure that your US dollar bills are in denominations of $20 and smaller and in excellent condition (no tears, marks, or wrinkles) as they will not be accepted. Do not exchange money at the airport. You will get a much better exchange rate at a bank, and your director guide you in exchanging money (or take money out of the ATM) once you arrive at your program site. Whenever you exchange money at the bank you will need your original passport. 

ATMS

ATMs are fairly common in Costa Rica. You must call your debit card company to let them know you will be using the card in Costa Rica. If you do not call them, they may put a block on your card. Check with your bank beforehand to see if there are any international charges for extracting cash overseas, some banks may charge up to $5 USD every time you withdraw money. Although this may seem expensive, it is worth the convenience.  Your director will point out convenient ATM locations on the university campus and in the mall.

CREDIT CARDS

Credit cards can be used in Costa Rica but are not widely accepted. Check with your credit card company beforehand to see if there are any extra international charges (international transaction fees) and to let them know that you are traveling overseas. If you do not call them, they may put a block on your card. There is a foreign currency conversion fee and it is usually from 1% to 3%. Capital One is the only credit card at the moment that charges no foreign currency conversion fee.

TRAVELER’S CHECKS

Do not NOT bring traveler's checks to Costa Rica as they are very difficult to cash and not widely accepted.

SPENDING MONEY

You will want to bring some extra spending money with you. We suggest about $100 per week. This money is for taxis and buses, souvenirs, meals/snacks that are not included, personal travel, or extra activities that you may do during excursions or in Heredia. Most products and services are priced similarly to the US. If you are taking semester classes with locals, you may need to purchase books and/or materials.

For semester students, be prepared to pay between $30 for the border fees during the Panama excursion.

DAILY TRANSPORTATION

It is important to include daily transportation into your study abroad budget. You may need to take a bus every day to and from your host family to the university or other locations in Heredia. Public buses within Heredia are between 70 to 1.50 US dollar one-way, depending on the location. The bus from Heredia to the capital city San Jose is a little more than 1 US dollar one-way. A taxi from the University to downtown Heredia is about about 4 US dollars one-way.  For safety, you must take a taxi if you go out at night, rather than walking or taking a bus. Public transportation affordable and accessible in Heredia. 

LOST OR STOLEN CREDIT OR DEBIT CARDS

If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, immediately contact your bank to cancel it. Notify your SOL director, but do NOT have the card sent by mail. In these cases, you or your family can make a payment with a credit card to SOL Headquarters in the US and your director can give you cash on-site. There is a $25 wire fee for this service. 

ELECTRICITY

Costa Rica uses 110 V AC at 60 Hz which is the same as the US. Both two and three-pronged outlets are found in Costa Rican homes. If need be, there are adapters for sale at hardware stores in Costa Rica.

COMMUNICATION

EMAIL

WIFI is available at host families, on the university campus, and in many restaurants and cafés. Be prepared for a slower connection at times. Keeping in contact with friends and family is a great way to share your experience. Just remember, though, it can take away from your Spanish learning. Attempt to write as little as possible in English while you are there. 

MAIL

The mail system in Costa Rica is very slow by US standards and unreliable. Expect letters to take 2-3 weeks to arrive. For short programs we recommend not sending mail as it might not arrive until after you have left. Check with your director for the exact mailing address for your host family. Do not ask friends or family to send packages to Costa Rica as they will be fined with heavy import fees.

In general, we discourage our students from receiving mail in Costa Rica because unfortunately there is no guarantee it will get there. Even if you use FedEx and list the contents in Spanish, there is a strong chance that your package will be held in customs and that you may have to pay much more than the item is worth to retrieve it. This has happened to several of our students.

The only items that can be sent down via FedEx are debit and credit cards or documents. Things that you CANNOT send down via FedEx or any other mail method: medications, care packages, electronics. If you need something from the states and have a friend or family member coming down it is always recommended that you ask if they can bring the item for you.

CELL PHONES

Most students use WhatsApp and/or GroupMe on their US smart phones as a way to communicate and make plans with SOL Mates. Whatsapp is currently the most common form of communication in Costa Rica for making plans with your host family and local friends in Costa Rica. Remember to download WhatsApp to your US cell phone number before you leave!

Some students choose to purchase a Pre-Paid Costa Rican SIM card which they can use either on their unlocked cell phone, or on a Costa Rican cell phone which can be purchased for around $40 USD or more.

The majority of our students use Skype or FaceTime (affordable Internet calling programs) on their laptop or smart phone for their long-distance communication. You can recieve long-distane calls on your host family home, however, we ask that you avoid using the host family telephone for personal calls except for calling a taxi.

Do NOT bring a US calling card (such as AT&T) because they are often difficult to use in Costa Rica and you cannot use the access numbers from pay phones.

HOST FAMILIES

The host family is one of the best parts of your experience in Costa Rica. This will be your greatest and most intimate contact with the culture and people of Costa Rica. Our host families in Costa Rica are middle-class by Costa Rican standards. Costa Ricans are very friendly and love sharing their culture and traditions. Your host family will provide your meals and do laundry for you at least once a week. You do not need to bring laundry soap.

Some suggestions when living with your family:

  • Let your host family know if you won’t be home for a meal.
  • Spend time with your family. If they invite you to do something take advantage of this. The more time you spend with your family the better your Spanish will get.
  • Be respectful. You are a guest in their home.
  • Utilities are expensive in Costa Rica! Conserve water and electricity by taking a short shower and turning off and unplugging all appliances when you leave the room.
  • Bring photos of your family/friends/hometown to share.
  • Out of respect for your host family please be home by midnight on weeknights (Monday-Thursday) and 2am on weekends (Friday and Saturday). 

Your director will go over host family rules and regulations more extensively onsite.

HOST FAMILY GIFT

We encourage you to bring a small gift for your host family to present to them when you arrive. A gift is a nice way to break the ice and share some of your local US culture with your Tico family. Some examples of gifts students have given in the past are family-style board games that don't require a language (ex. Lattice or RummyKub), local treats (preserves, candies, maple syrup, etc.), a coffee-table photo book of their hometown, dry baking mix (blueberry muffins, biscuits, scones, etc.), or a throw pillow or blanket.

SHOWERS

Showers in Costa Rica are usually heated by a small electrical unit attached to the spout. These can be hard for foreigners to figure out how to work. If you don’t do it right you’ll have a cold shower! Make sure you ask your host family how to use the shower heating element. Please limit showers to 10 minutes or less to conserve water and electricity.

MEALS

You will share all of your meals with your host family. You will eat what they eat, however for any special needs or preferences that you need they will be as accommodating as possible.  However, please remember that the food will be different to what you are used to eating in the US. Families do not eat much red meat or sea food; although they are middle class, they have a more restricted household budget. Black beans and rice are staple foods in Costa Rica and are served at most meals and are almost always served at lunch. Lunch is the main meal, and for dinner they will serve you a lighter meal.

LAUNDRY

Your host family will wash your clothes, sheets and towels once a week. Electric dryers are rare in Costa Rica, so most families will line-dry all laundry. Students are expected to hand-wash their own underwear. Every family is different in regards to laundry and your host mother will go over this your first day.

CULTURAL CUSTOMS & RECOMMENDATIONS

DO´S

  • Greetings and farewells are important in Costa Rican culture. Say hello when you come home and goodbye when you leave. 
  • The traditional greeting when meeting someone for the first time is that women give an air-kiss cheek to cheek (right cheek). Men shake hands. Young people tend to me more informal, so observe and do what the locals do, and what you feel comfortable with. A handshake is acceptable if you do not feel comfortable giving or receiving an air-kiss.
  • Give tips. 10-15% is good by Costa Rica standards. The tip is included in the bill at most restaurants. You do not have to tip taxis.
  • Share your experiences in conversation. Costa Ricans are known for being friendly, talkative and helpful, although often are shy at first.
  • Make an effort to speak Spanish.
  • Interact with your host family (for example, hang out with them on a Sunday afternoon).
  • Try the foods your host family gives you before deciding if it's something you don’t like.
  • Ask to use the phone first.
  • Be prepared for Ticos to be late, postpone, or cancel with short notice.
  • Make sure to wear clean clothes and shower at least once a day. Costa Ricans consider cleanliness and a nice appearance important.
  • Be extra careful when closing doors (car doors especially). What you consider closing a door is considered slamming a door in Costa Rica, and is extremely offensive. Close doors very gently.
  •  Be extra alert when on the streets, buses etc.
  • When asked where you are from, it is preferable to say you are from the United States (soy de los Estados Unidos) or your hometown, instead of saying "Soy Americano" because all people of the American Continent are "Americano" not just those from the United States of America.  
  • Avoid petting street dogs as they often have ringworm, fleas, and ticks. Ask before petting a family's dog. Even house dogs are not necessarily kept as pets—they are more for protection.
  • Be aware of Costa Rican driving habits. Let the car go first; Costa Ricans do not stop for pedestrians.
  • Always take a taxi at night. Never ride in cars of people you recently met.  
  • Make sure you have a pair of flip flops or house slippers for wearing inside of your host family home, as some families do not go barefoot in the house.
  • You may only have other SOL students over to your host family home with previous permission and in common areas, not in your room. 
TOILETS

Costa Rican plumbing often has very low pressure and small pipes. Because of this, for most toilets, you should NOT put toilet paper in the toilet as it can easily clog. A trash can is found next to the toilet for you to dispose of toilet paper. Ask if you are unsure.

TYPICAL DAY

 This is an EXAMPLE of a typical weekday. Some classes start earlier or later than listed below.

7:30 AM        Breakfast 

7:45 AM        Walk to school

8:00 AM        Classes begin

9:30 AM       Mid-morning break

11:00 AM       Classes end

12:30 PM       Lunch with your host family

2:00 PM         Meet for a cultural activity

ACADEMICS

In Heredia, your classes are at the ULatina (Universidad Latina-Heredia). You may take Spanish classes with other international students. Class size can be small; usually 10 to 15 students per class. During the semester students may take classes with locals.

You will find that the teaching style in other countries is different than what you are used to in the US. If you have any concerns or questions about this when you are in Costa Rica, please ask your director. Please inform your director if you need any academic support or accomodations. 

EXCHANGES (“intercambios”)

Your director will organize exchanges (“intercambios”) with Costa Rica students who are taking classes at the English Learning Center and are eager to practice.  Intercambios are a great opportunity to practice your Spanish, to help Tico students improve their English and to makefriends.  You can meet them inside or outside the university; often you'll have the opportunity to do activities with them.

VOLUNTEERING

 Volunteering is a great way to give back and make a meaningful impact in the lives of Costa Ricans. 

Examples of Volunteering can be (but are not limited to):

  • Education Project - Facilitate English and environmental education activiites with kindergarten and elementary students at local schools through hands-on immersion, games, art and music.
  • Program for the Elderly - Accompany the elderly and engage in activities such as playing bingo, dancing, painting, or just conversing. 
SOL DIRECTOR

Your director is there to help you with many aspects of the program. Their main duties include:

  • Orient and guide the students in Costa Rica
  • Airport transfers
  • Make sure that your accommodations are suitable and that you are happy with your family
  • Make sure that your classes are appropriate for your level of Spanish
  • Organize cultural activities
  • Organize excursions
  • Support students in volunteering 
  • Support students in finding activities and events that interest them
  • Accompany students to the doctor
  • Your director is available to listen and welcomes any requests, comments or suggestions about the program.
  • Director availability: your onsite director will be available at your school before & after classes every single day of the first week. After that, your director will normally be available every other day at school and during activities and excursions.  Your onsite director will always be available via an appointment.
HEALTH AND SAFETY

HOSPITALS

Clinica Biblica de San Jose (Calle Central y primera, avenida 14 & 16 San José)
Telephone: 2522-1000

OR

CIMA en Escazú (Frente al Hospital se encuentra la Autopista Próspero Fernández, Escazu)
Telephone: 2208-1144

CLINICS IN HEREDIA

Clinica Mind and Body (Plaza Bratsi)
Telephone: 2560-6062

Clinica Monterrey (Miraflores)
Telephone: 7199-9109

SAFETY TIPS WHILE IN COSTA RICA

We will thoroughly cover safety and specific guidelines in the onsite orientation. Most problems can be prevented with a combination of awareness and common sense. We encourage students to maintain a state of relaxed alertness. It is also very important to listen to and heed the advice of your director and your host family parents. Costa Rica and Heredia are generally safe, but it is important to be aware and take precautions, as you would as a traveler in any part of the world.

  • Always take a taxi at night. Never walk anywhere at night and remember safety in numbers.
  • Always take an official taxi (red with yellow triangle). Uber and other "pirate" taxis are commonly used by locals, but are not legal. 
  • The consumption of alcohol decreases your awareness and decision-making capabilities, putting you at increased risk. (Underage drinking and the use of any drugs are illegal and prohibited on our programs.)
  • As in any country, never leave a drink unattended. Be very careful about the amount and type of alcohol you consume, if any. 
  • Carry around only a small amount of cash. Leave large amounts of cash, your passport, or credit cards in the lock box provided at your host family home. 
  • Always lock all doors and gates at your host family.  
  • Keep your belongings with you at all times when traveling. Do not leave your backpack or purse unattended anywhere, even for a few minutes.
  • Avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry. Do not walk around with headphones or ibuds in your ears.
  • Keep your cell phone in your bag until you arrive at your destination. Do not walk around talking on your cell phone or texting and walking. 
  • Listen to your "gut". One of our greatest tools is our intuition and internal guidance system. If something doesn't feel right, do what you need to do get out of the situation and let your director know immediately.

By following these guidelines and using your own intuition you can have a safe and successful time abroad. Above all, have confidence and awareness and enjoy yourself in Costa Rica. "Stay safe, but don't stay home!"

HEALTH

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. In certain coastal areas it is best to drink bottled water. Always ask your director if you are unsure about the water.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly them thoroughly.
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot.
  • Prevent mosquito bites by paying special attention to mosquito protection between dusk & dawn.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats in areas where mosquito bites are likely.
  • Wear strong, effective and natural insect repellent such as those that contain lemon and eucalyptus oil. 
  • We ask that students do not use repellents that contain DEET and other toxic chemicals. These chemicals are harmful to the environment and local ecosystems. They can wash off and get into rivers and oceans, killing coral reefs. 
  • Wear reef-safe sunscreen, hat, and long-sleeves for sun protection, especially at the beach and in the ocean. Find shade, especially during the peak hours around noon. 
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. 
  • As is the case anywhere in the world, having unprotected sex can result in aquiring sexually transmitted diseases/infections and/or pregnancy. Make wise choices. 

VACCINATIONS

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends making sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before travel. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. The CDC recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines for most travelers to Costa Rica. The CDC recommends Hepatitis B vaccine if you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.

You can read more here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/costa-rica

THEFT

Heredia is a safe city, but like any city in the world, you must be smart about your safety and belongings. When we are on our weekend trips always lock doors and keep valuable items out of sight. Especially on the beach trips always make sure there is someone to keep an eye on your things if you are in the water.

UNWANTED ATTENTION

Cat Calls/Piropos

Due to legislation and a cultural shift in Costa Rica “cat calling” is becoming less socially-accepted. However, it does still happen that men will make comments or what they consider "compliments" to women as they are walking on the street. These comments are called “piropos” and are rooted in a form of sexism known as "machismo".  Generally these types of comments should be ignored. If you ever feel unsafe, do what you need to do to find safety and notify your director immediately.  Most Costa Ricans are shy at first, so if someone is very forward with you that is a red flag. 

VACCINATIONS

Many of the vaccinations that some physicians may recommend (malaria, yellow fever, or typhoid) are not necessarily required nor needed. Thousands of American students study in Costa Rica every year and these vaccinations are not necessary. Make sure that the standard immunizations you need in the US are current before leaving for Costa Rica. We do suggest that you have your Hepatitis A and B vaccine.

For the most up-to-date health & safety information, visit:

U.S. Department of Travel Website: www.travel.state.gov

Center for Disease Control: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/costa-rica.htm

TRAVEL HEALTH INSURANCE

While with Sol Education Abroad you have the option of using your own health insurance or using the Sol Education Abroad policy (included in your program price). If your insurance provider DOES cover you internationally, make sure to only use your policy and not ours (insurance companies do not allow you to have two policies). If your insurance provider DOES NOT cover you internationally, make sure you specify this in the form called "Insurance Verification" by checking “yes” on the question: “Do you need International Medical Insurance with Sol Abroad?”Sol Education Abroad’s insurance policy will cover absolutely any medical expenses internationally up to USD $50,000 with MultiNational Underwriters. To verify your coverage, simply call your US insurance provider and tell them that you will be overseas and they will let you know whether or not you are covered internationally and the amount of coverage. Provide your insurance company the exact dates of the program in which you are enrolled. Get the details from them in the event you need to go to the doctor while abroad.

If you do use the Sol Education Abroad insurance please note that pre-existing conditions, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases/infections are not covered, so check with your domestic provider about this before leaving. If you take prescription medication with you make sure that you have a doctor’s prescription in the event that customs officials question you about it. This is rare, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared.

HELPFUL WORDS & PHRASES:

GREETINGS:

Hello Hola
Good Morning ¡Buenos días!
Good Day ¡Buen día!
Good Evening Buenas tardes
Good Night Buenas noches
How are you ¿Cómo estás?
Fine Bien
Very well Muy bien

So-So Más o menos
What’s your name? ¿Cómo te llamas? (Como se llama usted?)
My name is Me llamo
I live in Vivo en

I am from Soy de
This is my Este es mi _______.

Nice to meet you Mucho gusto/Encantada/o
Thank You Gracias
You’re Welcome De nada
Excuse me (usted) perdone/disculpe

Friend amigo/a                        
Mother madre/mamá                                
Father padre/papá        
Sister hermana                
Roommate compañero/a de piso
Teacher maestro/a
Aunt tia
Uncle tio
Grandmother abuela
Grandfather abuelo

THE QUESTION WORDS (INTERROGATIVES):

Who  ¿Quién?
What ¿Qué?
When ¿Cuándo?
Where ¿Dónde?
How?  ¿Cómo?
How much? ¿Cuánto/a? 
How much does it cost? ¿Cuánto cuesta?
How many? ¿Cuántos/as?
Which ones? ¿Cuáles?

DIRECTIONS:

Where is?  ¿Dónde está?
Excuse me, where is the_____? Disculpe, dónde está el/la_____________?
Where are the taxis? ¿Dónde están los taxis?
Where is the bus? ¿Dónde está el autobus?
Where is the subway/metro? ¿Dónde está el metro?
Is it near? ¿Está cerca?
Is it far? ¿Está lejos?
Go straight ahead Siga recto.
Go that way Vaya en aquella dirección.
Go back/return Vuelva
Turn right Gire a la derecha
Turn left Gire a la izquierda
Take me to this address, please Lléveme a esta dirección, por favor
What is the fare?  ¿Cuánto es la tarifa?
Stop here, please Deténgase aquí, por favor.
Does this bus go to Los Osos Street? ¿Pasa este autobús por la calle de los Osos?
A map of the city, please Un plano (una mapa) de la ciudad, por favor.
A subwaymap, please Un plano (una mapa) del metro, por favor.

SHOPPING:

How much does it cost?  ¿Cuánto cuesta?
What time does the store open? ¿A qué hora abre la tienda?
At what time does the store close? ¿A qué hora cierra la tienda?
What would you like? ¿Qué está buscando?
Can I help you? ¿Necesita alguna ayuda?
I would like this Me gustaría esto.
Here it is Aquí lo tiene.
Is that all? ¿Es todo?
I'd like to pay in cash Me gustaría pagar en efectivo.
I'd like to pay by credit card Me gustaría pagar con tarjeta de crédito.
Women's clothes ropa para mujeres/damas
Men's clothes ropa para hombres
blouse, skirt, dress blusa, falda, vestido
pants, shirt, tie pantalones, camisa, corbata
shoes and socks zapatos y calcentines
jeans vaqueros/Blue Jeans
bookstore librería
bakery panadería
market mercado
supermarket supermercado

NUMBERS

 

1

Uno

30

Treinta

2

Dos

40

Cuarenta

3

Tres

50

Cincuenta

4

Cuatro

60

Sesenta        

5

Cinco

70

Setenta

6

Seis

80

Ochenta

7

Siete

90

Noventa

8

Ocho

100

Cien

9

Nueve

Ordinal Numbers

 

10

Diez

first

primero

11

Once

second

Segundo

12

Doce

third

Tercero

13

Trece

fourth

Cuarto

14

Cuatorce

fifth

Quinto

15

Quince

sixth

Sexto

16

Dieciséis

seventh

Septimo

17

Diecsiete

Eighth

Ocho

18

dieciocho

Ninth

Noveno

19

Diecinueve

Tenth

Decimo

20

Viente

 

 

 

Can you recommend a good restaurant? ¿Me recomienda algún restaurante?
A table for two, please Una mesa para dos, por favor.
The menu, please La carta, por favor.
appetizers primer plato
main course plato principal
dessert postre
I would like something to drink Me gustaría algo para beber/tomar.
A glass of water, please Un vaso de agua, por favor.
A cup of tea, please Un té, por favor.
A coffee with milk Un café con leche.
I am a vegetarian Soy un/a vegetariano/a.
Do you have a vegetarian dish? ¿Tiene algún plato vegetariano?
That's all Eso es todo.
The check, please la cuenta, por favor.
Is the tip included? ¿Incluye la propina?
Breakfast desayuno
Lunch almuerzo
Dinner cena
Snack merienda
Enjoy the meal ¡Buen provecho!
To your health ¡Salud!
It's delicious! ¡Está riquísima!
It tastes good es muy rico
Plate plato
Fork tenedor
Knife cuchillo
Spoon cuchara
Napkin servilleta
Cup/mug taza
Glass vaso
Bottle botella
Ice hielo
Salt sal
Pepper pimienta
Sugar azúcar
Soup sopa
Salad ensalada
Bread pan
Butter mantequilla
Noodles fideos
Rice arroz
Cheese queso
Vegetables verduras
Chicken pollo
Pork cerdo
Meat carne
Beef carne
I like my steak rare. Me gusta la carne poco cocida.
I like my steak medium Me gusta la carne a mediococer.
I like my steak well done Me gusta la carne bien coci da.
Juice zumo (Spain), jugo (South America)
Pie tarta
Ice cream helado
Another, please Otro, por favor.
More, please Más, por favor.
Pass the… please Por favor, páseme la…
Spicy picante
Sweet dulce
Sour amargo

BASIC PHRASES:

Thank you Gracias
Thank you very much Muchas gracias
You’re Welcome De Nada
Please Por Favor
Yes Sí
No No
Excuse Me Con Permiso
Pardon Me Perdone (usted)
I’m sorry Lo siento        
I don’t understand No entiendo
I don’t speak Spanish  No habloespañol
I speak Spanish rather well Hablo español bastante bien
Do you speak English? ¿Habla inglés
Speak slowly, please Habledespaciopor favor
Repeat, please Repita, por favor
What's your name? ¿Cómo se llama?
How are you? ¿Cómo está?
Do you speak English? ¿Habla inglés?
Where is the subway? ¿Dónde está el metro?
Is the tip included? ¿Incluye la propina?
How much does that cost?  ¿Cuánto cuesta?
Is there a public phone here? ¿Hay algún teléfono público aquí?
Can I get on the internet? ¿Puedo conectarme con el internet?
Can you help me? ¿Me podría ayudar?
Where is the bathroom? ¿Dónde está el baño?

Specific to Costa Rica:        

Ticos (people from Costa Rica)are very pleased when foreigners try to speak Spanish, especially when they include tiquismos, expressions that are peculiar to Costa Rican or Central American culture.  Surprise your host family, teachers and directors with these extraordinary and local colloquialisms!

Learning or perfecting your Spanish in Costa Rica is something to be considered very lucky! It is rich in culture, considered one of the purest forms of Spanish in the world, and full of idioms and local flare. Costa Ricans tend to flavor their language, as a community and individually. Their favorite spice, so to speak, is the “tico”. Not only is tico one of the most spoken words in the language, but it also added to other words, just like adding a button to your outfit. For example, “poquito” in Spanish means “few/little”, in Costa Rica it could become “poquitico”. The locals tend to do this with a lot of their vocabulary. This might seem strange to you at first, but it is simply another Costa Rican charm.

Acostarse con las gallinas – to go to bed early. Literally means, to go to bed with the hens.
Aguevado – bored or boring
Boca – a small appetizer.
Brete – work or job
Comedera - food or groceries.
La choza – home. This is comparable to the more general phrase, hogar or casa (house).
Chunche - thing (a placeholder).

Cómoamaneció -  literally means “how did you wake up?” It is used to in the morning (before 12pm) to ask how someone’s night was and how we would say “how did you sleep?” or, more generally, “how are you doing?” Some common responses could be….."Muybien, pordicha, y usted ?"(Very well, luckily, and you?) or "Muybien, gracias a Dios ." (Very well, thank God.)

Contarsuscuitas – to tell one’s troubles
Dolor de jupa/cabeza – headache
Estar de chichi – to be angry. This is comparable to the more general phrase, estarenojado/a.
Grosero - rude
Guila - a kid
Hacerse bolas – to get confused. This is comparable to the more general phrase, confundirse.

Harina – literally, harina is the kind of flour you use to bake but in Costa Rica it can mean “money”. More slang phrases for money are huaca or mosca are also slang for money. El dinero or la plata are more correct words for money.

Hospi – slang for hospital

¡Hasta Luego! – Until then/until later. Translated to English this phrase means, “see you later”. As another form of acknowledging someone in passing, it is customary to say “adios” even if you don’t know them. Costa Ricans are very polite and cordial and your salutation will be received warmly.  In a situation like this, adios means hello. It is only used to mean goodbye when you're going away for good.

La jama – food. This is comparable to the more general word, comida.

Macho/Macha - a blond person (or lighter haired).
Mae - can be used as the word “dude” between friends or simply to refer to any man or woman ("ese mae te está mirando" = "that guy is looking at you").

Maje - a term used colloquially to measure the terms of friendship. It does, literally mean “dummy”, but figuratively it is more like pal or buddy. It is used widely as amuletillaIt is used with men, normally under 30.

metidas de pata – literally translates to "putting your foot in it", but means “mistakes”.

mucho gusto – "[with] much pleasure,". In Costa Rica it is used in place of "de nada," or "thank you." Another version of this phrase is “con gusto”. For example, “gracias porayudarme”, “con gusto”.

Muletillas - fillers, literal in speech. They "address" the person with whom they are speaking more often than is done in English, and often times English speakers might find it offensive, but it is quite the contrary. For example, ladies are commonly called mamita , madre , mi hijita , (little mother, mother, my little daughter, etc. all with some root to what we would say “honey”).

“No entender ni papa” - to not understand a single word.
Muy helado - very cold or freezing
Pachanga – party. Can be used synonymously with the commonly known Spanish word, fiesta.
Parlanchín – a person who talks incessantly.

Pordicha – fortunately, thank god. This phrase is used in context of someone being very grateful for something. Forexample, “Cómo estás hoy?” “bien, por dicha”, could be thesame as, “bien, gracias a Dios”. Or “Comó fue el partido hoy? Llovió?”….. “No, llovió, por dicha”.

Pulperia - corner store, generally small in size. They are usually family run and sell basic food items and occasionally items one would expect to find at a bazaar.

Pura vida - (“pure life”, full of life, perfect, great, terrific, hang loose, be cool, life is awesome, etc.) – this is perhaps the most important phrase you will need to know during your stay in Costa Rica. It could be compared to how Americans on the West Coast would lazily and very happily yell out “hang loose”. Costa Ricans use it in a plethora of different contexts. For example, locals may use it to replace the word goodbye, you’re welcome, and thank you. It is also a common practice to use it to respond to questions, (for example “how are you?” or “how was your day?”). It literally translates to “awesome” or “great”.

Qué Chiva - similar to “tuanis,” “quéchiva” is used as a slang word for “how cool” or similar words.
¡Qué cuentos! - yeah right!
¿Qué m'iche? – whats up? What do you have to tell me?
¡Qué polo! - how lame!

Rojo - a rojo in Costa Rica is another word for a 1000 colones bill. Rojo (meaning red) is the color of the bill, hence the name. For example, if you are at the pulperia and they tell you the cost of your items is “dos rojos,” it means your cost is 2000 colones.

¡Saludos! – greetings!
¡Salado! - too bad!
Soda - basic Costa Rican café

Una teja - unateja is 100 of anything, usually money (100 colones). If someone is giving you directions, however, unateja refers to "100 meters," or one block.

Tico - a Costa Ricanman. The plural form is Ticos (people born in Costa Rica).
Tica - a Costa Rican woman.

This term is used only for people that were born in Costa Rica, not any other Spanish speaking countries.

Típico - native-style. For example, comida típica (traditional food).
Toucan - a 5,000 colones bill is also called a “toucan” as there is a picture of a toucan on the bill.
Tuanis - a slang word for “cool” or “neat”.
Va jalando – get out of here! Go away!

Vieras  - vierasis often used to express the equivalent of the way we use "sure" in English: "Vierasque gusto me dio!'' (I sure was scared, or, you should have seen how it scared me.)

Remember, the most important thing is to try! The Ticos will be very glad to see you try and more than happy to help you succeed in your quest of bilingualism. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and a smile goes a long way!

MAPS OF COSTA RICA

"Costa Rica Map" Country: Mexico, Author: Sol Education Abroad.

 

"Costa Rica Country Map" Country: Costa Rica, Author: www.govisitcostarica.com

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Safe travels! And see you soon in Costa Rica!

the Sol Education Abroad team