At some point in your move, whether it be two weeks, two months or two years (if you’re really awesome at saving money beforehand, which we’re not), you’re going to need to find a way to make money. For us, this meant finding jobs in Costa Rica fairly immediately.
Finding Jobs in Costa Rica
We had done some research and knew that finding jobs in Costa Rica would be difficult. Not only are jobs that we are qualified for usually illegal for us since we are not established residents, but also difficult to find, maintain and make any real money from. The thing is, and I agree with this policy to a point, is that if you’re taking a job that can be done by a Costa Rican, you shouldn’t be doing that job. This includes working in the service industry, retail industry, tourist industry, etc., all jobs that are usually easy to fall back on when you’re in need of quick cash. We had also read that it’s easy to start your own business; however, you aren’t allowed to work in that business since you could technically hire a Costa Rican to work for you. Read a better, more thorough explanation of the laws here, although note that it is totally possible to come here with no form of residency and still find a job… it’s just not legal.
I got my TESOL certification online in 2010 and was under the impression that I would be able to teach English in a local school, possibly legally, and make enough money to at least get by. My degree and experience is also in Advertising and I knew that I would probably do some form of online freelance work while I was here. Peter is a very experienced Master Scuba Diver Trainer and underwater photographer and hoped those skills were enough to get him a job in one of the many scuba dive shops in Coco.
What we didn’t know is that it is much harder to get jobs on the coast, and in particular, coastal towns where there is an immigration office and a shit ton of white tourists. They don’t exactly tell you that in the How To Move Here as an Illegal Gringo handbook. I get it.
Also keep in mind that this is Costa Rica and everyone speaks Spanish. We no hablar bien Español. Had I had any foresight, I might not have taken 6 years of French in school. Or at least been better at it. That means that any job here that requires you to communicate with humans, you probably can’t do. Bummertown. However (!), Peter had some luck after hassling every single dive shop in town for weeks and got a job as a dive instructor and part-time photographer at the best dive shop in town. I happened to meet a Canadian dance instructor that was leaving for two months and needed someone to fill in as the creative movement & drama teacher at a local school, which I happily accepted. I also found random jobs creating websites for local and remote companies, thanks to Craigslist and my neighbor, who had invested in a Costa Rican swimsuit company and whose daughter was starting her own business. It’s a small town, so if you’re good at something that not many other people do, word travels fast. I chose not to attempt the teaching English thing after I was warned that immigration sometimes passes through to check if you’re working legally, and if not, can and will deport you. Once again, you’re in their country. Fair enough.
The other thing we didn’t know was that it is slow here, even for being one of the most popular tourist towns in the country. We came here at the beginning of the always slower rainy season, but even then, wow. Often you’ll see less customers in a bar or restaurant than the number of employees working that night. This means that once you find a job, there may not always be enough people in town to make your job necessary.
Lastly, we didn’t know just how little we’d be making. For a full day of teaching at school, I make $35. For a full day of Peter guiding people on a two tank dive, he makes around $50. I charge $200 for the amount of marketing work I do in Texas for $1,000. Sure, our rent is cheap, but it all adds up eventually.
My advice is to try and find steady, remote work before you get here. People sometimes hear “Costa Rica” and think you’re working from a tree house with an outdoor toilet in the rainforest. My other advice is if you don’t absolutely need to move to the coast for work, move inland and you’ll find way more options. The beach is always a bus ride away. My last piece of advice is to chill out about it. Remember that this is not your country and you aren’t entitled to a job just because you’re brave enough to move here illegally. Be creative, be persistent, and if you have the money and a good enough idea to start your own business and make it work here, do it. Also know when it’s time to call a spade a spade and move on.
And just because, check out one of Peter’s underwater photos below. He’s a talented toot. And apparently not afraid of large fish with teeth. Gross.