Sometimes called the Switzerland of Middle America, Costa Rica
straddles the mountain backbone that separates the Pacific from the
Caribbean. Rugged ranges, topped by active volcanoes, climb sharply
from lush jungles of the coastal regions and cradle a central
Legend holds that Columbus saw Indians wearing gold ornaments and
named the region Costa Rica - Rich Coast. It enjoys a living
standard considered the highest in Central America.
The explorers and “conquistadores” that were to come after
Columbus did not find great native empires; instead, they found
different tribes that were loosely connected or fragmented
While important Indian empires were falling - in 1532 the Incas
and in the 1540s the Aztecs - Costa Rica was left alone, mostly
because dreams of gold and jewels had proved to be illusions. It was
not until 1559 that Spain decided to conquer what is now Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is different from the rest of Central America because
its people distribute their wealth, land, and power far more
equitably. Its social welfare system and parliamentary democracy
have no equal. To its everlasting good fortune, it was the most
neglected of colonial Central America. It had neither of the two
things the Spanish conquistadors wanted: mineral wealth (gold and
silver), or an abundant Indian population to work their haciendas.
The absence of minerals and indigenous workers meant that settlers
worked their own land-and there was plenty of it to go around for
centuries - to form a huge middle class of yeoman farmers. Money
became so scarce at times that colonists had to substitute it with
the Indian equivalent - cacao beans.
Wheat and tobacco were among the first products to be exported to
Spain and other countries. Costa Rica was transformed by coffee in
the 19th century. The brown bean attracted foreign capital and
immigrant merchants and promoted road and railroad development. In
one of the major engineering feats of the age, the San Jose -Puerto
Limon railroad was completed in 1890, and from it a banana empire
was built in the process. It connected the U.S. fruit centers of New
Orleans and Boston with San Jose.
The country boasts a population close to 3.9 million peopl (est.
2004), which by standards of the region, is not large. Also, the
growth rate is only 1.69% per year (est. 2000) and is one of the
most homogenous of the region. Ninety-four percent of the people are
classified as white or mestizo, and four percent as black or
indigenous, with one percent Chinese, and one percent other. More
than 40% of Costa Ricans are under 20 years of age.
Costa Rica is also homogenous in regards to social classes. Most
of the population is middle class, and even though poverty exists,
it is not as large a problem as it is in other Latin countries. By
the standards of a developed country, Costa Rican incomes are very
low, but when compared to other neighbors, salaries and earnings
prove to be much better. Besides the poor and middle classes, there
is an upper class, which is very elitist. The preponderance of a
middle-class produces an impression of class and social homogeneity.
Democracy is the source of tremendous pride in a country that can
boast of having more teachers than policemen and of not having a
standing army since 1948. Reform has always won over revolution and
repression. Out of 53 leaders, only 3 have been military men and 6
can be considered dictators. Most Latin American countries can't
affirm the same good fortune.
The Host Country
Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 12/31/1999 6:00 PM
At 19,730 square miles, about four-fifths the size of West
Virginia, Costa Rica is, with the exception of El Salvador and
Belize, the smallest country in Central America. It is bounded on
the North and Southeast by Nicaragua and Panama, respectively; on
the East by the Caribbean Sea; and on the West and South by the
Pacific Ocean. Limon, the major Caribbean port, is 2,400 miles from
New York; Puerto Caldera, the principal Pacific port, is located
2,700 miles from San Francisco.
A rugged central massif runs the length of the country, north to
south, separating the coastal plains. Even though Costa Rica lies
totally within the tropics, the range of altitudes produces wide
climatic variety. The country has four distinct geographic regions:
The Caribbean Lowlands are hot and humid, and comprise about
one-fourth of the total area of Costa Rica. It is the major
banana-exporting region. The lowlands contain less than 10 percent
of the population.
The Highlands are the economic, political, and cultural heart of
the country, and include the Central and Talamanca mountain ranges
and the Meseta Central where the capital, San Jose, is located. The
Meseta, with elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 feet, and
adjacent areas contain nearly two-thirds of Costa Rica’s population.
The region has rolling, well-drained land, productive soil, and
pleasant sub-tropical temperatures, with an annual rainfall of 60-75
inches. The central highlands have most of Costa Rica's improved
roads, and there is direct access to both coasts by paved highway
The Guanacaste Plains comprise the rolling section of northwest
Costa Rica, and include portions of the provinces of Guanacaste and
Puntarenas, plus the Nicoya Peninsula. Despite having the lowest
average annual rainfall and the longest dry season, the region is
important for agriculture and livestock production as well as a
popular area for tourism. The area contains 15 percent of Costa
Southern Costa Rica is the wettest part of Costa Rica with some
10 percent of the population.
San Jose, with a metropolitan population of over one million, is
almost completely surrounded by mountains, and just a few minutes’
drive from the center of the city are foothills that offer a country
atmosphere and lovely views.
The central part of the capital is divided into four quadrants by
Avenida Central running east and west, and Calle Central running
north and south. The arrangement of streets is logical, but
initially confusing: Odd-numbered avenues (avenidas) are located
north of Avenida Central and even-numbered avenues are to the south;
odd-numbered streets (calles) are east of Calle Central, and
even-numbered streets are to the west.
Street names or numbers are seldom used. Locations are given in
relation to some landmark that may, or may not, be well known, such
as a public building, a monument, a prominent intersection, or even
a grocery store or gasoline station. Distances are expressed in
meters (“metros” in Spanish), and 100 meters is roughly equivalent
to a normal city block. At times, the point of reference is a
landmark that once existed but no longer is standing, a practice
that works for long-time residents of San Jose but generally adds to
the considerable confusion.
Most city streets in San Jose are paved, but many are narrow and
rough, and congestion and noise are constant problems in the city.
The pollution at times can be stifling. Potholes are a constant
threat to the unwary, both in the city and in the countryside, and
often are deep enough to damage vehicles. Open manholes are a danger
as well, since theft of manhole covers seems to be a favorite
activity in San Jose.
Downtown commercial buildings usually have two or three stories,
but newer structures are much taller. Residential sections have many
modern homes of brick, wood, or concrete construction, with either
tile or galvanized metal roofs. Large one-story or two-story
residences are found in the suburbs where Embassy employees live.
Parks of all sizes are located throughout the city.
The temperature in San Jose is generally pleasant, with two
seasons distinguished mainly by the rainfall. The dry season runs
from December through April and the wet season extends from May
through November. Even during the wet season the mornings generally
are clear, with the afternoons and evenings dominated by heavy rains
nearly every day. Relatively high winds often are present during the
The average temperature in San Jose is 70 to 75 degrees
Fahrenheit. In December, the coolest month, the average temperature
drops to around 65 degrees. Temperatures drop into the 50s at night
throughout the year.
Humidity in San Jose averages 80 percent annually, and during the
rainy season mold and mildew are serious problems. One can leave a
light burning in closets, but for more serious measures, a
dehumidifier must be used to prevent damage. Electronic equipment,
books, records, tapes, and photographic equipment also suffer in the
humidity, and should be protected if possible.
Altitude determines the climate throughout Costa Rica. Areas
below 3,000 feet have average annual temperatures of around 80
degrees, with little variation from month to month. The temperature
drops from around 74 degrees at 3,000 feet to 59 degrees at 5,000
feet. Above 5,000 feet, the average annual temperatures can range as
low as 40 degrees to the mid-50s, with occasional frost during the
Palms abound in the freshwater and brackish swamps along the
Caribbean coast, as do broad belts of mangroves along the Pacific
shore and tidal streams and tropical hardwoods in the higher
elevations. Logging operations, both legal and illegal, have
stripped many previously wooded areas of Costa Rica, and less than
half the land now is forested. The broadleaf forests remaining
contain mahogany, Spanish cedar, lignum vitae, balsa, rosewood,
ceiba, nispero, zapote, Castilla rubber, brasilwood, and others.
Oaks and grasslands once covered the Meseta Central, but the land
there now is devoted largely to crops and pastures.
The country has approximately 12 active volcanoes; the last
significant eruptions began in 1968. Seismic activity occurs on a
regular basis in Costa Rica. The last major earthquake that caused
considerable damage along the Atlantic coast was in April, 1991.
Many buildings, including the Embassy, and homes in Costa Rica are
built to withstand earth tremors.
Costa Rica long has been a haven for birdwatchers who track the
900-plus species. Animal life also is abundant. Deer, squirrel,
opossum, tapir, monkey, porcupine, sloth, many species of reptiles,
and several species of large cats can be found in some areas,
although their ranges are constantly being reduced as their habitats
are destroyed. Sport fishing on both coasts for tuna, swordfish,
marlin, tarpon, and shark is popular, and opportunities for
freshwater fishing also exist.
Costa Rica’s economy traditionally has had an agricultural base,
with the chief exports being bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef.
Woodworking and leathercraft are the major handicrafts of the
country. Tourism, along with the cattle industry, has grown rapidly
in recent years, and non-traditional exports, both agricultural and
manufactured, have become increasingly important as sources of
Population Last Updated: 9/29/2004 4:01 PM
In 2004, the population of Costa Rica was estimated to be 3.96
million. The capital of San Jose and its greater metropolitan area,
which includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia,
accounts for over one-half of the country’s people with a population
of 2.1 million. Other major cities outside the San Jose area
included Puntarenas (102,504) and Limon (89,933). These figures are
for the Canton of each city, administrative areas that include the
municipality and surrounding areas, rural or urban. Costa Ricans are
called “Ticos” both by their Central American neighbors and among
It is estimated that more than 30,000 private American citizens,
most of them retirees, live in Costa Rica, and approximately one
half million tourists from the U.S. visit the country every year.
Smaller groups of foreign residents include Canadian, British,
French, German, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and other Latin
Most Costa Ricans are of European rather than mestizo descent,
and the country lacks the large indigenous Indian populations that
characterize most other Central American countries. Small groups of
Indians and Blacks live in Costa Rica, but together they account for
less than 10 percent of the population. Descended from West Indian
workers who began emigrating to Costa Rica in the late 19th Century,
most Blacks live in the Limon Province on the Caribbean coast. Many
speak English as their primary language. It is also estimated that
10 to 15 percent of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent
arrival and primarily of mestizo origin.
Costa Rica’s culture, like its racial composition, is relatively
homogeneous. An old-line Spanish-Catholic tradition persists despite
many changes brought about by an influx of people, goods, films, and
books from other countries. Values of Latin American culture are
evident in the great importance attached to family ties; a rather
sedate, ritualized, conventional behavior; a yearly schedule of
festivals; and an outwardly male-oriented and male-dominated
Every town has its local patron saint whose day is celebrated
with a “fiesta”. Carnival in Limon in October, industrial and other
fairs throughout the year are particularly interesting.
Public Institutions Last Updated: 9/29/2004 4:05 PM
Costa Rica is a vibrant democracy whose citizens have a strong
sense of civic pride and considerable respect for human rights,
peaceful resolution of conflicts and democratic institutions. The
national government, which employs a comprehensive system of checks
and balances, consists of the executive, legislative, and judicial
branches, plus a highly respected Supreme Electoral Tribunal that
oversees elections every four years. The 57-member Legislative
Assembly has representatives from two major political parties as
well as a number of minority parties. Overall, the president remains
the single most influential political leader, but the Legislative
Assembly wields considerable power. Presidents may seek reelection
after sitting out two 4-year terms. Legislative deputies may seek
reelection after at least one term out of office.
Numerous political parties compete for elective office at the
national and municipal levels every four years. The Social Christian
Unity Party (PUSC) and the National Liberation Party (PLN) have
dominated most recent elections. In the February 2002 elections, the
failure of any one presidential candidate to win 40 percent of the
popular vote necessitated a runoff election in April, which was won
by Abel Pacheco of the Social Christian Unity Party. PUSC candidates
won 19 of the Legislative Assembly’s 57 seats. The National
Liberation Party won 17 seats, and several other parties hold the
remaining seats. Costa Ricans pride themselves on the country’s
abolition of its standing military in late 1948, a concept enshrined
in the 1949 Constitution. Governments give priority to public
spending on education and health care. The Ministry of Public
Security, which includes the civilian Public Force police and
specialized units such as the anti-narcotics police, and the
Ministry of the Presidency share responsibility for law enforcement
and national security. A separate Judicial Investigative Police
Department conducts most criminal investigations.
Costa Rica has exercised an international influence well beyond
its relatively small size. Consecutive administrations have
participated in a number of initiatives to promote human rights and
democracy within the region and around the world. A former president
of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, gained hemispheric-wide
support for his candidacy and was sworn in as the Secretary General
of the Organization of American States (OAS) in September 2004. In
November of 2004, the Pacheco Administration hosted the Ibero-American
Summit in San Jose, bringing together political leaders from Latin
American and the countries of Spain and Portugal.
Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:36 AM
The arts are flourishing in Costa Rica. At the beautiful and
historic National Theater, the Melico Salazar Theater, and other
venues throughout San Jose, there is a steady stream of high-quality
representations of the visual and plastic arts from Costa Rica and
abroad. The National Symphony Orchestra offers an annual concert
series, as does the Costa Rican Youth Symphony. The National Dance
Company and university dance groups also perform during the year.
Professional theater groups offer works in Spanish throughout the
year, and an amateur theater group produces plays in English. Costa
Rica hosts three major international festivals: the annual
International Music Festival and, in alternate years, the
International Festival of the Arts and the International Guitar
Several institutional and commercial art galleries are located in
San Jose. The Museum of Costa Rican Art, located in the terminal of
San Jose’s original airport, now a large city park, features several
exhibits every year by both Costa Rican and foreign artists. The
Ministry of Culture, located in a restored liquor factory, houses
the Museum of Modern Art and Design, exhibiting the more avant-garde
works of local and foreign artists.
San Jose’s movie theaters offer American films, with Spanish
subtitles, shortly after original release, as well as films from
Europe and the rest of Latin America.
The San Jose metropolitan area has a variety of world-class
museums. The National Museum, occupying a former fortress near the
Legislative Assembly, has an excellent collection of pre-Columbian
artifacts and a national history collection. The Central Bank’s Gold
Museum, located beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, near the National
Theater, houses a stunning display of pre-Columbian gold artifacts.
The Coin Museum is located in the same building. The Jade Museum,
located in the National Insurance Institute, features one of the
world’s foremost collections of pre-Columbian jade pieces. The
Children’s Museum is located in a former penitentiary and offers a
permanent display of history, science and technology with hands-on
exploration for children. Other museums include the Serpentarium,
the Museum of Natural Science, the Juan Santamaria Museum in
Alajuela, and the Simon Bolivar Zoo.
Education is a national passion for Costa Rica, as reflected in
the vast array of schools and universities throughout the country.
The literacy rate, at 95 percent, is the highest in the region. Four
state-supported universities and nearly forty private universities
offer undergraduate and graduate courses in almost all major fields
of study. The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano, also
known as the Binational Center (BNC), offers regular courses in
English and Spanish as second languages, as do a host of commercial
language schools. The BNC also houses an excellent lending library,
which Mission families may join for a small annual fee, and offers
art exhibits and performing arts events featuring American as well
as Costa Rican artists.
Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 9/16/2004 3:44 PM
Costa Rica’s economy in 2003 rebounded from three years of
relative stagnation and is poised for growth for the near future.
National account statistics from Costa Rica’s Central Bank indicated
a 2003 gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 16.7 billion, up 5.6
percent in real terms from 2002, when GDP growth from 2001 was a
more modest 2.9 percent. Inflation in 2003, as measured by the
Consumer Price Index, was 9.9 percent, about the same as during
2002. The central government fiscal deficit was equivalent to 4.3
percent of GDP in 2003, down from 5.4 percent of GDP in 2002, but
still a significant amount, which the country’s fiscal authorities
have been unsuccessfully attempting to reduce for several years.
Controlling the fiscal deficit is the single biggest economic
challenge, as servicing the accumulated government debt represents
approximately 26.1 percent of the government’s total expenses and
requires 31.2 percent of government income, limiting the resources
available for needed investments in public infrastructure.
Costa Rica’s major economic resources are its well-educated
population, its fertile land and frequent rainfall, and its location
in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy accessibility
to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the
European and Asian continents. With one fourth of its land dedicated
to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, the
country has also become a popular destination for tourists and
While the country does have some off-shore oil potential, the
GOCR has decided that for now, the potential risks associated with
such exploration outweigh the economic advantages. Costa Rica’s only
other hydrocarbons are small low-grade coal deposits. However, the
country’s mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have made it
self-sufficient in electricity, generating all its needs from
fourteen hydro-electric power plants, several geo-thermal plants,
and two wind farms. Approximately 90 percent of the population lives
in the highland cities and towns where mild climate and trade winds
make neither heating nor cooling necessary.
Limited government funds to investment in infrastructure have
left much of Costa Rica 30,000 kilometer road system in disrepair.
The main highland cities in the center of the country are connected
by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and
by the Pan American Highway to its northern and southern neighbors,
Nicaragua and Panama. Costa Rica most pressing infrastructure needs
include completing (and repairing large sections of) the Pacific
coastal highway, completing a new road along the Atlantic coast, and
possibly constructing a coast-to-coast highway across the Northern
plains of the country. There is an Atlantic to Pacific railroad, but
most of it is not in use due to damage from two earthquakes in the
early 1990s. The necessary repairs to return the line to full
service are currently considered uneconomical.
Tourism, which has overtaken bananas as Costa Rica’s leading
foreign exchange earner, is once again growing after stagnating in
the mid-1990s and dropping sharply in the months following September
11, 2001. Earnings in 2003 from an estimated 1,179,000 visitors were
reported at 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, up from 934,000 visitors and
1.1 billions in 2002. The Ministry of Tourism projects a continued 5
percent per year increase in the number of tourists for the
Costa Rica has aggressively pursued investment in the high
technology sector. Largely due to the personal efforts of President
Figueres to attract new investment, Intel Corporation began
construction of a plant in 1997 to produce Pentium II microchips
with an initial investment of 200 million dollars. Intel’s total
investment through 2003 was between 400 and 500 million dollars and
continues to grow. A number of other high technology companies are
already present in Costa Rica, and more are expected to follow.
Economic growth in 2003 was strong in the industrial sector (8.7
percent), the construction sector (6.2 percent), and commerce,
restaurants and hotels (3.6 percent). Agricultural production grew
7.4 percent in 2003, the best growth rate since 1995. Statistics for
2003 indicated a widening of the trade deficit and an increase of
the current account deficit from roughly 5.6 percent of GDP in 2002
to 5.8 percent of GDP in 2003. During 2003, roughly 55 percent of
total trade was with the U.S. Tourism earned the most foreign
exchange while electronic circuits led the list of merchandise
Automobiles Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:37 AM
All personnel should have a personal vehicle. Personnel on the
diplomatic list are allowed, by the Costa Rican Government, to
import two duty-free vehicles per tour. Other personnel may import
one vehicle duty-free per tour. A tour generally is defined as a
continuous assignment of three years. Depending on their status,
Mission personnel are allowed to import one or two vehicles
duty-free after their initial three-year tour.
Neither the Government of Costa Rica nor the Mission limits the
type or size of vehicles that Mission personnel may import. Many of
the streets and roads in Costa Rica have potholes, are rough and
narrow. Some of the roads to the beaches and other out-of-the-way
locations are not paved. A high clearance, rugged suspension
vehicle, such as an SUV, is recommended if significant travel away
from San Jose is planned. Mission personnel also own conventional
automobiles made by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda,
Nissan, Mazda, Volvo, Subaru, and Mercedes. Replacement parts, can
be purchased from local distributors, but at times can be expensive.
It is strongly recommended to install anti-theft devices, such as
an alarm or the Club before leaving on assignment, as car burglary
and theft are common problems.
Sale of vehicles at the end of one’s tour is possible, although
recent U.S. regulations limit the price to the original investment
and the Government of Costa Rica has imposed a 30 percent duty of
blue book value on such transactions. The duty can make it difficult
to recoup the purchase price of an automobile when it is sold in
Costa Rica. Incoming personnel must bring documentation to verify
the purchase price of their vehicles for customs purposes.
Both international and local rental car companies have offices in
San Jose, but the cost is substantial and the quality of the rental
cars tend to vary from one company to the next.
Costa Rica can be a dangerous country in which to operate an
automobile. Driving in San Jose, and throughout the country, is
often a challenge. Turns across one or two lanes of traffic are
common, and pedestrians generally are usually not given the right of
way. The narrow roads often are blocked by stalled, unmarked
vehicles, pedestrians, or livestock. Potholes, honking taxis, and
buses with dangerous drivers can make Costa Rican traffic a
sometimes challenging experience.
Liability insurance is a monopoly of the Costa Rican Government
and must be purchased in the country. All Mission members must carry
obligatory third-party liability insurance, but the Embassy requires
higher limits and property damage coverage as well. The cost of the
required insurance for 2004 was approximately $110. A comprehensive
policy can be obtained in Costa Rica (although Mission employees
seldom purchase locally more than the minimum requirements) and
several U.S. companies sell comprehensive policies for coverage in
Costa Rica, although few have local offices or claims adjusters.
Mission personnel over 18 years of age are entitled to a Costa
Rican driver’s license upon presentation of a valid U.S. license. A
diplomatic or other official license plate is obtained once the
vehicle has cleared Customs and passed inspection. Registration and
licensing of vehicles is handled through GSO, but lengthy delays are
encountered often in the process. A temporary permit can be obtained
for the immediate use of the vehicle when the following procedure is
followed: ship the vehicle with license plates (temporary tags are
acceptable); provide GSO with the following information: type,
model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN), engine block
number, weight and value. Bring the following documents to complete
the application: diplomatic or official passport, title of vehicle,
ocean bill of lading, vehicle registration (temporary registration
for temporary tag) and local liability insurance. Again, GSO will
assist in this process.
All imported vehicles must have catalytic concerters.
Local Transportation Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:10 PM
Within San Jose, taxis are efficient and inexpensive, by U.S.
standards, although during rush hours and when it is raining, taxis
seem to vanish. Taxis are mandated to have meters; passengers should
insist that they be used, or at least determine the fare at the
start of the trip.
Buses serve all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs.
Service is inexpensive, but crowded, during rush hours, and some
vehicles are in deplorable condition.
Regional Transportation Last Updated: 9/12/2004 11:54 AM
Costa Rica’s principal cities are connected by air or highway
with San Jose. The closest U.S. city is Miami, Florida, a two and a
half hour non-stop flight. American and United, as well as the
national airline, LACSA, offer daily flights to Miami, and United to
Dulles and Los Angeles. Continental has a daily flight to Houston
and Newark. American Airlines also has a daily flight to Dallas, and
Delta flies daily to Atlanta. US Airways flies daily to Charlotte
and Philadelphia, and America West to Phoenix.
LACSA and other regional airlines include San Jose as a stop on
their Central American schedules. Air travel within Costa Rica is
very inexpensive, and many vacation spots can be reached easily by
air. Travel to other Central American countries can be quite
Currently, most international flights land at Juan Santamaria
Airport, a 25-minute drive from downtown San Jose. Another
international airport is located near Liberia in the Guanacaste
province, northwest Costa Rica, where many popular resorts are
Several steamship lines offer freight service to both the Pacific
and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica, and Cunard lines makes port
calls at both Puerto Caldera and Limon. Both the Pacific and
Caribbean ports are connected to San Jose by highway and air.
Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 9/12/2004 11:57
An automatic telephone system covers all of Costa Rica.
Long-distance calls may be placed from one’s home, and direct-dial
service to the United States and other Central American countries is
available. Direct-dial rates to the continental United States range
from $0.65–$1.60 a minute. Most Mission houses have after hours
access to the Embassy tie line to make toll free calls to the
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area codes.
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:01 AM
APO privileges are available to authorized employees, who can use
the service to send and receive letters and parcels. Department of
Defense (DOD) regulations do not allow non-DOD contract personnel to
use the APO service.
APO is considered the most reliable and safest method for sending
packages to and from the U.S. Nonetheless, Mission personnel have
suffered thefts of packages sent via APO, a fact that should be
considered before mailing expensive or essential items. Regular U.S.
postage to or from Miami is required. Delivery time from the U.S. is
3 to 5 days for letters and 1 to 2 weeks for packages, depending on
the point of origin. Size and weight limits of APO packages are
rigidly enforced. APO will accept insured and certified mail, but
not registered mail.
The APO address for San Jose is:
APO users with a mailbox:
PSC 20, Box (number)
APO, AA 34020
APO users without a mailbox:
PSC 20, Unit (number)
APO, AA 34020
To find out your correct address, please contact APO personnel
before arriving at San Jose.
International air mail service to San Jose is also available. The
service is slow but generally reliable. Air mail and Special
Delivery from almost any point in the U.S. to Costa Rica usually
takes at least a week, and there can be a lengthy delay and
considerable expense before a parcel can be collected from Customs.
The international air mail address is:
San Jose, Costa Rica
The Mission also uses the Department of State’s unclassified
pouch facilities. Since the post is serviced by the APO, the
Department’s pouch cannot be used for personal mail or packages to
or from post, with the exception of legal documents and items of
medical necessity such as medicines and eyeglasses. From post to the
U.S., only legal documents and deposits to authorized credit unions
may be sent through the pouch.
U.S. contract employees who are not authorized APO privileges may
use the unclassified pouch to send and receive letter mail. U.S.
postage is required.
The address for the pouch is:
3440 San Jose Place
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20521–3440
Commercial courier service to and from major U.S. cities also is
Radio and TV Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:13 PM
Short-wave reception is good in San Jose. The country has more
than 80 commercial radio stations, almost half of them FM stations.
Several broadcast in stereo, and a few offer regular classical music
Twelve TV stations operate in San Jose, broadcasting in color and
offering local news and entertainment programs, plus U.S. programs
dubbed in Spanish. Cable television is available in most parts of
San Jose, including the areas where most Americans live. Service is
available on a monthly or bi-annual subscription basis and
English-language programs from the U.S. include ABC, NBC, FOX and
CBS networks, ESPN sports programming, several “superstations,” two
movie channels, and CNN news programs.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated:
2/11/2005 3:48 PM
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals
Costa Rica has 6 daily Spanish-language newspapers (5 print
editions, and Internet-only El Heraldo), plus five weekly
newspapers. There are monthly economic and agricultural news
magazines, plus a variety of fashion and other specialty subject
magazines. English language media include the weekly newspapers Tico
Times and Beach Times, daily Internet-only news outlet A.M. Costa
Rica, and monthly magazine Business Costa Rica. Many American books
and magazines are available at local bookshops, international book
stores and newsstands, but prices are typically double the U.S.
prices. There are a couple of English-language used paperback book
stores. The embassy has a small lending library of books donated by
mission personnel, and a monthly book club.
The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano, in the Los
Yoses suburb of San Jose, maintains current periodicals and U.S.
newspapers in its well-stocked library, the Biblioteca Mark Twain.
Technical information can be found at the Ministry of Industry’s
library, or the Embassy commercial library. The CLO also promotes a
small “exchange” library.
Health and Medicine
Medical Facilities Last Updated: 9/16/2004 3:33 PM
Costa Rica is known for the quality of its health care, and many
competent medical and dental specialists. Many have trained in the
U.S. or Europe, and speak good or excellent English.
A number of local hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic laboratories
are adequate for normal medical requirements. Many Mission personnel
patronize the nearby Cima San Jose Hospital. The Clinica Biblica
Hospital is also an option, though it is more distant from Embassy
residences. Both are private medical facilities that can provide
most routine and some specialized care. If you have any special
medical needs, please assess through State Medical Clearances if
they can be met in San Jose.
The public hospital system is really not for direct-hire use,
except for limited emergency room attention, for example in a mass
casualty situation. These hospitals provide care only to nationals
that pay into the Costa Rican national social security system.
Essential medicines and medical supplies are available at local
pharmacies, although prescriptions for some specific medications may
be hard to fill. Mission personnel with long-term requirements
should make arrangements to have prescriptions filled through Medco
or an on-line pharmacy. The Regional Medical Officer can write
prescriptions for needed prescriptions to be ordered in this way.
The Embassy Health Unit is staffed daily by the Embassy Nurse,
and a Health Unit Secretary. Post Medical Advisors, who are selected
local physicians, serve as consultants for the Embassy Nurse. State
Department’s of regional medical staff covering San Jose includes a
Regional Medical Officer posted in San Salvador, a Foreign Service
Nurse Practitioner posted in Managua, and a Regional Psychiatrist
posted in Mexico City. All visit San Jose periodically.
The Florida Regional Center is the medical evacuation site for
Community Health Last Updated: 9/16/2004 3:37 PM
The general level of sanitation and air quality in San Jose is
below that found in the average U.S. city because regulations are
not rigidly enforced. Garbage is collected regularly. San Jose has a
central sewer system, but there is no sewage treatment facility for
the city or for any urban area in Costa Rica. The capitol city’s
water supply is filtered and chlorinated, and barring an
extraordinary incident, is potable. Water outside the capitol may
not be potable. Bottled water of good quality is readily available.
Electronic water filtering systems are installed in Mission
The better restaurants are careful to maintain their reputations,
thus cleanliness and good food is the norm.
It is recommended that all meats be eaten well cooked. Raw fish
and shellfish are almost never safe to eat.
Most raw fruits and vegetables may be eaten safely if peeled, or
at a minimum, washed well (lettuce should be soaked in a Clorox and
water solution and then rinsed). Local peanuts should not be eaten,
as they are very likely to contain aflatoxins. Dairy products are
very good in Costa Rica. Those that are packaged and sold in
groceries are pasteurized and safe to enjoy. There is a wide variety
in food products available in groceries and in the local
Upper and lower respiratory problems are frequent. High pollen
concentrations at certain times of the year, dust in the dry season
(December to April), molds in the wet season (May to November),
frequent and dramatic temperature changes, and the auto and bus
emissions can combine to affect susceptible persons, worsening
sinusitis, allergies, bronchitis, and asthma.
It is said that the mosquito is the most dangerous animal in
Costa Rica. Mosquitoes are responsible for Dengue Fever transmission
and also, in low-lying areas, for malaria transmission. Cases of
malaria occur in the coasts, coastal plains and other areas of Costa
Rica that have altitudes of less than 2,000 feet. The capitol city
and the central valley and its slopes are higher than that, and have
no malaria, but still have dengue, a mosquito-vectored disease that
occurs all over the country. There is no vaccine for these diseases,
and malaria prophylaxis medication is not recommended for Mission
personnel. Prevention is through the avoidance of bites (deet
repellent, screens, protective clothing) and the elimination of
standing water (mosquito breeding pools).
The epidemiology and prevalence of AIDS and sexually transmitted
diseases has mirrored that of the United States. Costa Rica has had
no SARS, Avian Flu, Mad Cow, East Nile, or Lyme disease. Rabies in
humans has not been seen in for about 20 years. Diarrhea is an
occasional problem. Also, intestinal parasites such as giardia and
blastocystis hominis are common. The more severe amoebic dysentery
American Embassy - San Jose
Post City Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:04 AM
The Embassy is located in the western suburb of Pavas and housing
is concentrated on that side of the city. Both the Ambassador’s and
DCM’s residences are located in the southwestern suburb of Escazu,
which along with Pavas and Rohrmoser, is convenient to the Embassy.
The current U.S. Embassy Chancery was completed in 1988, and
contains over 80,000 square feet. The building has 117 offices, four
conference rooms, three Consular waiting areas, lobby, auditorium,
cafeteria, and space for more than 220 employees. A Community
Liaison Officer is available to answer any questions, provide
assistance, and offer supportive services, Monday–Friday, 8:30–12:00
in the Embassy. The Embassy direct dial number is 011–506–519-2000,
and FAX number is 011–506–519–2305. The Embassy is open five days a
week, with office hours from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:06 AM
Besides the Department of State, several other U.S. agencies are
represented in Costa Rica, including the Foreign Commercial Service
(FCS), Peace Corps, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of
Agriculture (FAS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and
Social Security Administration.
A joint administrative organization provides administrative
support to all Mission agencies. American personnel are paid in
dollars by U.S. Treasury check directly from the Charleston Finance
Center. Paychecks are received every other Thursday, but most
personnel have their salary deposited directly in their U.S. bank
Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:17 PM
When permanent quarters are not immediately available for
arriving personnel, vacant government-leased quarters or suitable
commercial facilities will be utilized as temporary quarters. Prior
to air freight arrival, a welcome kit with basic cooking utensils,
dishes, silverware, and linens is provided to all new personnel.
Permanent Housing Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:18 PM
U.S. Government-owned quarters are available to the Ambassador
and the DCM. Military personnel must make their own arrangements
with landlords, but receive some assistance from the housing office.
All other personnel occupy government-leased quarters. Permanent
quarters are identified from post’s housing inventory and assigned
by the interagency housing board prior to arrival. Further
information about housing is available from administrative and
facilities management offices in the Embassy.
The Housing Board assigns prospective housing based on square
footage, family composition, location, security considerations,
cost, and preferences expressed. Costa Rican houses and apartments
usually have three bedrooms and two or more bathrooms, but larger
homes can be found. Residential homes have separate servants’
quarters, usually a bedroom with bathroom and shower. Garages are
necessary to prevent thefts, of automobiles or their contents, which
are common problems.
Though each house design is unique, in general, roofs are tile,
composition, or corrugated galvanized metal (the most common);
floors are tile, terrazzo, or hardwood (wall to wall carpeting is
rare because of mildew); interior walls are plaster (usually over
concrete); and ceilings are wood or acoustic tile. Many houses have
enclosed or covered porches or patios, and indoor plant areas with
translucent roofs are common. Beautiful plants are readily available
and they grow quickly and easily. Except in Escazu, yards are small
and the houses close together or connected. Security bars on windows
and doors are necessary, and often are incorporated into the
Leased houses and apartments are required to have window screens
that help keep insects out of the house. Insects can be a major
problem, especially in outlying areas. Insect sprays and repellents
are available on the local market, and several efficient household
fumigation services operate in San Jose.
Furnishings Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:19 PM
U.S. Government-owned furnishings are provided for most
personnel, but full household effects shipments may be required.
Newly assigned personnel should check with their agencies or with
Basic household furnishings consisting of living room, dining
room, bedrooms, refrigerator, electric stove, electric washer and
dryer, and dehumidifier are provided. A limited number of area rugs
are available from Mission stock.
If employees are not eligible for government-owned furnishings,
they must bring their own furniture. All types can be used in San
Jose, with no special precautions. Both custom-made and ready-made
furniture can be purchased in San Jose, but styles are limited and
costs are high. Quality varies, but some factories do produce
export-quality, kiln-dried wood furniture or upholstered living room
sets. Furnished quarters are difficult to find, and even if
available, lamps, glassware, linens, china, silverware, and small
kitchen appliances will not be provided. Air conditioners are
uncommon. Fans are recommended for warm summers.
Windows vary greatly in size; so, delay the purchase of curtains
or other window coverings until a house is found. Occasionally
houses come with curtains or venetian blinds, or curtains can be
custom-made locally of good fabrics at reasonable prices. Curtains
can be ordered from the U.S. Draperies are provided for
Lawn furniture, lawn care equipment, garbage cans, ironing
boards, vacuum cleaners or floor polishers are not furnished and
must be provided by the individual. Large and small appliances are
very expensive in San Jose and it is suggested that needs be
evaluated and items then shipped with the household effects.
Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:21 PM
Most houses have adequate hot and cold running water in the
bathrooms and kitchens, but some have cold water only in the laundry
room and servants’ quarters. Few homes have bathtubs. Showers are
the rule, although many have a built-up rim that makes a tub large
enough to bathe small children. Some houses have extra storage tanks
that are used during the dry season as a supplementary water supply.
A few areas have low water pressure, and an electric water pump is
necessary (and usually present).
Electric current, as in the U.S., is 110–120 volt, 60 cycle,
alternating current (AC), and 220–240 volt, single phase, for some
heavy appliances such as stoves and dryers. Electric appliances
designed for use in the United States can be used here without
Electric service is good, although blackouts followed by power
surges are common during the rainy season. Surge protectors or
uninterrupted power supplies should be brought to post for sensitive
equipment, especially personal computers. If personnel plan to rent
unfurnished quarters and are not eligible to receive U.S.
Government-owned appliances, they should include a stove,
refrigerator, washer, dryer, dehumidifier, and possibly a
dishwasher, in their effects. Bottled petroleum gas is available if
they prefer to bring a gas stove, but such gas service will have to
be installed since few houses are equipped with gas tanks, lines,
and valves. Anytime such a modification must be made, a long delay
is the rule, rather than the exception.
Automatic washers usually work properly, but since water pressure
can be low at times, employees should bring a pressure-sensitive
type that starts only when the tub has filled to the proper level.
An electric dryer is a necessity during the long rainy season,
especially for families with children.
Government-leased quarters are required to have a telephone.
Military personnel should rent a house with a telephone already
installed to avoid a long wait for service. Personnel should not
expect to have a telephone listed in their name, since the directory
lists only the name of the owner of the line, usually the lessor.
Most houses rented by Embassy personnel have phone jacks built into
several rooms, and if extension phones are desired, the instruments
should be brought from the U.S. The Costa Rican telephone company
neither rents nor sells second phones, and extensions bought on the
local market are expensive.
Personnel should write the General Services Office in San Jose
for further detailed information and answers to specific questions
Food Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:08 AM
Many newcomers to San Jose are shocked at the prices for food and
other purchases, which often approach or exceed U.S. prices and are
not typical of Latin America. Post American employees do received a
5% cost-of-living-alllowance due to the high prices.
Most fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round. They
include bananas, papaya, melon, grapefruit, oranges, lemons,
pineapples, strawberries, plantains, tomatoes, beets, eggplant,
radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes (white and sweet), carrots,
cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, squash, lettuce, cabbage, celery,
green and wax beans, and several varieties of fresh and dried beans.
Local fruits and vegetables are of good quality. Apricots, peaches,
pears, apples, and grapes are not grown in commercial quantities in
Costa Rica, but they are imported by the better grocers. Prices for
all imported fruits are high.
Good quality fresh meats are available at all times, and beef,
pork, chicken, and fish are plentiful. Mutton and lamb are seldom
available on the open market, but can be ordered from some butchers.
Beef prices and quality are slightly lower than in the U.S., while
chicken, fish, and pork are sold at prices similar to those in the
U.S. Fresh and frozen shrimp is available, but prices are quite high
since most shrimp is destined for the export market.
American employees and family members of all U.S. agencies in San
Jose may shop at the U.S. Cooperative Exchange, or commissary. This
small convenience store stocks a limited selection of processed
meats, canned goods, paper products, soaps and cleaning supplies,
canned juices, cake mixes and other baking needs, condiments, butter
and margarine, candy, and liquor. Prices are higher than U.S.
prices. The commissary does not stock cigarettes, but local brands
are available at reasonable prices. An annual membership fee of
$25.00 for each family or single staff member is required for
Several dairies sell pasteurized milk similar in price and
quality to American brands. Other dairy products such as chocolate
milk, ice cream, skim milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, sweet and
sour cream, whipping cream, yogurt and eggnog, and a great variety
of cheeses also are available. The overall quality of dairy products
Local supermarkets are well stocked with snack foods, packaged
foods, pasta, canned meats and fish, and soft drinks. Dry cereals
are available at high prices. Flour, sugar, yeast, chocolate, and
other baking items are available, but packaged cake mixes are of
poor quality. A few frozen items are available, but choices are
minimal. Supermarket chains patronized by most Embassy personnel
stock many imported American foods, but the prices for all imported
items are inflated.
A cafeteria, located in the Embassy basement, is open to Mission
employees, family members, and official visitors. Hours are 7:00
a.m. until 3:30 p.m., when the Embassy is open. Breakfast and lunch
featuring a daily special are served at reasonable prices.
Clothing Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:13 AM
Since temperatures vary little, basically spring and fall weight
clothing as well as summer attire are suitable for San Jose. Local
tastes and standards are similar to those in the U.S. and are
becoming increasingly casual. Some lightweight sweaters are handy
during the rainy season, when evening temperatures are slightly
cooler, and for trips to the mountains. Umbrellas and comfortable
rain gear are necessary accessories for your San Jose wardrobe.
Attire for official functions is generally indicated on the
invitation. If it is not, assume a business suit and tie are
required for men and cocktail dresses for ladies (after 5:00). White
dinner jackets are not worn in San Jose, and formal attire is worn
infrequently below the ambassadorial level. The Marine Ball, held
annually, is a formal occasion attended by most Mission employees.
Men generally wear dark business suits, although a few opt for
tuxedos which can be rented locally. Ladies wear cocktail dresses or
Shoes made in Costa Rica, other Central American countries, and
Brazil are available at reasonable prices. Styles are similar to
those found in the U.S., and many well known U.S. brands are
available locally at prices higher than in the U.S. Shoes, however,
can be custom made for prices lower than in the U.S.
Mission Personnel rely heavily on mail-order companies to satisfy
their shopping needs. While many modern shopping malls do exist, as
indicated, the major differences are price, selection, and quality.
A wide selection of locally made material is available for home
sewing, and some imported material is available as well. Care should
be exercised in buying, as “seconds” sometimes appear on the local
markets. Local department stores have adequate supplies of zippers,
buttons, hooks, and facings, but some notions, especially fancy
trimmings, are difficult to find. Some women have used local
seamstresses, with varying success.
Children’s casual clothing follows U.S. styles, with emphasis on
slacks and jeans for both boys and girls, although girls are seen in
dresses more often in Costa Rica than in the United States.
School uniforms mandatory in all schools. Some uniforms can be
purchased locally or from the U.S. Other uniforms are school
specific and must be purchased locally. Prices for a complete
uniform run between $40 and $50. Complete information about uniform
requirements can be obtained from school representatives. Jackets,
sweaters, and a water-repellent windbreaker with hood also should be
included in a child’s wardrobe. Locally made clothing is
inexpensive, and of fair quality. Good quality, locally manufactured
leather shoes are available in average widths, but extra shoelaces
can be hard to find. Children’s tennis shoes, made locally, are
inexpensive and available in narrow to average widths, though no
half sizes. Good quality boys underwear can be found, but underwear
for girls is expensive if imported, and of inferior quality if made
locally. Socks for both boys and girls are expensive. Infant
clothing, as well as items such as receiving blankets, are available
on the local market.
Supplies and Services
Supplies Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:25 PM
Some familiar American-brand and European-brand cosmetics,
toiletries, and personal hygiene items are manufactured in Central
America, and available at local drugstores and department stores.
Many people prefer to order such items from the U.S., however.
Common home medications found locally, and many medicines requiring
a prescription in the United States, can be purchased over the
counter. Generic medications are often sold. It is usually better to
arrange shipments of prescription drugs from pharmacies in the U.S.
The Embassy health unit maintains a limited stock of medications for
emergency purposes and the commissary carries some over-the-counter
A good supply of locally manufactured household products is
available, such as soaps, detergents, floor wax, furniture polish,
glass cleaner, insecticides (extreme care should be taken with some
of the local products), and laundry supplies, although quality is
below U.S. standards. American brands are stocked at the commissary.
Locally made pots, pans, kitchen utensils, and dishes can be
purchased at moderate prices. Imported varieties also are available
for much higher prices.
Basic Services Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:13 AM
Laundries and dry cleaners in San Jose have modern equipment, but
only one chain of cleaners offers U.S.-style martinizing service,
which can be expensive. San Jose has few self-service laundromats.
Small repair shops in the city service appliances, stereos, and
cameras, but the wait is long and the quality of the repairs is
poor. Household repair services are unreliable as well. Basic
household tools are useful. Prices for tools are higher in San Jose
than in the United States.
Many hairdressers have adequate equipment and competent
operators, some of whom speak English. Services tend to be
inexpensive. Satisfactory shoe repair is available.
Domestic Help Last Updated: 10/10/2004 10:56 AM
Many Americans in San Jose prefer to hire a live-in maid, as a
convenience and as a deterrent to burglary. Reliable maids can be
difficult to find. Some families are employing part-time maids
instead of full-time, live-in employees. It is common practice to
employ one person to do the cleaning and cooking for a family. Maids
employed by Mission personnel are either Costa Ricans or
third-country nationals; foreign maids can enter the country on
tourist visas and have their status changed fairly easily if they
work for a Mission employee. For those who do not want a live-in
maid, or who cannot find one, a guard or house sitter is necessary
whenever the entire family is away from the house. Homes occupied by
Mission personnel are more secure than homes of local residents, and
the need for a guard should be evaluated on a family-by-family
Some people also employ a day laborer part time to do heavy work in
the home, such as waxing floors and washing windows. Local gardeners
also can be hired for reasonable prices, and most have their own
equipment. If personnel plan to take care of their own yard, they
should bring the necessary tools with them. Tools are available
locally, but are more expensive than in the U.S.
The typical cash wage in September 2004 for a live-in maid is
approximately 63,329 Colones per month, plus 23% percent of their
monthly salary that must be paid into the Social Security system on
a monthly basis.
In addition to their salaries, both full-time and part-time
domestics are entitled to two weeks paid vacation annually after 50
weeks of service, plus a Christmas bonus based on the number of
months worked. Similar bonuses often are given to others, including
garbage men, paperboys, and street sweepers. Maids are also entitled
to severance pay when they are dismissed.
Full-time and part-time domestic employees are entitled to
illness and maternity benefits of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro
Social (the Social Security system). They are also covered under a
Disability/Old Age Retirement Plan. This is a compulsory program and
in theory is funded through contributions by both the employer and
employee. In fact, the employer generally pays the worker’s share as
well. Total contribution to the plan amounts to between 20 percent
and 25 percent of the worker’s salary. All domestic employees must
be registered with the Caja, which can be arranged with the
Mission's Joint Administrative Office.
Religious Activities Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:27 PM
Catholicism is the state religion, and more than 90 percent of
the population is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Several
local churches offer English services either Saturday or Sunday.
Other denominations represented in San Jose include Episcopal,
Baptist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, and
Seventh Day Adventist. San Jose also has a Jewish Synagogue.
Dependent Education Last Updated: 10/10/2004 10:58 AM
Dependent children in Costa Rica have several K thru 12 American
accredited schools: the American International School (AIS), Country
Day School (CDS) and the Lincoln School, all of which offer
college-prep curriculums and operate on a U.S.-style, August through
June schedule, and two schools on the local schedule, Blue Valley
and the British School. Please note that the International
Bachillariate program is offered only at the Lincoln, British and
Blue Valley Schools.
In order to avoid any problems with the school enrollment
process, parents are encouraged to send the required documents
before you arrive at post. These documents include the original
school transcripts for the past two years, results of recent
standardized achievements tests, copy of passport, vaccination
record, two passport size photos, letter of recommendation from the
principal or counselor of the previous school. Also, the Lincoln
School, Blue Valley, the British School and CDS, all require an
admissions test. The results of this test often take up to three
days to be released and students will not be accepted until the
results are known. AIS does test at admission only for placement to
assure the student is at the proper grade and subject level for his
or her ability. As many schools operate on a limited enrollment
basis, failure to reserve a space early may preclude admission.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that Embassy families with
school-age children contact the selected school as soon as possible,
ideally before May for the following August. This is especially
important, if the family will arrive at post after school begins.
Special Needs Education Last Updated: 10/10/2004 11:03 AM
Although parents with special needs children should be aware that
the schools serving the post community have limited resources and/or
programs for students with special needs, schools in Costa Rica are
very aware of these issues and will make an effort to accommodate
special needs students. However, parents should check with the
individual school with the particulars of their child’s needs before
making a decision to enroll. In an effort to provide some general
guidance as to what each school can provide, the following are
excerpts from the school directors of to of the most subscribed
“American Schools” at post.
“At CDS we have two learning center specialists for PK-4 grades who
work with children in math and English who have MILD learning
problems, both in the classroom and in pull-out situations. In
middle and high school, special tutoring is available, but no
modified programs. The environment there is a rigorous college prep
atmosphere. We do not have the resources to work with children with
significant learning disabilities at any level at CDS. CDS is
wheelchair accessible in preschool, elementary, and middle school,
but because the school is built on hilly terrain, it is a challenge
for students in a wheel chair or on crutches. The exception is the
three-story high school building, which has only stairs, with no
ramps or elevators to the upper floors. Bottom line: This is not the
ideal environment for a student using a wheel chair. Robert Trent,
"The American International School has a tradition of meeting the
needs of students, whether they are diagnosed with ADD or dyslexia,
have other learning difficulties, physical or emotional problems,
and or need special help to learn English or Spanish. We have a
"Learning Support Program Building" (originally the Optimal Match
Building) and are proud of the way our regular classroom teachers
detect difficulties, refer students, and work with them with special
programs and approaches. The only caveat to our accepting children
with special needs is that we expect that all school age siblings
also matriculate into our school. We will not accept nor do we think
it fair for siblings to be in separate schools. Our school is for
Wheelchair bound students could be a problem. Although we have a
one-story building without many long staircases, we would have to
begin to install ramps as soon as we learned of the enrollment of a
student who requires wheelchair access. Our Maintenance Staff are
helpful to people with physical challenges and, especially in the
elementary school, the movement from class to class would be
infrequent and assisted. We would need to evaluate candidates on a
case-by-case basis. Larue Goldfinch, Director"
Private schools operating on the U.S. schedule with classes in
American International School: Pre-kindergarten through 12th
grade; 280 students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $1,500 one
time payment per family, grades 1–12; Registration $550 per student,
annual tuition: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten (half day) $2.500;
Kindergarten (full ay) $3675; 1st through 12th grade, $6150; bus
fee, $900 annually.
For more information contact
Director, Larue Goldfinch
Telephone: (506) 293-2567
Country Day School. Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; 800
students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $1.000 per year;
Annual tuition: pre-kindergarten half-day, $3.037.00; Pre-Kinder
full day $5215.00 kindergarten half day, $3.954; kindergarten and
prep full day, $5.925.00; grades 1–12, $8.025.00; bus fee depends on
the location of your residence.
For more information contact:
Director, Robert Trent
Apartado 1139-1250, San Jose
Telephone: (506) 289-8406
Lincoln School. Pre-kindergarten through grade 12; 750 students;
classes in English. One-time membership per family, $1000.
Registration fee, $50 per year; Monthly tuition: pre-kindergarten
and kindergarten (half day), $260; preparatory $325 grade 1-5 $350;
grades 6-8, $380; grades 9-12, $405.
For more information contact:
Director, Jack J. Bimrose
Apartado 1919–1000, San Jose
The following school has classes in English but is a bi-lingual
school requiring two classes in Spanish and are on the local school
Blue Valley. Kindergarten through grade 11, 575 students; both
programs (U.S. and Costarican calendar) Enrollment fee, $1000,
monthly tuition: Kindergarten $260, Elementary $360, Middle school
$390, High school $415. Bus fee around $50 per student.
For more information contact:
Maria Cristina Urbina Apartado
Of the above schools, (American International School (AIS) and
Country Day School (CDS) are ones favored by Mission personnel. They
are the most similar to American schools, and their familiarity may
help ease the transition for some students.
***There are several preschools available for children, ages 1½–6
years that include:
Ages 2–6, instruction in Spanish. Monthly fees: $90 with a
matriculation fee of approximately $80.
For more information contact:
Director, Nora Masis
Apartado 6063, San Jose
Home Two Montessori. Ages 1½–5 years; 60 students, instruction in
English and Spanish. Enrollment fee, $130. Monthly tuition: $195;
materials, $160; transportation, $35. School calendar: February
through November. Hours: 7:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Day Care in the
For more information contact:
Alexandra Franco de Oller
1108-1250 Escazu, Costa Rica
759–1007 Centro Colon, San Jose
Koala Day Care: Ages 6 months to 3.5 years; bilingual. Enrollment
fee $100 per year, Materials $100, monthly tuition $200 Monday
For more information contact:
Karla Maria Chacon
Tel: 228-5196 or 289-7632
San Rafael de Escazu
Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:34 PM
The University of Costa Rica is situated on a modern campus in an
eastern suburb of San Jose. The University has a faculty of some
2,500 and a student body of more than 30,000. Majors include
history, art, law, education, science, economics, dentistry,
medicine, microbiology, social work, agronomy, pharmacy, and
engineering. Foreigners may take courses either for credit or on an
audit basis. Admission requirements vary according to the courses
desired and the individual’s educational background. A good command
of Spanish is necessary because all courses are taught in Spanish.
The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano offers classes
in Spanish at all levels, and private tutors of varying degrees of
skill can be hired. The Embassy conducts a Spanish language program
based on Foreign Service Institute materials, and Mission employees
and their adult family members are eligible for the classes.
Courses in art are taught at the University of Costa Rica’s
School of Fine Arts, and in music at the National Conservatory. Many
private teachers provide instruction in voice, music, painting,
ballet, ceramics, swimming and diving, golf, tennis, and horseback
Recreation and Social Life
Sports Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:35 PM
Some Mission members join at least one sports club. Among the
most popular are: The Costa Rica Country Club in Escazu, very
expensive, offers excellent facilities, including a heated swimming
pool, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, saunas and exercise
equipment, and a restaurant; the Costa Rica Tennis Club in La Sabana
has a swimming pool, steambaths, tennis courts, and a restaurant;
the Cariari Country Club, off the airport highway, offers an
Olympic-size swimming pool, the country’s only 18-hole golf course,
tennis courts, exercise equipment, a nightclub, and a restaurant;
the Indoor Club in Curridabat on the east side of San Jose offers
indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball and squash courts,
indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a restaurant; and the Los
Reyes Country Club, located a half-hour drive from downtown San
Jose, offers a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a swimming
pool, and a restaurant. There are also several health clubs in the
area that include: Spa Corobici, Multi-Spa of Escazu, Hi-Line
Gymnasio, San Jose Palacio, and Club Olimpico. For children, 6
months to 15 years, Kid’s Gym offers classes in gymnastics and
Temporary memberships in most clubs are offered to Mission
personnel at reduced rates, but joining remains a costly
proposition. Membership at the Cariari, for example, costs around
$3000 initially, plus another $100 a month. Prices are increased
Horseback riding lessons are available at several stables, but
most, including one of San Jose’s best establishments, La Carana,
cater to riders with their own horses. One stable in Guachipelin
does offer lessons in dressage and jumping using horses they rent.
La Sabana park, on the west side of San Jose near the Embassy,
has a public swimming pool and many fields for soccer, baseball,
softball, and basketball. A paved jogging track also circles the
park. Other activities include swimming, golf, and tennis
competitions, many of which are open to Americans.
Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:36 PM
Costa Rica is a small country, and many interesting areas can be
visited in a day trip from San Jose. They include the Braulio
Carrillo National Park; Poas, Irazu, Barva, and Arenal volcanoes;
Lankester Gardens; beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts;
the Sarchi ox cart factory; white water rafting trips, and a number
of rustic restaurants reached after drives through the lush
countryside. For those who prefer not to drive, there are scores of
tour agencies that provide an abundance of packaged tours to all
areas of the country.
After leaving San Jose the climate becomes either cooler or more
tropical depending upon the destination, with altitude being the
determining factor. Most day trips out of San Jose begin on divided
highways, but the roads become less maintained outside the city. A
few of these short trips include brief stretches on dirt roads.
Twenty-five percent of Costa Rica’s land has been devoted to
protected national parks and reserves, and visits to the parks can
be the highlights of a stay in the country. The well-developed park
system includes areas of dry forests, rain forests, and cloud
forests, volcanoes, beaches on both coasts, caves, the highest
mountain in Central America, nesting sites for several species of
endangered sea turtles, and miles of hiking trails. Many of the
parks are excellent sites for bird watching.
There are pristine beaches on both coasts, but most of the hotels
are being developed along the Pacific. Several of the international
hotel chains have accommodations at the more popular beaches. Small
hotels, cabinas, and bed and breakfasts can be found at almost any
beach. Camping is available at some of the parks and beaches, but
campsites with facilities are limited.
Among Americans Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:36 PM
American Mission members have fairly active social lives, centering
on home entertaining, Mission functions, dining out, theater
performances, club meetings, sports events, cocktail parties, and
International Contacts Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:37 PM
Foreign Missions in Costa Rica have a diplomatic association to
which some Mission members belong. Periodic business and social
meetings, dinner parties, and many other informal social events
provide opportunities for international contacts. Guest lists at
such functions often include Americans, Costa Ricans, and nationals
of other countries. The foreign segments may include people from the
local or international business community, as well as people who
have retired to Costa Rica.
The American Legion, Rotary Club, Lions, Masons, and several
other fraternal organizations have branches in San Jose.
Americans may join, although members are mainly Costa Ricans.
Mission members occasionally are guest speakers at these meetings.
Some of the many other international clubs that are available to
join include: The Costa Rican Women’s Club, Newcomers Club of Costa
Rica, The Square Dance Club, National Bridge Association, and
Women’s Reading Group.
When invited to a formal dinner in a Costa Rican home, it is
customary to send flowers.
Business cards are a necessity. These can be printed locally and
need not be engraved.
Notes For Travelers
Getting to the Post Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:29 AM
United, Continental, Delta, American, US Airways and America West
offer daily service to San Jose from the United States. After
appropriate notification, all newly assigned personnel arriving at
Juan Santamaria Airport are met by sponsors arranged by the Embassy.
Persons assigned to Costa Rica for official duties require an entry
visa issued by a Costa Rican diplomatic or consular official. In
case of time constraint, a person assigned to Costa Rica can enter
the country with a tourist card, then obtain a visa after arrival.
Tourist cards can be obtained from the airlines or at airports in
the U.S. On arrival, four photos are necessary for carnets, which
also serve as a driver’s license. Photographs can be taken at any of
several local shops. A Marine Security Guard is on duty 24 hours.
The embassy telephone number is 519-2000; the after-hours number is
519-2800. (Direct dial from the United States is 011–506-519–2000.)
Customs, Duties, and Passage
Customs and Duties Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:38 PM
The Costa Rican Government grants free-entry privileges to all
American Mission personnel regardless of rank or title. In
accordance with the Vienna Diplomatic Convention, non-diplomatic
staff personnel are allowed those privileges at the time of first
installation, which is defined as a six-month period from the date
of arrival. This privilege also applies to personnel of other U.S.
agencies. American personnel of other organizations are covered by
individual agreements, and newly assigned personnel should learn the
extent of those agreements by communicating with the chief of their
When packing baggage and unaccompanied air freight, it should be
remembered that neither unaccompanied air freight nor household
effects moved by ship will be available for a week after it is
officially received by Customs. Following arrival of the items in
country, documents are presented to the appropriate government
ministries. Required documents include a detailed listing of the
contents of all shipments. An air cargo shipment manifested as
“Personal Effects” will generally clear quickly. The Costa Rican
Government may exercise its right to open household effects
shipments of both diplomatic and non-diplomatic personnel.
Since Costa Rican Customs computes the duty for statistical
purposes, even though shipments are granted duty-free entry, one can
expedite the clearance process for unaccompanied shipments by
providing a detailed and accurate list of the contents. The
inventory should be available for presentation to the authorities
when the shipment arrives in the country. If possible, one should
mail a copy of the packing list to the General Services Office ahead
of time to expedite clearance.
Pets Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:39 PM
The importation of pets into Costa Rica is controlled by the
Ministry of Public Health. Entry permits from the Costa Rican Health
Ministry must be obtained before the arrival of the pet in the
country. Failure to obtain the necessary permit may result in the
pet being refused entry or being detained by health authorities. The
necessary permit may be obtained by writing in advance to the
Customs and Shipping Unit in the Embassy. The pet should arrive with
the family and be declared as luggage instead of cargo.
The following information must be forwarded to the Embassy GSO
prior to the arrival of the pet: Species, color, age, name, sex,
approximate date of arrival, owner’s passport number, and means of
transportation. The following documents should be certified by a
Costa Rican Consul before the pet’s departure for Costa Rica, and
must accompany the pet: international health certificate from an
accredited veterinarian (this document must be certified by the U.S.
Dept. of Agriculture/APHIS before presentation to the Costa Rican
Consul, call 301–436–8590); certificate of vaccinations for rabies,
distemper, parvovirus, and leptospirosis (if applicable to the
species of pet); and certification that the pet is free from taenia
equinococus. Plan ahead to have the vaccines given to your pets, as
the rabies vaccine should be given at least 30 days prior to travel.
A copy of each of the notarized certificates should be sent to
the Embassy before arrival so that clearance can be arranged.
Without these documents, the Costa Rican Government can require a
Use proper cage or crate for shipment and bring a supply of pet
food. If importing cats, bring a litter box, pooper scooper and cat
litter. Cat litter is difficult to find; so, cat owners should bring
a supply in their household effects. Pet food and supplies can be
ordered in bulk through the Commissary.
American brands of cat and dog food are sold in local markets, at
greatly inflated prices. Locally prepared pet food also is
available, but the quality is not up to U.S. standards.
Again, persons bringing a pet to Costa Rica must notify the
Embassy in advance so that the necessary preparations can be
completed before arrival.
Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:39 PM
Firearms are permitted in Costa Rica for persons over the age of
18. Firearm owners are authorized 1000 rounds of ammunition per
weapon. They may be shipped to post in the household effects only.
Mailing firearms and ammunition through the APO mail system is
illegal. An export license is not necessary provided the firearms
are consigned to U.S. personnel for their personal use and not for
resale. Owners are advised to check with the U.S. Customs Service
when shipping firearms from the continental U.S.
Prior to arrival, all personnel must request permission from the
Chief of Mission, through the Regional Security Office, to import
firearms. The request must contain the following form, “Request to
Purchase/Import a Personal Weapon” and include the following
information: Make, model, type of weapon, caliber, serial number,
and the finish of the weapon. Owners of firearms, whether for
personal or official use, are required to show proof that they have
completed an approved firearms course.
Importation of a firearm for personal protection will not be
Firearms must be registered with the Regional Security Office
within 30 days of your arrival at the Mission. Owners of firearms
may be required to take a firearms safety course conducted by the
Regional Security Office. Personnel who are not appropriately
certified in firearms use and safety may have the privilege of
maintaining a firearm in their home revoked.
At this time, only certified law enforcement officers are
authorized to carry firearms. The Regional Security Office will
assist personnel in the legal registration of firearms in Costa
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 9/12/2004
The monetary unit in Costa Rica is the colon (C). Its exchange
value with the U.S. dollar varies daily; in September 2004, the
exchange rate was C443.00 = US$1. Mission employees may change money
only at the Mission cashier or at authorized exchange outlets such
as banks or hotels. Costa Rica has a small black market with the
unofficial rates close to the rates obtained at banks. Counterfeit
money has also been found on the black market.
Maintain a checking account in the U.S. Banking and exchange
facilities exist in San Jose, but they are painfully slow — even a
simple visit to a bank to cash a check can involve a wait of an hour
or more. Travelers checks may be purchased at a local bank located
across the street from the Embassy. Personal checks can be cashed at
the Embassy during specified hours. If you have a personal checking
account in the United States, it is not necessary to bring a large
amount of cash to Costa Rica. If a checking account is not
maintained, bring a minimum of $1,000 in cash or travelers checks to
pay all expenses until regular salary payments begin.
The Banco Central de Costa Rica (the Central Bank) directs
monetary policy and foreign exchange credit facilities, as well as
supervising the banking system. Major commercial banks are
government institutions; private banking institutions perform some
banking functions, but their services are somewhat limited.
The dollar is freely convertible into colones. Major credit cards
are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants, large department stores
and supermarkets, but it is best to check before making your
Costa Rica uses the metric system, and officially, weights and
measures are in kilograms, meters, and liters. Unofficially, and
illegally, it is not uncommon to find American measures or Spanish
colonial measures still in use.
Unleaded gasoline costs approximately $1.42 per gallon; leaded
gasoline costs approximately $1.28 per gallon, and diesel fuel costs
$1.06 per gallon in early 1995.
Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 12/19/2003 3:41
Under terms of the Vienna Convention of 1961 and Costa Rican
laws, all diplomatic and official personnel are exempt from all
local taxes on income and imports for personal use. Sales of
duty-free automobiles and other items to non-duty-free individuals
are possible, although recent U.S. regulatory changes limit the
retention of proceeds from such sales to the purchase price of the
item. Once in country, diplomats are exempt from local sales tax on
goods and services, utilities, and gasoline. Tax-free gasoline
coupons can be purchased at the Embassy cashier.
Local Holidays Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:34 AM
The U.S. Mission is closed on the following official U.S.
holidays, as well the 2004 local holidays listed below:
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin L. King’s Birthday January 19
President’s Day February 16
Holy Thursday April 8
Good Friday April 9
Labor Day (C.R.) May 1
Memorial Day May 31
Independence Day July 5
Labor Day (U.S.) September 6
Independence Day (C.R.) September 15
Columbus Day October 11
Veterans’ Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day November 25
Christmas Day December 24
Adapted from material published by the
U.S. Department of State.
While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the
post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the
host country for diplomats from all nations.