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Costa Rica
Preface Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:50 AM

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 plateau.

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 completely.

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 and air.

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 Rica’s population.

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 dry season.

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 coolest months.

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 revenue.

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 themselves.
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 Americans.

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 society.

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 Festival.

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 retirees.

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 foreseeable future.

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 exports.


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 expensive.

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 located.

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 AM

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:

Full Name
American Embassy
Apartado 920-1200
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:

Full Name
3440 San Jose Place
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20521–3440

Commercial courier service to and from major U.S. cities also is available.

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 programming.

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 San Jose.

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 residences.

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 fresh-vegetable markets.

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 is uncommon.

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 accounts.


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 architectural design.

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 the post.

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 government-furnished housing.

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 transformers.

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 regarding households.

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 membership.

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 is high.

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 formals.

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 medications.

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 basis.
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, Director”

"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 everyone.

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 English, include:

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
Apartado 4941–1000
San Jose
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
Telephone: 247-0800

The following school has classes in English but is a bi-lingual school requiring two classes in Spanish and are on the local school year.

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
Telephone 232–8496

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 afternoon.

For more information contact:

Alexandra Franco de Oller

1108-1250 Escazu, Costa Rica
759–1007 Centro Colon, San Jose
Telephone, 232–1805

Koala Day Care: Ages 6 months to 3.5 years; bilingual. Enrollment fee $100 per year, Materials $100, monthly tuition $200 Monday trough Friday.

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 riding.

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 modern dance.

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 frequently.

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.

Social Activities

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 luncheons.

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 respective organization.

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 quarantine period.

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 authorized.

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 Rica.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 9/12/2004 12:30 AM

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 purchase.

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 PM

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.
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