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Costa Rica Country Guide

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


Greetings from Sol Abroad,

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

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

Please make sure you read this handbook, it is excellent preparation for your new adventure!

Thanks for choosing Sol Abroad!


Sol Abroad recommends that all students register with the US State Department while overseas: This is very simple to do. Please visit the website ( to enter in the requested information.

Under the section titled “International Travel” (located on the bottom left hand side), click on the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)” link. STEP (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. You can read more about the benefits of this program on the website.

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

  • Sabana Larga de Atenas
  • 150 m oeste del Plaza de Toros
  • Atenas, Alajuela
  • Costa Rica, Centroamérica
  • +506-2446-4550

Sol Abroad recommends that all students register with the US State Department while overseas: This is very simple to do. Please visit the website ( to enter in the requested information.

Under the section titled “International Travel” (located on the bottom left hand side), click on the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)” link. STEP (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. You can read more about the benefits of this program on the website.

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

Sabana Larga de Atenas
150 m oeste del Plaza de Toros
Atenas, Alajuela
Costa Rica, Centroamérica


Climate in the Central Valley

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

Climate in Atenas: Atenas, 696 m (2,282 ft) is blessed with perfect weather year-round: "the best climate in the world" according to National Geographic Magazine. Atenas is often the last location in the Central Valley to get rained on. On many days, it may rain in San Jose, while the sun shines in Atenas. The temperatures vary from 19-20°C (64°F) at night to 27-28°C (80°F) during the day, with a light breeze due to the hills. This is year-round!

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


Costa Rica Spanish is considered to be one of the best forms of Spanish to study due to its clear accent and standard form. Something important to know is that Costa Ricans do not use “tu” frequently, although they understand it perfectly well. They use “usted” almost exclusively for addressing each other, regardless of age and status, and more informally, “vos”.  Argentina is the country most known for using “vos” but it is also used throughout Central America and in Central Columbia. You won’t hear it as often as it is used mostly amongst locals who are familiar with each other.


Jan 1

Año Nuevo (New Years Day)

Apr 11

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas


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

May 1

Día del Trabajo (Labor Day)

Jul 25

Annexation of the Guanacaste Province

Aug 2

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

Aug 15

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

Sept 15

Día de la Independencia (Independence Day)

Oct 12

Día de la Raza (Columbus Day, Carnival in Limón)

Dec 24 & 25

Navidad (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)


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


Stores are generally open from 8 AM to 6 or 7 PM, Monday to Saturday. A two-hour lunch break is common.Banks are open from 9 AM to 4 PM, Monday to Friday. Some banks are open on Saturday mornings.


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


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


  • Pack light: leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad
  • Lightweight clothing (especially for weekend excursions)
  • Several pairs of jeans or pants. Although people do wear shorts, they are more likely to wear jeans or pants (both men and women).
  • “Going out clothes”—something you can wear to the theater and out to dance.  For example nice jeans, a nice top, and nicer shoes (guys, pay attention here!). Costa Ricans tend to dress up more when going out.
  • Costa Ricans generally dress up a little more than US students, i.e. they do NOT wear pajama pants, cut-off shorts, athletic clothing, or sweatpants to the university.
  • While at the University it is common for students to wear what we would characterize as “going out” clothes or “business casual”. Shorts are not common to wear to school, although if “dressed up” they would not only be more customary to the situation, but also trendier.
  • Sweatshirt/fleece/sweater/jacket—bring a few it because can get cool in the afternoon and night.
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Windbreaker/warm-up pants (optional, but can be useful for cloud forest, hiking, and canopy tour to keep you warm and dry if it is rainy and windy).
  • Fleece, sweater, light sweatshirt or hoodie (for Poás Volcano)—you’ll need it!


  • Comfortable walking shoes for walking in the city and hiking. Make sure you break them in before your trip.
  • Sneakers for jogging, gym, soccer, or other sports.
  • Water sandals with a back strap (not flip flops) for rafting. You want shoes that you can get wet but will protect your feet and not fall off in a current. (Aqua Socks, Tevas or Chacos sandals, or sneakers.)
  • Flip flops; typically, in Costa Rica, you have one pair for inside the home. House shoes are an important part of Latin American cultures.


  • Camera and batteries/charger
  • Laptop computer and flash drive/memory stick
  • Toiletries
  • Insect Repellent
  • School supplies: notebook, pens, pencils, English-Spanish Dictionary
  • Sun hat, sun glasses, and sun block (these are available in Costa Rica, but are much more expensive)
  • Compact umbrella
  • Water bottle
  • A wristwatch with an alarm setting or travel alarm clock
  • Bath towel to use at host family.
  • Beach towel or Sarong for traveling to the beach/waterfalls etc. (Most students prefer to use a Sarong rather than a beach towel because it is lightweight and dries quickly. You can purchase them in Costa Rica for around $12.)
  • You can purchase shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that imported brands are more expensive than in the US.


You can definitely bring your laptop! This is great for communication (especially Skype). Increasingly you will find WiFi at the homestay, the school, and at cafés in town. Please be careful, though. This is an item that can get stolen or damaged easily so just be careful with it. Remember, you do not always need to carry your laptop with you, in fact we highly recommend you do not travel with it locally. There are computer labs at the school and Internet cafés all over town so sometimes it’s easier to just use a public computer when you are away from your homestay.


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


If you do bring valuables like a laptop, iPod, digital camera etc. please be aware that there is always a risk that these can get lost/stolen/damaged. It is a good idea to have expensive possessions insured while abroad—there are companies online that will do this for a fee. Also, our advice is that you do not take your laptop outside of your host family’s house.


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

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

We carefully select weekend excursions that allow you to discover more about the country in which you are studying and are selected based on cultural and educational importance or sites of natural beauty. Entrance and transportation fees are always included. Before any excursion your director will go over the itinerary of the trip and what you should pack. If you have a guide book it can make it more interesting to read about the excursion before you leave, the Lonely Planet or similar guides are excellent options.

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

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

Pacific Beach Trip (Manuel Antonio National Park)

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

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

Rainforest Zipline Canopy Tour

Experience the thrill of a zipline tour through the canopy of the Costa Rican cloud forest! A highlight of the tour is soaring high about the Rio Cataratitas. Pack rain gear for this excursion and a change of clothes in case you get soaked!

White-Water Rafting

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

Poás Volcano Hike ((as of May 2017 this excursion is not offered due to volcanic activity)

While in Costa Rica, you will explorePoás Volcano, the country’s most visited National Park. The park is located in a verdant cloud forest, and temperatures are cool, making it ideal for hiking. On this excursion you will hike to the edge of the active crater volcano. Then we will delve further into the cloud forest, hiking along one of the wooded trails to the emerald green Botos Lagoon, which is an extinct crater filled with rainwater. After leaving the park, we will stop at local fruit stands full of fresh produce such as strawberries and tropical fruits like the granadillaandmamonchino (rambutan). We will also sample the traditional local cheese known as quesopalmito.

San José City Tour

San José is the cultural, economic, and political nucleus of Costa Rica. The energetic capital city is located in the Central Valley and circled by striking mountain slopes. During this excursion, you will visit museums and the significant points of interest in the capital. At the top of the list is the National Theater, Costa Rica’s most famous and exquisite national monument which was built in the late 1800s by Costa Rica’s coffee elite. Other stops include the historic National Museum, an open-air souvenir market, and the Central Park.


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

  • San Jose City Tours
  • Traditional Costa Rican Cooking Class
  • Salsa, Cumbia & Merengue Dance Class
  • Art Workshop
  • Festivals
  • Hiking
  • Museum Visits
  • Movie Night (in Spanish)
  • Coffee Tour
  • Playing Soccer

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


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

  • Once you arrive, proceed to immigration (migración).
  • If you are staying for more than 90 days (semester programs only), then simply explain to the immigration officer that you will be traveling to Nicaragua or Panama within that period. Make sure to present your bus ticket.
  • Do NOT say that you are a student, because they may ask for your a student visa. You are there for tourism.
  • Wait in line for your passport to be reviewed and stamped.
  • Once you pass through this line you will take the escalator down to baggage claim. This area is pretty small (5 or 6 belts).
  • Once you get your luggage, exit baggage claim at one end. There are two customs booths (aduana). Choose one and put your luggage on the x-ray belt. Turn in your customs form. This is the last checkpoint before you walk out of the airport.
  • You will come to an exit with sliding doors.
  • You will see many people waiting outside for other passengers. This is where your director will pick you up.
  • Before you meet your director, you may be approached by a number of taxi drivers, hotel representatives, tour guides, and others offering to help you. Just tell them, “No thank you” and that you are meeting someone.
  • Look for someone with the Sol Abroad sign.

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


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


For Costa Rica there is an exit tax that you must pay before leaving. Some airlines now include this in the price of your ticket. If it is not included, this tax is around $29 USD payable by colones, US dollars or both. You can also pay with a Visa debit card if you have one. You can pay by credit card but it is charged as a cash advance rather than a charge so be aware of any fees your credit card company charges for cash advances. Once you pay the tax you are given a form that you have to fill out and give to the gate agents at your airline.  You can pay the tax when you arrive or when you come to the airport to return home. It is normally easiest (and less complicated) to pay when you leave.


The Costa Rican currency is called the colón. To find the most up-to-date conversion please visit We suggest that you travel with a credit or debit card and have some US dollars in cash on hand. Do not exchange money at the airport. You will get a much better exchange rate at a bank, and your director will help you exchange money (or take money out of the ATM) once you arrive at your program site. Whenever you exchange money you will need your passport. We suggest you take out money as few times as possible.


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


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


For Costa Rica we have found that you should NOT bring Traveler's checks as they are very difficult to cash and not widely accepted.


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


You can mostly walk everywhere in Atenas. If you need to take a cab they are very affordable.


If you were ever in an emergency situation that you needed money (such as if you lost your wallet) just let your onsite director know! We will definitely assist you financially until your situation can be resolved.


Costa Rica uses 110 V AC at 60 Hz which is the same as the US. Three-pronged outlets are rare so if you have any three-pronged items make sure and bring an adapter to fit into the two-pronged outlets. There are also adapters for sale at hardware stores in Costa Rica.



Be prepared for a slower connection at times. Keeping in contact with friends and family is a great way to share your experience. Just remember, though, it can take away from your Spanish learning. Attempt to write as little as possible in English while you are there. You can use Internet at your homestay.


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

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


Having a cell phone while in Spain is a personal preference. Cell phones can be very useful to communicate with the other students in your group, your directors, and friends and family back home. For the Costa Rica program, many students choose not to use a cell phone while abroad.


You can also make and receive phone calls from the host family’s home phone. Just make sure you ALWAYS use a calling card and out of courtesy always ask first.


Skype is a great system and one you can use in Internet cafés or from the homestay if there is Internet When both parties have Skype (for voice only or face-to-face) the service is free of charge! All you need to do is download and install it on your computer. Skype can also be used for outgoing and incoming calls and even sending texts for a small charge.


Telecommunications in Costa Rica are run by a government monopoly. Some US cell phone providers allow you to use your phone in Costa Rica but it is usually quite expensive per minute. If you take your personal cell phone abroad, please call your US Cell Phone service provider and ask them what your current plan covers internationally or what they can offer you for international rates so that you are not surprised later by international charges.

Most students use WhatsApp and Facebook on their US smart phones as a way to communicate and make plans. If you want to use WhatsApp while abroad to communicate with WIFI remember to create your account with your US cell phone number before you leave!

CELLHIRE (cellphone rental service)

Sol Abroad provides our students with an international cell phone rental option that will be delivered to your home before you travel. The cell phones are rented through Cellhire, based in Dallas, TX. SOL covers the rental fee and all you have to do is decide if you want to sign up for the phone or not!If you sign up for the phone, you will be responsible for any of the usage charges (rate details located on the SOL-Cellhire webpage). This option will be 30%-65% more cost effective than roaming with your domestic provider. Cellhire also has additional voice and data or data only options (iPhone SIM cards and mobile hotspots) that you can rent at your own expense. Sol either covers the Basic Nokia Smartphone Rental ($19 rental) OR the shipping/setup cost ($19) if you choose another product.

1) Simply register online via this website:
2) Select your program, and enter the promo code: summer19hs

Should you use this option, the phone will be mailed to your home address prior to departure so please make sure to allow yourself time to get the cell phone before you leave. For free shipping, you must register at least 2 weeks prior to your departure date.

Please note, when you enroll there is a "Credit Card Authorization" of $1. The Credit Card Authorization is a hold that is placed on a credit card for 3-5 business days and released. It is not a charge and will not appear on your credit card statement at the end of the month. Cellhire takes the authorization to confirm that they are “authorized” to charge the card when the invoice produces at the end of the month. The funds will not be available during that time period. They do not accept debit/check cards. If you attempt to pay by debit or check card, funds will be drafted from your bank account.

Any questions regarding the phones please contact Cellhire at:
877 244 7242 OR email




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

Some suggestions when living with your family:

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

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


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


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


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


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



  • Say hello to locals. Costa Ricans are very friendly and this is part of their culture. Many people say Costa Ricans are very non-confrontational.
  • Talk with older people. Older people are very well-respected in Costa Rica and have lots to share.
  • Give tips. 10-15% is good by Costa Rica standards. The tip is included in the bill at most restaurants. You do not have to tip taxis.
  • Say “yes” if people offer you food in their home, unless you really, really don’t want it.
  • Share your experiences in conversation.
  • When greeting women give a kiss on one check (their right cheek). Men shake hands.
  • Make an effort to speak Spanish.
  • Interact with your host family (for example, hang out with them on a Sunday afternoon).
  • Try the foods your host family gives you before deciding if it's something you don’t like.
  • Ask to use the phone first.
  • Be prepared for Ticos to be late, postpone, or cancel with short notice.
  • Make sure to wear clean clothes and shower at least once a day. Costa Ricans consider cleanliness and a nice appearance important.


  • Do not slam doors (especially car doors)
  • Do not assume things since you are a traveler in a foreign country. Be extra alert when on the streets.
  • Do not say that you are American (Americano); you are from the United States (soy de los Estados Unidos).  
  • If you are female do not go out alone.
  • Do not pet street dogs or family dogs before asking first. Even house dogs are not necessarily kept as pets—they are more for protection.
  • Be aware of Costa Rican driving habits. Let the car go first; Costa Ricans do not stop for pedestrians.
  • Do not trust strangers or walk home alone after 6 PM. It’s best to take a cab (they are a lot more affordable than in the US).
  • Do not walk in the house barefoot. Make sure you have a pair of flip flops for wearing inside.
  • Do not invite guests without permission. Members of the opposite sex are not allowed in your room.

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


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

8:00 AM        Wakeup and have breakfast

8:45 AM        Walk to school

9:00 AM        Classes begin

10:45 AM       Mid-morning break

11:15 AM       Return to class

12:00 PM       Classes end. Check email, visit shops, write in your journal, hang out with friends, etc.

12:30 PM       Lunch with your host family

3:00 PM         Meet for a cultural activity


You will find that the teaching style in other countries is different than what you are used to in the US. If you have any concerns or questions about this when you are in Costa Rica, please ask your director. Our directors are always available for any assistance you may need concerning the academic component of the program.

In Atenas, you will be at ATESA which is a language academy. The classes are intimate and in an open-air setting. Students love the tropical setting! Classes are 3 to 5 students per teacher based on your level. Every student will sit down individually with a Spanish teacher that first day to determine which level is best for them.

In Heredia (Gap Year semester only), your classes are at the ULatina (Universidad Latina-Heredia). You may take Spanish classes with other international students. Class size can be small; usually 5 to 10 students per teacher. During the semester students may take classes with locals.


 Our programs include volunteer and community service opportunities. We believe there is no better way to give back and develop a deep cultural understanding than by doing volunteer work while abroad.

We offer several unique volunteer opportunities at each site, such as helping paint classrooms, teaching English, or any other local service-oriented program. Community service is one of the best ways to give back to the community.

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

  • Teaching English at a local elementary school
  • Leading in bilingual games or activities at schools or afterschool care
  • Rehabilitation or maintenance of local elementary schools (painting, gardening, etc.)
  • Work in organizations for people with special needs
  • Work in recreation programs for the elderly
  • Work with a land turtle conservation project & education center



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

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


Linea Vital: private clinic in Atenas

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


 We will thoroughly cover safety and specific guidelines in the onsite orientation. Most problems can be prevented with a combination of awareness and common sense. We encourage students to keep a state of relaxed alertness, not fear. It is also very important to listen to and heed the advice of your director and your host family parents. The only time our students have encountered problems in Costa Rica is when they did the opposite of what their director told them to and put themselves in an unsafe situation. Costa Rica and Heredia are generally safe, but it is important to be aware and take precautions, as you would in any part of the world.

  • Never walk anywhere at night (even short distances) and avoid going out alone. Remember safety in numbers.
  • Always take an official taxi (red with yellow triangle).
  • When walking in the daytime, it is better to walk with another person, if possible.
  • The consumption of alcohol decreases your awareness and decision-making capabilities, putting you at increased risk. (Underage drinking and the use of any drugs are illegal and prohibited on our programs.)
  • Cat calls and honking are common. It is best to simply keep walking and ignore them.
  • Men tend to be more aggressive in Latin America, and often have a stereotype that foreign women are "easy". It helps to be accompanied by a male friend, walk with confidence, dress appropriately, and be assertive.
  • As in any country, never leave a drink unattended and never ride in a stranger's car.
  • Never carry around large amounts of cash, your passport, or credit cards unless you have to.  Never keep money in your back pocket.
  • Never leave things unlocked and try to keep valuable items out of sight.
  • Do not leave valuables unattended, even for a few minutes.
  • Avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry, do not walk around with iPod buds in your ears.
  • Listen to your "gut". One of our greatest tools is our intuition and internal guidance system. If something doesn't feel right, do what you need to do get out of the situation and let your director know immediately.

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


  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. In certain coastal areas it is best to drink bottled water. Always ask your director if you are unsure about the water.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly them thoroughly.
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot.
  • Prevent mosquito bites by paying special attention to mosquito protection between dusk & dawn.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats in areas where mosquito bites are likely.
  • We ask that students do not use repellents that contain DEET. These chemicals are harmful to the environment and local ecosystems. On excursions, they can wash off and get into rivers and streams. We recommend the use of more natural repellents. It is possible to find such repellents in Costa Rica and your program directors can help advise you on this.


As long as you are up to date with your school in the US, you do not need any additional vaccinations. You may read online recommendations for Hepatitis A, B, tetanus, typhoid/diphtheria, malaria or yellow fever vaccinations - these are not necessary.


Heredia is a safe city, but like any city in the world, you must be smart about your safely and belongings. When we are on our weekend trips never leave things unlocked and try to keep valuable items out of sight. Never be too trusting. Especially on the beach trips always make sure there is someone to keep an eye on your things if you are in the water.


Women should avoid unwanted attention. Never walk home alone at night. Cabs are very inexpensive in Costa Rica, whenever in doubt always take a cab. Avoid walking in large groups of foreigners. Use the buddy system especially at night.

Cat Calls/Piropos

In Costa Rica it is not uncommon for strangers or even local friends to engage in the commonly known gesture of “cat calling”. Either hollering across the street or the most common, yelling out of a moving car. These actions and comments are called “piropos”. Most of the time it is non-threatening and what Costa Rican (and Latino’s in general) consider “playful”. The best method for dealing with this is to ignore them. Making any sort of faces, physical movements, and ESPECIALLY shouting back, will only reinforce and invite them to make more calls, and even to follow you.


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

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

U.S. Department of Travel Website:

Center for Disease Control:


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



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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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





































Ordinal Numbers















































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


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

Specific to Costa Rica:        

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospi – slang for hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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