Airmail to and from Costa Rica takes two to three weeks. You can receive mail at the Peace Corps office during training when addressed:
“Your Name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1266-1000
San Jose, Costa Rica
Larger packages sent from the US or another foreign destination have to go through customs and require payment of an import tax and storage charges. Such large packages will need to be picked up and paid for, by the Volunteer, from a central facility in Zapote, east of San Jose.
Once you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you can use your allowance to pay for a post office box in a city convenient to your site, or use your host family’s address as your mailing address.
You will be required to maintain a functional Costa Rican cell phone number throughout your service. Peace Corps will support you in ensuring you have access to a chip. Volunteers usually purchase their own cellphones or activate cellphones that they bring with them from the US. If you choose to bring a cellphone with you, you must ensure it can be unlocked in order for a Costa Rican SIM card to work, and you must bring the receipt. The phone company will review the receipt to ensure the phone was not stolen.
Most PCVs use applications like WhatsApp or FaceTime to communicate with community members and friends and family around the world.
Volunteers are strongly encouraged, to bring a laptop computer, netbook or tablet. They are an essential staple in the Peace Corps and in the professional Costa Rican work environment. Volunteers are required to engage with an online learning platform, submit plans, reports and respond to emails. Computers are also helpful for entertainment, and communication purposes. It is strongly recommended that you also bring a surge protector and purchase "personal article property insurance" to protect your device and other belongings.
You will have access to computers and the Internet at the Volunteer resource center at the Peace Corps office in San José once you are sworn in a Peace Corps Volunteer. The majority of Volunteers have weekly, if not daily, access to Internet in their sites.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training, Trainees will live with a Costa Rican family near the main training facility. Sharing meals, conversation, and other experiences with your host family is an important step and expectation in developing the skills and attitudes that will help you integrate into your Costa Rican community.
Following training, Volunteers are required to live with a host family during their first 6 months in their community of service (9 months total, including three months of pre-service training). Living with a Costa Rican family allows Peace Corps Volunteers to integrate more quickly into the community, develop their cultural competency, language skills, build a local network of community support and greatly enhance personal safety and security. It may require adjustments that some people from the United States find challenging, given cultural values concerning privacy and personal space. After the initial 6-month period, if appropriate housing is available, Volunteers may request to live independently. Some communities do not have a live-alone option and Volunteers must be open to the possibility of living with a host family during their entire service.
The profile of the living and housing conditions for Volunteers varies greatly throughout the country. The vast majority of Volunteers have access, via a short bus ride, to services such as banking, postal service, and hospital care. Others are placed in more distant communities that may require travel by boat or motorized canoe. Most volunteer houses have cold running water and electricity. The electric current generally is 110 volts, as in the United States; however, there are 220-volt outlets for some appliances (e.g., refrigerators and electric ovens). Most Costa Rican communities have a church, a school, and general stores that sell staples such as rice, black beans, tuna, soap, soft drinks, and snack food.
For examples of the diversity found in Volunteer housing please refer to the following Volunteer experiences:
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency, the Costa Rican colon (CRC), which is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel. Credit cards are preferable to cash.
Food and Diet
What’s on a typical Costa Rican plate? Get ready to eat lots of rice and beans, accompanied by some meat, or other carbs like tortilla and plantain.
During training, Trainees will typically eat three meals a day, prepared by, and shared with, host families. The expectation is that Trainees and Volunteers are treated as members of the family and are expected to adhere to family norms and diet. In the countryside, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables depends on the season and the region. Many Costa Ricans tend to eat few green vegetables, favoring root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassavas, etc.), bananas, and plantains.
During the site selection process and before the beginning of training, PC/CR programming and training team members meet with host families to provide a brief orientation of what it might be like to host a Volunteer. They emphasize to the family that it is the Volunteer’s responsibility to adapt to the family’s diet and household norms. Most Costa Rican families eat some kind of meat with every meal, and some form of animal protein could be present in most of the daily meals (ground beef, chicken, tuna, cheese, eggs, sausages, milk, etc.).
Imported products are not typically part of the local diet and are well beyond the economic means of host families. Volunteers should not expect nor request families to purchase additional foods outside of their normal purchases to compensate for Volunteer eating preferences. Vegetarians have been able to maintain a vegetarian diet with varying degrees of difficulty. A vegan diet is much more difficult for a Volunteer to maintain while living with a host family. The local options for vegetarian/vegan diets can be high in carbohydrates, low in protein and nutritionally unbalanced. Costa Ricans often prepare their vegetables with meat or in meat broth, so Volunteers will have to make special arrangements to maintain a strictly vegetarian/vegan diet. Peace Corps encourages Trainees and Volunteers to be flexible in their approach to diet, willing to try new things and minimize optional restrictions during their service as a Volunteer.
Although the quality of roads varies, there is access to almost any spot in Costa Rica by means of a vehicle (but not always via public bus). Unfortunately, the rate of traffic-related fatalities is one of the highest per capita in the world.
Volunteers travel mainly by public bus. Costa Rica has an extensive, dependable bus system that operates in most of the country. The service is inexpensive and usually runs on a set schedule several times a day. In the San José metropolitan area, however, traffic jams often extend travel times by significant margins. While in San Jose on official business, the Peace Corps requires PCVs to travel in “official” taxis; the red cars with yellow triangles on the front doors are easily identifiable. Most fares within the San José area are determined by using the meter (called the maría), but longer distances are usually set at a fixed rate. Peace Corps also permits use of Uber at this time.
Volunteers in Costa Rica may not operate motor vehicles during their service, including ATVs and motorcycles. Volunteers in Costa Rica may also not be passengers on motorcycles; Riding on a motorcycle whether as a driver or passenger is grounds for administrative separation in Costa Rica.
Some Volunteers purchase a bicycle to facilitate travel around their sites. In some areas, conditions are difficult for cyclists. Streets and roads are bumpy and narrow, and unexpected hazards (e.g., potholes and uncovered manholes) are commonplace. Motor vehicle operators show little respect for cyclists. In some sites, Volunteers find that bicycles are an excellent means of transportation, especially when their jobs require them to be at multiple locations. Volunteers must wear a bicycle helmet provided by the Peace Corps whenever you ride.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Most Costa Ricans take great pride in being neat, clean, and well-groomed even on informal occasions, and Volunteers should follow the example of Costa Ricans at their worksites and in their communities (e.g., clean and ironed clothes, undergarments (bra, underwear), polished shoes, and groomed hair). Volunteers will gain greater acceptance of their presence and ideas by dressing in a professional and culturally appropriate manner, which helps set them apart from tourists. For example, in schools, Costa Rican women tend to wear skirts, dresses, or pressed pants. Men in schools tend to wear collared shirts with khaki pants. Volunteers are expected to observe these guidelines for dress during pre-service training as well. A Volunteer should never go into a school or official partner agency office wearing shorts or flip-flops. In most areas of the country, shorts are generally worn only in the home while doing household chores, during recreational or sports activities, or at the beach, but not on the street.
Work clothes in rural sites will be informal and appropriate for outside work — men and women may wear jeans and boots. It is best to bring a variety of clothing that can be layered.
Visible tattoos may make the Volunteer an unwanted source of attention and are often prohibited in the school environment. Neatly groomed short hair is the preferred hair style for men, and male Volunteers are strongly discouraged from having ponytails, manbuns and long hair, as these are not in keeping with an appearance of professionalism and respect for local norms. Beards must be neat and trimmed.
Please bring business-casual clothes for professional settings and comfortable casual clothes for recreational settings. During training, and occasionally as a Volunteer, there will be times when it is appropriate for men to wear jackets and ties and for women to wear dresses or slacks and a blouse. In classroom and office settings in cities and larger towns, attire should be professionally casual—skirts or slacks for women, slacks and button-down shirts with collars for men.
Cultural Integration Opportunities
Most community social activities and cultural integration opportunities revolve around special events traditions, including town festivals, sporting events, school & religious holidays and parades. Volunteers are often invited to join family and community events such as birthday parties and sports activities, including the famous Costa Rican “cafecito” (coffee klatch). Most Volunteers celebrate birthdays, weddings, and holidays with their host families. Integrating into your community is the key to an enjoyable and rich experience as a Volunteer. Spending time with community members by drinking a cafecito (coffee) or sharing bread or a snack is an important way to build the trust necessary to work effectively with counterparts, co-workers and community members. By building solid relationships— through both your work assignment and interaction with Costa Rican neighbors and other community members—you will have greater opportunities to participate in social activities. You will need to develop a keen awareness of Costa Rican culture and customs.
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to spend most evenings and weekends working or socializing in their community, except when they work in another community on integrated and approved programming efforts. Smaller sites have activities at the community center, local school, soccer field, and churches. Larger communities may also have restaurants, a dance hall or disco, sports centers, and special cultural activities. Many Volunteers get involved in community activities such as soccer teams, dance classes, or exercise groups to meet people in their communities. In addition, you are likely to discover places of incredible natural beauty close to your site and throughout the country. When you are in San José, you will find a variety of movie theaters, music and theater performances, art galleries, museums, and sports events.
The Peace Corps prohibits the use of all illegal drugs, including marijuana, by Peace Corps Volunteers and trainees. The government of Costa Rica, with the support of the United States, has taken a strong stand against the illegal cultivation, transport and use of marijuana and other illegal drugs. It has passed stringent anti-drug laws that mandate stiff prison sentences for possession and use of drugs.
Discover more about the Volunteer experience and integrating into Costa Rican culture:
Social Expectations Related to Alcohol Consumption
PCVs are expected to be role models and professionals in their communities. As such, PCVs must limit consumption of alcoholic beverages in order to maintain a trustworthy and professional image, and to mitigate safety and security risk.
Peace Corps recognizes that excessive use of alcohol may compromise PCV safety and security, lead to behavior which is a discredit to the Peace Corps or the individual PCV, or affect the PCV’s performance in an assignment.