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 have to go through customs and require payment of duty and storage charges.
Once you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will be assigned a regional post office box in a city convenient to your site, or will be asked to use your host family’s address as your mailing address.
Volunteers 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 and you must bring the receipt. The phone company will review the receipt to ensure the phone was not stolen. Many Volunteers use Internet phone services from personal computers or Internet cafes to place international phone calls to family and friends.
Volunteers bring laptop computers and find them essential for work, entertainment, and communication purposes. If you choose to bring a laptop computer, netbook, or tablet, it is strongly recommended that you purchase "personal articles insurance" to protect your device. 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 one of the training facilities. Sharing meals, conversation, and other experiences with your host family is an important step 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 of service to develop their cultural competency. After that, 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 to living with a host family during their entire course of service. Living with a family may require adjustments that some North Americans find difficult, given our cultural values concerning privacy and personal space. Living with a Costa Rican family allows you to quickly integrate into the community and greatly enhances your safety and security. In addition, your language and cross-cultural skills will be reinforced daily.
The profile of the living conditions for Volunteers varies greatly in the different projects. The vast majority of Volunteers have access, via a short bus ride, to services such as banking, postal, and hospital care. Others are placed in more remote 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). In these communities, you will find a church, a school, and general stores that sell staples such as rice, black beans, tuna, soap, soft drinks, and snack food.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that 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 to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
Food and Diet
During training, Trainees will typically eat three meals a day, prepared by, and shared with, host families. Trainees are treated as members of the family, not as guests. In the countryside, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables depends on the season and the region. 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 and to provide a brief orientation to emphasize to families the concern of cooking with too much oil or lard. Many families do not eat much meat because of its high cost. Although nearly any specialty food can be purchased at supermarkets in San José, imported products are not part of the local diet and are well beyond the economic means of most host families. Volunteers should not expect families to purchase additional foods outside of their normal purchases to compensate for volunteer eating preferences. It is relatively easy for vegetarians to maintain their diet in Costa Rica. However, 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 diet.
Costa Rica has an extensive road system of more than 18,600 miles (30,000 km). Although the quality of roads varies, there is access to almost any spot in Costa Rica by means of a vehicle. 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. 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.
Volunteers in Costa Rica may not operate motor vehicles during their service, including motorcycles. Volunteers in Costa Rica may not be passengers on motorcycles; furthermore, riding on a motorcycle is grounds for administrative separation. Some Volunteers purchase a bicycle to facilitate travel around their sites. In some areas, conditions are difficult for bicycle riders. 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 bicycle riders. In some sites, however, 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.
Most community social activities revolve around weekly events and special 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 visit). 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 important 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 programming efforts. Most Volunteers celebrate birthdays, weddings, and holidays with their host families. Other activities depend on the size of the community. Smaller sites have activities at the community center, local school, soccer field, and churches. Larger communities may also have restaurants, a movie theater, a dance hall or disco, 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.
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, polished shoes, and groomed hair). Volunteers will gain greater acceptance of their presence and ideas by wearing the right outfit, which generally means dressing in a professional manner. 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 at field or rural sites will be informal and appropriate for country 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. It is preferable that male Volunteers not have ponytails, long hair, or beards, but if so, hair must be neatly groomed, and 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.