Costa Rica

Packing List

This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in-country and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything on the list, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in-country.

Baggage & weight limit: The Peace Corps limits the size and weight of baggage and will not pay to transport baggage that exceeds these limits. The allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers.

Items to Bring

Shirts

  • 7 polo shirts or moderately dressy shirts
  • 2 button down shirts
  • 10 casual
  • 5 workout shirts

Note: Moisture wicking shirts recommended for casual shirts at least.

Pants

  • 5 jeans & slacks
  • 1 pair of light sweat pants/yoga pants
  • 4 pairs of gym shorts / capris

Note: Full-on business formal pants aren’t necessary, dry-fit pants or khakis are recommended for comfort due to climate, but jeans are far more common in Costa Rica if you want to blend in. Quick dry/nice hiking/travel pants are great.

Shorts

  • 7 pairs of decent looking khaki or board shorts

Note: If you work in committees outside of the schools many people wear shorts. Short shorts not recommended. No shorts allowed in schools / professional setting.

Dresses

  • 3-5 variety styles

Note: Only if you like wearing dresses, not required. Avoid strapless and spaghetti straps. Knee length or longer is best

Skirts

  • 3-5 variety of styles

Note: If you prefer pants that’s fine. Knee length or longer is best. Maxi skirts are great. No mini skirts.

Jackets

  • 1 rain jacket and/or poncho
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 fleece

Note: 80% of sites are hot, but it gets cold in the training towns and it rains heavily in all parts of the country.

Underwear

  • 15 pairs
  • Bras: 3-5 regular, 3-5 sport

Note: Laundry is done frequently. Less is fine.

Swimsuits

  • 2 swimsuits

Socks

  • 10-15 pairs of socks

Note: Socks will deteriorate and are expensive here. Moisture wicking recommended.

Shoes

  • 5 pairs – 1 pair dressy, 1 casual, 1 sandals, 1 pair workout/running, 1 pair hiking

Note: Flip flops not allowed in training or work.

Belts

  • 1-2 belts

Hats

  • 1 workout hat
  • 1 casual hat

Bags

  • 1 weekend size bag
  • 1 regular back pack (recommend the semi-waterproof type as it rains a lot here)
  • 1 draw-string bag

Note: Remember only bring what you can carry.

Toiletries

1-year supply of:

  • deodorant
  • lotion
  • razors
  • perfume
  • hair product
  • body soap

Plus:

  • Three-month supply of any medications, to last through pre-service training; copy of prescriptions,
  • If you wear glasses, bring two pairs (contacts are not recommended due to elevated rates of eye infections and contact solution is hard to find),
  • Any homeopathic, macrobiotic treatments or multivitamins you use (the Peace Corps does not provide anything of this nature),
  • Fast-drying towels—two bath, one beach, and one hand
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent, if you have a very strong particular preference for a certain type (the Peace Corps provides one kind of each)
  • Refillable razors (very expensive in Costa Rica)
  • Tampons can be found in/around San Jose and major city centers, but they are very expensive. Some female Volunteers recommend bringing a year's supply.
  • Hair dryer/straightener (if you use either in the States on a daily basis, you’ll probably appreciate having it in Costa Rica, but keep in mind the weather is very humid)

Note: Regular toiletries (soap, shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste, etc.) can be found here in-country (prices are slightly higher). If you prefer certain brands, bring them with you, understanding that at some point you’ll have to either settle on a locally available brand or pay to have them shipped from the States.

Towels

  • 1 quick dry towel / sarong

Note: Bring 2 bath towels if you want or buy in country to save space.

Electronics

  • Laptop
  • Cell phone
  • Headphones
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Chargers, portable charger
  • Head lamp
  • Kindle

Note: Get insurance, PC is not responsible for reimbursement/replacement if something happens to these items. Books are expensive and libraries aren’t common, Kindles are great if you like to read in Spanish or English.

Extras

  • Locks for luggage,
  • 1-2 water bottles,
  • Favorite candies,
  • Flash lights,
  • Head lamp ($1 at Walmart),
  • Family photos,
  • Make-up,
  • Umbrella,
  • Vitamins,
  • Nail clipper set,
  • Water proof cellphone pouch,
  • Surge protector (using the outlets directly can damage your electronics),
  • Full laptop charger extension,
  • Portable battery charger,
  • Gifts for 2 host families. (Maybe something representative of your home state/town),
  • Head phones,
  • Sleeping bag (light weight if at all, some PCVs say this is a no)
  • Journal,
  • Cheap sunglasses,
  • Favorite resources for working with children and youth (games, art supplies, icebreakers, etc.),
  • A book or two in English (to read and exchange; Peace Corps/Costa Rica has a library of novels and resource materials) to hold you over until you get into the Peace Corps office,
  • Rechargeable batteries (regular batteries are available locally, but they are expensive and/or of lower quality)
  • If you plan to travel to other countries for vacation, you may want to bring extra money to suit your travel plans; credit cards or traveler's checks are preferable to cash. There are ATMs in larger cities, and most towns so you may want to bring an ATM card to access a bank account in the U.S.
  • Small gifts for host family and friends (not required); knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; photos to give away.

Items You Do Not Need to Bring

  • Mosquito net (provided by PC)
  • Rain boots (they’re so heavy and take up a lot of luggage space. Buy them in country)
  • Yoga mat (The hassle to carry it is not worth it in our opinion. Buy it in country. They’re cheap at Pequeño Mundo (everyone knows this store in CR!)
  • Sunscreen (This is included in your Peace Corps medical kit)
  • Medicine (PC Costa Rica gives everyone a medical kit with over the counter medicines found in most med kits (ibuprofen, aspirin, gauze, bandages, cough drops, cold/allergy medicine, anti-diarrheal, saline eye drops and nasal spray, triple biotic ointment for cuts, hydrocortisone cream, thermometer, bandage scissors, tweezers, condoms, SPF lip balm, anti-itch gel, safety whistle, etc. Just bring your own vitamins)
  • Bug spray (don’t waste the luggage space, Peace Corps provides up to 2 bottles of OFF bug spray per month)
  • Sheets (your host families will provide sheets. You can’t live alone until 9 months in country)
  • If you use the most common regular brands of soap, tooth paste, shampoo, etc., you don’t have to bring a ton because they most likely sell it in CR. If you can afford some space to bring your favorites go ahead, they’re more expensive here (especially shampoo, head & shoulders costs an arm and a leg).
  • Spanish-English dictionary (provided by PC)
  • Travel books about Costa Rica or Central America (there are plenty in the Peace Corps library)

Other Advice

  • Men, if you wear 12+ / Women, if you wear 10+ in shoes size, it may be hard to find shoes.
  • Don’t come with only business casual clothes. You dress formally for Orientation Week, for the swear-in ceremony, and if go to church or get invited to a wedding. 2-3 pairs of dressy slacks is fine.
  • During training sessions, you can wear jeans and dress casually, but you cannot show up in shorts, sandals, or tank tops. However, you will want some of those for site when you’re not at work.

General Clothing

Clothes should be conservative, sturdy, easily washable, and free of the need for ironing, if possible. While it’s important to bring practical clothing and special clothing/gear for personal trips and treks (such as quick-dry, moisture-wicking zip-off pants, etc.), do keep in mind you will be international development professionals, not long-term backpackers, hikers, or campers during your two years of service: Your overall attire should reflect this for both professional and security reasons. Volunteers should pack enough for one to two weeks without having to wash clothing. Buying new clothing in Costa Rica is generally cost prohibitive to Volunteers; however, many Volunteers shop at any number of used clothing venues (“Ropa Americana”) as an affordable alternative. Women should know that although some Costa Rican women wear short skirts, doing so is likely to attract unwanted attention from men. Most families have washing machines (but not like in the U.S.), clotheslines, and in select few cases spin dryers (no heat), meaning that one's clothing will be stretched or hung out in the sun, causing fading as well. These factors are important when deciding what to bring.