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Volunteering in Costa Rica

Volunteering in Costa Rica is the best way to discover one of the most sustainable countries in the world...

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Volunteer work in Costa Rica

Have you always dreamt of exploring mysterious rainforests, rushing waterfalls and active volcanoes? If you also want to make your travel experience meaningful, we have great news. You can do all of these things by volunteering in Costa Rica!

You will discover one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, amazing beaches, and the famous "Pura Vida" lifestyle. There are many ways to have a positive impact on Costa Rica. The volunteer opportunities are plentiful, offering something for everybody. If this is your first time volunteering abroad, Costa Rica is a great place to start your international adventure.

Costa Rica has everything to offer from lush rainforests to stunning beaches and a plethora of wildlife. Take this chance to discover this green gem while you volunteer and give back. Join one of the community projects and connect with the locals or take a break from it all and volunteer for one of the many conservation programs. Before we go into more detail about the different volunteer opportunities, here are a few interesting facts about Costa Rica:

  • Nicoya, located on the Western coast of Costa Rica is a well-known blue zone. Its inhabitants commonly live past the age of 100.
  • Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
  • Costa Rica regenerates over 99% of its electricity using renewable energy!
  • It’s categorized as one of the happiest places in the world.
  • Costa Rica doesn’t have an army. The military was abolished in the wake of victory in the 1948 civil war.

🇨🇷 Why Volunteer in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and abundant nature. You will find many conservation projects here but there are also plenty of community projects where you can support the local community as an English teacher or help with child care initiatives. Most community projects are centered in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. If you prefer working close to a lively city, there are many great volunteer opportunities in San Jose.

If you’re looking for a volunteer destination with stunning nature and friendly people, Costa Rica is an excellent choice!

For those who are worried they don’t have enough time to volunteer, you can do short term volunteer work in Costa Rica. By using the filter option, you can search for volunteer opportunities that only require a 1 or 2-weeks of your time.

If you haven't thought about which field to volunteer in yet, this overview will give you a better idea of what to expect as a volunteer in Costa Rica.

🐒 How to Volunteer with Animals in Costa Rica

If you want to be an animal volunteer in Costa Rica, there are plenty of opportunities spread across this breathtaking country. You can become a wildlife volunteer in Costa Rica, for example, and head to the rainforest and see the following inhabitants:

  • monkeys (primarily the squirrel, capuchin, howler and spider monkey)
  • sloths
  • wild cats (jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundi, margays)
  • kinkajous (sharp claws and rounded ears lead to the nickname "honey bear")
  • exotic birds (e.g. the famous toucan, macaw or hummingbird)

🐕 How to Volunteer at an Animal Sanctuary in Costa Rica

More and more animals are victims of habitat destruction, poaching, and illegal pet trade. Those that can be rescued will find a temporary home in animal rescue centers or animal sanctuaries. Costa Rica animal sanctuary volunteers care for orphaned and injured animals by:

  • preparing food
  • cleaning cages
  • performing daily chores until the animals can be released back into the rainforest.

Sometimes animals need medical treatment, so volunteers with veterinary training are always in demand. If animals cannot be released back into the wild, they will find a home in a sanctuary where volunteers will support them with activities and the necessary care.

There are also animal sanctuaries focused on helping stray cats and dogs. Dog lovers can definitely find programs where they can help as a dog sanctuary volunteer. You’ll be thanked with lots of licks and tail wagging!

🦥 How to Volunteer for Sloth Conservation

If you want to become a sloth sanctuary volunteer in Costa Rica, you will be happy to know there are plenty of sloth sanctuaries that need your help. Sloths are cute lethargic animals that hang out in the treetops of the rainforest. They are threatened by deforestation and are losing their natural habitat. This is why many end up in an animal or sloth sanctuary.

If you’re wondering what a day as a sloth volunteer in Costa Rica would look like, these are a few of the main tasks:

  • feeding sloths at the sanctuary or animal rescue center
  • cleaning the enclosures of the sloths
  • helping with the administration of the vet treatments they need
  • guiding visitors around the sanctuary and educating them

🐢 How to Volunteer with Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

With over 4 species of endangered sea turtles, the Olive Ridley, the Leatherback, the Green, and the Hawksbill sea turtle, it’s easy to become a sea turtle volunteer in Costa Rica. There are programs available year-round on both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastline. If you want to support a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica, check out the sea turtle conservation programs in Costa Rica.

Your volunteer work with these creatures will be a unique experience and is one of the most popular volunteer programs in Costa Rica. These are a few of the tasks you’ll be doing as a sea turtle volunteer:

  • patrolling the beach
  • guarding turtle nests
  • rescuing turtle eggs
  • releasing baby turtles into the ocean
  • help with ocean clean up

It is likely you will be asked to help with beach or ocean clean up during your sea turtle volunteer experience. The accumulation of plastic in the sea is a huge threat to sea turtles and getting rid of plastic will be a helpful contribution.

🌳 How to Volunteer for Environmental Conservation in Costa Rica

With over 500,000 plant and animal species, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on earth and represents close to 4% of the total species on earth.

There are many volunteer opportunities in Costa Rica that help protect Costa Rica's thriving nature As a volunteer in Costa Rica, you can contribute to environmental conservation projects by supporting the 'guardabosques' - the rainforest guards - with the following tasks:

  • cleaning and maintaining forest paths and trails
  • observing and documenting flora and fauna
  • observing exotic mammals and birds in their natural habitat
  • taking part in the local reforestation
  • assisting as a guide or translator for tourists

👩🏽‍🌾 How to Volunteer for Sustainable Agriculture in Costa Rica

To counteract deforestation caused by unsustainable farming, some Costa Rica volunteer programs promote eco-farming and also educate locals about more sustainable ways to grow their crops. Your tasks as a volunteer on an eco-farm will involve:

  • planting and watering crops,
  • harvesting fruit and vegetables
  • caring for the animals living on the farm.

🐳 How to Volunteer for Marine Conservation in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a great destination for marine conservation. Volunteers who love being close to the ocean will find opportunities to protect vulnerable marine life in the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean. Help with an ocean clean up project to keep the waters plastic-free. This will lower the negative impact on marine life that is constantly ingesting plastic from the ocean.

Volunteers keen on diving can support a marine conservation project by observing reef fish, whales, or the coral reef. Collect valuable data on these species to gain a better understanding of their behavior and their rate of survival. Ocean cleanup is also an important part of marine conservation. Help keep the waters free form plastic and protect Costa Rica’s marine life.

👩🏽‍🏫 How to Teach English in Costa Rica

While the literacy rate in Costa Rica is relatively high compared to the neighboring countries, volunteer teachers are always needed in schools in low-income communities. Native and fluent English speakers can pass on their skills to children of all ages and spark their interest in foreign languages and cultures. English teachers are in high demand in Costa Rica where the main language is Spanish. This is an excellent opportunity to support the local community and provide them with better future opportunities.

Wherever your strengths and interests lie, you will find teaching opportunities that fit your interest. Teach children English, mathematics, sports, science, or even art. Some teaching volunteer programs in Costa Rica specialize in music teaching so if you play an instrument or are a passionate singer, why not make this your mission as a volunteer teacher in Costa Rica?

👶🏽 How to Volunteer for Child Care in Costa Rica

If you like working with children but are not necessarily interested in teaching, you may want to join one of the daycare projects. These projects care for younger children that are not enrolled in school or kindergarten or involve after school care. Daycare is unaffordable for low-income families and single parents. The community benefits a lot from these projects. Your tasks as a volunteer at a daycare project could include:

  • organizing games and activities
  • crafting with the children
  • feeding and washing younger children
  • assisting with general supervision
  • helping older children with their homework
  • give one-on-one help to children with disabilities or special needs

🧒🏽 How to Volunteer at an Orphanage in Costa Rica

You may decide to work at a local orphanage where you can give disadvantaged children the attention and support they require. Before deciding to do voluntary work at an orphanage in Costa Rica, you need to make sure that you understand your responsibilities and what to expect.

The children you will work with have not necessarily lost their parents to death. Many of these children have experienced violence or abuse and are traumatized. For this reason, it is essential that volunteers have appropriate skills and are qualified. It’s also required to stay a minimum of 3 months. You will find detailed information on the program pages of these specific projects.

🤑 How Much Does it Cost to Volunteer in Costa Rica?

The suggested daily budget for living abroad as a volunteer in Costa Rica is between US$ 25 and US$ 77. This is an estimate made considering the average price of some of the goods and services you may need. It gives you a general overview of how much things cost in this country, so you can prepare and save the money necessary for your volunteer program in Costa Rica.

Additional costs you should consider as a volunteer in Costa Rica:

An exemplary overview of living costs for volunteers in Costa Rica (in US$, for one person) is:

💲 Can I Volunteer in Costa Rica for Free?

Most volunteer programs require a fee to be paid which covers your accommodation. Part of the fee is sometimes used to support the activities of the volunteer organization. You can use our filter option to search for volunteer opportunities within your budget. There are some very budget-friendly volunteer programs in Costa Rica. Be sure to check the program.

💡 Good to Know Before Volunteering in Costa Rica

Going abroad always requires some precautions, even in a popular tourist destination and at volunteer programs in Costa Rica. Also doing some research on the culture of your travel destination, you can avoid common problems and misunderstandings. These are a few cultural tips that are good to take into account during your volunteer work in Costa Rica:

  • Costa Ricans are also known as Ticos. It’s how they call themselves.
  • It’s common for Ticos to kiss each other on the cheek when greeting.
  • It’s important to dress appropriately when going to the city. Keep flip flops and shorts for the beach.
  • Pointing is considered rude as is putting your feet up on furniture.
  • Although Ticos aren’t the most punctual, most business meetings will start on time.

🦺 Is it Safe to Volunteer in Costa Rica?

Even though Costa Rica is a relatively safe country compared to other countries in Latin America, you cannot compare it to the safety standards in western countries. Here are a few tips for you to travel safely as a volunteer in Costa Rica:

  • Pay extra attention when bringing along valuables. Leave them at your accommodation.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you, take only what you need for the day.
  • Pay attention to changing weather conditions and adjust your plans if conditions become unsafe.
  • Do not touch or feed any animals you don’t know.
  • Whether you walk or drive a car, always pay attention to the traffic around you, especially in crowded areas. The number of car accidents, especially in the cities, are very high.

Health Advice

To reduce the risk of falling ill during your volunteer work abroad; here is some advice for future volunteers in Costa Rica:

  • If you spend many hours in the heat, eat salty snacks, and drink water to stay hydrated.
  • Prevent bug bites by using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers.
  • Talk to your doctor about any vaccinations you need when traveling to Costa Rica. It is advised for all travelers to get vaccinations against Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. If you are planning on trekking in very rural or remote areas, the US based health protection agency CDC recommends vaccinations against Rabies, Tuberculosis, and Hepatitis B, as well.

Packing Essentials

Depending on the season you’ll be in Costa Rica, there are some essentials you should pack. These are some of the things we recommend you bring to Costa Rica:

  • A light jacket and rainproof clothes, especially during the green season (May-December).
  • A flashlight, binoculars, and good hiking/walking shoes for outdoor adventures.
  • Copies of all your important documents.
  • A basic first-aid kit and insect repellent.

Check out this blog post for more information on packing essentials.

🕵🏽‍♀️ Who Can Volunteer in Costa Rica?

Each volunteer opportunity in Costa Rica requires different skills from their international volunteers. While you can find the specific requirements for each project on their program page, here are some general requirements that apply to most projects in Costa Rica:

  • The minimum age for volunteering in Costa Rica is between 16 and 18. When in doubt, contact the local project coordinator to ask if you can join the project.
  • You should have a basic knowledge of Spanish and intermediate English skills when teaching children.
  • All child care and teaching projects require a criminal background check and a minimum stay of four weeks.

For those who have limited time, there are mission trips that don’t require a lengthy time commitment from their volunteers. This is a great way for busy professionals to volunteer and make a meaningful contribution to a great cause.

🛂 Do I Need a Visa to Volunteer in Costa Rica?

Please take into account that the following information is based on a best practice approach, made according to the best of our knowledge, and in cooperation with several volunteer projects in Costa Rica. You should discuss your visa requirements with your project coordinator via Volunteer World and if in doubt, we also recommend getting in touch with the Embassy or Consulate of Costa Rica in your country.

General Immigration Information

There are some general requirements you need to fulfill prior to traveling to Costa Rica:

  • Please check the current validity of your passport. The passport should be valid for at least 6 months after your expected return date.
  • Make sure your passport has at least two blank visa pages. Costa Rica requires you to have adequate unused pages in your passport, allowing for any necessary stamps upon arrival and departure.
  • You need to have a valid return ticket to exit Costa Rica.
  • Check if a transit visa is required for any connections. Especially for flights via the USA you have to consider the entry and transit regulations.

Best Practice for Short-Term Volunteers

If you are a resident in Australia, Switzerland, the USA or EU (including the UK), you can work as a volunteer on a tourist visa for up to 90 days. This tourist visa can be obtained at the airport upon arrival. To receive the stamp, you can select tourism as your reason for traveling, and immigration will stamp your passport.

Best Practice for Long-Term Volunteers

If you are planning to volunteer in Costa Rica for more than 90 days, you should apply for a provisional visa.

To make this step as easy as possible, you can find the application form here. Make sure to submit the application form to the closest Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate. They will provide you with all further information and give you a checklist of documents that need to be submitted.

Please remember that the application process can take over a month, so plan enough time for it. There’s an alternative if you are staying for more than 90 days. You can easily go to a neighboring country such as Panama or Nicaragua for a few days and obtain another 90-day stamp when re-entering Costa Rica (keep in mind that you need another two blank visa pages and a new return ticket to exit Costa Rica if you choose this option).

Volunteering in Costa Rica is a unique experience because of its beautiful nature and biodiversity. Whether you choose to volunteer for environmental, wildlife, or marine conservation, your efforts are greatly valued. If you’re more of a social volunteer, support the local community by volunteering for one of the educational programs.

There are plenty of volunteer programs available in Costa Rica. We would love to help you find the right project!