As is the case in most destinations, as a foreigner you cannot legally work in the country unless you have a work visa or permit. A tourist visa will not allow you to work legally. Still, many travelers and backpackers choose to wing it, and work during their stay. If this is the case, you should at least know what "normal" working conditions are, and what risks you face if things don't turn out quite the way you planned.

If you're caught working illegally, the standard procedure applies. You'll probably be taken into custody, sent to the migration offices, and eventually deported for violating your visa restrictions. In the future, you're going to have trouble returning to the country since there will be a deportation on your permanent record.

Regulated jobsEdit

There's a lot of general work out there, that has no regulation or specific requirements. But there are some types of jobs that are regulated by the state, if not by a local professional association. You may eventually encounter limitations if you decide to work in a regulated sector, especially when you have to interact with state offices for permits or similar.

The following is a list of some sectors which are regulated, and require that all professionals working those jobs are registered at the corresponding regulator's office:

  • Nursing and medicine in general
  • Emergency medicine (EMTs and such)
  • Supporting medical professions (nutrition, x-ray techs, pharmacy, microbiology, etc)
  • Psychology
  • Law
  • Engineering (all types except information technologies), surveying.
  • Dentistry and related specialties
  • Education
  • Veterinary medicine

How much you can do without being registered depends on the sector that you're working, and if you have a registered professional above you that's supervising under his name. Some sectors are more permissive than others (for example education). Just like in most countries, if you're working a regulated profession without being registered, you face penalties from the State, aside from the standard civil consequences that might arise should you screw up.

Cross controlEdit

The main complication of working illegally is cross control. There's several "invisible checkpoints" in your day-to-day activities where you're required to submit information, or simply provide it without knowing. This information may eventually raise alarm and alert the authorities as to your presence and state of employment.

For example, your employer may be required to fill out state reports on their activity. These reports may require them to list their employees or hires, and you would eventually be listed. Or you may feel a little under the weather and decide to go to the local clinic, where you will be required to provide information on who you work for. Or your employer may be audited for taxes, in which case they will probably list you as an expense. In all these cases, the authorities will follow the information trail which may eventually lead to you.

The effectiveness of these controls varies from sector to sector, and from company to company. In some sectors, it's completely ineffective and the chances of one of these invisible checkpoints affecting you are minimal. In others, controls tend to be more effective in constant and you run a good risk of getting caught. But in any case, they're there, and they may eventually come back to bite you.

Minimum wagesEdit

There is a list of minimum wages which is fixated by the state every six months or so. The list gives minimum-wage for mostly all sectors, and employers cannot go below this amount. There's special conditions that apply in case of the employer providing room and board or other benefits, but in general no job should go for below the minimum.

By law, an employer cannot discriminate a worker for being foreign, and under equal conditions the salary for foreign worker must be the same salary paid for a national worker. The law also states that under equal conditions, a national worker must be given priority over a foreign worker when hiring.

You can find the current list of minimum wages here .

Social SecurityEdit

Social Security is one of the most controversial topics when it comes to employment. All employers have to pay Social Security for their workers (even temps), which in the end amounts to around 52% of the net salary the worker is paid. As you can imagine, there's a lot of employers out there who try to find ways to circumvent Social Security and save themselves the 52% charge.

Social Security provides several benefits, the most important being access to public healthcare. Public hospitals are accessible only to workers that are registered and their families. If you're not a registered worker and decide to use a public hospital, once you're treated they will either bill your employer (they're going to ask you who you're working for) or give you the bill should you say that you are not working for anyone.

Social Security has inspectors visit companies every so often, and interview workers in order to determine if what their employer is saying on paper is true or not. These inspections are mandatory, and no company can refuse them without the risk of being closed down immediately.

If you're properly registered for Social Security, you should receive an information slip from your employer every 2 or 3 months. This slip is blue and pink, and has the CCSS logo on it. It will list your personal information (name, ID, etc), the name of your employer, and your salary information as it appears in their database. If any of the fields don't match up with what you have in mind, check with your employer or directly with your local CCSS offices (you can request information on your file at these offices, without any prior authorization from your employer).

Some employers request that their employees work under a "professional services" regime. This is basically a consulting format, where the worker provides a service as if he were a third-party (and not working directly for the employer). Under this regime, the employer simply declares that the worker is independent, and is not required to pay Social Security charges. Of course, what he's doing is really transferring the responsibility for Social Security and other insurance requirements directly to you. If you wish to work under professional services, you must register directly under your name for Social Security and pay the corresponding amount. You also have to look after your own insurance policy, and declare income taxed at the end of the fiscal year. Failure to do any of these things carries penalties with it, that might apply either immediately, or many months in the future when you least expect it. For example income tax penalties and audits often come 2 to 3 years after you've actually received payment for the work you've done.

Social security has an initial "trial period" of 3 months, where an employer is not required to register a worker, since they're trying out and may or may not stay with the company. Some employers will take advantage of this, and terminate and rehire you every 3 months. This is not allowed, of course, and your employer faces fines should he do this. 


Working in any sector involves a certain amount of risk of injury or illness, for some sectors it's higher and for some it's lower. By law, all workers have to be covered by insurance policy known as RT (Riesgos del Trabajo). This insurance policy is handled by the state insurance company, and is mandatory for all employers, with no distinction between employers who are physical persons hiring directly and employers that are companies.

Upon starting work, your employer must notify the insurance company of your presence, so that you're registered and covered by their insurance policy. Every month, they have to submit a report where they have to list you, in order to maintain your coverage. If you're not declared upon starting, or if at any time they don't list you in their monthly reports, you won't be covered by insurance. In case of illness or injury, you won't be able to opt for the insurance companies coverage and medical services, or if you do the insurance company will later bill your employer for it.

If you're working under professional services, you must have an insurance policy for yourself. As you can imagine, this involves registration at the insurance company and payment of the required amounts for coverage.

There are penalties for working uninsured, or having workers that are not insured. If any time an inspector should determine that you're working and not covered by insurance, you can be fined several times your monthly salary, or your employer may have their company shut down altogether.


There's many restrictions for minors that decide to work. Minors may not be hired unless they have a special permit extended by the PANI , as well as written authorization from their guardians. Minors cannot work in particularly risky situations (for example construction or security), and have special restrictions on the amount of hours they can work per day. For this reason, most companies simply will not hire minors.

Maximum hours and extra wagesEdit

The maximum hours any worker can put it in, as well as the amount that they have to be paid for extra hours, is regulated by law. If you're working the day shift the most that you can work under normal wage are eight hours a day, and 48 per week. If you're working the night shift, the maximum hours are six hours a day and 36 a week. Beyond that, your employer is required to pay you 50% more for each extra hour worked. In theory, this applies only to the daily shift: you might work more than eight hours on some days, but in the end the total hours worked during the week can not exceed 48 (for the day shift).

You are entitled to a day off for every six days consecutively worked. You are also entitled to two weeks paid vacation for every 50 weeks worked.

Of course, what the law says is not always what happens. The specific conditions between you and your employer might mandate that you work more hours than what is specified by law or that you shift your days off so that they're not exactly one day per every six days work. If you both agree to it, it's valid, however what you both agree to is not above the law, and if push comes to shove what the law says is what must be followed.

Work exchange programsEdit

There's several places that offer work exchange programs, where you go to work for them and in exchange they will provide you with room and board. Depending on the exact conditions you may or may not receive a cash salary (your employer may equate your salary with the cost of room and board so the balance at the end is zero). This could be valid in some cases. However, despite the fact that you don't receive a cash salary your employer must still register you for Social Security and insurance. You must also have the necessary permits to work in these work exchange programs. All legal restrictions regarding days off and maximum hours still apply.

Other notesEdit

By law, any written document that may be produced on a private level (that is to say, a written agreement that's not necessarily registered in the state archives by a lawyer) is valid, and what it states is obligatory for both parts that have signed it. That means that any piece of paper that you sign can (and probably will) be used against you in a court of law. So be careful with what you sign, and if you should come to any specific agreements with your employer, be sure to get them signed and in writing. Same applies any time you do business with anyone, especially when it comes to services: get it in writing before you invest your time or money.

Despite the fact that written documents on a private level are immediately valid as contracts, no document is produced on a private level can go against the law. It's important that you keep this in mind: if what you sign goes against what the law says, it could eventually be nullified by a judge. There are certain constitutional rights pertaining to work agreements (for example minimum wages, insurance, sanitation, and days off) that cannot be waived in any way, no matter if you put it in writing or not.

If you have doubts about what you're signing at any time, there's way too many lawyers all over the country that you can contact for assistance. It might be worth it to check up with one of them before you put that signature on the piece of paper.

Your employer cannot withhold your ID or passport for any reason, at any time. Beware of jobs where you're required to hand over your ID or passport, this is usually a very bad signal and you should immediately refuse and seek assistance if this should happen.

Sexual harassmentEdit

Costa Rica has legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, and in any other environment, private or public. Any behavior which could be regarded as sexual harassment can and should be reported to the proper authorities or your HR department. 

So, in short, beware ofEdit

So in short, if you choose to work, beware of the following situations which may signal irregularities that might eventually put you at risk:

  • Employers that won't register you for Social Security, or suggest you allow them to not register you. 
  • Employers that terminate and rehire you every 3 months, to avoid Social Security registration.
  • Jobs where you're not covered by worker's insurance (INS-RT). If you're not sure of coverage, ask your employer for the written declaration where you're listed.
  • Employers that work "professional services", where there's no signed contract. 
  • Employers that offer  "voluntary social security", where they pay you the required amount and "you take care" of your own Social Security payments.
  • Employers that don't give you a social security slip every 2 to 3 months.
  • Social security slips that list your personal information or your salary incorrectly.
  • Work exchange programs where it's not completely clear what your hours are, what your duties are, or how the balance between room and board and salary comes out. Or any other job where that happens, for that matter.
  • Jobs that involve clear and out-of-the-ordinary risks (for example construction, maintenance, electrical work, altitude work, confined spaces, security services, industrial work, etc) where you're not provided with the proper training or safety equipment. It's your employer's legal obligation to provide all the necessary personal protection equipment and safety training that may be required for your specific job. 

Where to get helpEdit

In general, work-related queries are handled by the Ministry of Labor . Their number is 2542-0000.

Issues regarding minors should be reported to the PANI at 2573-0000. Through their hotline you can seek assistance if you're a minor, or you can anonymously report irregularities regarding minors in the workplace.

Social security issues are handled by the CCSS . 2539-0000.

In urgent situations, if all else fails, 9-1-1 will take your work related issue and route you to the proper authorities.

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