Education in “Education in Costa Rica”





Children in Costa Rica enjoy high-quality education.


A Well-Educated Population

Since 1948, Costa Rica has been one of the few countries without a military, and is probably the most significant nation without an army after Japan. The expenditures the nation used to have for arms and their standing army were redirected towards, amongst others, education. It is included in the constitution that the government allocates a minimum of 8% of GDP annually to education. This is one of the reasons why today, Costa Rica boasts the most advanced and highest quality education system in the region.

Education is generally free in Costa Rica, and every citizen is obligated to receive education by law. Thus, the literacy rate is one of the highest of all Latin American countries; for youth between the ages of 15 and 24, the literacy rate is 98%. In a report by the World Economic Forum in 2015, the Costa Rican education system was also ranked highest in Latin America.

Primary education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 13, and is attended by almost every child in the country. Secondary education leaves pupils two choices of specification: academic (5 years) and technical (6 years) schools. Both types of institution enable students to acquire high school diplomas, which qualify them for tertiary education at universities.

The Ministry of Education introduced programs to guarantee widespread knowledge in computer sciences and English as a second language (ESL) to keep the Costa Rican youth and workforce on par with international standards. ESL in particular is a main focus. The Ministry hopes to get 25% of high school graduates to C1 level of skill (“competent user”), and all others to at least basic levels of comprehension in the years to come. Including both public and private schools, 85% of students at the primary level attend English classes throughout Costa Rica.     

Schooling for Expat Kids

The nation is also home to a variety of private schools of different cultural backgrounds, including the US, UK, France, Germany, and Israel, amongst others. Expat children will feel right at home at these bilingual schools and remain in touch with their native culture. Expats moving to Costa Rica with their teenage kids could also simply enroll their offspring in the local high schools, as the quality of education in Costa Rica is exceptionally high for the region.

The Costa Rican education system provides the country with a steady stream of new, highly skilled future professionals and is one of the main pillars of the nation’s social and economic stability and prosperity. All this educational excellence unfortunately comes at a price for expats. As we have mentioned in our article on working in Costa Rica, your chances of employment in the country are slim to none if you do not possess special skills that are not available or rare domestically. Only specifically trained professionals or company heads have a real shot at legally working in Costa Rica.


In 1869, Costa Rica made education both free and mandatory for all its citizens. Since that time, the country's education system has grown to include more than four thousand schools. Over the last three decades the country has invested nearly 30% of its national budget in primary and secondary education. The literacy rate is 95% in residents age 15 and older, and the country boasts more teachers than policemen.

There are public elementary and high schools in every community, and all students are required to wear a uniform, to lessen the economic distinctions among classmates. Public elementary schools consist of six years of education followed by five to six years of high school. The first three years of high school are dedicated to general education while the remaining two or three provide students with specialized training. Upon graduation, students receive a title in arts or sciences and a Costa Rican Bachillerato Diploma, which is accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.

Private schools are scattered throughout the country, some of which offer classes in several languages, and follow U.S. curriculums. Degrees offered include the International Baccalaureate Diploma, accredited by the IBO in Switzerland, and a U.S. High School Diploma, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Colleges & Universities

A college education in Costa Rica not only promises excellent academics, but a sound financial investment. The country has both public and private universities, from the highly regarded University of Costa Rica to the internationally recognized University for Peace. Tuition generally runs about 50% less than in-state rates for most U.S. schools, and students get the added value of spending time abroad. You’ll learn Spanish, make friends from around the world, and graduate with little debt and a first-rate education.

If you’re already studying at a U.S. or other foreign university, schedule an appointment with your study abroad office – your school may offer semester or yearlong options in Costa Rica. If you plan to study in Costa Rica independently, or for more than a year, you’ll probably have to arrange many details yourself, from admissions tests to federal student loans. Note that non-residents are required to have a student visa to study more than three months in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican universities give most courses in Spanish, though individual classes in English are available. Several private universities offer entire majors in English. Those include the Universidad de Iberoamerica (UNIBE) that specializes in medicine; the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnologia (ULACIT), which offers baccalaureate through doctorate degrees in many subjects; and the Universidad Veritas, a national leader in architecture and design. 

The University of Costa Rica, which offers more than 100 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, is Costa Rica’s highest ranking public university. Tuition costs about $80 per credit hour for undergraduates, and $140 for graduate students, plus miscellaneous fees of around $100 per year. For an average undergraduate course load of 17 credit hours per semester, you’ll pay around $2,800 in tuition per year, plus living expenses ($500-$1,500 per month, depending on your lifestyle). A graduate student with 14 credit hours will pay about $4,000 per year, plus living expenses. Other public universities, such as the Universidad a la Distancia (UNED, Distance Learning University), have comparable credit hour costs.

The Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica, located in Montealegre, also known as UNEM is mainly a Business School, and a well-respected universities that cater mostly to international students and offer classes in English. The United Nations and former Costa Rica President, Rodrigo Carazo, helped found The University for Peace. Its mission is to promote peace, understanding and tolerance and the school offers several related master’s degree programs – Gender and Peace Building, International Law and Human Rights, and Peace Education – and costs around $26,000 per year, not including living expenses. Financial aid is available based on need and academics, from a 25% tuition waiver to full expenses paid.

UNEM, ranked by the Wall Street Journal in 2005 as the #10 international business school, was founded in 1964 by Harvard Business School, USAID, and the private sector in Central America. Today, it offers four master’s programs – a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA, English and Spanish); a Master’s in Agribusiness Management (MIAM, English); a Global Real Estate Management degree (GREM, English and Spanish); and a Global Executive MBA (EMBA, Spanish). Tuition for the 21-month MBA program is under $57,000, including living expenses – an excellent deal when compared to $84,000 yearly tuition for Harvard Business School. UNEM is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) and the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS).

Compared to college tuitions in the United States, universities here are a steal. For the 2010-2011 school year, the University of California-Berkeley charges undergraduate tuition of $6,230 for in-state students and $17,670 for non-residents – plus room and board of over $12,000. Williams College, U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked liberal arts university collects $41,190 in tuition for the 2010-2011 academic year, plus $11,000 for room and board. 

According to recent studies by Kiplinger, even with the average financial aid package, student loans and possible scholarships, most students will spend $11,000-$21,000 per year, and will graduate $10,000-$22,000 in debt. In Costa Rica, your savings and financial aid will stretch further, and you are guaranteed a quality education and a college experience unlike any other. 


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