Volunteer in Costa Rica
At a glance…
- Available year-round
- 12 meaningful project options
- Projects based in San Jose, Manuel Antonio and across Costa Rica
- Accommodation in homestays and dorms (dependent on project)
- Program fees include airport pick-up, orientation, accommodation, meals and 24/7 in-country support
- Program fees from $365 for 1 week
- Affordable Spanish language lessons available
- Between 40 and 80 volunteers start in Costa Rica each month
- Most affordable fees - as the world leader in affordable volunteer travel, we’re able to keep our fees low by partnering with a local organization in Costa Rica to support meaningful community projects and local employment.
- Superior support - your experienced IVHQ Program Manager, teamed with our local team in Costa Rica will ensure you feel supported every step of the way - from planning to volunteering.
- Responsible projects - we’re dedicated to ensuring that our projects are responsibly run and have sustainable positive impacts that are supporting local needs.
- Online training - as soon as you register on an IVHQ program, you will gain access to our interactive volunteer training to ensure you’re well prepared for your program.
- Safety-first - volunteer safety is a top priority for IVHQ and we have clear standards for risk management on each program. You can feel confident that you are placed with trustworthy institutions, organisations and families that have been screened by our local teams.
- New friendships - as an IVHQer, you’ll always be in the company of friendly locals and like-minded volunteer travelers who will quickly become your life-long friends.
- Epic weekend adventures - you’ll have your weekends free to explore Costa Rica with your new-found friends.
The IVHQ Costa Rica volunteer program has volunteer placements located throughout Costa Rica, with the large majority based in and around San Jose.
Volunteer programs begin every Monday. Volunteers can choose to volunteer for periods ranging from 1 week to 24 weeks. Please note, the Turtle Conservation project has a minimum duration of 2 weeks and the Manuel Antonio projects have a minimum duration of 3 weeks.
Costa Rica is becoming one of the more affluent countries in Central America due to having strong natural resources, a stable Government and increasing tourism. However, this is also causing problems as citizens from neighboringcountries such as Nicaragua, are immigrating to Costa Rica, causing an increase in unemployment, homelessness and poverty. The aim of the Childcare project is to provide individual attention and assistance to children from difficult backgrounds in San Jose. Many of these children do not receive the level of education and affection that they deserve, and you will play an important role in working alongside local staff to improve the educational, emotional, and hygiene conditions of the children. You will work in orphanages, community centers, day-care centers, schools, soup kitchens and kindergartens. Your work varies, but generally consists of providing individual attention and affection to the children, organizing games and activities, educating children in regards to hygiene and assisting with homework.
Working with Children - Manuel Antonio
Volunteers assist in a local daycare facility or at a local school where work may vary, but generally includes organizing games, sports, activities, hygiene education, cleaning and assisting the teachers and caretakers at the project site. The children require a lot of care, attention and most importantly, companionship. We encourage you to use your skills and creativity, be openminded and be ready to pitch-in and help out. This project requires a minimum duration of 3 weeks.
Turtle Conservation volunteers work alongside a Costa Rican biologist to assist with sea turtle studies and protection work and help with sustainable egg protection programs. Volunteers live in one of four beach locations around Costa Rica and work day and night shifts. Living conditions are basic and volunteers must come prepared to work hard. Volunteer roles vary according to the time of year, but general work includes beach patrols, building hatcheries to protect eggs from predators, beach cleaning, counting and tagging sea turtles, locating nesting females, and collecting eggs. Please note, the Turtle Conservation project has a minimum of 2 weeks and has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
The healthcare system in Costa Rica is relatively well developed, however the placements we work with always appreciate the extra assistance that volunteers provide through supporting local nurses, doctors and care-givers. You can work with a range of local institutions in San Jose, including clinics for disabled children, hospitals, nursing homes, HIV/AIDS assisted living homes and ambulance services. Strict insurance laws and regulations in Costa Rica can make direct patient care rare and it’s therefore important that volunteers have realistic expectations with regards to the work they will be doing. This project is very well suited for physical therapists and occupational therapists, as there is need for volunteers in these fields. Students who are pre-medical, pre-nursing students, as well as first or second year medical and nursing students may work alongside medical professionals to assist with distributing and sorting medication, assisting with rehabilitation exercises, feeding, bathing and keeping patients company. Third year nursing or medical students through to qualified health professionals may shadow local doctors and nurses, assist with check ups, triage, taking vitals and preparing medical equipment. Independence in the Healthcare project is always determined by the level of training and demonstrated expertise, Spanish language level, age, personality and ability to take initiative, and program duration. Please note, all Healthcare volunteers must bring scrubs and evidence of their level of education. The Healthcare project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
Healthcare - Manuel Antonio
Healthcare volunteers are typically placed at a local hospital or an elderly care facility. Volunteers directly assist medical staff with patient care to help speed up hospital or facility functions, and may also go on home visits with medical staff to elderly patient’s homes. Volunteers can expect to provide general care and companionship, prepare arts and crafts, change beds, engage in conversation or talk therapy, distribute and/or sort medicine, feed and bathe patients, and assist with administrative work and filing. Strict insurance laws and regulations in Costa Rica can make direct patient care rare and it’s therefore important that volunteers have realistic expectations with regards to the work they will be doing. This project is very well suited for physical therapists and occupational therapists, as there is need for volunteers in these fields. Students who are pre-medical, pre-nursing students, as well as first or second year medical and nursing students may work alongside medical professionals to assist with distributing and sorting medication, assisting with rehabilitation exercises, feeding, bathing and keeping patients company. Independence in the Healthcare project is always determined by the level of training and demonstrated expertise, Spanish language level, age, personality and ability to take initiative, and program duration. Please note, all Healthcare volunteers must bring scrubs and evidence of their level of education. This project requires a minimum duration of 3 weeks and involves a US$65 per week surcharge to cover the logistics, materials and supervision required which will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
Construction and Renovation
One of the ways IVHQ supports the different placements where our volunteers work is through the Construction and Renovation project in San Jose. Many placements are under-funded, rundown and in need of renovation work. Volunteers generally work alongside a local construction worker, who provides them with direction and motivation. You can work on a variety of buildings, such as schools, orphanages, community centers and clinics. Your work will vary, but generally consists of renovating buildings, repainting community centers, building required infrastructure, such as orphanages, and landscaping/gardening. You do not need to have experience with construction work, but having good energy levels, a reasonable level of fitness and good dedication will go a long way to ensuring you get the most out of your volunteer project. Please note, the Construction and Renovation project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
Teaching English to low-income communities in San Jose and surrounding areas offers a highly rewarding experience for volunteers and students alike. Children, teenagers and young adults in these communities are very grateful for the opportunity to practice their pronunciation and conversation skills with native English speakers. As Costa Rica is increasingly becoming the tourism capital of Central America, English is a prerequisite for all locals looking to make a career in the tourism industry. Volunteers work in local schools, orphanages and community centers. Volunteer work varies, but generally includes providing tutoring to local students, setting up small workshops, assisting local teachers and organizing educational games and activities. It is important to note that schools in Costa Rica are closed from the third week of December until the second week of February and there is a 2 week holiday beginning on the first week of July. Any time that schools are closed, Teaching English volunteers usually teach in precarios (urban slums), community centers or churches. As volunteers work with the support of IVHQ’s local team and placement staff, they do not need to be qualified or experienced teachers to participate. Our local team provide Teaching English volunteers with a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) “crash course” and educational materials to help get you started. If you are interested in gaining a TEFL certification at a discounted rate before traveling to Costa Rica, visit our Online TEFL Course page.
Teaching English - Manuel Antonio
As Manuel Antonio is a major tourist destination in Costa Rica, it is very important for locals to learn English. The ability to speak English can be the difference between finding a job and being unemployed. Class locations include public schools, a local fire station and private lessons in the homes of families. You can expect to teach for 4 hours daily and to prepare their own English lessons, activities and games. All volunteers will receive lesson planning assistance, materials and books, as well as a teaching English crash course to get started. This project requires a minimum duration of 3 weeks.
The Eco-Agriculture Conservation project is based in the central highlands of Costa Rica, where volunteers assist local communities through strengthening coffee production operations. Volunteers not only provide assistance through helping with coffee growing and production, but also through reforestation, various agriculture efforts and caring for the local community. Volunteer roles will be determined by the time of year, but will always involve providing support to the families living on local farms. Roles such as coffee-picking in the fields, roasting beans and packaging the final product will be included in volunteer duties.Throughout the year, Eco-Agriculture Conservation volunteers also have the opportunity to supplement their volunteer time by teaching English in a local school. Please note, the Eco-Agriculture project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
Special Needs Care
Volunteers with plenty of energy and a desire to contribute to the development of students with intellectual and physical challenges are welcome to join our Special Needs Care project in San Jose. Volunteers on this project have the opportunity to work in a school for children with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities. The school offers the opportunity for volunteers to work alongside local teachers to help run the classroom and provide attention and care to the children. The school is divided into sections focusing on visually impaired, hearing impaired and physically disabled children, and volunteers are assigned to help in one of these specific areas. At the center for autistic adults, volunteers play an important role in teaching new skills to these adults, providing training in areas such as knitting, horticulture and baking, providing the families of these adults with a break from acting as their full time caregivers. Please note, this project is available to take volunteers between mid-March and mid-December and is closed for 2 weeks in early July for the summer break.
The Costa Rica Holiday Experience project is held during the weeks of Christmas and New Years and provides the opportunity to participate in a variety of different projects and activities in the local communities in San Jose. The project was designed by our local team as an alternative to the standard projects which have frequent public holiday closures over the Christmas and New Years period. Volunteers on the Holiday Experience project assist in a number of tasks, such as working with underprivileged children and elderly, coordinating holiday celebrations for underprivileged children, as well as cleaning and renovating of community centers. On the major holidays that fall during this period, volunteers have the day off to explore San Jose and the surrounding areas, which is a beautiful and unique experience during the festive season. Please note, in 2018, this project is only available to volunteers who begin the weeks of 24th and 31st December. The Holiday Experience project requires an extra cost of US$95 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project which will be included in the program fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply. Volunteers who continue on the program beyond these weeks will resume on a standard volunteer project of their choice.
Spanish Service Learning Course
Students from around the world have an opportunity to gain university credit while volunteering in San Jose through the Spanish Service Learning Course (SPAN203SL), which is accredited by California State University, Monterey Bay. The purpose of the Spanish Service Learning Course is to foster a sense of civic responsibility and community, to expose students to local culture and language, and to create an opportunity for students to broaden their global perspective and identity. For further details, see our Spanish Service Learning Course page.
Students attend 5 guided reflections, write a daily journal and then complete a final reflection paper. The Spanish Service Learning Course and optional language lessons are offered in conjunction with the volunteer work and can all be included in your daily schedule as an IVHQ volunteer. The workshops and written assignments are conducted in English, however the remainder of the course and the entire volunteer experience offer total Spanish immersion. Volunteers choose their work from a range of options including: Teaching English, Childcare, Special Needs Care, Construction and Renovation and Healthcare and arranging the course accreditation is done through your IVHQ Program Manager and the local team in Costa Rica after you have registered. When applying online, please apply for the Spanish Service Learning Course project and indicate your volunteer work preference in the ‘Comments’ section of your application.
The course fee is US$880 and is paid directly to IVHQ’s local team to cover all aspects of the course and accreditation. This course fee is in addition to the IVHQ Registration Fee and the Program Fee which volunteers pay to cover the volunteer section of the course requirements. Volunteers can join the Spanish Service Learning Course any time of year and it requires a minimum duration of 4 weeks. Attendance for the whole duration is mandatory.
The IVHQ Costa Rica program promotes the concept of ‘betterment’ across all its social and environmental projects. The program aims to improve the lives of members of the community, the lives of animals and the lives of volunteers through proving an opportunity for volunteers to immerse themselves in project work that delivers sustainable positive outcomes. As one of IVHQ’s most popular destinations, the IVHQ Costa Rica program offers a wide range of project types in multiple locations throughout Costa Rica including, childcare, teaching, turtle conservation, eco-agriculture, healthcare, construction and renovation, special needs care and Spanish service learning. In the last 12 months, IVHQ volunteers have contributed more than 57,000 hours to projects in Costa Rica and have make a significant impact with their time spent in country.
Latest impacts achieved:
- Measured, counted, and tagged more than 2,900 sea turtles, and released over 1,000 turtle hatchlings into the sea
- Participated on over 1,800 night patrols to control turtle egg poaching
- Equipped seven classrooms, each with a capacity for 10 children. Each classroom was given a new whiteboard, one large table, and 10 chairs
- Organized and led the delivery of six medical campaigns, each with an average of 200 patients
- Painted seven murals and put up three hanging gardens in an effort to beautify living arrangements for families in need
- Provided 204 full scholarships for students from local projects to study English
- Contributed over 8,000 hours of aid at medical projects
- Donated 215 notebooks, 820 pencils, 500 pens, 210 crayon boxes as well as other materials like glue, activity books, rulers and pencil sharpeners
- Facilitated the donation of over 3,000 boxes of latex gloves, 1,000 toothbrushes, 1,000 tubes of toothpaste, 900 bottles of children’s vitamins, 550 bags of adult diapers, 400 boxes of bandages, 430 boxes of aspirin, and other medicines as prescribed by a local doctor
- Renovated and restored two churches
- Built six wooden desks, drawers and cabinets for the computers to support the provision of computer literacy teaching
The program orientation begins every Monday and volunteers need to arrive into San Jose on the Sunday before orientation.
After you have registered for the program, please book your flights to arrive at Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose. Your airport pick-up is included in your Program Fee.
When you arrive, you will be greeted at the airport by a member of the local team and transported to the volunteer accommodation in San Jose. Your accommodation is covered by your Program Fee and includes the night before your program orientation.
If you are traveling in Costa Rica prior to your volunteer program, we can arrange for you to be picked up in San Jose on the day before your program orientation.
Orientation is provided by our Costa Rica team at their offices in San Jose for volunteers on all projects, including those who will be based outside of San Jose for their volunteering - it is required for all volunteers to attend. Orientation begins on Monday morning and covers everything you need to know for your volunteer program in Costa Rica – Introduction to Costa Rica, Costa Rican Customs, Language Training Details, Rules and Expectations, Safety, Travel Opportunities in Costa Rica, Introduction to your Project and Placement. The orientation will also give you a chance to meet other volunteers and swap contact details for weekend travel and socializing.
First Day: On your first day of volunteering, you will be escorted to your placement by a local coordinator and introduced to the placement staff you will be working with.
Weekdays: Volunteers will have a morning or afternoon shift, which will last around 2 to 4 hours. A typical afternoon schedule is as follows:
12.00 PM - Lunch at a local restaurant
1.00 PM - Volunteer leaves home and travels to the project. The volunteer joins with the local staff. You will be given a duty roster and a plan for your work. Work and hours is dependent on the project and location that the volunteer is participating on.
4.00 PM - Work at the placement usually ends. Volunteers are free to travel home, go sight seeing or do some shopping.
7.00 PM - Dinner with the host family.
Please note, this schedule can vary as projects take place in either the morning or evening. If a volunteer is taking Spanish language lessons, he/she will usually volunteer for half the day and spend the other half (3 to 4) hours taking Spanish language lessons.
Volunteers are accommodated in a homestay with a local host family who have been approved by our local staff. Living is comfortable and the homestays have electricity, running water (drinkable) and western bathrooms. Please note, low pressure showers can be expected and the water is not always heated. Bedrooms are comprised of single beds and bunk beds with bedding provided. Volunteers can expect to share a room with one or two other volunteers, but in some homestays, volunteers will have their own rooms. WiFi is available in the majority of homestays and you will have access to computers and WiFi at the local team’s office in San Jose.
Accommodation on the Turtle Conservation project is typically in dormitory-style lodging with basic amenities. WiFi availability is limited at the Turtle Conservation sites, so we recommend purchasing a local SIM card for an unlocked mobile phone during your program orientation in San Jose if you would like to keep connected.
Volunteers are provided breakfast and dinner at their accommodation. Breakfast typically consists of bread, spreads, fruit, eggs, rice and beans accompanied with tea or coffee. Dinner commonly consists of meat (commonly chicken), beans, rice, starches and vegetables. Gallo Pinto, the national dish of Costa Rica, is made of rice, beans and various spices, and is served with almost every meal. Lunches are not provided to San Jose and Manuel Antonio-based volunteers as they are typically away from their accommodation mid-day. We recommend budgeting between US$5 and US$10 per day to purchase lunch in local restaurants recommended by the local staff. Turtle Conservation and Eco-Agriculture volunteers are provided with lunch given the limited availability of restaurants in the rural settings these projects are placed in. Please be sure to let us know of any special dietary requirements so we can make special arrangements for you.
“The project offered exactly what I wanted to do and my experience on the Turtle Conservation program was one of the best of my life. The accomodations were far beyond what I expected and I was never unhappy with them. My favorite moment was the first time we released 100 baby turtles to sea at sunset. It was very amazing. I would recommend this program to others for sure.” - Collin Hannahan (Turtle Conservation Volunteer in Costa Rica)
During the weekends, volunteers have spare time to relax or take the opportunity to explore other parts of San Jose and Costa Rica. Long weekends can be taken to travel further afield to visit volcanoes, rainforests, and beaches throughout the country. Sunday is a religious day of rest and most places (stores, restaurants) are closed on Sundays, as most Costa Ricans devote the day to spending time with their family. If you wish, you can accompany your host family to their local church, as a Latin American church service is unique and special experience for many volunteers.
See our Costa Rica Travel and Tours page for more volunteer travel options in Costa Rica!
|Currency||Costa Rican Colón (CRC)|
Weather and climate: Costa Rica is unequivocally a tropical country, situated between 8° and 11° north latitude, fairly close to the equator. Although you get much cooler temperatures in the mountains above 2000 meters, the average annual temperature for most of the country lies between 21.7°C (71°F) and 27°C (81°F). The coolest months are from November through to January, and the warmest months are from March through to May. San Jose stands at approximately 1170 meters altitude and has a mean annual temperature of 20.6°C (69°F).
Volunteers need to be 18 years or over to participate, unless volunteering with a parent or guardian. All volunteers are required to have adequate volunteer travel insurance and provide a criminal background check to IVHQ’s local team on arrival in Costa Rica. Additional requirements apply for Healthcare volunteers, please read the project description below.
Fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for the IVHQ Costa Rica volunteer program, however on certain projects, such as Teaching English and Healthcare, volunteer work will be restricted with limited language ability. We recommend that volunteers take advantage of the very affordable language lessons offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers by our partner staff in Costa Rica. Past volunteers feel that taking these lessons helped immensely with day-to-day volunteer work and communicating with local people. Volunteers interested in taking Spanish lessons can arrange these directly with the local staff once in Costa Rica.
Free Interactive Volunteer Training - All volunteers are encouraged to complete our interactive pre-departure training, which is available exclusively to registered IVHQ volunteers. The training is designed to build an understanding of important aspects that need to be considered before embarking on an IVHQ program. It helps volunteers to prepare in the right way by providing advice on what it takes to be a safe, responsible and valuable volunteer. Try a sample of the training here.
Mini Adventure Week - Ensuring you don’t miss any of the main attractions while volunteering in Costa Rica, the Mini Adventure combines the major hot spots in Costa Rica into a one-week excursion that can be added at the beginning or end of your volunteer program. You will be accompanied by a certified bilingual tour guide for each trip, using San Jose as your home base between tours. This six-day program compliments your volunteer experience, without the stress of trip planning! If you would like to add a Mini Adventure to your trip to Costa Rica, you can arrange this directly with our local staff once you arrive in San Jose. The cost is US$1,050 and includes the Ram Luna cultural night of dinner and dancing in San Jose, a 3-in-1 tour visiting the La Paz waterfall gardens, Poas Volcano and a coffee plantation tour, a day-long catamaran tour to Tortuga Island and 3 nights on the Pacific Coast near the famous Manuel Antonio National Park.
Language Lessons - Fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for the IVHQ Costa Rica program, however on certain projects, such as Teaching and Healthcare, volunteer work will be restricted with limited language ability. We recommend that volunteers take advantage of the very affordable language lessons offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers by our partner staff in Costa Rica. Past volunteers feel that taking these lessons help immensely with day-to-day volunteer work and communicating with local people. Volunteers interested in taking Spanish lessons can arrange these directly with the local staff once in Costa Rica at the program orientation. The language lessons are tailored to each volunteer’s current level of Spanish and classes run from Monday through to Friday. The cost is very affordable and offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers.
- 2-Hour Small Group Classes: US$95 per week
- 1-Hour Private Classes: US$175 per week
- 4-Hour Group Classes: $195 per week