Frequently Asked Questions

Going on an internship, volunteering or student exchange program in a foreign country can be pretty intimidating so we want to make you sure you know everything you need to know and that you feel comfortable before embarking on your trip. Here is a selection of frequently asked questions and answers to guide you, and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Preparing for the trip

Do I need a passport to enter Costa Rica?
Yes. You need a passport valid for at least 6 months after arrival.
Do I need a visa for my stay?
If you are staying for less than 90 days in Costa Rica, you don’t need a special visa.
For an Internship or volunteer work for more than three months you must have a visa in Costa Rica. Some documents must be certified in your home country and brought back and be organized at the Costa Rican embassy in your home country.
For a student residence in Costa Rica for more than three months, ICIES will take care of the procedure around the residence permit (costs are not included in the price).
Must departure taxes be paid?
A US$29 departure tax must be paid at the airport. The fee can be paid in cash or by credit card.
What clothes should be brought?
It is good to bring not only summer clothes, but also a few light pants and sweaters. Evenings in San José and surroundings are cool, so it is advisable to wear some extra layers. During the rainy season, a rain jacket or at least an umbrella is a must if you are going out.
What else should I bring?
If you plan to visit one of the many beautiful beaches, it is advisable to bring sunscreen. Keep in mind that sunscreen as well as shampoo and some other cosmetics are very expensive in Costa Rica. Binoculars can be useful when you visit one of the many national parks or when you go bird watching. Also, insect repellent and insect bite cream are useful. And of course, bring a camera to record all your experiences.
Do I need to bring bedding and towels?
No need to bring bedding. Towels and beach towel should be brought or bought in Costa Rica.
Which is the best currency (travelers checks, credit card or cash) to bring for the trip?
Credit cards are very useful. Major credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are widely used. There is no problem finding ATMs that accept these credit cards and most stores will accept them. Some ATMs also accept debit cards, which usually charge less to withdraw than credit cards.
All banks exchange dollars, some even Euros. It is not advisable to change money on the street, because the exchange rate is usually very low.
Will anyone help me organize my trip around Costa Rica?
We offer you the best and cheapest ways to travel around Costa Rica. We organize tours to all parts of the country.
Will anyone pick me up from the airport?
Your host family or ICIES will pick you up at the airport.
Who will show me around San Jose?
During the first days of your arrival, the ICIES staff or your Host family will make a tour with you through the city and show you everything you need to move around the city. Then we will give you tips to make you feel comfortable as soon as posible.
What additional activities and services does ICIES offer?
Dance classes are also offered with local teachers (Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, Cha Cha Cha …). Also, cooking classes can be arranged if you want to learn how different national dishes are prepared. We also have information on restaurants, travel, nightlife, recreational programs, various festivals, etc. so you can explore your city during your free time. We also offer short tours as well as multiple day trips to all regions of Costa Rica.

About Costa Rica

What is the weather like?
The climate differs from region to region, sometimes dramatically, depending on month and height. Since it is mostly tropical, it may be cold and windy in higher regions and hot on the coasts. Generally, there are two seasons: the dry season (from December to April) and the rainy season (from May to November). During the rainy season (or winter) there is mostly morning sun and afternoon and evening rain. In general, temperatures range between 16°C and 35°C.
How safe is it?
Compared to most other Latin American countries, Costa Rica is not a very dangerous country. It has no army, a stable political situation and very low crime. In the capital San José, as in most capitals you should be careful with your belongings. Do not show expensive possessions in public and never leave your belongings unattended.
Which currency is used?
The Costa Rican currency is called the Colon. The exchange rate is constantly changing, as a guide expect to get about 500 colones per US dollar and 600 colones per euro.
What is the public transportation system like and how much does it cost?
The bus network is generally very well developed, although there are few places in Costa Rica that are not accessible by bus. A bus ride of 10 kilometers within the city will cost 200-250 colones (about 50 cents of a dollar). A 6-hour ride to a remote beach may cost up to 7500 colones (12$), which is still very affordable compared to North American and European standards.

It is strongly recommended to take a taxi after 21:00 0′ clock. Taxis are much cheaper in Costa Rica than in North America or Europe, costing about 10$ for a 10km ride. Taxis from most recognized companies in Costa Rica are red and marked with a numbered yellow triangle on the sides. They are reliable and safe, and you will be sure tey charge you the correct price.

What are the electronic standards?
The electric power is 110 volts, 60 hertz AC. You need an adapter for devices with a European plug.
Is it customary to tip waiters and taxi drivers?
Tipping is usually included and appears as a service item of 10% on the bill, although you can leave more if you appreciated the service.
Will my phone work in Costa Rica?
You can find stores in most major cities that will unlock your phone so you can register to a phone and data plan. You can also buy a prepaid mobile phone for 30$, which can be recharged with credit at every corner store. 5$ of credit might last you a couple of months!
What is Internet access like?
Most host families have wifi, as well as a lot of restaurants and cafés in most cities. There are also internet cafés you can visit if you don’t have a computer.
Can you drink water from the tap in San José?
Yes, in San José you can drink water from the tap. Outside of San José and in more rural areas it is advisable to buy bottled water.

Spanish classes

What training do the teachers at ICIES have?
All our teachers are native speakers and know the best ways to learn a language. Some of them have a university degree or are advanced university students.
Will I cope if I don't know a word in Spanish?
This is not a problem. Our beginner course is perfect for those who have no experience with the language. Our teachers will work with you at a reasonable pace.
Are separate courses offered for students with prior knowledge?
Yes, we offer language courses at different levels (from beginners to advanced).
What happens on the first day of the course program?
At the beginning of the course we will carry out a placement test and an interview to find the right course for you. If you are a beginner, you do not need to complete any tests. For the placement test and interview no additional fees are charged.
What should I bring to the classroom?
A good dictionary and writing utensils are recommended. Other necessary documents for the course are provided by the school.
Which countries do other students come from?
Most participants come from Europe, mostly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, although we are expanding to North America so expect more Canadians and Americans.

Host families

What will my host my family be like?
All ICIES host families are carefully selected and tested. They are friendly and helpful and will make you feel like home. You will always have your own room available, some with private bathrooms, some with a shared bathroom with the family. You will also get your own front door key, so that you can move freely, although most families enforce a curfew for younger participants.
What kind of food will be available?
Your family will provide you with balanced and delicious homemade food. Traditional food in Costa Rica includes rice, beans and a variety of fruits, vegetables and meat.
What if I need a special diet or nutrition?
If you are vegetarian or have allergies to certain foods, this is not a problem. Let us know in advance and we will inform the family.
Where does my host family live?
Host families live all over Costa Rica but especially in the Central Valley in the capital San José. Your host family will show you which bus you must take and how the system works.
Does my host family only speak spanish?
Our families often speak some English. In the beginning, this can help you understand. Over time, however, the family will speak only Spanish to you to help you improve your language skills.
What happens if I do not speak spanish?
This is not a problem. Our families are very patient and helpful. Host families are there to teach you Spanish. Host families are very sociable and try to communicate with you. Be patient and you will soon be able to debate and hold discussions with your Costa Rican family.
Do families have pets?
Some families have pets such as dogs or cats. If you do not like pets or are allergic to them, please let us know and we will find a family without animals.
Do families have children?
Normally, our families have teenage children or children who are grown up but still live in the house with the family. You can let us know if you have special requests in this regard and we will arrange your stay accordingly.
Can I smoke at my host family?
All our host families are non smoking. You can smoke if you want but you have to do it outside of the house.
Will I have my own bathroom?
Rooms with a private bathroom with a host family are rare. Normally, the bathroom is shared with other family members.