About Studying Spanish in Costa Rica
Why should I study Spanish in Liberia, Costa Rica?
Is Costa Rica safe?
How quickly will I learn Spanish?
How long should I stay in Costa Rica?
How many levels does Estelar have?
What are the requirements for passing a level?
Who are Estelar’s students?
Will I have the same teacher every week?
Can I take private classes?
What are the families like?
Can I be placed with the same family as my friend or partner?
Do students usually give their family a gift?
Can I extend my studies?
Can I stay extra nights with the family?
Can the Tico family accommodate my special dietary needs?
Does Instituto Estelar provide transportation to and from the airport?
When should I arrive to Liberia International Airport?
When should I arrive to Liberia International Airport?
If my flight is delayed, will I still be picked up at the airport?
How will I get to Instituto Estelar Bilingüe on the first day of classes?
How will I know how to get around in Liberia if I’ve never been there before?
Is the school ever closed?
Do I need to get any medical shots to enter Costa Rica?
Will my bank card work in Costa Rica?
How much cash or traveler’s checks should I carry?
What is the best way to communicate with my friends and family back home?
Can I volunteer while I am in Costa Rica?
For other questions, check out http://www.therealcostarica.com/ for more facts before travelling.
Liberia is the perfect location to study Spanish for many reasons. Not only is Costa Rica a gorgeous country with incredible natural diversity and beauty, but Liberia is a quaint, historic town with easy access to many amazing attractions: beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, national parks, jungles, and the bordering country of Nicaragua. Compared to the capital city and the towns on the coast, there are very few foreigners residing in Liberia, giving students constant Spanish practice and the chance to really experience Costa Rican culture.
Furthermore, the people of Liberia are friendly and hospitable, which makes it easy to meet new people and make new friends. The town has a calm, carefree atmosphere with people constantly in the park and on the streets, relaxing and spending time in the open air. It’s a great place to relax, explore, and really enjoy the pura vida lifestyle.
Most importantly, Instituto Estelar Bilingüe holds a standard of excellence in the classroom and in all the activities it offers, giving students a special experience that can’t be found elsewhere. Teachers are trained, observed, and evaluated in order to ensure the highest quality instruction. Our staff is friendly, fun, and always ready to help students with anything and everything!
Costa Rica is safer than many countries in Latin America; however, crime—mostly petty theft—does occur. Although foreigners are welcomed and treated warmly, they may be targeted if they are not alert. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings and careful with their belongings. Please check out our Safety section in Travel Tips for more suggestions. We often hear from visitors that Costa Rica seems safer than most cities in the U.S.
In our experience, we have seen that people tend to underestimate how difficult it is to learn a new language. It is not something that can be achieved overnight – learning a language takes time and dedication. Students who possess strong language skills in their primary language, or who have studied foreign languages before, have a marked advantage.
However, in our immersion program – staying in a homestay, studying four hours per day, and participating in extracurricular Spanish activities – a student who started with zero Spanish can be communicating at the basic level in just 3-5 weeks. In other words, it is possible to advance an entire level in just a few weeks when there is a balanced combination of dynamic teachers, interactive classes, plenty of conversation practice, and a willingness and capacity to learn.
We recommend a minimum of 3-4 weeks in our Spanish program. The longer a student can study and live with a local family, the better. The minimum is one week, however, and students will see progress even in that short amount of time.
Students receive a tourist visa upon entering Costa Rica, and this is good for 90 days. The law requires that visitors exit the country before the end of the 90-day period, but they may return after 72 hours. Students wanting to stay extra time can go to Nicaragua since it is so close (about one hour from Liberia), and we have travel information at the school to make the trip easy.
We have fifteen levels: Beginner 1-5, Intermediate 1-5, and Advanced 1-5.
Each level takes 1 week, or 20 hours, to complete.
The entire program from start to finish takes approximately 4 months.
Students are expected to come to class on time and to participate during the class. In the middle of the week, there is a written assignment followed by an oral presentation. The final day of class, students take an exam – both written and oral. We place more emphasis on speaking abilities, so the written exam is weighted 40%, and the oral exam is weighted 60%.
If a student does not pass with a 70%, or if the teacher recommends repetition of a level, the student can repeat a level. There is no shame whatsoever in repeating a level; in fact, it can be beneficial to review the concepts again if they are not completely understood. The most important thing is that the student is learning the language, not just moving through levels.
Our students, both in our English and Spanish programs, are extremely varied in terms of age, educational background, careers, and motivation for learning a foreign language. Most of our students come from North America, but we have had students from all over the world. Many of our students are university students, but we love having professionals and retired folks who recognize the importance of learning a second language and the personal enrichment that it brings. It is never too late to start learning Spanish, and we work very hard to meet the individual needs of all our students.
No, not necessarily. We recognize that students become attached to teachers (which is awesome!), but it is preferable to be exposed to various teaching styles, accents, and rates of speech. Students generally get a new teacher every Monday. In the Spanish Program for Expats, students are usually with the same teacher for the two-month duration of each level.
Yes, private classes are available for $26 an hour, and duo private classes (two students) are just $18 each per hour. Private classes are perfect for students wanting to move at an individualized pace (either faster or slower than the groups), get extra practice, receive intensive conversation practice, or learn about special, personalized topics. We also offer Individually Designed Programs, either in private or group classes, for students needing to focus on specialized vocabulary for a job or personal interest.
Our host families are carefully selected and screened in order to ensure that our students are well taken care of, included in family events, and given sufficient Spanish practice at home. We look for families who are good, honest people that keep a clean house in a safe neighborhood. The families are used to conversing with foreigners and they work hard to meet the needs of each student that stays in their home. Estelar is very involved in making sure that everything goes smoothly, and students can let us know their preferences regarding diet, kids or no kids in the family, smoking or non smoking, etc.
All families are within walking distance of the school, which is located in the center of Liberia and close to everything that the city has to offer.
We do our best to accommodate any student requests to live with the same family. However, we have seen that students living together tend to speak their native language together, thus hindering their progress in Spanish. Therefore, we strongly recommend that friends do not live in the same house. Couples or friends who choose to live in the same house should make a special effort to speak Spanish during their stay in Costa Rica.
It is common for students to give their family a gift, but no one is obligated to do so. It is a nice gesture and very much appreciated by the Tico family. Students are not expected to spend too much money on this gift – they tend to bring something typical (a product from their country) or touristy (like a T-shirt or hat).
Yes and yes. Students can extend their studies for as long as they’d like. Students can start their homestay earlier or end later for $28 per additional night (up to four nights, otherwise the weekly rate applies). Typically, students enter the homestay on the Sunday before their first class, and leave the Sunday after their last Friday class.
Of course. Students indicate their dietary needs (i.e. vegetarian, vegan, low fat, low sugar, food allergies, etc.) on the registration form so that we can inform the family. If a student requires any special ingredients that may not be found in Costa Rica or is not typically consumed by the family, they should bring these items with them or purchase them in supermarkets here.
We pick up students at the Liberia International Airport only (not the Juan Santamaria International airport in San Jose or any others along the coasts). We also only provide free transportation for students staying in a homestay. Students staying at a hotel may use our airport transportation services for an additional fee of $25 per trip (to and from the airport). Students staying in a homestay may also want to use this service to be dropped off at the airport after finishing their studies.
The driver picks up the student at the airport by holding an official sign with the student’s name and the school’s name. The driver takes the student directly to the homestay. The student does not need to tip the driver. Tipping in general in Costa Rica isn’t common or expected, but of course it is appreciated.
Note that the airport has an exit tax of $28 that must be paid in order to leave the country – it can be paid in dollars or colones. Some airline tickets already include this fee, so be sure to check your flight information.
If a student’s travel plans change, the school must be contacted so that adjustments can be made.
We recommend that students arrive on the Sunday before starting classes on Monday. This gives them a chance to meet the family, get settled, contact family and friends back home to let them know they’re safe, and prepare for Monday morning’s orientation and level testing starting at 8am.
Instituto Estelar is in contact with the airport and will be checking on the student’s flight status. Once students are registered, we also give them a phone number of a staff member at Estelar to contact if necessary. Worst case scenario, the student pays for a taxi and the school reimburses them (if it is our fault that no taxi is there to pick the student up).
All host families are within walking distance from the school. If there is time to walk around a bit on Sunday, the family will show the student where the school is. Otherwise, the family will accompany the student to the school on Monday morning.
Liberia is a small town, and we give new students a walking tour on the first day of classes. Students generally have no trouble finding their way around because Liberia is laid out in neat blocks and everything is accessible on foot. During the walking tour, we cover important topics like transportation to nearby attractions, safety, and how to find basic things in Liberia (the post office, a gym, pharmacies, the supermarkets, etc.). Of course, the friendly staff at Estelar is always available to answer questions at anytime.
Instituto Estelar Bilingüe is closed on National Holidays, so this should be taken into consideration when planning study dates. There is no discount for these days (except for during Semana Santa), and the students are encouraged to participate in the cultural events. Holidays falling on weekends do not affect student studies.
- January 1: New Year’s Day
- Semana Santa (students in the Spanish Immersion Program have extra hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to equal 16 hours of class in the week)
- April 11: Juan Santamaría Day
- May 1: Costa Rican Labor Day
- July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste
- August 15: Mother’s Day
- September 15: Costa Rican Independence Day
- October 12: Columbus Day
- December to January: Christmas holidays (contact us for exact dates).
At this time, no shots are officially required for Costa Rica; however, it’s a good idea to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B and to have an up-to-date tetanus shot. You should check with your doctor to see if any shots are recommended. It is important to explain that you will mostly be in the city – usually the shots or pills recommended are for people living in the jungle, such as the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, or for extended travel in Latin America (for malaria and dengue, for example). Most visitors to Guanacaste can skip the regimen of malaria pills.
For more information on traveling in Costa Rica, visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/costa-rica.
Special Note: Students coming from South America or Africa must be vaccinated against Yellow Fever at least 10 days prior to their arrival and will not be allowed to enter Costa Rica without it. This includes students from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Peru, Venezuela, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic Democratic of Congo, Sierra Leona, and Sudan. Students must show the original “International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever” at the airport.
It is a good idea to carry a minimum of $100 in cash and $100 in U.S. traveler’s checks in your carry-on luggage. Both of these can be easily changed at banks once students arrive in Costa Rica, and this amount will cover any emergency situations until students can get to an ATM. Dollars are accepted in many locations, and students should be aware of the current exchange rate (about 530 colones for every dollar – so 1000 colones is $2, 1500 colones is $3, etc.). There are a variety of banks in Liberia, and students should have no trouble using their bank cards to access funds. Credit cards are accepted in major stores, but small shops and street vendors only accept cash.
Students should come with spending money so they can go out at night, travel on the weekends, and buy souvenirs. Even students staying in homestays may want to eat out occasionally, and there are some delicious options in Liberia. See our Cost of Living section in Travel Tips to get an idea of the prices in Costa Rica. The appropriate amount of spending money varies greatly from student to student, but we think that $200-300 is enough for the first week (to buy souvenirs and gifts to bring home), and then $100-150 per week after that. Of course, this depends heavily on what additional activities – tour packages, adventure activities, etc. – students wish to purchase.
Internet makes communication easy, and students can communicate frequently with their family via email or Skype phone calls. Many students bring their laptops, which is a good idea as long as they’re not carrying them around too much. There is free wifi service at the school, and there are several inexpensive Internet cafés nearby.
Students can send faxes from the school for a small fee, and students can receive mail at the school for free. Mail from the States usually takes about two weeks to get to Costa Rica.
Students can bring their cell phones with them and buy a prepaid chip in order to get service. You may want to talk to your cell service provider about an affordable calling and/or data plan for international travel. Most carriers offer short-term international plans so you can just continue to use your phone as usual while you are here.
Instituto Estelar offers several free volunteer options for students interested in giving back to the community of Liberia. Students can (a) participate in our free English Conversation Clubs or Kid’s Activity Club here at the institute, helping children and adults who are learning English, (b) pick up trash around Liberia, or (c) volunteer with Club A, a non-profit organization in Liberia that provides tutoring and English lessons to underprivileged children. These are weekly events already organized, so students just have to sign up and show up! The school also helps support a very poor region just outside Liberia, and students can get involved by volunteering time to play with the children, work in the community garden, or tutor adults who are learning to read. At this point, we do not offer volunteer activities that students have to pay for, such as working in a national park, a hospital, a school, etc., but we plan to offer this service in the near future. For more information about opportunities, check out our volunteer page.