This past week, we received a question from one of our readers about what it’s like to telework from Costa Rica. The questioner wants to know what it’s like to have a workplace in the middle of the tropical forest, rivers, volcanoes, sea, beaches, waves, sun, and healthy, organic food, and how easy it is to manage a business from the jungle. So let’s dig in and go through this increasingly popular subject.
Who wants to telework from Costa Rica?
Over 50,000 North American expats and a growing multitude of Europeans are living in Costa Rica, from surfers and conservationists to young families and retirees. Many more would love to live here, too, but they feel like they are not yet able to because they still need to work. It is true that there are strict labour laws in Costa Rica, making it difficult to find a good, well paying position as an expat. Foreigners must be sponsored for a work visa by an employer and prove that they are taking a position that cannot be filled locally. However, don’t let this deter you as there are still several paths you can take that will allow you to legally earn an income in Costa Rica.
If you have skills in a field that would allow you to freelance or be employed remotely, you could consider living in Costa Rica while ‘telecommuting’ to a job that is based outside of the country. Popular jobs that allow for these possibilities include IT consulting, web design, copywriting/editing, and translation. As long as you receive your pay cheque abroad, this is a completely legal way to earn an income to support you while living in Costa Rica and one that is becoming a reality across more fields due to social distancing measures.
Will teleworking become the new normal?
Large swaths of the global workforce, both private and public, have switched to working from home in their sweatpants or bathing suits if you live in the tropics. This is compared to just a year or two ago when many businesses and agencies seemed stuck in the Dark Ages, refusing to trust in the productivity of remote employees. Now there are people working in IT and sales who wake up and surf and then head back to the “office” to make breakfast and start their day’s work.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced change in the way people work, teleworking has proven efficient for many companies, with huge savings on real estate and administrative costs a year. In the last two months, companies around the world have taken massive efforts to bring remote capabilities to workers and users. This has allowed them to continue to function, despite the need for social distancing. Companies are already planning to maintain their networks, laptops and phone systems so that thousands of employees can continue to connect remotely, regardless of the next pandemic or blizzard.
Proactive companies are training their staff leaders to manage teams remotely. They are convening over Zoom or other video platforms to make decisions and share ideas. According to the Brookings Institute, “The COVID-19 pandemic is, among other things, a massive experiment in telecommuting. Up to half of American workers are currently working from home, more than double the fraction who worked from home (at least occasionally) in 2017-18.”
The pros of telecommuting from Costa Rica
COVID-19 may permanently change the way many of us work. At present, shifting as many people as possible to home-based telework is a necessary response to a terrible crisis. In the post-pandemic world, it may stay with us as a popular practice that, if done well, can improve job satisfaction, raise productivity, reduce emissions, and spread work to more remote regions. And it is in fact the remoteness of properties in Costa Rica that have kept the spread of coronavirus low and slow.
Telecommuting from Costa Rica is a great way to feel like you’re on holiday while also being productive. This creates a different state of mind that is more focused on health than wealth. Being surrounded by nature can help negate the effects of distance on well-being and career development that can come with working in an isolated environment. Those working remotely from Costa Rica find that they have a clearer perspective from being in a more natural environment, within a supportive and inclusive community. Working from the beautiful mountainside tropical forests in the Costa Ballena is a salient reminder that the purpose of work is to support the good things in life.
There is new evidence that job applicants place high value on the benefits of telework, such as greater motivation to return to work and better work-family balance. Access to childcare and schools is limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many doing double duty as parents and workers. But parents in Costa Rica who are working remotely have found that life in our community environment is better for their children than being confined in the city. The Costa Ballena region of Costa Rica is extremely safe for children, with large spaces for them to play and run and plenty of other children to interact with in a clean and green environment. Parenting is done on more of a community level, with many parents sharing in duties of minding children and many groups and resources existing on a local level for families.
The need for fast connections when teleworking
Technological limitations are no longer a barrier to telework in Costa Rica. US estimates are that three-quarters of American adults now have high-speed broadband internet service at home. But even in the US, many rural areas have been left out of the broadband revolution and around 14% of households in urban areas are still digitally disconnected.
Costa Rica has seen a rapid increase in the share of population using the internet. In 2018, the internet penetration rate reached over 74 percent, a growth of nearly 37.6 percent since 2010. And the demand for Internet service has increased by 40%, due to the emergence of the Coronavirus. For years in Costa Rica, the Internet fell under control of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). But with the passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the ICE monopoly has been removed and there are now several cable and internet companies providing high-speed, quality connections in Costa Rica.
If you are concerned about Internet speed while at home working, you can rest assured that with the rise of tech companies and working-age expats moving to Costa Rica, there is an increasing demand for high-speed and quality internet options. Fiberoptic cable networks are being brought high into the mountain communities of Uvita and Ojochal, bringing speeds of between 20-200mbps depending on your location, with great consistency. Costa Rican Grupo ICE has begun offering speeds of up to 200mbps in most of Uvita and will begin laying cable in Dominical and Ojochal soon. And IXP networks have unrolled all over the country, providing fast coverage of up to 10mbps to 70% of internet users in Costa Rica.
In the case of powering your devices, Costa Rican properties utilize the same 120V 60Hz electrical sockets that are found in the USA and Canada (accepting two-prong flat connector plugs as well as three-prong connector plugs including an earth connector). Some older properties offer only two-prong sockets; however, newer and renovated builds are typically equipped with modern three-prong sockets (ideal for laptop cables).
Traveling for business from Costa Rica
Although it is difficult to say what will happen with travel in and out of Costa Rica in the near future, this tiny nation was fast becoming a hub for many new, direct, international flight paths. Tourism has long been growing in Costa Rica, thanks in part to new government initiatives to promote the wealth of activities available to experience. This is one of the naturalist capitals of the world, with hundreds of exotic bird and wildlife species that continue to bring wonder into the hearts of those who visit. The fast-paced growth in tourism and world-wide investment in Costa Rica has meant that airline travel has needed to become more expedient to and from Costa Rica. Travel time between dozens of major hubs in North America and Europe has been reduced to the minimum, with various airlines reaching their major city destinations in as little as 4 hours in the southern United States and 8 hours to western Europe.