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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 11/05/2022

6 Faux Pas for Foreigners Living in Costa Rica

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

Although we love the Costa Rican people and culture, let us share some of the cultural differences and faux pas you should be aware of before your big move.  

1.  Avoid calling yourself "American."

North, Central and South are all Americas, so Costa Ricans ("ticos") consider themselves "Americans" and don't like that we refer to ourselves in this way, like we are the only ones. To avoid the predictable argument, try stating "I am from the United States."

Unlike other parts of Latin American, the term "gringo" does not have a negative connotation and is how most ticos will refer to you.  However, in your English classroom, you will have to make sure your students understand that "American" is the only adjective we have unfortunately.  It is what it is.    

2.  "Tico time" is no joke.

Overall the Costa Rican culture is relationship-oriented.  This means, ticos are willing to sit and chat with someone or spend more time with their family at home, even when they have committed to be somewhere at a certain.   Inevitably, they are often late.   Whereas most North Americans are driven by time and goals and prioritize being on time.   One culture is not more correct than the other; they are simply different.  

So as a foreigner living in their culture, be aware that friends, students and even coworkers will frequently arrive late or possibly not show up at all.  They do not intend to be rude, so please try not to be too sensitive. Again, you are living in THEIR culture. 

3.  Not everyone knows English.

Although many people in Costa Rica speak and understand quite a bit of English, don't assume everyone does.  You choose to live in their culture, and their native language is Spanish.  Take some Spanish classes and practice with your tico friends in order to be able to communicate with people in the streets.  Speaking louder does not help someone understand, so don't resort to this in your frustration. 

4.  Don't be so rude!  

Ticos are generally polite people.   They always have nice things to say and want to make you happy.  They think it's rude to say "no," and they don't appreciate sarcasm or blunt comments.  As a culture, we are used to walking into a restaurant and saying "I want a...." or "Give me a..."  Ticos will say, "Me regala ...?" which translates to "Would you gift me a...?"  Or they will ask you to "loan the bathroom."  So polite!  When in Rome, folks...

Let us give a word of caution with tico politeness when asking for directions. Even if a tico doesn't know where something is or how to get there, they will give you directions, true or devised. I consider it a great day when I get to where I want on the first shot! 

5.  Pedestrians never have the right away.

End of story.  Even if there is a stop sign or light, drivers will not stop for you.  Please cross streets quickly and with caution! 

6.  Ticos hate slamming car doors.

We are used to shutting a car door good and hard, but this is frowned upon here in Costa Rica.  Close the door firmly but as slowly and quietly as possible.   Taxi drivers are known for strongly asking foreigners to "Not slam the door please!" as they prepare to get out.

Now that you know a bit more about the culture, save your spot in one of our 4-week, onsite TEFL-certification courses!

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