Since I moved to Costa Rica to study in August 2012 I’ve had multiple people asking me about the country: traveling, living, volunteering and studying. Both Americans, Swedes and other Europeans have asked me all kinds of questions both before going to Costa Rica and while there. A variety of these topics have already been covered here on the blog (and more to come of course, keep asking questions!). It is now time to address the topic Studying Abroad in Costa Rica and all you need to know before getting there! Since most of the students asking me are from Sweden and LNU (which I was too once), this entry will have its takeoff in questions regarding Swedes (and Linnaeus University exchange students). I hope all of you who are reading find some food for thought and inspiration though!
1. Tourist Visa vs. Student Visa
First off, make sure your passport is valid. Everywhere you go requires you to have a passport that is valid for 6 months after leaving the country (the exception being EU of course, where you don’t need your passport as a European). It is easily taken care of and it doesn’t take long to get a new one should you need it. However, the visa process can be time consuming and for that you need your valid passport. Make sure your passport is the first thing you check! Also, make sure you have a scanned version saved on your email, dropbox or the like.
In most countries, Swedes get a 90-day visa upon entering the country. This means that after 3 months, you will have to leave the country and stay out for 72 hours before coming back in again (which will give you another 90 days). This is a perfectly legit thing to do and I have myself done it many times. Depending on where you are studying and your schedule, it might not be the easiest solution though. Just keep in mind that when you are entering a new country (and when coming back in) you are required to show your departure ticket! They are particularly strict with this on the Nicaraguan border crossing.
Should you decide to get a student visa (which I did), this is how:
Contact the Costa Rican consul in Stockholm. They are hard to find so here is the information for you:
Tom H. Bruno
Consúl General de Costa Rica
Upplandsgatan 27SE-113 60 Estocolmo SUECIA
Teléfono: +46-8-646 00 00Celular: +46-707-13 35 80
Correo Electrónico: <email@example.com>
This is always how to go about doing it so contact the Costa Rican consul or embassy in your country. They will give you instructions on how to apply for a student visa. In general, they would want you to send in:
A filled out form given to you buy the consul (like the tourist form you fill out when entering a country) including a headshot picture in color.
Acceptance letter from the school or organization
Receipt that you have paid the required 500 SEK to the consul
Note that all documents have to be stamped by a notary public!
This is a brief over view; you will get all the instructions from the consul or embassy when contacting them. You will then receive the visa in your passport, which needs a stamp from immigration in Costa Rica. To get the stamp your school or organization has to give immigration documents that prove how long you are studying for. Note that most people don’t know this- including immigration when entering or leaving (they are not the ones giving you the stamp but you have to visit the office later on) nor does the school!
So, why go through all this trouble?
If you are staying for more than one semester and have a somewhat busy schedule it is a relief not having to think about leaving the country every now and again (3 months pass fast!).
Without the stamp, the visa is per se not valid. However, it says valid for 3 years so most people assume that is correct. I never received any documents or stamps (since USAC has no idea what they are doing and mostly receive American students) but enjoyed not having to leave the country every third month!
Insurance Swedes are insured by their university when doing exchange studies. Still, ask yourself “does the insurance cover the purpose for this trip?” Maybe you need extra insurance for adventure sports, extending your stay and the like.
Register on the Swedish Embassy's (in Guatemala) list over Swedes in Latin America. For instance, in case of a natural disaster and communication is shut down. We did have a situation like that. Read about it here.
Vaccine This depends on what you have from before and how long ago you took it. Make sure you contact your vaccine clinic several months before leaving since some vaccines need to be taken several times and within a certain period before the trip. They require you to have Yellow Fever vaccine, read more here
Preorder course literature Some books are hard to find in Costa Rica, if at all, make sure you have or know how to get yours in advance.
Credit/Debit card that doesn’t charge you for withdrawals Some ATMs charge for withdrawals anyways, so make sure you have a card that doesn’t! Like ICA banken.
Cash I never change money before leaving (the reason being the above bullet point). It is however always wise to carry some USD bills. I learnt the hard way.
ESTA Remember that you need a transit visa if you’re flying through the states. You buy it online here.
ISCI An international student card gives you discounts on many things, including the flight ticket (more in next post). In many cases you can just use your regular student card, like in museums (not to buy student tickets).
Scan all your important documents including passport, credit cards, vaccine card and insurance papers. In addition, it is always wise to have a few extra passport photos and if you decide to go for the student visa you will need to bring copies of all your documents.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll write about alternatives and options for flight tickets, returns and prices!
Any questions, tips, concerns and the like? Comment below!
Pura Vida siempre