1. Flight tickets. Can I enter Costa Rica without a return ticket?
No, you cannot. All countries require that you can prove that you are going to leave before your visa expires. Upon check-in, the airline are ought to check your departure ticket. If you have bought a two- (or more) way ticket with them the computer says so, and they won’t ask you to show it again. If you have a one-way ticket, they are required to ask you to show your departure ticket or they won’t let you on the plane. Sometimes (most times, like always) we don’t know when we want to leave though.
So what are the options?
Get a student visa. With a student visa you don’t need to have your return flight booked within 3 months. Read more here.
Buy a student ticket with Kilroy or the like. They are more flexible and most times cheaper than their regular tickets. In addition, you can change the dates of the return flight for 500 SEK or less. Note that this option requires you to have an ISCI card.
Buy loose flights and cancel. Find a ticket on the same day you are leaving that you can buy and then cancel after 24 hours (after having entered the country) and get a refund. Look for cheap flights between Costa Rica and USA; there is a variety to choose from!
Buy a bus ticket. In some countries, and especially when walking across borders, it is enough to show a bus ticket that proves your departure from the country you are entering. I have never tried it myself in Costa Rica, but there are trustworthy companies driving to both Panama and Nicaragua. You might not be able to cancel the ticket and get your money back with this option though; then again it might be cheaper.
2. Home stay vs. Finding your own place
For the record, I have never lived with a family but always on my own. For me the choice is easy as I am an adult that likes to take care of myself. There might be a bunch of positive things about home stay that I yet haven’t heard of though, please share in the comments below!
Homestay You pay a set amount each month that covers your room, all meals and laundry, and the school hooks you up. Easy! Keep in mind though that you are part of the family you are visiting and have to stick to their rules, there are usually many people living in a small space and they expect you to sit down and have dinner with them unless you tell them differently. In other words, it is like living at home as a teenager. At least for Swedes that might be a huge challenge since we generally move out when we are 17 or 18 (not into dorms but apartments). My American friends told me that they found the food challenging and I don’t doubt that one second! If you have any allergies or eating differently from the Tico norm (such as vegetarian, gluten free or vegan): don’t choose this option! Traditional meals (and big ones) will be served. If I recall correctly, the cost is about 300 dollars per month. The upside with homestay is the inevitable language practice. Even though a lot of Ticos speak very good English nowadays, you get to meet the entire family where grandmothers, nephews and cousins don’t. It really offers a great opportunity to work your everyday language skills.
Finding your own apartment. Depending on where in the country you are, this might give you some extra work. As a rule of thumb, look on craigslist, Google and check with friends and the school even before coming to Costa Rica. While in the country, read local newspapers and ask locals how to go about finding a good apartment in your town. In San José it shouldn’t be a problem finding something fairly quick, depending on how picky you are with location, price and standard. In the smaller areas (unless touristy) I recommend trying to catch the suggestions the school might give you straight away! I did and I never regretted it. I paid 300 dollars a month plus electricity and food. Being able to do your own grocery shopping, cooking and coming and going as I want plus having my own space when I need it are worth maybe spending a little more (in the end I’m pretty sure I spent less than the others anyway since they ended up buying a lot of meals). This option too gives a great opportunity to practice your Spanish, should you choose so (as with homestay- you make the choice weather to practice or not). Your landlords will most likely speak Spanish, as your neighbors. Outside that, life is like anywhere else: i.e. you have to go out to socialize and meet new friends and people to talk to. Actually, I would say this option offers more language learning opportunities than homestay since you have to get to know people outside school in a different way. For instance, the grocery shopping- every week me and my roommate went to the local market to buy our veggies and we made time to stay and talk with the vendors about the fruits, vegetables and Costa Rican life. You won’t learn that in school!
Pura Vida Siempre and Good Luck!