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Costa Rica Education Market

In 2011 Costa Rica mandated that 8% of GDP must be re-invested in education (from preschool to graduate programs). This percentage is the highest in Central America and represents a per capita investment in education of USD 4,387. Costa Rica has become well-known worldwide for the quality of its human capital, which has led to a robust local education market and a literacy rate of almost 98%. 

Costa Rica’s education system is structured in three tiers – elementary, secondary, and higher education (universities).  An exit examination is required in 6 basic subjects to receive a high school diploma, a prerequisite to enter Costa Rican universities. There are some technical and scientific public high schools, and the country recently created a Public International Baccalaureate High School. 

Costa Rican students generally start looking for higher education options in the U.S. at the beginning of the diversified level years.  
The core Costa Rican applicants to U.S. universities come from private institutions.  The first-tier private schools generally have 50% of their students studying aboard and the other 50% in Costa Rica. The second tier usually have 30% of their students studying abroad, and the third tier only having a handful of students studying abroad annually.  The average expenditure for these Costa Rican students studying in the U.S. is US40,000 in tuition with many seeking scholarships to help cover additional costs.    

Overseas Study  

Educational exchange is a cornerstone of the U.S. bilateral relationship. According to the data from the IIE-Open Doors report, the number of Costa Rican students studying in the United States at the end of 2020, across all education levels, was 1,134 in which 523 belong to undergraduate programs, 408 in graduate, 180 in Optional Practical Training and 23 in non-degree programs. However, all categories and overall number had downfalls due to the pandemic.  The United States remains the number one destination for Costa Rican students. 

The main reasons why Costa Ricans choose the U.S is for geographic proximity and for its education quality. The top majors they seek are business, STEM and liberal arts. Some majors like law and healthcare are not a focus of those studying abroad because Costa Rica University’s offer high-quality education opportunities in those areas and is recognized internationally for those programs.  
U.S. educational services institutions acknowledge that the U.S. is the top destination for Costa Rican students and its very common to see international education fairs throughout the academic year. Public and private institutions like EducationUSA, and private high schools, commonly organize these events for students to have face-to-face interactions with U.S. institutions and their representatives. 

In the Costa Rican market most students rely on their school counselor or even EducationUSA for help in the process.  Agents in Costa Rica commonly work with middle to high-income families and students looking for a 2+2 program in partnership with U.S. Community Colleges, which are quite popular in Costa Rica. U.S institutions need to consider school counselors as their best local partner.  

For private institutions in the first and second tier, it’s not mandatory to have marketing materials in Spanish as many students and parents are bilingual.  However, for tier three and public schools, marketing materials in Spanish are highly recommended. 

U.S. institutions considering travel to Costa Rica must consider that 30 local institutions follow the U.S. academic calendar, and the remaining institutions follow the local academic calendar that starts in February and ends in November. 

Commercial Service Events in Costa Rica for 2022:
September 22, 2022 - Virtual Education fair with U.S. Community Colleges with Transfer Partners 
September 29, 2022 – Virtual Education Fair with Undergraduate and Graduate Programs. 

Track important events and programs offered by EducationUSA Costa Rica. Information can be found at the Education USA Costa Rica Facebook Page

For more information on the education market in Costa Rica, and to discuss programming opportunities for your school offered by the U.S. Commercial Service please contact Isabel Salazar at