Costa Rica has it all: volcanoes, Caribbean and Pacific beaces, rainforests, rapids and a cultured capital city. Known for its environmental conservation and ecological awareness, Costa Rica has set aside 27% of its land for national parks and reserves. Costa Rica is a politically stable nation, with democratic institutions and no standing national army. All of these features make Costa Rice a worldwide eco-tourism center where nature lovers can appreciate its staggering beauty and unique wildlife.



Languages Spoken:

Spanish

Education System

ISEP PROGRAM AT UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL

Bring a copy of your current college catalog, an updated copy of your transcript and contact information for your academic and study abroad advisors at your home institution in case a course change has to be made. Academic flexibility and patience are requirements for studying in Latin America. Also take into consideration that, even if the course you want is available, your level of Spanish along with your GPA will increase or decrease the possibilities to register the course.

Be sure to arrive with a list of back up courses in case your first selections are not available. During Orientation week, the ISEP Resident Director will help you find alternate courses in case your first choices are not available.

Note: The Escuela de Literatura may limit enrollment in literature courses to those students who have a very good command of the language and high grades in previous Spanish courses. The language placement test that is taken during orientation is factored into the decision to allow students to enroll in literature courses

General Course Organization at UNA:

  • Classes may meet in one solid block of time once a week as opposed to one hour three times a week.
  • In some social and biological programs students have to do fieldwork outside of class, either by themselves or with the professors on fieldtrips. This fieldwork requires extra work in preparing the instruments to collect the information and in writing reports afterwards. Nevertheless, the possibility of visiting distant places and geting to know more of the biological and social biodiversity of the country is a unique experience that, according to many past students, well compensates for the extra work.
  • At UNA, in most cases, students study in groups. They share the load and see themselves as competing against the system, not against each other. They may not attend class frequently, asking their friends to take notes instead.
  • Texts are very expensive, so most classes do not use them. Instead, many classes use photocopy readings.
  • In most state run universities, students have to present two term papers or exams along with quizzes and a final oral and written presentation of the results of a research topic or, a specific assignment. This research paper can be substituted by a final comprehensive exam.
  • Most of the time, research papers are done in groups, which requires good cultural sensitivity on the part of the international student in order to fit in. This is a challenge that most students find very rewarding after completing their exchange period.

Status

You are classified as a "full fee-paying, non-degree or visiting student" and are entitled to enroll in any course for which you are qualified and in which space is available. You are subject to the standard regulations of UNA and have the same rights, privileges and obligations as regular degree students. You must abide by all the rules and regulations of your host institution. Your teachers will make no distinction between American and Costa Rican students, and you will be held to the same standard as degree-seeking students.

HIGHER EDUCATION IN COSTA RICA

Costa Rica has five public universities located in the major cities and regional campuses throughout the country. With very few exceptions, state universities in Latin America, including Costa Rica, operate on the European, or Continental, system. Students in Costa Rica go directly from their undergraduate degree to a professional career. Students can enroll in law school, medical school and courses for every other career as undergraduates. Depending upon the field of study, generally students may take from four to seven years to complete their studies. After four years of study, students are awarded the Grado de Bachiller, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Students can complete one more year of study and write a formal thesis to be awareded the Licenciatura. Finally, studying two more years will earn them a master’s degree (Grado Académico de Maestría). In some faculties, however, students can go from the bachelor’s to a master’s degree. Finally, students may study up to three and a half more years (after the Bachiller or Licenciatura) to obtain a Doctorate (Doctorado Académico).

When you enroll in a Latin American university, you will encounter the following differences:

  • Latin American universities operate on the carrera system. Under this system, students in Costa Rica studying the same subject take all of their classes together for the full four years until they graduate with a degree from their Facultad. As a result, students are grouped together in a cohort within a given carrera and see each other almost exclusively throughout the academic day. Some ISEP students have found that a good way to get to know local students is to take a least two classes with the same group (e.g. two second-year classes in the Department of Sociology).
  • Because of the carrera and bachillerato system, ISEP students usually find that they cannot manage third- or fourth-year classes at a Latin American university. Unless the classes you take are called "Introduction to… ." professors will assume some knowledge of the subject, and in many cases, much more knowledge than you have. Do not forget that you will be taking these classes along with regular degree-seeking students in Spanish. The professors may give you an extra break, but they rarely slow down.
  • Latin American universities prepare their students for professional careers; universities in Costa Rica are more career-focused than U.S. universities, offering more structured programs and little opportunity to take classes of interest outside of one's specific program. Unlike many U.S. institutions, there is little emphasis on having a general core curriculum shared by all students graduating from the university.
  • Finally, being directly enrolled in a Latin American university is an incredible, but wonderful challenge. It is the best way to fully learn about the differences in our societies and to meet a wide range of people.

Visa and Residency

INFORMATION FOR ALL STUDENTS

Important Note: The type of visa you will apply for at UNA differs depending on your length of study (summer, semester or full year). Please read the following information carefully.

Below are the visa fees (subject to change):

Summer Students $0 USD
Semester Students $305 USD
Full Year Students $406 USD

All students going to Costa Rica

  1. Purchase a round trip plane ticket
    If you do not have proof of a return ticket from Costa Rica, your airline may not let you board your departing flight or they might force you to purchase a return ticket prior to boarding. Even if your airline does not request proof of purchase of both tickets, the Immigration post at the Costa Rican airport will apply a $100 fine if you do not have a return ticket upon arrival. All students must also travel with their ISEP acceptance letters.
  2. Ensure your passport is valid for six months beyond the length of your stay
  3. Register with the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Registration
    You must bring a printout of the confirmation pages to Orientation.
    • Go to the Travel Registration website
    • Create an ID and account and enter the personal information requested
    • Once your profile is complete, click "Add a Trip" and fill out the information requested (arrival and departure dates, etc.). When asked for an address in Costa Rica, provide the ISEP Resident Director’s Office address:
      Programa de Intercambio ISEP
      Centro Comercial Plaza Heredia
      Heredia, Costa Rica
      Telephone: (506) 2277-3749 or (506) 8706-8155
    • After submitting this information, this phrase will appear: "You have successfully registered a trip!" Print this page, then click "Finish."
    • On your profile page you will see the registered trip listed. Print out this page as well and be sure to bring both pages with you to Orientation.
VISA INFORMATION

SUMMER STUDENTS

Students coming to study at UNA for the summer program do not have to apply for a visa prior to departure. At the airport, a Costa Rican Immigration Officer will stamp a tourist visa on the passport. The tourist visas are usually valid for 45 or 90 days. If you receive a tourist visa for anything less than 45 days, you will need to speak with the ISEP Resident Director immediately.

SEMESTER STUDENTS

Students coming to study at UNA for one semester do not have to apply for a visa prior to departure.

Students going to UNA for one semester will enter on the tourist visa and then apply for the visa de estancia after arrival. The ISEP Resident Director will help you apply for the visa de estancia after you arrive in Costa Rica. Please note that the visa de estancia is required by UNA and that students will not have the option to leave the country to extend their visa.

Bring the following documents with you to Orientation:

  • Your passport (not copies)
  • The confirmation pages (printed out) from the Department of State Travel Registration website (see above)
  • Visa fee of $305 USD
    Paid in cash (with colones) through a 5-step process after arrival.

The ISEP Resident Director will inform you of the next steps of the visa process after you arrive in Costa Rica.


FULL YEAR STUDENTS

Students going to UNA for a full year will enter on the tourist visa and then apply for the visa de estudiante.

Bring the following documents with you to Orientation:

  • Your passport (not copies)
  • The confirmation pages (printed out) from the Department of State Travel Registration website (see above)
  • A birth certificate issued by the state in which you were born
    It must include both parents’ names and must be issued no more than five months before your arrival in Costa Rica. Issue date must appear on the document. It must be legalized with the Hague Convention Apostille.
  • A Letter of Good Conduct from your local Police Department
    Criminal History Check or Criminal Record – this certificate must be issued no more than five months before your arrival in Costa Rica and the issue date must appear on the document. It must be legalized with the Hague Convention Apostille.
  • Visa fee of $406 USD
    Must be in cash.

IMPORTANT The birth certificate and the Letter of Good Conduct must be legalized with the Hague Convention Apostille. To find a Designated Competent Authority that can issue an Apostille in your country, click here to visit the Hague Convention website. Scroll down and click on your country to find more information about who to contact in your country or state.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
If you fail to bring the completed documents, all visa procedures in Costa Rica will be delayed. In addition, you will need to pay up to $400 more in express deliveries and other requirements. Further, if all required documents are not delivered to UNA on time and before the Tourist Visa expires, students will be asked to leave the country for 72 hours to renew their tourist visa in order to continue the student visa process. However, students will still be responsible for completing the student visa process as it is required to receive the UNA transcript.

EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES

ISEP recommends that you call the embassy or consulates before sending documents to ensure that the address is correct.
ADDRESS OF COSTA RICAN CONSULATE IN WASHINGTON, DC (LOCATED WITHIN EMBASSY):
Embassy of Costa Rica
2114 “S” Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: (202) 499-2991
Fax: (202) 265-4795
Website

It is important to enroll in ISEP's health insurance policy as soon as possible.

Culture

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT


The Family

In Costa Rica, there are households of single, nuclear families and households of extended families, and you can choose the type of your preference. Regardless of the type of household, people have close relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, even second and third cousins. In general, children grow up experiencing a broader network of family members than do children in the United States. High value is placed on kinship, and a special relationship and even responsibility is expected among extended family members.

Social Customs

Affection is displayed openly, and there is much less physical distance between people when they meet and talk. Touching is common. When entering a group, greet everyone in the room by shaking hands or kissing on the cheek. Be sure to say goodbye to each person when leaving.

Food

To generalize a Costa Rican meal, one would certainly have to talk about black beans and rice (gallo pinto). This simple, standard dish, often referred to as comida tipica, is the backbone of Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal "marriage" of its components. Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance. Cheese and other dairy products are rarely utilized. Often served with a good portion of fruits or vegetables or both, the meals are very well rounded.

For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream and corn tortillas. Ticos make lunch the main meal of the day. In fact, many employers will give an additional hour off for a post-lunch casado. The plantain, or plántano, is probably the quintessential Tico snack. It has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip.

Tico Time

Punctuality can sometimes be an issue for Americans living Costa Rica, although this difference in the idea of time should not be interpreted a rude or lazy. Americans may be accustomed to rigid schedules and appointments. In Costa Rica, however, there is a very different approach to the concept of time. Costa Ricans tend to see time as a sequence of events (as opposed to hours and minutes). For example, if they are late because a previous engagement took longer than expected, they will view the delay with your meeting as a natural consequence.

Religion

About 75 percent of the 4.5 million residents of Costa Rica are Roman Catholic, and most catholic holy days are treated as holidays. Most businesses and government institutions throughout the country shut down between Holy Thursday and Easter Monday. Most buses do not run on Good Friday. Holy Week is a period of vacation in most public institutions, including state universities; therefore, those students that come to study during the spring semester at UNA will have this vacation period as well.

Heredia

At 3,773 feet, the climate in Heredia is mild (average Temperature: 67.6°F), and the city suffers from less noise, pollution and traffic. Generally, the pace of life is less stressful than in San José. Many commercial establishments in downtown close for lunch. You will probably have long waits at shops, buses, the movies, etc., but try to relax. Shopping malls are becoming more popular and in Heredia there are two malls and several commercial centers or plazas. Here you will find most of the brands in clothes and shoes that you find in the United States and at reasonable prices. The pace of life is far slower in Costa Rica than in the United States. Remember that you are a guest in a country whose citizens are easily offended by direct criticism. You can accomplish a lot by being polite.

Daily Life

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT


The Family

In Costa Rica, there are households of single, nuclear families and households of extended families, and you can choose the type of your preference. Regardless of the type of household, people have close relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, even second and third cousins. In general, children grow up experiencing a broader network of family members than do children in the United States. High value is placed on kinship, and a special relationship and even responsibility is expected among extended family members.

Social Customs

Affection is displayed openly, and there is much less physical distance between people when they meet and talk. Touching is common. When entering a group, greet everyone in the room by shaking hands or kissing on the cheek. Be sure to say goodbye to each person when leaving.

Food

To generalize a Costa Rican meal, one would certainly have to talk about black beans and rice (gallo pinto). This simple, standard dish, often referred to as comida tipica, is the backbone of Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal "marriage" of its components. Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance. Cheese and other dairy products are rarely utilized. Often served with a good portion of fruits or vegetables or both, the meals are very well rounded.

For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream and corn tortillas. Ticos make lunch the main meal of the day. In fact, many employers will give an additional hour off for a post-lunch casado. The plantain, or plántano, is probably the quintessential Tico snack. It has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip.

Tico Time

Punctuality can sometimes be an issue for Americans living Costa Rica, although this difference in the idea of time should not be interpreted a rude or lazy. Americans may be accustomed to rigid schedules and appointments. In Costa Rica, however, there is a very different approach to the concept of time. Costa Ricans tend to see time as a sequence of events (as opposed to hours and minutes). For example, if they are late because a previous engagement took longer than expected, they will view the delay with your meeting as a natural consequence.

Religion

About 75 percent of the 4.5 million residents of Costa Rica are Roman Catholic, and most catholic holy days are treated as holidays. Most businesses and government institutions throughout the country shut down between Holy Thursday and Easter Monday. Most buses do not run on Good Friday. Holy Week is a period of vacation in most public institutions, including state universities; therefore, those students that come to study during the spring semester at UNA will have this vacation period as well.

Heredia

At 3,773 feet, the climate in Heredia is mild (average Temperature: 67.6°F), and the city suffers from less noise, pollution and traffic. Generally, the pace of life is less stressful than in San José. Many commercial establishments in downtown close for lunch. You will probably have long waits at shops, buses, the movies, etc., but try to relax. Shopping malls are becoming more popular and in Heredia there are two malls and several commercial centers or plazas. Here you will find most of the brands in clothes and shoes that you find in the United States and at reasonable prices. The pace of life is far slower in Costa Rica than in the United States. Remember that you are a guest in a country whose citizens are easily offended by direct criticism. You can accomplish a lot by being polite.

Health and Safety

https://www.isepstudyabroad.org/guides-and-tips/health-safety

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

We suggest that you rely upon a combination of credit cards and cash. You will receive additional advice on money management during the orientation; in the meantime, here are a few guidelines on credit cards and banking. The best way to save money while studying abroad is to live the way Costa Rican students do.

Exchange Rates

The currency in Costa Rica is the colón (¢). Bills come in denominations of ¢1000, ¢2000, ¢5000 and ¢10.000 and coins are available from ¢5 to ¢500. Colones are often referred to colloquially as pesos.


Compare your currency to the Costa Rican colón.

Generally speaking, we do not recommend that you open a bank account while in Costa Rica. If you wish to open a bank account once you arrive, note that checking accounts are nearly impossible to open unless you are a resident.

ATM Cards

The transfer method of U.S. dollars to colones is nearly instantaneous and relatively easy, provided that you find a machine that will accept your ATM card from home. However, not all cards are accepted by the ATM machines. The Visa/Plus network and the MasterCard/Cirrus network provide global access to your home account through an ATM.

We do not recommend using this method as your only money source, since if your card is lost or stolen, you do not have access to emergency funds. The magnetic strips may become ruined or the card lost. Be sure to take your bank's phone number in case you need to report a lost or stolen card.

Credit Cards

Do your own investigation into the advantages and disadvantages of various credit card companies. You might want to look for the ability to draw cash advances through overseas banks and the ability to receive correspondence through overseas offices (a service provided by American Express).

Students report that Visa, MasterCard and to a lesser extent, American Express, are accepted at some businesses in Costa Rica. However, many budget stores and hotels do not take credit cards, so they are of limited use on a daily basis. That means if you have to use a credit card, you are likely to find yourself shopping and eating at high-end establishments. Some businesses levy a 7% surcharge for credit card transactions.

Despite these drawbacks, a credit card can be very useful in an emergency, so we recommend you take one with you.

Regardless of which card you select, the card you use must have your name on it as given on your passport. That is obviously not a problem if you have your own credit card. If you plan to use a parent's credit card, however, he or she should request an extra card in your name.

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