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Education for Expats in Costa Rica: Private, Public, or Home School?

Children, whether nationals or residents, are required to enroll in school at least until they finish primary education. There's a government program for those who wish to finish secondary at home

Education for Expats in Costa Rica: Private, Public, or Home School?

When planning to relocate to Costa Rica, many foreigners ask about education in Costa Rica. From the differences between private and public education to the possibility of homeschooling, expats want to know what to expect if they move to the country with their kids.

The first thing you should know is that education is hyper relevant for Costa Rica’s culture. Ticos take pride in the history of their education system. Everybody knows that the country does not have an army since 1948. And where did the military money go? Well, in part to the education system.

The Constitution passed that year established education as mandatory for everyone in the country. Article 78 of said document says that “preschool, general basic and diversified education are compulsory and, in the public system, free and paid for by the nation.”

That same constitutional article states that public education, including college, will be carried out by a public spending of not less than 8% of the gross domestic product. This has helped the public education system reach almost every corner of the country, although the quality of education has always been up for debate between ticos.

The compulsory nature of education in Costa Rica applies up until kids finish primary education. This is true both for nationals and residents — meaning that, if you relocate here with small children and get a residency, they will be required to enroll in school at least until they finish the 6th grade.

Even though Costa Rica has a strong public education system, there are also hundreds of private education centers all along the country. In October 2021, the latest data revealed by El Financiero newspaper showed that around 40,000 students go to private high schools.

In this article, we will see the differences between public and private education in Costa Rica for expats, as well as the possibilities foreign residents have to homeschool their children while living here.

Public schools in Costa Rica

Because the official language in Costa Rica is Spanish, there are obviously no public schools that offer most of their lessons in other languages. This is the main barrier foreigners will experience when looking out public schools in Costa Rica: kids will need to learn Spanish and there’s no way around it.

The basic subjects children are taught in public schools in Costa Rica are Spanish, Science, Maths, Social Studies, English, and Sexual Education. Then, there are complementary courses on things like Music, IT, Arts, Sports, Home Economy, and Religion, among others.

More or less the same subjects are taught in public high schools. There are also technical education public high schools, which teach basic subjects but also educate teens in things like agriculture, industry or services, so that they can easily join the workforce.

The academic year in all public schools (and also in most private ones) runs from February to November, which can come as a surprise to many expats used to the academic years of their countries. In Costa Rica, kids can also attend public school at nights if they need it.

Primary school in Costa Rica goes up to the sixth grade and is for kids between 6 and 12 years old. High school is for kids 12 to 18 years old, and goes up to twelfth year. This does not change within private schools, although some of them may offer more grades than 12.

Public schools are free for all in Costa Rica and parents only need to pay for materials. The only requisites are for kids to have at least some proficiency in Spanish, for their parents to be residents, and for them to handle their identification cards to the school they want to enroll their children in.

The Buenaventura Corrales School, a public education center in San José, Costa Rica

The Buenaventura Corrales School, a public education center in San José, Costa Rica

Private schools in Costa Rica

Contrary to what happens in public schools, residency is not a compulsory requirement to enroll foreign kids in private schools in Costa Rica. Since many foreigners live in the country without a residency (by using and renewing their tourist visas), private schools are preferred by them.

The main difference, naturally, is the price. The monthly fee for private education in Costa Rica ranges between $200 and $1,000 (US dollars). There are almost 250 private schools and high schools in all of the country, and most of them have a good level of English.

Less than 10% of Costa Rican kids attend private school and those who do usually come from middle and high class families. During the past years, public education’s credibility has fainted among citizens and media, while private schools are often regarded as imparting higher quality education.

As happens with public education, the private system also includes preschool facilities. Counting preschool, school and high school, there are more than 100,000 students in private centers, who represent 8,7% of the almost 1,2 million children registered as students in the country.

Homeschooling in Costa Rica

There’s no law, rule or regulation that lets parents educate their kids without intervention of the education authorities of Costa Rica. Since primary education is compulsory, if a kid skips school the State, in theory, will work to enroll them in the system even if their parents are against it.

In short, what is known as “homeschooling” in other countries is illegal in Costa Rica.

However, this applies only to nationals and residents, not to tourists. If you’ve heard about expats homeschooling their children after they relocate to Costa Rica, they are most certainly not residents but rather living here perpetually as tourists, which is common of many people that have moved here in the past years.

There was a bill in the Legislative Assembly that aimed to legalize homeschooling in Costa Rica, but it has not gone through and there are no signs that it will be even up for discussion soon.

Some parties represented in the recently elected Legislative Assembly talked about homeschooling laws during the political campaign, but they have not presented any bill in that regard since they took office at the beginning of May 2022.

As for kids who have already completed primary school, they can have school at home since high school is not compulsory. However, if they want Costa Rican degrees indicating that they have passed high school, they will need to enroll in the official home school system, which lets them study outside school but they have to pass the national exams that every student passes before graduating.

If you’re planning to relocate to Costa Rica and have questions about this or other subjects, contact us. We’re an immigration legal firm and our mission is to help expats achieve their dreams.



Journalist with more than 10 years of experience in the media. In Costa Rica, Alessandro spent five years working in 'La Nación' newspaper. In Spain, he was a journalist for the digital newspaper 'Economía Digital' between 2017 and 2021. He also has experience in radio, advertising and production of live shows.

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