FAQs about Peace Corps in Costa Rica

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FAQs about Peace Corps
  • How much luggage am I allowed to bring?
  • What is the electric current?
  • How much money should I bring?
  • When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
  • Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
  • Do I need an international driver’s license?
  • What should I bring as gifts for my host family?
  • Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
  • How can my family contact me in an emergency?
  • Can I call home?
  • Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
  • Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
...and more...

For information see Welcomebooks

How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Costa Rica?

Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps’ allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag. Keep in mind that you will be responsible for carrying all your baggage during training and when you travel to your future site on public buses.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.

What is the electric current in Costa Rica?

The electric current generally is 110 volts; however, there are 220-volt outlets for some appliances (e.g., refrigerators and electric ovens).

How much money should I bring?

Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your expenses. Often, Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.

When can I take vacation and have people visit me?

Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Vacation requests must be approved in advance by the Volunteer’s Peace Corps program manager and local counterpart. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.

Will my belongings be covered by insurance?

The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.

Do I need an international driver’s license?

Volunteers in Costa Rica do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer will have to obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case.

What should I bring as gifts for Costa Rican friends and my host family?

This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.

Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?

Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until halfway through pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites. During an individual interview with the program manager, you will have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including work priorities, geographical location, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be.

Volunteers in the rural community development and Mmcroenterprise development projects live in rural to semi-rural sites, while Volunteers working in children, youth, and families projects live in sites of all kinds—urban, semiurban, and rural. Some sites are close to San José, while others are an eight-hour bus ride away. Volunteers in all projects will meet on a regular basis to discuss Peace Corps-related issues as well as cooperate on work-related activities.

How can my family contact me in an emergency?

The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574.

For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2521 or 2520.

Can I call home from Costa Rica?

Yes, you can call home from any public or private phone, collect or with a calling card. There are international operators for Sprint, AT&T, and MCI. In addition, you can purchase international calling cards issued by the national telephone company at many stores throughout Costa Rica.

Should I bring a cellular phone with me?

Costa Rica uses 1800 Mhz GSM and 850 Mhz UMTS (3G). Volunteers can bring an unlocked quad-band phone, although it is probably more convenient to buy a phone in-country. Cheap phones are available for around 25,000 colones ($50).

Volunteers can easily obtain a pre-pay phone line, although the service is somewhat pricey for voice (1.5 colones (0.3 cents) to send a text message and 30 colones (6 cents) a minute to call; no charge to receive a call or text message).

Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?

Most communities have internet cafés or limited internet access available to volunteers in schools or offices. A good part of the country is covered by wireless broadband (3G), and pay-as-you-go dial-up access is available wherever there are telephone lines. However, a small number of volunteers still do not have internet access in their communities.

While volunteers are not required to bring a personal computer and do so at their own risk, almost every volunteer in Costa Rica has a laptop. Volunteers may find laptops useful for communication, reading, managing digital photos, preparing written materials for classes and other projects, and other personal and work-related needs.