Costa Rica

LEARNING with the MIND and the HEART


Dear Costa Rica semester student,

Welcome to the beginning of an incredible journey of adventure, service, growth, learning and discovery. We believe that your experience in Costa Rica will be a significant part of your college career – one that you will remember and draw on for a lifetime.                                

Because this is such an important and unique undertaking, we want to make ourselves available in any way to help you have the best experience possible. This handbook is provided to you to be both an introduction and reference book for your semester in Costa Rica. Please read it over carefully and take it with you for future reference while in Costa Rica. You might also want to show it to your family to help them in their thinking about your time in Costa Rica.                        

God be with you in your cross-cultural learning and living experience!


Jeff Dixon

SI Costa Rica Program Director

Table of Contents


Description & Goals

Course Offerings

Course Materials



Group Excursions



Payment & Finances


Cell Phones

Packages & Mail


Pre-Departure Health Information

Medical Insurance

Self-Care Kit

Water and Food-Borne Illnesses

Food Allergies and Preferences


General Precautions

Sexual Harassment

EMERGENCIES & Emergency contacts


General Packing Tips

Luggage Guidelines

Packing List

Additional Tips


Passport & Visa

Other Documents

Arrival in Costa Rica


Exchanging Money

Credit Cards

ATM/Debit Cards

Receiving Money from Home


Guidelines & Policies


Social Media & Internet Use



Safety Concerns

Dress Code


Host Family


Ministry Sites



Appendix 1: Students International


Program Description & Goals

Costa Rica Program is a cross-disciplinary program designed to provide students an opportunity to:


Course Offerings - SPRING SEMESTER

Courses are taught by Costa Rican and American professors.

Peoples and Cultures of Costa Rica

Incarnational Mission: Biblical Perspectives on International Ministry to the Poor

International Internship in Costa Rica

Spanish (choose two courses)


3 credits

3 credits

4 credits

6 credits

16 credits

Peoples and Cultures of Costa Rica, 3 credits

“Pura vida” (pure life or full life) is a common phrase used in many contexts in Costa Rica. In this class students will explore the pura vida of Costa Rican culture with special attention given to the history, politics and religion of this Central American nation along with issues of race, immigration, class and family relationships that are unique to the country. Course sessions will be led by Costa Ricans with expertise in each of these areas and students will make visits to various sites of cultural significance.

Incarnational Mission: Biblical Perspectives on International Ministry to the Poor, 3 credits

A survey of the biblical and theoretical basis for Christian mission with a special focus on the church’s ministry to the poor. Major attention will be given to key paradigms for mission and their application to the student’s ministry practicum context. Drawing on students’ experiences in their ministry sites, this course will address social, cultural, political and spiritual issues with an emphasis on holistic ministry responses and the gospel’s impact on both individuals and society. Incarnational and contextual approaches to mission will be highlight throughout along with an overview of various contemporary missiological tends.

International internship in Costa Rica, 4 credits

An intensive semester long experience in which the student is fully immersed in Costa Rican culture, involved in hands-on ministry and guided by a mentor. Goal setting and journaling activities will help students engage in self-reflection and mentor evaluations will provide them with constructive feedback about their ministry skills.

Spanish, two classes at 3 credits each

Choose from beginning to advanced courses. Receive personal instruction at language school.


Courses are taught by Costa Rican and American professors.

Advanced Grammar

Literature of Spain and Latin America

Peoples and Cultures of Latin America

Mission in Latin American Contexts

Internship / service-learning


4 credits

4 credits

4 credits

4 credits

2 credits

18 credits

Advanced Grammar and Communication               4 credits Explores advanced grammatical structures of Spanish including morphology, syntax, and lexicon through written and oral forms of communication. Additional attention is given to vocabulary building and translation.

Literature of Spain and Latin America                     4 credits

Examines Spanish literature through analysis of select readings from significant novels, essays, short stories and poetry from Latin America and Spain.

Peoples and Cultures of Costa Rica                          4 credits

“Pura vida” (pure life or full life) is a common phrase used in many contexts in Costa Rica.  In this class students will explore the pura vida of Costa Rican culture with special attention given to the history, politics and religion of this Central American nation along with issues of race, immigration, class and family relationships that are unique to the country.  Course sessions will be led by Costa Ricans with expertise in each of these areas and students will make visits to various sites of cultural significance.  

Mission in Latin American Contexts                         4 credits

A survey of the biblical and theoretical basis for Christian mission with a special focus on the church’s ministry to the poor.  Special attention will be given to Latin American perspectives on ministry and unique aspects of ministering in Latin American contexts.

Spanish through Service                                           2 credits

Acquisition of knowledge of the Hispanic culture and application of Spanish communication skills in authentic contexts through service work in Spanish-speaking communities.

Course Materials

Laptop: A laptop is highly recommended. The SI office has computers available for student use.

Books: SI will provide information about ordering your books before the program starts. A book list will be provided in your orientation materials. You will purchase your books before you travel to Costa Rica. We try to keep book costs as low as possible.

Students International staff

U.S.- based Staff


Darin Mather, Ph.D.

SI Academic Programs Director &

Crown Assistant Professor of Global Studies


Darin oversees SI’s academic programs. He serves as a liaison between Students International and Crown College. Darin helps students choose courses and provides academic support throughout the Global Bridge experience. Darin is based in St. Paul, MN.


Rebecca Keiser

SI Academic Programs Coordinator


Rebecca is the main U.S. contact person for students. She guides potential students through the application process, and post-acceptance, gives detailed assistance in preparing students for departure. Rebecca is based in Milwaukee, WI.

In-country Staff

Jeff & Tracey Dixon

SI Costa Rica Program Directors

Jeff serves as the Director for Students International Costa Rica (SICR) in San José, Costa Rica. Jeff is a native of Littleton, CO and started working with Students International full time in 2000 moving to Costa Rica in 2008. Along with the leadership team in Costa Rica, Jeff oversees the staff team, does various administrative tasks, teaches in the semester programs and seeks to provide our staff with the resources they need to succeed.

Tracey Dixon serves on the SICR leadership team in San José, Costa Rica. Tracey is a native of Ham Lake, MN. Tracey started working with Students International full time in 2008 and provides leadership and care for our staff in Costa Rica and teaches in the semester programs.

Jeff and Tracey have 3 children, Olivia, Sawyer, and Lynnea.

Program Schedule

Listed below is a tentative program schedule* with brief descriptions of ministry sites and excursions. More detailed information will be provided by the Program Director.

August 26, 2020

Week 1

Weeks 2-4

Week 5

Wees 6-8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12-15

Week 15

December 9, 2020

Arrive in Costa Rica

Orientation and Team building

Intensive Spanish at language school

Ministry sites

Language school and other courses

Cross-Cultural Experience in Nicaragua (Oct. 19-27)

Ministry sites

Intensive class week

Ministry sites


Return home

*Program schedule, ministry sites, and excursions are subject to change.


Group excursions

To broaden your experience of Costa Rica as a country full of diverse people, majestic natural beauty and fascinating historical and cultural landmarks, a number of excursions are built into the semester program. Students are required to participate in group excursions. Our travel schedule is subject to change, but trips generally occur about one time per month and frequent destinations include:

Students often choose to engage in additional travel (at their own cost), guidelines and ideas for which are provided by SI leadership.



Students International Costa Rica is based in Costa Rica’s central valley in the area called Desamparados on the outskirts of the capital city of San José. It is a mountainous region with higher altitudes (3000 feet above sea level). In Desamparados, SI has a variety of ministry sites, most of which are within walking distance from where students stay in carefully-selected host homes.

On average, the temperatures are always high. The rainy (cool) season is May-November. Daytime temperatures between August-December run in the 70°s-80°s F, with evening temperatures in the 50°s-60°s F. San José has dry periods in January, February and March, and its warmest season is March-April.

Time Zone: Costa Rica is located in the Central Standard Time zone (same time as Chicago). Costa Rica does not observe Daylight Savings Time.


FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act)

In accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 Northwestern and Students International recognize adult participants’ rights to privacy and confidentiality. Thus, if participants are 18 or older, we will not share private information with parents or others. However, we also recognize that in emergency situations, many participants may wish to waive these rights. Students will sign a waiver for Students International detailing their privacy permissions. The Students International waiver asks if the student grants permission for SI staff to discuss issues pertaining to pre-departure, emergency, medical and disciplinary situations with parents, guardians or others.

Students International will send a FERPA Permissions Form with its waiver.

Payment & Finances


For most of the semester costs, your home institution bills you and financial aid usually applies.

Northwest University students: Students International bills students for airfare and travel insurance.

Central Christian College students: Students International bills students for airfare and travel insurance.

Kuyper College students: Students International bills for airfare. Travel insurance TBD.

University of Northwestern, St Paul: Students International bills students for airfare.

Students International Refund Policy

Once you are accepted, SI works with you on airfare and other pre-departure items. If you withdraw from the program after your airfare is purchased, you will be responsible for any irrecoverable costs. After December 15, SI will be making housing and other arrangements for you. If you withdraw after this date, you may be responsible for additional expenses that SI cannot recover.


Spring semester students will be abroad on April 15 when income taxes are due. You are home for most of January and may be able to complete their taxes then. Plan ahead in case W-2 forms do not arrive until after your return to Costa Rica. Check with your state for details.

Power of Attorney

Students might want to consider assigning power of attorney (POA) to someone who will take care of your financial or legal affairs while you are out of the country. We recommend that any student receiving financial aid designate POA. Tax forms can be signed by the POA if the POA form is attached.


(FPU works directly with students on airfare, so the following does not apply to FPU students.)

Cell Phones

Useful apps to download before you arrive in Costa Rica

Please download the following useful apps prior to your departure from the U.S. Some require a fairly lengthy set-up procedure that is much easier to take care of from the U.S. than abroad.

Packages & Mailstamps guat.jpg



Your Mailing Address in Costa Rica

(Your Name)

c/o Estudiantes Internacionales

Apartado 946-2400

Desamparados, Costa Rica

America Central


With all the excitement of planning where to travel, what to pack, and what to see, many participants overlook important health concerns. It is imperative to give your health the attention it needs. With just a little preparation, you will be better able to avoid problems which could prevent your enjoyment of the experience.

Local Travel Clinics

Travel clinics offer excellent advice about health issues for people traveling throughout the world. Check with your healthcare provider or insurance company to find one for your health plan. You can also consult a Public Health Center in your community.


Medical Shots and Precautions

There are no required shots to enter Costa Rica, but SI recommends the following precautions and suggests you consult your physician for final medical advice. Several vaccinations and/or immunizations require a series of treatments and we strongly recommend that you see a physician as soon as possible so that you may receive the proper medical precautions before you leave for Costa Rica.

  1. Check with your physician to be sure that you are protected against Tetanus. You may still be protected from the DPT (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccination you received as a child. You can also be protected by getting a TD (tetanus and diphtheria). This vaccine is given as a booster shot every 10 years.
  2. We strongly recommend that you receive a vaccination against Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is usually transmitted through improper preparation of food. There is a small chance when you are eating out that you may pick up something that causes Hepatitis A.
  3. Hepatitis B is only picked up through contact with blood or blood serum. If you may be working or observing in labs or clinics, we strongly recommend that you receive a vaccination for Hepatitis B.
  4. We strongly recommend that everyone receive a vaccination against Typhoid. Typhoid fever is common in most parts of the world except in industrialized regions. Two basic actions can protect you from typhoid: avoid risky foods and drinks and get vaccinated against typhoid fever.
  5. Malaria: In San José and most of Costa Rica malaria is not a threat. However, it is wise to take precautions when traveling in other parts of the country. (The only part of the country the Center for Disease Control recommends taking antimalarial medication is the Limón Province. As part of the program you will not be going there, but you may choose to go there on your own). It is also recommended to take precautions when traveling to Nicaragua. Protect yourself against the mosquito that carries the disease. Wearing insect repellent containing DEET as well as clothing that covers adequately reduces the chance of being bitten by a mosquito. Discuss with your doctor the best ways for you to avoid getting Malaria.
  6. Students working at the health care ministry site should talk to their physician being vaccinated against Tuberculosis (TB). SI Costa Rica does not currently have a health care ministry site, but during the trip to Nicaragua some students will be working at the health care ministry site.


Additional Health Precautions

Existing health conditions: If you have a specific health condition, learn how to explain your condition (including your history with it) and how you are being treated for it. This will be important if you experience problems while traveling. Ask your physician about any possible infections and limitations that any existing health conditions may cause. Take a card, tag, or bracelet identifying any condition or allergy that may require emergency care.

MedicAlert ® bracelet: Students with a particular illness or life-threatening allergies are strongly encouraged to have a MedicAlert ® bracelet. Membership in MedicAlert ® is lifelong and costs $35. Among other things, members receive an identification bracelet or medallion describing the medical problem(s) and a 24-hour number can be called from anywhere in the world to obtain up-to-date information about their medical history. For further information, consult

Allergies: Discuss any potential problems with your physician, such as traveling to areas where growing seasons may be different from those in this U.S., local vegetation and diet that could cause problems, etc. You will be visiting during allergy season so plan to bring allergy medication if you have allergies or hay fever.

Insect-Borne Illnesses: In San José, malaria is not a threat. However, it is wise to take precautions when traveling in other parts of the country. (The only part of the country the Center for Disease Control recommends taking antimalarial medication is the Limón Province. As part of the program you will not be going there, but you may choose to go there on your own). You can take measures to protect yourself against the mosquito that carries the disease. Wearing insect repellent containing DEET and clothing that covers adequately reduces the chance of being bitten by a mosquito.

Intestinal Health: Before you leave for Costa Rica and while you are there, you may consider taking acidophilus. This promotes good intestinal health. Find it in pharmacies and natural foods stores.

Dehydration: Dehydration due to increased physical activity and altitude (over 3000 ft above sea level) is common. You will be walking to most places you go instead of driving. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, low grade fever, and even in some cases diarrhea. Make every effort to stay hydrated!

Regular Medication: It is very important if you take regular medication that you have enough with you, and that you take your medication regularly as prescribed. Ask your doctor about any adjustments in dosage or schedule that may be appropriate at higher altitudes, on long flights, or in different climates. Be sure to contact your physician well in advance of your departure to receive additional supplies and a signed and dated statement from your physician explaining why you take the medicines and the proper dosage. Take a sufficient supply of your prescription and other medical supplies with you for your entire trip as it is usually not possible to send medication through the mail. If you have a prescription for a medical condition that you have not used recently (i.e. an inhaler for asthma), be sure to bring that with you as well. It is hard to predict how your body will react in a new environment and to the stresses of international travel.

Mental/emotional health: If you have a history of or are currently being treated for anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc., please inform us.

Dental concerns: A dental check-up prior to travel is recommended. Not all problems are preventable, but the loss of a filling is just one example of a preventable problem that could greatly disrupt travel.

Eyewear: If you wear glasses or contacts, take along your prescription, extra contacts, and an extra pair of glasses. Bring cleaning solutions for contacts. (You may be able to buy some brands in Costa Rica, but not all solutions will be available, and they are usually more expensive.) Bear in mind that some areas may be too dusty or smoggy to wear contact lenses, so bring glasses as a back-up.

Miscellaneous: If you are prone to motion sickness or think that there may be potential for you to experience this while flying or traveling on winding local roads in often crowded buses, consult your physician or simply buy over the counter motion sickness treatment medication.

Shoes: Never go barefoot. Only bring shoes/sandals that are practical, comfortable, and durable. Carefully select shoes according to the activities planned. Plan ahead to avoid blisters and sore feet.

Clothes: Clothing should be comfortable and appropriate for the expected weather conditions. The town of Magdalena  is cool in the mornings and evenings because of its high altitude. Bring sweatshirts and sweaters (see Packing).

Sunscreen: Use sunscreen—SPF 15 or higher—even on short outings. You will be living at 7000 feet above sea level and you will burn much more easily and quickly than usual. Be especially careful to protect your nose and ears.

Swimming: Fresh water pools, lakes and rivers could be seriously contaminated. Use them with caution, if at all. Ask SI staff for advice.

Sleep: Get adequate amounts of sleep. Adjust your body to the new time schedule as quickly as possible. In general, Costa Rican culture means early-to-bed, early-to-rise. Keep in mind that as you adjust to the mental and physical pressures of a new culture, you will be more tired than usual (see Cultural Adjustment).

Medical Insurance

All students participating in Costa Rica Program must be enrolled for travel insurance coverage through their home academic institution. This insurance will provide primary benefits for hospital stays, accidents, emergency evacuation and repatriation. Like most short-term international insurance policies, claims are reimbursed. This means that you need to be prepared to pay for any medical expenses incurred in cash or via credit card at the time of service.

Though you will have this coverage, it is also important to retain any primary health insurance coverage you currently have here in the U.S. in case of any pre-existing conditions or any complications that may occur after the program. Students International required students to submit health insurance policy details prior to departure. (Please bring a copy of your insurance card.)


Self-Care Kit

Please bring a Self-Care Kit with the following contents:`

Required items:

  • Antibacterial solution
  • Band-Aids, bandages, elastic bandages, tape
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Insect repellent (containing DEET)
  • Antiseptic/alcohol wipes (for cuts, etc.)
  • Sunscreen SPF 15+
  • Allergy medication - If you have any tendencies toward or known allergies/hay fever. You will be visiting during allergy season
  • Cough and cold/flu medication (decongestant)
  • 8-month supply of any prescription medications
  • Any possible emergency medications even if you have not recently had problems (asthma inhaler, allergy meds, epipen etc.)

Suggested items:

  • Tweezers
  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Vitamins (you will not be eating your regular diet)
  • Hydrocortisone cream (or any other anti-itch cream)
  • Gas-X or Beano (Beans are a staple of the Costa Rican diet)
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Antacid
  • Cleansing towelettes (i.e. Wet Ones)


Water & Food-Borne Illnesses

Watching what you eat and drink can help you stay healthy while you are abroad. It is possible that you may experience some form of gastrointestinal upset during your time in Costa Rica. By following the important guidelines below you can limit the frequency and severity of these occurrences.

Water-Borne Illness

The water in Costa Rica is safe to drink from the tap. It is treated with chlorine, and you will occasionally smell the chlorine in the water. Occasionally the water service may be interrupted. After the water is turned back on, it may not be safe to drink. If the water is brown or smells odd do not drink it. If you let the water run for a few minutes it will usually clean itself out. Every now and then it will be undrinkable for a day or so. This is usually due to dirt getting in the lines during a repair or to the lines somehow getting damaged. If you are unsure about the water ask your host family or an SI staff member if it is safe to drink.                

While water is safe to drink in Costa Rica it is not in Nicaragua. During the Nicaragua excursion, follow these precautions to avoid getting sick:

Food-Borne Illness

Do not eat uncooked vegetables and fruits (particularly lettuce and strawberries—this includes vegetables and fruits from restaurants).


If You Become Ill in Costa Rica


Food Allergies and Preferences

Food allergies: We recognize that participants may come to us with a variety of food allergies and some with food preferences. In most cases it is possible to avoid those foods that cause discomfort or reaction. However, due to time and budget constraints and limited availability of certain types of foods (for example, gluten free products) we are not able to fully accommodate many specific dietary needs and most food preferences.

Although some grocery stores on the field will occasionally carry specialty items meant to accommodate special diets, they are very expensive, not always available, and not within the food budget allocated for participants. While we will do what we can to help participants avoid eating foods that would make them ill or cause them to have an allergic reaction, we suggest that such participants bring snack food that does not require refrigeration or extra work for our cooks/host families.

Additionally, we strongly encourage participants to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure.

Nut (Peanut) allergies: While we do not use nuts in our meals, we do serve peanut butter for lunch and in some instances, with breakfast. Additionally, because not all countries have the stringent guidelines that the US has in labeling food products, it is possible that some of our ingredients and snacks may contain trace elements of peanut ingredients. We are unable to make provisions to be peanut-free and cannot guarantee there will be no exposure to peanuts during the experience.

Wheat allergies: Gluten free meals prove to be the most challenging for us. Many of our breakfasts and most of our lunches contain gluten. Participants with a gluten allergy are encouraged to bring gluten free cereal and gluten free bread and prepared snacks (enough to last the length of the program). Other ideas for those with a gluten allergy would be instant meals that can be prepared with boiling water such as noodle bowls, instant oatmeal, etc.

Other allergies: As with the allergens listed above, if you are allergic to other food substances, please come prepared to alter your regular diet while you are here. You may want to bring snack and supplemental foods. Please contact us prior to your program to discuss your particular allergy.

Vegetarians and other types of food preferences: Vegetarians will find that in most cases they can eat around meals that contain meat. Those with other food preferences will also find that there is a good selection of food. As with those with allergies, we suggest that such participants bring snack foods. We are not able to fix a variety of meals for the various food preferences. While we recognize that those who choose not to eat meat or have other food preferences do so with strong convictions, we would ask that such individuals come prepared with items to supplement their needs, and a willingness to be flexible.

Contact Students International: It is very important that participants with life threatening allergies contact SI before their program.

Health Precautions After Returning Home

If you pick up an infection while you are in Costa Rica (whether viral, bacterial, or parasitic), you will probably get sick within six weeks after you return. Some diseases, such as malaria or TB, may not show up until six months later. It is recommended that you have a TB test six months after you return. If you get sick, tell your physician where you have been in Costa Rica. If your physician is inexperienced with health conditions overseas, contact a local travel clinic.



Although SI has taken extra measures to guard your safety while in Costa Rica, we cannot guarantee your security. Please act responsibly. We want you to have a fulfilling, enjoyable, and safe experience. At times, the excitement of travel and the newness of the environment can make it easy for you to become careless or distracted. Remember that you are responsible for your own safety, so be aware of where you are and what is going on around you at all times. The following suggestions offer no guarantee of safety, but they will help you take the appropriate steps to be as safe as possible.

General Precautions

Have a “Safety Attitude"

Although there is no perfect way to protect yourself, you can minimize your risk by adopting an assertive attitude. The ideas listed below will provide a solid basis from which you can take charge of your own personal safety.


Getting Around Safely


Protecting Your Property

Sexual Harassment

American women are often thought to be promiscuous. Many foreign men will look for anything they can interpret as a sexual invitation – a warm smile, eye contact, etc. To avoid harassment, you usually have to act colder than you really are.

To reduce harassment



We hope you never have to use this information, but it is important to be prepared for emergencies abroad.

Emergencies at Home

An emergency may occur at home when you are away. We recommend that you talk about this possibility before you leave for Costa Rica. For instance, if a grandparent dies, would you fly home? These conversations do not need to be detailed (unless someone in your family is currently ill), but it may be helpful to at least address the topic ahead of time.

If an emergency occurs at home while you are away, your parents may chose to contact you directly or contact one of the SI staff members listed below. If they contact you directly, please also be sure that SI staff members are notified  so we can provide assistance and support during the situation.

Emergency Contact Information

Students International staff based in COSTA RICA

SI-Costa rica OFFICE physical address:

Desamparados de Correos de Desamparados 200 sur, 100 este, 50 sur.

Casa color café en la vuelta/esquina con ventanas grandes.


SI-Costa rica OFFICE mailing address:

c/o Jeff Dixon                                

Apartado 946-2400

Desamparados, Costa Rica

America Central                         


Office Phone/Fax: *+506-2250-3049

Field Director Jeff Dixon’s email                                

Jeff Dixon’s cell: *+506-8921-7550

Associate Director Kyle Fast’s cell: *+506-8312-1341

*When calling from outside Costa Rica, add 011 before the 506 country code.


Students International staff based in the U.S.


Rebecca Keiser, Academic Programs Coordinator

(262) 909-9567

Darin Mather, Academic Programs Director

(651) 500-9129

Students International Main Office

California, U.S.

(If unable to contact other representatives)

(559) 627-8923


Emergency after-hours phone:

Pam Christy (559) 303-1481



General Packing Tips

 Bring interchangeable items – shirts that go with more than one pair of pants, etc.

Luggage Guidelines

Packing List:  What to be sure to bring

We will email a printer-friendly version of this packing list.

Recommended for women

Recommended for men

Other items

Do Not Bring

For women, the following items are not allowed*

For men, the following items are not allowed*

*Issues of modesty will be at the discretion of the SI leadership.


Your host family will do your laundry about once every 7-10 days.

Additional Tips


Passport & Important Documents

Passport & Visa

You must have a valid passport whose expiration date is at least 6 months after the conclusion of the program to leave and enter the United States and Costa Rica.        

You will be able to travel to Costa Rica on your regular passport. You can stay in Costa Rica for 90 days on a tourist visa (automatic with your U.S. passport). You will then receive an additional 90 days upon returning to Costa Rica from Nicaragua. You will receive an official program schedule stating you will be traveling to Nicaragua. Print this and carry it with you while traveling as proof of a planned exit from Costa Rica within 90 days of your entry. Notify your home institution as soon as possible if you are not a U.S. citizen.

To keep your passport safe


Other documents

Make a copy of your credit/debit/ATM card (front and back of card). Keep it in a safe and separate place from your card. In case your card is stolen, you will have the information to give to your bank.

Bring a copy of your health insurance card (front and back of card).

Take out all unnecessary items from your wallet (Social Security card, library card, gift cards, etc.). Bring your driver's license (for identification purposes) and credit/debit/ATM card.

Arrival in Costa Rica

Immigration form: While on the plane each traveler will receive an immigration form. The forms vary a bit from country to country, but the standard form will have this information requested of you:

Meeting the SI Representative: An SI representative will be waiting for you on the other side of customs. Look for a sign that reads “Students International”.



Spending Money

The amount of spending money you should bring or have access to  varies widely based on the amount of free travel you plan to do, toiletries and souvenirs you plan to buy, etc. Past students generally recommend planning for $500-750 in spending money.

Exchanging Money

You can change money in Costa Rica in a local bank. Anticipate how much currency you will need for a certain amount of time to avoid frequent trips to the bank. You will need to bring your passport to the bank every time you want to exchange currency or traveler’s checks. The Costa Rican currency is the Colon. Exchange rates between the Colon and the dollar have been fairly stable, but you should occasionally check the current exchange rate. Usually, the exchange rate for the United States Dollar is approximately 1 USD = 500 Colones. There are several websites where you can check on the exchange rate, such as this Currency Converter.


Credit Cards

Several U.S. credit cards are accepted in Costa Rica. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted, but note Costa Rica has a 5% additional fees on all credit card uses in addition to any other fees your card may have for international use. Credit cards must be in your name and usually they check for identification. Even if you do not intend to use a credit card for daily purchases, it can be important in an emergency. Be advised, however, that most low budget establishments and many small, local businesses may not accept credit cards. Guard your credit card as you would your cash.

Notify your credit card company with the specific dates that you will be in Costa Rica and one-week in Nicaragua. (Sometimes a credit card company will block a credit card from working if charges start being made from an atypical location.)

You can get a cash advance at a bank and at some ATM machines using some credit cards, but you may be charged interest continually until you pay back the advance (an expensive option.) To use a credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM machine, you will need a PIN number assigned to your account. This PIN number must only be 4 digits long or it may not work.

Having a credit card is also helpful in case of any health issues. Even with travel insurance, clinics expect payment up front (you subsequently file a claim for reimbursement). See Medical Insurance.

Make a copy of your card (front and back of card). Keep it in a safe and separate place from your card. In case your card is stolen, you will have the information to give to your bank.

Know how to contact your bank in case your card is lost or stolen.

ATM/Debit Cards

Increasingly, this is the best way to go. You can generally get the best exchange rate, and many ATM cards double as credit cards. All you need is your card and your PIN. Remember your PIN (a 4-digit code only). Try out your ATM card several weeks before you leave so that you can work with your bank to fix any problems prior to your departure and find out about your bank’s international withdrawal charges. Once again, notify your bank in advance with the specific dates that you will be in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Even if you plan to rely exclusively on ATMs, bring some cash with you. ATMs are not always open or functioning 24 hours a day and bent or damaged cards are useless. Some people have had trouble getting their card to work. Also, keep your ATM receipts until you return home. Transactions that did not go through for you may show up on your bank statement as actual withdrawals. Check with your bank for details.

Receiving Money from Home

If money must be sent from home, there are several methods that you may use:


Community Life

Guidelines and Policies to Enhance Community Living

You have taken an exceptional step in your life by choosing to study, learn, live, and serve in Costa Rica. We believe that your participation in this program can change you, your understanding of people from other cultures, and the way you view the world. We are excited that you are bold enough to be stretched by cross-cultural living and learning.

You will be living in a culture different from your own, and behaviors that may be part of your everyday life in the U.S. – a highly individualized society – can be a barrier to getting the most from your experience and contributing positively to others in the community. Because of its location and our relationship and affiliation with a variety of organizations, we have specific requirements and expectations for this semester program. All of these guidelines and policies come from our desire to make your time abroad as safe as possible as well to help you act in a culturally appropriate way.

Your participation in this program places you in numerous communities: the group of participating students, your ministry team, the communities where your ministry site is located, the city of San José, and the Church (local, national, global). We hope that you will be blessed by your involvement in these communities and that you will be a blessing to others as well.

You are encouraged to adopt an attitude of humility and respect for the unique character and quality of each community as well as for the individuals in the community. Activities and discussions will take place throughout your time in Costa Rica to help you better understand the communities with which you are interacting.

You will be working very closely with the missionaries of Students International (SI). In partnering with them, it is important that we all understand why SI exists – its purpose:


To see students and the poor transformed into the likeness of Christ and discover their true calling.


Bringing students and the poor together cross-culturally to encounter God, share the good news, disciple and serve others in occupational ministries.

Authority & Supervision

The SI staff will provide you with the leadership structure that will help keep you safe, and help you show respect for the culture and people of Costa Rica. In order to do so, SI has set up some guidelines and policies that we would like you to know about as you begin your planning for your time abroad.



Below are guidelines and rules for your conduct during your time in Costa Rica, designed to help you get the most out of your experience. Please keep in mind that your behavior while in Costa Rica reflects not only on you, but also on Students International, and ultimately God.

“I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. / 1 Corinthians 10:23 & 24

Code of Conduct

SI’s Code of Conduct has been developed after years of extensive experience with student groups. Though some may find elements of this code restrictive, SI has determined that they are essential to ensure the safety of student participants and to protect the reputation of our ministry. While on the Global Bridge Program, students are expected to abide by the following:

  1. I will not use tobacco or alcohol.
  2. I will abstain from flirting*, dating or sexual activity.
  3. I will not possess or use illegal drugs or firearms.
  4. I will not stay out later than 9:00pm (except with staff approval). Invitations to a national friend’s home are subject to staff’s approval.
  5. I will follow the set internet and social media guidelines established by the Program Director.
  6. I will do my best to engage the Costa Rican culture and be culturally sensitive.
  7. I will seek to deal with conflict and disagreements with others in a biblical manner for resolution.
  8. I have read through the handbook and agree to the guidelines listed in it.

* One of the most difficult areas for many students is in the area of flirting. Often it is unintentional, but it is perceived within other cultures as a sexual advance. It destroys the effectiveness of your Christian witness and places you in an awkward position. If it is noticed by our staff that a student is purposely flirting and doesn’t stop when asked, that student may be sent home at their own expense.

Students can be sent home immediately, at their own expense, if they are involved in any sexual relationships, drinking of alcohol, use or possession of illegal drugs or excessive abuse of the other rules of conduct.

I have read the above guidelines and and commit myself to follow them during the duration of the Global Bridge Program.

________________________________________                                ___________________

Student Signature                                                                                                                   Date

All students must read and sign the SI Code of Conduct prior to departure in order to participate in the Global Bridge Program.


The Program Director, SI Vice President of Operations, and SI Academic Director will determine appropriate consequences for students who violate these rules and guidelines.

Violations may result in the following:

Social Media & Internet Use

Students will have internet access at the SI office for school work, communicating back home, and for leisure activities. Many (but not all) host homes also have wifi and it is also available in local shops and cafés.

At your in-country orientation, SI staff will review social media and internet time frame guidelines that semester students are expected to follow.

Disconnecting from social media (including chatting and messaging) is crucial to your successful engagement in Costa Rica and the semester program. Avoid having your primary sources of support and “conversation” be friends back home. Limit the use of distracting technology. Immerse yourself in the experience of being in Costa Rica. Don’t mentally or emotionally disconnect from the group, your SI family, etc, by staying overly connected with home.




Students on the semester program are not allowed to go to nightclubs/discotecas. Christians in Costa Rica consider such activity to be highly inappropriate. While this restriction may seem legalistic to some, it is a part of the Christian culture in Costa Rica and much of Latin America. Since we want to be sure that students act in a culturally appropriate manner, dancing in discotecas is prohibited. Visiting these clubs can have a negative impact on SI’s ministry and can possibly endanger your safety. Some students have taken dance lessons through a dance studio or through the language school, which is acceptable. SI staff can provide information about dance lessons and locations where dancing is appropriate.

Safety Concerns

Everyone walking around San José at night should to be in a group with at least one male present. Although this might involve a little extra walking for the guys, it is extremely important. This is not an issue of men having to protect the women, but rather a precaution towards any unwelcome attention from strangers (see Safety). Some years there are no men on the semester program, so this may not always be possible. However, no one should walk alone at night.


SI Dress Code

SI has a dress code due to reasons of cultural sensitivity. We don’t want anything to keep someone from respecting or hearing SI’s message. Appropriate dress based on the setting in which you will be working must be worn at ministry sites. Dress codes for individual sites will be provided prior to your departure. Thank you for your consideration and flexibility in this area!

For women, the following items are not allowed*

For men, the following items are not allowed*

*Issues of modesty will be at the discretion of the SI leadership.



Students having visitors (parents, sibling, friend) join them in Costa Rica is not common, but does happen occasionally. Visitors can be distracting for you during the time of the actual visit as well as the days and weeks before your visitor arrives.

Please follow these guidelines


Other considerations


Travel and excursions in addition to those built in to the program

There are usually three scheduled weekend excursions included in the semester program. Students may choose to make additional trips at their own expense. For your safety, we have several requirements for any additional travel:


Host Family

You will learn your host family assignment about a month before you arrive.

Host families in Costa Rica often behave differently from how a North American host family might behave. Many families in San José host international students for financial reasons, though obviously they have an interest in people from other cultures or they would not be opening their home to you. It is somewhat rare for students to “become a member of their host family”, though you will be received warmly. Interaction with the various members of the host family will vary among families.

You will be the only student from the program living with your host family. It is possible that there may be another international student living there as well. This is a chance to get to know people from all over the world. We expect you to speak with your host family in Spanish. We also encourage you to speak Spanish with any international students, though this is not always practical or feasible.

Your host family will welcome you into their home, but remember you are always a guest and respecting them and their home is of utmost priority. Do not invite other people inside the home where you are staying unless your host family extends the invitation. (Rather than initiating this, wait for your host family to offer – they are unlikely to do so, but it does happen occasionally.) Please make arrangements to meet friends elsewhere. Expect your host family - especially host your host mother - to be very protective and interested in your routines. This can seem like an infringement on privacy, but it is just their way of expressing love and concern.

A final note - do not flush toilet paper down the toilets! The plumbing cannot handle this. You will be taught how to properly dispose of your toilet paper.


You are asked to refrain from dating during the semester program. Certain dating relationships are prohibited: 1) a family member from your homestays, 2) professors/language school teachers, and 3) SI staff. We also ask that you refrain from other types of dating, including (but not limited to) Costa Ricans and other Costa Rica semester program participants, for a variety of reasons:

Dating behavior is different in other cultures. For example, in Costa Rica, young men go to the women’s parents’ house only when the parents are home (not escondidos). What seems like “normal” young adult behavior to most people for the U.S. may seem strange and inappropriate to Costa Ricans. Unfortunately, women from the U.S. often have a reputation of being sexually available. Costa Rican men may assume that you fit this stereotype and seek a relationship for you based on this assumption. In addition, leaving our comfort zone causes us to open up and increases vulnerability and potentially a false sense of intimacy with others, so what may feel like genuine attraction is really a reaction to being abroad. The meaning of physical touch varies among cultures. The hugs and kisses you exchange with Costa Ricans should not be interpreted as anything but a casual greeting.

Dating also affects the community with which you have chosen to live for the year (your fellow program participants) causing isolation of individuals or couples, decreased focus on ministry and academics, and safety problems. Dating may be a negative witness to Costa Ricans who see you as a representative of SI and Christianity. If SI staff determine that a relationship is reflecting negatively on the program or our program partners or is putting you or others at risk, staff will discuss this with you and determine appropriate action to be taken.

Flirting is a difficult area for many students. Often it is unintentional, but can be perceived in other cultures as a sexual advance. It can destroy your Christian witness and place you and others in an awkward position around you. Please take care to be aware of your actions and emotions. If SI staff perceives intentional flirting, staff will sit down with you to address what is being perceived.


Ministry Sites

You will learn your ministry site assignment about a month before you arrive.

SI has a variety of ministry sites in Desamparados. Each ministry site group will be led by one of SI’s staff members. There will often be slight changes between the written description of the ministry sites and what you will actually do. These changes result from a variety of factors, such as the time of the year, national holidays, or unforeseen circumstances such as weather or cultural adjustments. Changes should not affect your opportunities for ministry. A primary quality for cross-cultural ministry is flexibility.

You will receive a site orientation from your site supervisor when you begin in your ministry site that will better define your role within your location. You are expected to be at your site each workday unless otherwise instructed by your site leader or if you are sick. You are expected to share your questions / frustrations / challenges within the best context (i.e. with your site leader at lunch or other free time or with the Global Bridge Program Director). It is not good to air frustrations in the community for many reasons:

  1. Staff cannot help unless we are aware of the issue.
  2. Negative talk in the community about the site negates the good work that is being done and the long-term community view of the ministry.
  3. Conversations with staff can lead to greater understanding as to how and why things are done.

For a detailed list of Ministry Sites, see Students International’s website.

Office use                                        

As a participant in the Costa Rica Program you will have access to the SI. Costa Rica office. Below are office guidelines:

Office hours

Mondays: 12:00pm to 6pm*

Tuesday - Friday: 9:00am to 6:00pm*

Saturday and Sunday: by appointment        

*Office hours are subject to change. Do not assume someone will be there to let you in - communicate in advance or call first.


Language Learning

Language is your key to involvement in your new culture. Even if you cannot speak proficiently, your attempts to communicate in the native language will be appreciated. Listen carefully to what other people are saying - this will help you communicate. Remember, understanding others and making yourself understood in a new language requires more rephrasing, repeating, and rechecking than usual. We ask all Costa Rica Program participants to sign a language contract so that you can encourage each other and make the most progress in developing Spanish proficiency. There will be a short ceremony at the end of orientation during which you will commit to speaking Spanish and sign the language contract.

Before You Leave


Once You Arrive: Learn Spanish by Using It


Cultural Adjustment

Travel for any significant length of time includes cultural adjustment. This takes a variety of forms and is different per person. However, common emotional, mental, and physical reactions have been studied and formalized into the following Cultural Adjustment Cycle. Be aware of the forms cultural adjustment can take and know that you are not alone in your reactions to life in a new place.

The Cultural Adjustment Cycle


heightened sense of enthusiasm

anticipation of adventure

excitement at changes in routine

enthusiasm in discovering new rules and habits of a new place

some insomnia and stomach queasiness


anxiety in discovering new rules and habits of this new place

moments of sadness and disappointment

impatience or disenchantment with life in your host country

restlessness and irritability

reliance on familiar activities and foreign friends

questioning your own values and those of your host country

minor health problems: run-down, susceptible to illness, tired




feelings of disorientation

hostility towards local people and customs

colds and headaches are common, as are some stomach problems


reconciling who you are within the local culture

recognizing changes in yourself, including changes in your values

renewed interest in the host culture

a more constructive attitude

adaptation to the host culture and in equilibrium with the host country

normal health

Strategies for Managing Cultural Adjustment


Returning Home

Coming home after an extended stay abroad can be just as disorienting as your initial days in Costa Rica. Do not expect to slide back into life with friends and family without minor or major hitches. Many returnees experience emotions similar to those detailed in the Cultural Adjustment Cycle: anticipation, enthusiasm, frustration, discouragement, assimilation and integration. As with all transitions re-entry should be approached with prayer, an open mind, a flexible attitude, and patience.

Strategies for Managing Cultural Adjustment when Returning Home

In closing...

Our desire for you to learn with the mind and the heart as you participate in Costa Rica Program echoes Paul’s prayer for the Philippians: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Phil 1:9)

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Appendix 1: Students International

SI does long-term, on-going community development in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica through the full-time staff missionaries serving in those countries. In addition, outreach participants join our missionaries on short-term or semester programs throughout the year. Our staff missionaries and outreach participants come together cross-culturally to encounter God, share the Good News, disciple and serve the poor. This is all done while working in locations and conducting activity in specific areas of occupational ministry that correlates with a career, academic, or personal interest of the participants. We call these occupational outreach settings Ministry Sites.

SI’s Mission

Bringing students and the poor together cross-culturally to encounter God, share the Good News, disciple and serve others in occupational ministries.

SI’s Vision

Seeing students and the poor transformed into the likeness of Christ and discover their true calling.

SI’s Core Beliefs

We believe that there is one God, the almighty Creator of all things, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Deut. 6:4; Isa 45:18; Jer 10:10; Mt 28:19; Isa 40:28; Jn 10:30; 2 Cor 13:14

We believe the Bible to be the divinely inspired, entirely trustworthy, authoritative Word of God. Isa 40:8; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21; Heb 4:12

We believe in Jesus Christ, both fully human and fully divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, who lived a perfect life, and gave himself as the only ransom for sinners. He was bodily raised from the dead and ascended into heaven where he reigns as Savior and Lord. Jn 1:1, 14; Lk 1:35; 1 Pet 1:3-5, 2:22; 1 Jn 2:1-2, Heb 1:2-4

We believe that full justification is freely offered to all sinful men and women who repent, and put their faith in Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. 1 Tim 2:5-6; Acts 4:12; Rom 3:24-26

We believe in the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling presence and transforming power gives new life to all believers, enables personal change, empowers Christian community, and inspires obedient service and sacrifice. Jn 14:26; Rom 8:14-16; 1 Cor 12:7-11; Tit 3:5; Acts 2:38-47

We believe in the spiritual unity of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ calls all believers, this holy church, to preach the Gospel, care for the needy and strive for social justice. Jn 1:12; Gal 3:27-28; Eph 4:25; Mt 28:18-20; 1 Pet 3:15; Isa 58:6-9; Mt 25:34-40

We believe in the future return of Jesus Christ, who will personally return to judge all people with justice and mercy. The redeemed will be saved unto eternal life and the unrepentant will be lost unto eternal damnation. 1 Thess 4:13-18; Acts 10:41-42; Jn 5:24-25; Jn 3:36; Rom 6:23

SI’s Core Values

§  All people glorifying God, finding their identity and purpose in Jesus.

§  Living according to the Bible and teaching its ways to others.

§  Expressing ministry gifts, living in harmony and embracing diversity.

§  Global witness, in word and action, to those in need.

§  Prayer and a life yielded to God.

§  Becoming disciples through faith in Jesus.