Lots of tourists who are planning to visit Costa Rica ask us: “Do I need to speak Spanish in Costa Rica?”, “Do you think I should learn basic Spanish before moving to Costa Rica?” We think you should.

Many expats that move to live in Costa Rica don’t put learning basic Spanish before moving to the country as a priority on their preparation list. 

But imagine this scenario where you get stopped in your hometown by someone who doesn’t speak English, and they ask you a question you don’t understand. In most cases, you would probably ask them: “Do you speak English?” right?

There have been many instances where expats have been yelling in frustration while trying to communicate with Spanish-speaking Ticos. They, the Ticos, didn’t have a clue as to what was being yelled at them. And they walked away, saying nothing or waving off the expat. These expats did not learn basic Spanish before moving to Costa Rica.

The Mistake

Many tourists and expats make the mistake of assuming the local citizens speak English. There are many Costa Ricans that do speak English. But, they are not obligated to do so and only do it out of courtesy. That courtesy comes because they probably think you are a tourist.

Ticos frequently speak English in many tourist locations. But, Spanish is the primary language in local stores, food markets, malls, and most rural areas. Suppose you are living in Costa Rica or planning to live there. In that case, it is a matter of having respect for the locals, and it makes a living in Costa Rica so much easier for you if you learn basic Spanish before moving to Costa Rica.

How to Learn Basic Spanish

Learning a new language as a child comes easily, but it can be difficult as an adult. If you are going to make a move and live in Costa Rica, you can immerse yourself in learning the language or take private classes. For immersion, you can dedicate yourself to learning a few words daily and practice using online videos (i.e., YouTube). You can also take private Spanish classes where you will have the support of a language professional to guide and aid you.


Practice your basic Spanish as much as you can. It would be best to practice before and after arriving in Costa Rica. You can practice by translating common everyday objects you see into Spanish. There are many resources online to help you and remember – the more you practice, the better you will become.


-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).

[email protected]

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