A. Obtaining a Passport
All participants are required to have a passport in order to participate in Earth Education International (EEI) Offerings. IMPORTANT: If you already have a passport, it should be valid for at least four (4) months after the conclusion of the course or program in which you are participating, or you may not be allowed to enter the country upon arrival. In the case of semester programs in which we leave the country, this may mean that you may not be able to re-enter Costa Rica when we return. United States citizens may obtain information about how to obtain a passport, fees involved, and requirements at the U.S. Department of State web site. Nationals from other countries must determine the appropriate process, which varies somewhat from country to country.
B. Purchasing an Airline Ticket
Participants may be responsible for purchasing their own airline ticket. For courses and semester programs in which application is made directly to EEI, this is facilitated in collaboration with STA Travel International Programs and Group Services in providing participants with the lowest-priced student air fare available, as well as coordinating group arrival to Costa Rica. Thus, we highly recommend contacting them (toll-free in the U.S. & Canada at: 877-777-8717) to make your travel arrangements. When doing so, inform them which EEI program you will be participating on, and they will arrange for you to arrive in Costa Rica at the same time as other participants so that we may provide ground transportation upon arrival. (IMPORTANT: See 'Arrival' below). STA Travel can also issue an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which provides discounts, and additional travel insurance to participants (required for student fares).
C. Medical Preparations & Health Insurance
Health insurance is strongly recommended, and provided for participants applying directly to EEI. See the Acceptance and Health Insurance sections on the 'Admission' page for details.
It is also a good idea to have medical and dental checkups, and get needed dental work done before you go. If you have any chronic medical concerns, obtain your physician's recommendation. Although there are generally no serious high risk diseases in and around the central valley of Costa Rica (where San Ramón is located), it is wise to take precautions, especially during times when we will be doing field study in other parts of the country and region (and if you might travel elsewhere on your own). Some locations are more susceptible to disease than other, but in all cases the chances of becoming sick are substantially reduced by taking simple precautions. The first step in this process is to obtain recommended travel vaccines (e.g., typhoid, hepatitis A/B, polio), including getting a tetanus shot if you have not had one recently. At the same time, you should acquire recommended medication and supplies to bring with you (e.g., malaria pills, mosquito repellent, etc.). Please visit the Costa Rica page of the World Health Organization or Central America travel section of the Centers for Disease Control web site for their latest recommendations. Additional information as also accessible through the Health and Safety section of the 'Links' page.
D. Logistical Arrangements
There are a number of logistical arrangements that most people will need to make arrangements for if your course or program is for an extended period of time. The most common of these include:
1. Notify your credit card company or bank. Many credit card companies and banks will block your credit, debit, or ATM card if it is used in another country without them being notified IN ADVANCE. Please note that even if you do not plan to use a credit/debit cardit, that this is how emergency medical payment is typically made, and thus this should be arranged ahead of time to avoid complications.
2. Arranging for payment of bills. Arrangements must be made for credit cards, car payment, insurance, cellular telephone, etc. while you are away. The easiest ways to do this is by having someone else make payment for you, or through automatic payment plans from your bank account.
3. Learning health insurance procedures. Check with your health insurance company to be sure you are covered while in Costa Rica , and find out how to handle claims. You will probably have to pay bills yourself (credit card best), and then send in receipts for reimbursement later.
4. Income tax arrangements. Make arrangements for how you will handle your income tax while away, if appropriate for the time you will be gone.
5. Power of attorney. If you may need another person to take care of any legal issues on your behalf, draft and sign a 'power of attorney' form so that they can legally handle those issues on your behalf while you are away.
6. Paper mail arrangements. Decide how you will handle paper mail that comes for you while you are gone. The easiest way to do this is to have it sent to a permanent address (e.g., your parents) and held there until you return. Although you will have an address available to you for receiving mail in Costa Rica, mail is somewhat unreliable, and can be very slow. Also, receiving packages can be a very complicated process (even having to clear customs and pay duty charges in San José), especially if they are large. If you wish to avoid these complications, inform parents and friends not to send packages to you.
E. Learning about the Country/Region
A wise recommendation before traveling to another country is to learn as much as you can about your destination before you leave home (e.g., monetary system, exchange rates, climate, possible activities, latest news, culture). It is also recommended to start studying (or brush-up on) the Spanish language if at all possible. This will help to prepare you, and allow you to get the most out of your upcoming experience. In-Country Information is available on this site, as well as links to travel information and countries in the region. There are also numerous travel books (e.g., Moon Handbooks, Fodors, Lonely Planet, Frommers, The New Key to Costa Rica) that may be of assistance in planning and to bring along, especially if you plan to travel on your own. Also recommended is to learn something about the process you will likely go through in Adjusting to Life in Costa Rica, especially if you will be spending significant time in the country. See the following section, pre-departure orientation, for more detail.
If you are planning to be away from home for an extended period of time, you should seriously consider preparing personally for your upcoming experience of living and studying in another country. Individual needs will vary widely in this regard dependent upon both past experience in similar circumstances and recent life-events. Although this category of preparation is often discounted, it is essential to allow you to get the most out of your upcoming experience, both by understanding what you may go through, but also in being able to recognize common symptoms of adjustment difficulties in fellow participants with whom you will spending a great deal of time in close quarters. Because participants in Earth Education International offerings come from a variety of locations and/or countries, each individual will be responsible for this. A good book on the topic is the Survival Kit for Overseas Living (by Robert Kohls). For ease, appropriate pre-departure orientation materials on the 'What's Up With Culture' web site (an on-line cultural training resource for study abroad), have been identified here for participants to access at their convenience. It is strongly recommended, however, that these materials be consulted as soon as possible after being notified of acceptance. Feel free to explore the site as appropriate. It contains numerous interactive self-evaluation exercises to assist in your self-reflection. Please pay SPECIAL ATTENTION to Module 1 (What to Know Before You Go), accessible from the main 'What's Up With Culture' page.
A. Travel Documents and Funds
Although it may seem redundant, remember to check and double check the following three items. Believe it or not, even experienced travelers have been known to forget the most obvious necessary items.
1. Passport (see 'Obtaining a Passport' above if necessary, and note expiration date limitations for entering Costa Rica).
2. Airline ticket (see 'Purchasing an Airline Ticket' above, if applicable for the course or program you will be participating in).
3. Spending money. Participants on short-courses (1-2 weeks) typically spend about $200 per week on miscellaneous meals (1-2 meals per day), optional extra activities that are not included in the program fee, and the required departure tax of $26 (which must be paid individually when leaving the country--only Visa credit cards accepted). Those planning to do significant souvenir shopping should increase their budget appropriately. Participants on semester programs
generally spend somewhat less--on average approximately $300 on personal expenses per month (though some have spent as much as $500 or more), depending on personal spending habits and how much recreational traveling you want to do. Some money can be brought with you in cash, but should be limited due to the risk of loss or theft. Traveler's checks are a much safer option, but be advised that they are subject to at least a 1% commission when changing into Colones, the local currency. Another good option is to use your ATM card to take money out of your account as you need it through an ATM machine in Costa Rica. If you plan to do this, be sure your card will work at a local bank once you arrive (check with your bank before departing). 'Cirrus' system cards are most accepted throughout the country. In addition, money can be wired directly to the local Western Union office (one in San Ramón), but money is given only in local currency. Credit cards (Visa most accepted) are valuable for certain circumstances and emergency situations, or if you wish to make a cash advance. However, charges for cash advances tend to be very high and credit cards are not accepted everywhere (and even less outside of Costa Rica). Note that whichever approach you use, it is a good idea to have some money in U.S. Dollars (cash and/or Traveler's checks) available for traveling, especially out of the country. Dollars hold their value better and are accepted anywhere, whereas Colones are not. See Banking and Expenses on the 'In-Country Information' page for more details on banking in Costa Rica.
B. Required Field Study Items
Each participant must be properly prepared for field study trips by having the necessary equipment and supplies on-hand. Certain items are required for safety, whereas others are for program efficiency. Items may be purchased in Costa Rica, but may be either more expensive, unavailable in your preferred brand, or simply not available at all. For that reason, it is highly recommended that they be acquired prior to departure. All of the items in the following list are required for field study travel (supplies may be shared between participants at the same location):
1. A good flashlight with extra batteries.
2. Basic medical supplies (anti-diarrhea and upset stomach medication, antiseptic, Band-Aids, antibacterial ointment, sting/itch reliever, motion sickness medication if applicable).
3. Enclosed shoes (tennis shoes OK).
4. Travel bag (s)/backpack (preferably lockable and not taller than 10 in. [25 cm.] while lying down so it fits overhead on buses).
5. Water bottle (at least 1 liter size). Some choose to bring a water filter, but it is optional, and really not necessary. Tap water is potable (in San Ramón and most other places), and bottled water is readily available.
6. Rain gear (waterproof jacket/poncho most convenient for the field, and/or an umbrella).
7. Required personal medications.
8. Waterproof sunscreen and hat for sun protection and after-sun medication.
9. Portable Spanish-English dictionary or guidebook. For Spanish beginners, a highly portable, useful, and durable addition to a dictionary is the "Instant Latin American Spanish" brochure-style guide, available from Waterford Press (ISBN# 1-58355-077-1, approximately $7).
C. Recommended Items (optional)
The following items are recommended as appropriate:
1. Mosquito repellent and mosquito coils (HIGHLY recommended, available in outdoor stores).
2. Safety pouch (either around the waist or neck style) to carry passport, money and other valuable items.
3. Field guide books/pamphlets for identification of flora and fauna.
4. Small notebook for personal journal keeping, language learning, etc.
5. Costa Rica travel book (especially if you plan to travel on your own).
6. Your own washcloth, bath towel, and beach towel.
7. Camera (digital recommended for posting pictures on the internet).
8. Glasses (if you wear them), and perhaps an extra pair and your written prescription.
9. Contact lenses, if you wear them, and an extra pair and/or a pair of glasses and written prescription.
10. Camping gear (e.g., tent, mosquito netting). You MAY be able to camp at specific field sites if you would like, and/or if you plan to camp during personal travel).
11. Personal items (e.g., clothes, toiletries).
See the In-Country Information page for further information on what to expect in (and thus what to bring to) Costa Rica.
12. Laptop computer and/or flash drive. Participants on longer programs will almost certainly wish to bring a laptop computer with them so as to allow working on homework assignments or connect to the internet at local WiFi spots (including our host university). Please note that internet access is not generally available in homes, and for safety reasons it is advisable to take precautions against theft when carrying a laptop with you around town. For participants without their own laptop, computers and limited internet access is available at our host university, and there are also numerous internet cafes (less than $1/hour in San Ramón).
13. If your program involves a homestay: Photos from home or small gifts of appreciation for your family and new friends in Costa Rica. Recommended items include things representative of your family & life at home (e.g., pictures of your family/maps), dry foods, T-shirts, tablecloths, shower supplies (no bathtubs here), candles, etc.
D. Personal Items
1. Clothing. Although the weather doesn't change dramatically in Costa Rica , you will want to bring a variety of clothes. Please note, however, that on both short courses and semester programs participants will typically be able to wash clothes at least once a week, often times more frequently. Thus, it is NOT necessary to bring sufficient clean clothes for your entire stay. In the central valley it is typically warm during the day, and cool in the evening. During the 'dry' season (December through April) the days are generally hot and dry, but the nights can be chilly. During the 'wet' season (May through November), mornings are sunny but it usually rains on and off in the afternoon (you will most certainly need an umbrella during these months). In addition to weather, culture guides what most people wear in Costa Rica, and most people dress up much more than 'western' cultures are accustomed to. At the beaches and low-lying areas however, you will definitely want to have warm-weather clothes. Also be prepared for hiking in warm, wet, and/or muddy weather (depending on season and location) during field study trips. Enclosed shoes (required, tennis shoes sufficient), 'convertible' pants, and t-shirts work well for those situations. With this in mind, use the following list as a guideline to start packing your clothes: a) Bottoms-Jeans/long pants, preferably non-cotton blend (convertible) pants, and shorts/skirts ; b) Tops-Long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirt/light sweater (for chilly evening weather), short-sleeve shirts, t-shirts; c) Shoes-Enclosed hiking/tennis shoe (field trips), sandals or water shoes (beach, personal travel), comfortable walking shoes; d) Other-Pajamas, socks, underwear, hat (required). e) Dress clothes-For semester programs, participants may also wish to bring dress clothes for special occasions.
2. Toiletries. Although most toiletries are available in Costa Rica, there is less selection, and they can be substantially more expensive. Thus, it is advisable to bring anything that you must have with you. This includes: things like aspirin, vitamins, medications (e.g., allergy, motion sickness), etc. Remember to take along copies of all prescriptions as well.
3. Electrical appliances. If there are any electrical devices that you would like to bring (e.g., hair dryer, battery charger), electricity and outlet style is the same as in the U.S.A. (110 volts).
E. Other Things That People Wished They Had Brought
Following is list of items that past participants wished they had brought with them. Please note, however, that although they may be somewhat more expensive, most regular supplies are available locally (although they may not be the exact style you would like): a) Less stuff and in travel sizes; b) String or rope; c) Small padlocks (to lock up gear); d) Backpack with rain/dust fly (sometimes bags must go on the roof of the bus & can get wet, and/or dusty); e) Waterproof flashlight; f) Pocket-size notebook; g) Alarm clock; h) Calendar; i) Warmer clothes & pajamas; j) Credit cards and a calling card (also available in Costa Rica); k) All medications & vitamins; l) Enough make-up to last, nail files, sunglasses; m) Calculator; n) Ear plugs (can be very noisy). NOTE: The best way to approach packing is to make a list of what you need/want to bring well ahead of time and use it as a guide.
IMPORTANT PACKING NOTE: It is highly recommended that you bring a small backpack which you can have on-hand during the day while traveling in the bus. A second bag (which may be in a roof rack or otherwise inaccessible during the day) should be packed with items you will NOT need until that evening after checking into the hotel.
"Bring half of the things you think you need, and twice the money" (Author unknown)
As your day of departure approaches, you will need to think about how to organize the items you will bring with you. To avoid problems at security checkpoints and be prepared for the unfortunate situation of lost luggage, we recommend you pack according to the guidelines below:
A. Carry-On Items (NOT IN CHECKED LUGGAGE)
Below is a list of items that should be carried on the plane with you, NOT put in your checked-in luggage. Remember that you will not have access to items you check in with the airline for AT LEAST the duration of the flight, although possibly longer if your suitcase(s) should be lost in transit.
1. Passport and other official documents (make at least 3 copies of these documents; leave one with your parents, keep the other separate from the originals that you carry with you, and keep the third to turn in to the Director in Costa Rica ).
2. Extra passport photos (2-4), credit cards, phone cards, insurance cards, important phone numbers, etc.
3. Any necessary medications you take regularly or may be advised to take by your doctor, in their original container.
4. Prescriptions for medication needed regularly, written by generic name, rather than brand name.
5. Information on your blood type and any sensitivity to medications, special medical needs, etc. Also bring your shot record (a record of all the shots you have had) if you have one.
6. Funds in cash and/or travelers' checks (more difficult to change & commission charged). If bringing travelers' checks, it is a good idea to give a record of numbers and denominations of travelers checks to someone at home to keep for you, in addition to having your own copy in a different place from the checks. Keep the phone number for replacing lost/stolen checks with you, and give a copy of someone you trust before you leave.
7. Inventory list of items in each piece of luggage.
8. A change of clothes and permitted toiletries in case of an overnight stay due to a delayed flight.
B. Travel Safety/Theft
Although it is always a good idea to be aware of safety and possible theft, it is especially important when you are traveling. This is because you are generally more vulnerable due to being in unfamiliar surroundings, have many things to attend to at any given time, and/or are carrying cash, valuables, other important documents (e.g., passport), and possibly various bags. Adhere to the following common sense rules to help avoid difficulties: a) Keep your bags with you at all times; b) Do not put valuables (e.g., money, passport, tickets) in your bags; c) Always keep them securely on your person (preferably not in a loose pocket or purse); d) Be especially aware of your surroundings in busy locations and when there are many distractions (e.g., check-in, safety inspections); e) Keep your bag(s) in contact with your body as much as possible (i.e., putting a strap around your arm or leg if you are napping in public); f) Put your name on the outside of all luggage, and inside checked bags (a copy of your passport is a good way to do this); and g) Know what to do, and who to contact in the case of any problems (e.g., missed/cancelled/delayed flights).
C. Arrival in Costa Rica
We will meet you at San José international airport upon arrival for group transport. However, in the case of programs for which participants make their own travel arrangements, it will be necessary to coordinate arrival and departure dates/times. Thus, if you would like us to pick you up and drop you off at the airport, YOUR FLIGHT MUST ARRIVE (OR YOU MUST MEET US AT THE AIRPORT) ON THE FIRST DESIGNATED DAY OF THE PROGRAM BY APPROXIMATELY 1PM. The same applies to flight departures, which must be no earlier than approximately 1pm on the last designated day of the program. Alternatively, upon arrival you may find your own transportation from the airport (taxi, approximately $30), though please note that this will necessitate arrival directly to your homestay family, and late arrivals should be avoided. Please also keep in mind that orientation will begin first thing in the morning the day following arrival.
D. Meeting at the Airport
Because the exit from the airport can be hectic at times, it can be difficult to find each other upon arrival. Thus, when you exit from the terminal, turn immediately to your RIGHT, and walk down the sidewalk past the pay phones, benches, and glass doors to the 'Malinche' restaurant. We will meet you there. To assist with identification, see Dr. Karian's picture here. In case of any problems, difficulties or delays, we can be reached on our cell phone at 8812-7766 (preceded by 011-506 from the U.S.A.). If necessary, this can be dialed from a courtesy phone at one of the rental car agencies inside the airport PRIOR to exiting. NOTE: You cannot re-enter the airport once you have exited for any reason.
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© Copyright, Earth Education International, 2012