The Ministerio de Educacion or Ministry of Education is responsible for regulating education for all of Costa Rica. Several articles in the Constitution of Costa Rica insure the integrity of this system. Article 79 guarantees the freedom of education, Article 80 decrees that the government should stimulate private education. Jose Maria Castro, the country's first elected president was also a teacher, and because of his reforms and that of subsequent presidents, in 1869 Costa Rica became the first country in the world where education became free and obligatory. Many of Costa Rica's leaders have also been educators and have placed great emphasis on the expansion of primary and secondary education, even in the most remote areas of the country. For example, President Figueres, who was elected in 1994, pushed computer literacy programs for the country's 4000 schools. English was also made compulsory due to the boom in tourism and technology.
By maintaining its commitment to education, Costa Rica has achieved a 95% literacy rate, the highest in Central America. This literacy rate rivals that of many larger and more industrialized nations. Since 1970, Costa Rica has consistently invested 28% of the national budgets for education. Costa Rican citizens like to boast about having more teachers than policemen.
The Costa Rican educational system is divided into three major sections: Elementary, High School and University. Elementary schooling is free and obligatory. Seventy percent of high schools are public, while accredited private institutions provide the other thirty percent. Although University level education began last century, it wasn't until 1941 that the University of Costa Rica, the country's largest public university, was founded.
The University of Costa Rica (UCR) was founded in 1941 and is the largest and oldest university with a student body of approximately 35,000. Even though most of these students receive scholarships, full tuition is only $200 a semester. The main campus is in the northeastern San Jose community of San Pedro but also has regional centers in Alajuela, Turrialba, Puntarenas, San Ramon, Guancaste, Limon and Cartago. Founded in 1973, The National University in Heredia offers a variety of liberal arts, sciences, and professional studies to 13,000 students. Cartago’s Technical Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) opened in 1973 and specializes in science and technology, and trains people for agriculture, industry and mining. The United Kingdom’s Open University was the model for The State Correspondence University. Founded in 1978 it has 32 regional centers offering 15 degree courses in health, education, business administration, and the liberal arts.
In 1941 The University of Costa Rica had with 8 small schools, a handful of professors and 700 students. Ninety-three percent of the students at the University of Costa Rica come from Central America and 77 percent are male The School of Dentistry opened in 1942, the School of Economics in 1943, and the School of Medicine in 1960. In the last two decades, schools of sciences and letters, a laboratory, and library facilities have been added. The University of Costa Rica is the newest national university in Central America.
The University of Costa Rica's Carolost Monge Alfare Library is the best university library in Central America.
Private Universities include the Universidad Autonoma de Centro America, established in 1975; Universidad Internacional de Las Americas, established in 1985; the Universidad Adventista de Centro America, established in 1986; the Universidad Latin Americana de Ciencia y Technologia, established in 1987; the Universidad PanaAmericana, established in 1988; Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, established in 1990; the Universidad InterAmericana de Costa Rica, established in 1990; the Universidad Central Costarricense, established in 1990; the Universidad Hispano Americana, established in 1992; the Universidad de San Jose, established in 1992; Universidad Nazarena, established in 1992; Universidad Libre de Costa Rica, established in 1993; Universidad Anselmo Llorente y Lafuente, established in 1993; and the Universidad del Diseno, established in 1993.
Most private schools have a shorter time to graduate since they do not offer the liberal arts courses that are mandatory in the public universities. However, since they are private the cost is much more expensive. But the students who can afford it prefer to go there.
Para universities offer short study courses that take two or three years. This course of study prepares students for technical or administrative positions. They grant Diplomas but no Degrees.
Competition for admission to the more prestigious state funded schools combined with the higher cost of the private schools has prevented many students from receiving a higher education. This is especially true with lower income and rural students.
Costa Rica is considered to have one of the best educational systems in Latin America. Every community has an Elementary and a High School. Upon completion of high school, the student will receive a title in "Letras" (similar to "Arts") or in "Ciencias" ("Science). All public schools use this system, but private grammar and high schools utilize an American or European system. Public school students are required to wear official uniforms in order to reduce the social and economic distinctions between students.
Here is an article by Roger Peterson called The Structure of the Educational System in Costa Rica. Download the PDF file to read this helpful article which provides lists of private educational institutions in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has no army and combined with its long standing commitment to the social and educational welfare of its citizens has produced a highly developed medical system. Currently Costa Rica assigns about 10% of its GNP to health care. The result is a physician for every 700 people and a hospital bed for every 275. Costa Rica is well known throughout the world for high quality, low cost health care and procedures for cosmetic plastic surgery or life saving operations like bypass and heart transplants, Dental work, from fillings to implants, is done routinely on people from every corner of the world. People from all over Latin America actually plan their medical needs--from hip replacement to heart valve replacement--to be taken care of by the well-trained and skillful physicians in Costa Rica rather than in their native countries.Costa Rica’s health care system, with well-equipped modern clinics and hospitals, and medical personnel trained in the best international teaching centers, provides excellent medical service to citizens and foreigners alike.
Hospitals in Costa Rica have the latest equipment, and laboratories are excellent. You can feel very safe having operations here without returning to the US, Canada or Europe. Most surgical procedures cost only a fraction of what they do in the North America. For example, a heart bypass operation costs about a third of what it does in the US.
There are three large, private hospitals that most expatriates use: CIMA hospital in Escazú, Clinica Biblica in San José, and Clinica Católica in San José-Guadalupe.
Hospital CIMA, in Escazu is the newest private hospital in the San José area and is affiliated with the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas and managed by International Hospital Corporation of Dallas, Texas. It is a full service hospital that has the latest health care technology, state-of the-art medical equipment and the most sophisticated physical plant in Central America. CIMA offers complete services including X-ray, ultrasound, emergency and intensive care, as well as an advanced coronary unit. They have an adjacent seven-story medical office building where over 100 specialists have their offices.
Most Costa Rican doctors are excellent and have been trained in Europe, Canada or the United States. If you don’t speak Spanish, you don’t have to worry. Many local doctors speak English, receptionists and nurses do as well. Doctor’s fees for office visits vary. A good private specialist usually charges between $30 and $60 for each visit. Of course, some doctors charge a little more while others charge a little less. Costa Rica has a much slower pace of life and in keeping with this, doctors in Costa Rica spend time with patients to answer questions and listen. Doctors usually give you their office, home and cell phone numbers. Many doctors will still make house calls.
Medicines and Pharmacies (Farmacias)
Pharmacies are everywhere in Costa Rica and they stock most of the standard medicines that are available in Europe, Canada and the US. In general, the cost of most medicines is a lot lower (up to 80%) than those in the US. Most drugs are readily available over the counter in any Costa Rican pharmacy without a prescription. The exceptions are strong pain relievers and narcotics. These require a special prescription. In Costa Rica, pharmacists are allowed to prescribe medicines and administer on-the-spot injections. They are also available to answer your questions and give free medical advice about less complex conditions.Some pharmacies are open 24-hours a day, have bilingual employees and will often deliver to your home.
Costa Rica's Government-Run Health Care System
With a government-sponsored network of more than 30 hospitals and 250+ clinics throughout the country, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) has primary responsibility for providing low-cost health care services to the Costa Rican populace. Although sometimes overburdened, this system has worked well for Costa Ricans for the past 60 or so years. Available not just to Costa Rican residents, the CCSS provides affordable medical service to any foreign resident or visitor.
CCSS - Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social
The cost through the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, ARCR, is very reasonable - currently $49 per month for a family where the principal insured person is over 55 years of age, and $58.00 per month where the principal insured is under the age of 55. For those under 55 there is a mandatory pension fund payment in the premium. FAMILY includes spouse and all dependants under the age of 18 years. Quoted prices are for the year 2008. Insurance through CCSS Requires Costa Rican Residency.
INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros)
INS does not cover pre-existing conditions or check ups. Dental work, eyeglasses and cosmetic surgery are only paid for if they are needed as the result of an accident. Their plan currently pays 80% for prescription drugs, examinations, doctor visits and hospitalization .The patient is free to choose the doctor. Claims are based on a table rating types of treatment administered. Costs vary with age and sex.
Comparing Costa Rica’s Health Care Plans
C.C.S.S. - National socialized system.
Covers doctor's visits, medications, examinations and hospitalization.
Doctors are assigned to the patient.
Covers pre-existing conditions.
Covers all medications including dental and vision.
INS - The governmental insurance company.
Covers 80% of the cost of doctor's visits, medications, examinations and hospitalization.
Individual chooses the doctor.
Does not cover any pre-existing medical condition.
Does not cover most dental or eye exams, treatments or glasses, preventive medical check-up, illness or disorders related to female reproductive organs during the first 12 months of coverage, or birth of a baby during the first 6 months of coverage.