Study abroad in Costa Rica, immerse yourself in the culture, and learn Spanish while attending a local high school!
In Costa Rica, locals say pura vida, but this is more than just a phrase. Studying abroad in Costa Rica for a summer (1-2 months), trimester, semester or full academic year will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in this way of life that values less stress and a slow pace – and a deep appreciation for nature. In this country famed for its commitment to environmental protection (over 20% of the territory is protected reserve or animal refuge) students get full language and cultural immersion by living with a local host family and attending a local high school. And not to mention an instant buddy: for summer and trimester students, you’re guaranteed to live with a host sibling your age.
Are you ready to make pura vida your motto? If you check off any of the below, Costa Rica might be the next stamp on your passport:
Our alumna Leah Miller shares her reflections on her Costa Rica program:
“My exchange made me more sure about what I want to do in life because of the cultural and historical influences I experienced. No matter how much I love my high school, now I will always want to get on a plane and travel to explore other cultures. Thanks to this experience, I also know that I can do it! And it made me prepared to work hard for the things that I really want. I may not be the most normal person, but this experience taught me that travel is where I belong. It made me confident that that’s what I need to be doing with my life.” – Leah Miller, 2017 Greenheart Travel high school abroad alum
Academic Year: $22,680
Semester and Academic Year lengths includes all of the above, and:
Worried about the program fee?
Our goal is to help make travel accessible to everyone and we are here to help when you are deciding if this experience is financially do-able. Each year we offer scholarships for high school study abroad students! We also have a guide to fundraising your program fee, and many high school students fundraise in their hometown ahead of their program.
We also offer discounts for applying early (plus there are many other benefits to applying early!) for each start date and for US families that have hosted an exchange student with Greenheart Exchange.
Please inquire here if you have questions about the program fee, scholarships, or fundraising for your program.
Application Deadline: March 15, 2022
Apply early and save! Apply by December 9, 2022 and save $300 off a trimester or semester program and $500 off an academic year program. This discount will be applied to your final program balance, not the deposit.
Can’t do a whole trimester? Schedule a call to discuss doing a 1 or 2 month long program!
Thinking about Fall 2024? Good idea to plan ahead! Check back in November 2023 for fall dates. You can still start your application now, though, if you’re interested!
All students are required to book flights on their own. An airport transfer upon arrival is included in the cost of the program. We will provide your exact arrival and departure dates after acceptance, as well as the exact timeframes you should arrive/depart, so that you can start to search for possible flights. We require prior approval of a proposed itinerary before you purchase any flights.
Nervous about flying on your own? We recommend students and parents sitting down together to review the following resources:
For many Greenheart Travel students their first time flying is across the world to start their exchange program! You can read our alumni experiences on our blog, such as Emily’s or Madison’s blogs on their experiences flying to Japan or Rachel’s tips on what you actually need to know about flying.
The government of Costa Rica invests much of its funding toward their education system. To fully embrace your local Costa Rican community you will attend a public school and all of your classes will be taught in Spanish. Mandatory school uniforms minimize economic differences among classmates and will make your packing process much easier! Typical classes include; Math, Spanish, English, Science, Geography and Agriculture.
So, what about credits?
Neither Greenheart Travel nor the host school abroad provides high school credit. All credit must be granted through your home school in the U.S. or Canada. All U.S./Canadian schools have different policies. Here’s a blog post to read more about how some alumni have transferred credits.
In Costa Rica, we cannot guarantee your host school will provide you an official transcript. If your school will not, some host schools will provide documentation, letters, and any other materials you require upon request. You must have good behavior, attendance, and performance in order for the school to fulfill this request.
Then, you should take this documentation back to your home school as proof of your participation in the program. Your home school is responsible for awarding you credit for this program or not.
You should meet with your US high school before you leave and share the general curriculum guidelines for Costa Rica with your guidance counselor and/or teachers.
Because the curriculum will vary by school and we cannot guarantee you’ll take any specific classes, it is important that you arrange the required classes required for your graduation, such as U.S. History, before or after your time abroad.
Greenheart Travel will be able to provide information about the general curriculum for your age level in Costa Rica, but you will not know your course schedule until after you arrive in country and start attending school.
Access your High School Curriculum Guidelines for Costa Rica here!
Please keep in mind that the grading system in other countries is different than the US. Most host schools will not grant grades or transcripts as it is too difficult to evaluate your work due to the language barrier. If your host school is able to award you grades, they won’t be an exact match to what you would get in the US.
In researching a study abroad program, you have already shown you are a leader and open-minded in your academic pursuits. These are just a few of the traits that our exchange students possess. You’re motivated to immerse yourself in another culture and flexible enough to live outside your comfort zone. You should also:
Check out our summer language camp program in Costa Rica to get a head start on your Spanish skills.
*What does it mean to be in good mental health?
Moving to a new culture and staying in unfamiliar surroundings without your normal support structure can be very stressful, even to a well-adjusted student. Sending a student with pre-existing conditions on a long-term exchange program could exacerbate whatever challenges the student was previously facing. In order to ensure the safety of our participants, we must be rigorous in our pre-screening of all high school abroad applicants.
Therefore, we may not be able to accept students who have struggled with any kind of mental illness, specifically within the last 2 years and/or are reliant on medication to address their existing mental health condition. Each student will be addressed on a case by case basis and ultimately it is Greenheart Travel’s in-country partner who holds the right to accept or decline a student based on their individual policy.
These include, but are not limited to:
All students who currently experience one or more of these conditions will be required to submit an addendum to the terms and conditions as well as a letter of support from their current mental health specialist. If the student’s mental health issue has been managed (post-medication) for over 2 years, we will still require a note from his/her relevant practitioner (psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, etc) as part of the application process. We encourage you to discuss your specific situation with us directly, before securing these documents.
Please note that students who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD will not be guaranteed any academic accommodations plans by the host school abroad.
Can’t miss part of your semester or a full academic year? No te preocupes! (Psst – that means “don’t worry”)
During North American summers, Costa Rican schools are still in session! You can still attend a local high school and live with a local host family and get the full exchange experience without missing your school year. You can see all the details here:
The best way to learn about a new culture and language is to be fully immersed in it which is why all Greenheart Travel high school abroad students live with local host families. All of our host families are volunteers and will treat you as a member of their family. By being a part of your family’s daily life, you will learn to live and speak like a local.
For Summer (1-2 months) and Trimester students, you are guaranteed a host family with a host sibling who attends the same high school.
Prospective host families undergo a rigorous screening process. Participants can rest assured that only suitable host families will be selected. In fact, many of our current host families have hosted students in the past, showing what an impactful experience it was.
In order to qualify as a host family, the prospective hosts must:
We will connect you with your host family prior to your arrival in your host country. By e-mailing and speaking with them before arriving, it will help break the ice when you finally meet in person. It will also show that you are as excited to live with them as they are to host you!
Host families have many reasons why they want to welcome you! Our host families are volunteers, meaning they don’t receive compensation for housing and feeding students during their program. Many host families love the experience of cultural exchange – they learn just as much about your country as you do theirs. Many are also former exchange students and want to return the favor, or they have children who have gone or will go to study in the U.S. Having an exchange student exposes their children to new languages and cultures.
Semester and academic year programs have 1 full weekend excursion and 1 half-day excursion included in the cost of their program.
All students regardless of length will also be able to participate in organized activities, excursions, and short trips for a chance to see life beyond your host community. Sample some delicious BBQ while meeting new friends, take a hiking tour in the rain forest, or experience the thrill of seeing the Arenal volcano up close during your time in Costa Rica! These are just a few of the possible adventures you could enjoy during your high school abroad program.
In addition to program activities and excursions, there are also school-sponsored activities students can take part in, such as
What do our alumni say about their experience studying abroad?
“Not only has my High School Year Abroad with Greenheart Travel helped me learn Spanish as a second language, but it has also exposed me to different lifestyles and customs. Through living with a host family, attending school in a small, coffee-farming town & developing friendships with local students, I have gained entirely new perspectives and experiences. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to change the way I see myself and everything around me, and that it a gift that I will cherish and benefit from for the rest of my life.” — Rachel Maloney, high school abroad alumni 2016
For summer (1-2 months) and trimester lengths, we place most of our students 1-2 hours outside of San Jose in small to medium-sized towns. Close to the rainforest, but also to the city, is a part of Costa Rica is a great place to call home. Our most common placements are in the following towns: San Ramon, Palmares, and Zarcero. We work with several public (and private, upon request) high schools in these areas.
For semester and academic year programs, all students are placed in Heredia and will attend Centro Educativo Santa Ines.
Regardless of your program length, we make it a priority to place students with host families that closely match your interests and personality, for example, if you like soccer, we’ll do our best to find a family that also loves soccer! The best time to talk about your interests and preferences is during the application interview and in your host family questionnaire.
Please head to our Parent Handbook page. You’re also welcome to set up a time to chat with us about your child’s program abroad here. We’re happy to talk with you about this big decision!
Greenheart Travel welcomes travelers identifying as LGTBQ+, and is committed to helping you find the best program for you. We can provide information on the cultural norms of our destination countries and are prepared to advise you on the best programs based on your needs and interests.
No. Unlike our other Spanish speaking destinations, Costa Rica does not require any previous Spanish experience. It certainly helps if you know some, but you can study before you leave.
For semester and academic year programs, there are 2 weeks (semester) or 3 weeks (academic year) of language classes (20 hours/week) included in the program. This will give students language introduction before classes start!
One of the main goals of studying abroad is to become fluent in another language while living overseas. The host family and school will not expect you to be fluent when you first arrive and will help you improve your language skills. As long as you try your best, you’ll pick up the language sooner than you might think!
No – but that’s what pura vida is all about, right? Flexibility and adaptability! For summer and trimester programs, you must be flexible about where you are placed within Costa Rica. We make it a priority to place students with host families that closely match your interests and personality. For this reason we work first to find a suitable family rather than a destination preference. We can never guarantee placements in any specific city or region, and we match based on compatibility with the host family.
For semester and academic year programs, all students are placed in Heredia and attend Santa Ines high school.
I know a family in my program country that would like to host me. Is that possible?
This is possible as long as we have a support network in the family’s host community and there is an available nearby host school.
You will not be placed in a major city like San Jose. A majority of our families live in small to medium sized towns outside of major cities, and it is important you be open-minded to small town life.
For semester and academic year programs you will be placed in the smaller city of Heredia.
We do not change host families based on preferences or location. However, if issues arise once you are on the program, we will handle them on a case-by-case basis and may make changes if necessary.
All students studying on semester or academic year programs will be required to obtain a student visa to Costa Rica. It is the students’ responsibility to obtain this visa, but Greenheart will provide you guidance and the proper documentation you’ll need to apply.
Round trip airfare to/from Costa Rica is NOT included in the cost of the program.
Yes! Our in-country partner staff and/or your host family will be eagerly waiting for you when you arrive!
You are not permitted to travel on your own during the program.
For semester and academic year programs there is one full weekend excursion and a half-day excursion included in the cost of the program. Both are chaperoned and with other exchange students.
Some schools will offer optional field trips. You must be accompanied by an approved chaperone to travel.
It’s possible that teachers and students at your school will speak English. However, remember that you’re there to learn Spanish!
All classes will be taught in Spanish as this is a full immersion program.
For summer and trimester programs, you are guaranteed a host sibling around your age. Your host family may also have young children, teenage children, or grown children who no longer live at home. Regardless of the age of your host siblings, they’ll be excited to welcome into the family!
Most students have their own rooms. However, houses are smaller and depending on your host family, you may be expected to share a room with a host sibling of the same gender.
All students need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before arriving to their destination country.
You are required to submit a record of immunizations during the application process.
Comprehensive medical and accident insurance will be included in the cost of your program. This will cover you for most medical expenses you might incur, like prescriptions, ER visits, doctor visits, dental accidents, and hospitalizations.
If you get sick, your host family or local coordinator will help you go to the doctor.
If you have an emergency on program, we have a 24/7 emergency number you can call. Our in-country partner staff and your host family will be there to assist you. Greenheart will be in touch with your parents regarding your emergency.
Our programs are based on a full, cultural immersion experience so friends are not allowed to study abroad together in the same host town with the exception of semester and academic year students (all placed in Heredia). For summer and trimester programs you’re welcome to both go to Costa Rica at the same time but you would not be placed together. Don’t worry though; making friends in your new host town will happen quickly!
No. Visits are not allowed during the high school program. If your family wishes to visit, they should plan to meet you after your program is completed. In this instance, Greenheart Travel’s National office and international partner office should be informed of your family’s plans.
Yes. Every year we offer various scholarships for select high school program destinations. There are two Early Bird Deadline discounts offered each year as well. If you have hosted a student for Greenheart Exchange, you are also eligible for a Greenheart Host Family discount.
Greenheart Travel is proud to offer the Greenheart Club for all of our students. The Greenheart Club challenges our participants to pursue a deeper level of immersion through volunteerism. As a member of the Greenheart Club, you will receive guidance in strategizing creative ways to give back to your community, have access to tools for tracking your impact and receive incentives for your efforts as a global leader. This is a great chance for you to get to know the local community outside of the classroom while you study abroad.
You will not be able to take the SATs while abroad. We highly recommend taking the SATs prior to or after the program.
We recommend you apply a minimum of 6 months prior to your desired semester.
The sooner you can apply the better, as acceptance, gathering documents, etc. can take a long time. Read more about why applying early is a good idea.
Our final deadlines for fall start dates are March 15, and September 15 for spring departures.
We cannot take already graduated student’s on our High School Study Abroad in Costa Rica program. Please look into our Gap Year Programs for short term Spanish programs that can take Gap Year students who are 18 or over.
On a case by case basis, we can accept already graduated students for High School programs in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, and England.
Yes! Check out our blog or you can join our exclusive teen programs Facebook group to talk to current and past students.
We also have a list of mentors (teens and parents) that are past participants open to chatting about their experience with potential new participants. Please inquire here if you want to be put in touch with a mentor.
Greenheart Travel has been working with high schoolers for many years, and there are advantages of applying for this program through us:
We also have some unique offerings to our Greenheart Travel students and alumni!
Greenheart Global Impact Grants (GIGs)
Greenheart GIG Grants are funds awarded to Greenheart Travel participants to use for community development projects in their host or home country. A GIG is the opportunity to create, improve, or maintain an impactful, community-focused project abroad or at home. Grant funds could be applied to supporting women’s cooperatives, schools, community centers, or health clinics, for example. Grant winners will be featured on our website, social media, and blog. You can see our past winners on our blog here.
Greenheart Alumni Program
We created the Greenheart Travel Alumni Program to provide resources and a community to support alumni in their advancement as global leaders, and a way to celebrate and reward our participants for being ambitious, inspiring catalysts of cultural exchange!
Junior Greenheart Global Leaders Conference
Each May Greenheart offers full-ride scholarships to around 10 teen alumni to attend our annual conference in Chicago. You can see more about what Jr. GGLC is and what you could do at the conference here.
Committing to studying abroad can feel daunting, but we are here every step of the way to make the application process as simple as possible! Below are the various steps you’ll need to take to be accepted on a high school abroad program.
1. Start Your Application Here. You will be sent more information as well as the link to our application portal to begin your formal application. Once the initial form is complete, you will be connected to a High School Abroad program manager who will speak with you and a parent to go over the details of the program.
2. Submit Basic Program Information: The first step in our application portal will be basic things like your chosen start date, etc.
3. Submit your fee: A $1,500 application fee is required in order to apply for the program. This is subtracted from your total program fee, it’s not additional.
4. Complete Application & Documents: Provide more detailed information about yourself in Part 2 of the application. In this section, you’ll tell us more information like your work history, motivations for joining the program, travel history, and emergency contacts. You will also submit your documents (below) within your portal account.
5. Interview: After submitting your application fee, you will schedule an interview. During this interview, we will ask you questions about living with a host family, adjusting to new situations and homesickness, among other things. You will also receive an overview of the next few months and what you can expect. This is done via Zoom, and at least one parent should also be in attendance.
6. You’re Accepted! Once you’ve completed all the steps, Greenheart Travel will thoroughly review your application and will contact you within 2-3 weeks about your acceptance. Then, you’ll get more information about preparation, visas, and placement.
7. Commitment Payment: Once you are accepted to the program, you will need to submit a $5,000 commitment payment within 14 days to confirm your spot on the program. We cannot start the host family matching process until we have this deposit. Once you submit your commitment payment you will unlock the acceptance portion of your portal, which includes things like pre-departure videos, travel and arrival information, the Greenheart Travel Atlas, and more.
7. Book your flights, and get ready for your adventure to Costa Rica!
In addition to completing an application, you will also be required to submit documents. You can be collecting the documents during the application process, but all documents will be due 14 days after you submit your application fee.
The following documents will be required for all destinations:
For payments, a $1,500 non-refundable fee will be due with your submitted application. This is a deposit will be deducted from your overall program cost. If we are able to take a last-minute application submitted after the deadline, the deposit will be $2,000.
Once you are accepted onto the program, a $5,000 commitment payment will be due within 14 days of acceptance. The remaining balance is due 16 weeks prior to your start date, or at the same time as your commitment payment, whichever comes first.
You’ve Been Accepted, Now What?
Start getting ready for your adventure! Your program manager will be in regular communication with you to make sure that you are on track in your preparations to go abroad.
Have questions or want to talk to one of the program coordinators? Set up a time to have a phone call below.
Take a glimpse into life in Costa Rica through some student’s photos. Make sure to also check out #greenhearttravel on Instagram for more!