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Do They Speak English in Costa Rica? With 45+ Spanish Words and Phrases

When planning a trip to a new country, one common concern for many travelers is the language barrier.

For those planning to visit Costa Rica, the question of: “Do they speak English in Costa Rica?” is sure to come up!

The short answer is: yes. However, it is not the primary language in Costa Rica. 

I was very thankful for my 100 day streak on Duolingo Spanish when I found myself in some non-English speaking parts of Costa Rica.

Continue reading below for some considerations with the language in Costa Rica and some important Spanish words and phrases you should know when traveling Costa Rica.

Hiking close to Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
Sign in Spanish & English in Arenal, Costa Rica

What Language is Spoken in Costa Rica?

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica and the rest of Central America.

The majority of the Costa Rican population speak it fluently. 

English is not the primary language in Costa Rica, however, many Costa Rican citizens are quite proficient in English. 

You are more likely to find Costa Rican English speakers in the tourist areas and major cities. 

English in Costa Rica Tourist Spots

In popular tourist destinations like San José, Manuel Antonio, Guanacaste and La Fortuna, you will definitely encounter locals who speak English.

People who work in hotels, restaurants and other tourist organizations will speak English. However, it is important to note that proficiency in the English language will vary. 

Think about yourself when visiting a new country, you may feel a little self conscious or uncomfortable speaking a different language.

This may be the case with Costa Rican locals whose first language is Spanish.

English in Rural Areas of Costa Rica

Venturing off the beaten path and exploring more rural areas of Costa Rica may bring you around those with limited English. 

Two instances during our recent Costa Rica travels stand out to me. Monteverde, Costa Rica had a mix of both Spanish-only locals and English speakers.

However, when my husband, brother and I were staying in El Jobo, northern Guanacaste Province, we met a lot of Costa Rican locals at the nearby restaurants who did not speak any English at all.

I was the main communicator between the locals and my family, (thank you Duolingo).

It is during these times that a basic understanding of Spanish can greatly enhance your travel experience. 

Important Spanish Words and Phrases for Traveling to Costa Rica

To help you navigate the Spanish language in Costa Rica, I put together a list of important words and sentences you should know. 

Although English is widely spoken, practice using these words or phrases whenever you can.

You will notice the immense appreciation from the Costa Rican locals in your attempt to speak and learn their language. It showcases a respect for their culture and cultivates a relationship with them.

The lists below include basic Spanish words, travel specific words and Spanish words to know while dining out in Costa Rica.

Basic Words and Phrases in Spanish

  1. HelloHola
  2. GoodbyeAdiós 
  3. Yes – Sí
  4. NoNo
  5. EmergencyEmergencia 
  6. Maybe – Quizás
  7. PleasePor favor
  8. Thank youGracias
  9. You’re welcomeDe nada 
  10. Excuse me / SorryPerdón
  11. My name is… Me llamo…
  12. What is your name?¿Cómo te llamas?
  13. How much does it cost?¿Cuánto cuesta? 
  14. HelpAyuda 
  15. I need helpNecesito ayuda
  16. Where is …?¿Dónde está?
  17. What time is it?¿Qué hora es?
  18. Excuse me, where is the restroom?Perdón, ¿dónde está el baño?
  19. See you laterHasta luego
  20. What time do you close?¿A qué hora cierran?

General Travel Words and Phrases in Spanish

  1. Tourist informationInformación turística
  2. Tour guideGuía turístico
  3. SightseeingTurismo
  4. Currency exchangeCambio de moneda
  5. Tourist attractionAtracción turística 
  6. MarketMercado
  7. LandmarkPunto de referencia 
  8. StreetCalle
  9. HotelHotel
  10. ReservationReserva 

Spanish Words and Phrases for Dining Out in Costa Rica

  1. Table for (number) people, please. – Una mesa para (número) personas, por favor.
  2. May I see the menu, please?¿Puedo ver el menú, por favor?
  3. What do you recommend?¿Qué nos recomienda?
  4. Can I have a glass of water, please?¿Puedo tener un vaso de agua, por favor?
  5. I would like to order… Me gustaría pedir…
  6. I have a food allergy to…Tengo alergia a…
  7. Can you recommend a good restaurant?¿Puede recomendarme un buen restaurante?
  8. Do you have vegetarian/vegan options?¿Tiene opciones vegetarianas/veganas?
  9. AppetizerEntrada 
  10. Main coursePlato principal
  11. DessertPostre
  12. Can I have it spicy?¿Puede ser picante?
  13. Can I have it mild?¿Puede ser sin picante?
  14. Can I have the bill, please?¿Me puede traer la cuenta, por favor?
  15. The meal was delicious.La comida estuvo deliciosa.

BONUS COSTA RICA WORD

Pura Vida = Pure Life – indicates a relaxed way of life, the Costa Rican style!

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Do they speak English in Costa Rica?

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So.. Do they speak English in Costa Rica? Yes!

At the end of the day, yes, you will be able to speak English in Costa Rica as it is widely spoken.

However, I strongly encourage you to make an effort to learn some basic Spanish before embarking on your Costa Rica vacation.

Learning a new language pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you to immerse yourself in the Costa Rican culture. Spanish may help you build friendships with locals and open doors for you during your travels. 

I was able to make friends and I felt much more comfortable in the country with the limited Spanish knowledge that I did have. Imagine what you could do or say with some daily Spanish practice before you visit.

When in doubt, there is always Google translate.

Happy traveling & Pura Vida!!

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