Must Know Items when Staying with a host family in Costa Rica

5 “Must Knows” when Staying with a Host Family


Keep reading, because the information below will keep you from thinking: “I wish someone had told me that earlier about my host family!”

Okay, picture this…

You have just touched down in Costa Rica for your immersion experience, and your mind is running wild! Is your host family going to be nice? Will the water be okay to drink? You have heard stories of friends traveling abroad and the last thing you want is to spend any of your precious time abroad sick… Tropical landscapes run through your mind until… oh no! Huge tropical bugs! You forgot your bug spray! Is malaria a risk? And the spiders –  are they really three times the size of the ones at home? Wait, did you just hear someone on this flight say snakes?!?


Yes there are some bigger bugs, but it’s going to be great staying with a host family! The following NEED TO KNOW items will help you get a head start on living with your host family in Costa Rica:

The water at your host family:

There are a few places in Costa Rica where the tap water is questionable, but those places are few and removed. As soon as your flight lands and you walk into the Juan Santamaria International Airport, feel free to take a sip at that water fountain (it’s oh so tempting and that long customs line made you thirsty!) The water in the majority of Costa Rica is potable and you can drink it straight from the tap. That also means ice cubes in drinks are a-okay and your veggies and fruits can be washed with tap water with no effect on you!

The bathrooms at your host family:

Costa Rica’s plumbing system is just not the same as the United States. You’ll notice that in every restroom there is a wastebasket next to the toilet – and you guessed it! Your toilet paper and feminine hygiene products need to be disposed in the wastebasket rather than in the toilet bowl. Now, we are creatures of habit, and every once in a while you’ll forget and catch yourself throwing the toilet paper in the toilet – oops! No need to go diving in to get it out – one piece should be okay, but try hard to be conscious of that wastebasket. You wouldn’t want to be the one to clog up all the plumbing at your host family’s house!

Food at your host family:

Whether it’s gallo pinto for breakfast, arroz con pollo for lunch, or the typical casado at dinnertime, your host family will probably feed you more food than you’re used to – it’s how they show you they care! Cuidado here with food; honesty is usually the best policy. If you don’t like a certain food, and you’ve tried it at least once, it’s best to be honest about it. Otherwise, it may show up on your plate again in the near future, and again.

Gallo pinto, a typical breakfast dish in Costa Rica
Gallo pinto, a typical breakfast dish in Costa Rica

The same goes for portion sizes. When you sit down for a meal you may be served your plate or you may serve yourself. After every meal, you should expect to be asked to “please, have more” because that is a way your host family can show you they care about you; they are making sure you are not still hungry after dinner. If you feel the portions are just too large, speak with your host mother about being able to serve yourself or, if she insists on serving you, request smaller portions. That way, if you really liked something, when you’re offered to take more you can do so without feeling over-full afterwards! The same goes if you feel that you are not being served enough food at a meal. Remember, honesty and open communication here are the best policy!

Hot water and showers at your host family:

Don’t be surprised that most Costa Rican homes don’t come equipped with hot water heaters; it’s just not the norm. But you will notice that when you get into the shower, the showerhead may have a few switches on it and there are some wires following the tubing. That’s because your lukewarm water may be produced through an electric showerhead water heater. Most of these come with a switch with three options, like the picture below.

Host family shower head in Costa Rica
A typical showerhead with heater settings

The position that the switch is in, in this picture, will produce cold water straight from the tube. If you move it to the right, in this case, it would be half warm and half heated water as the circle indicates, and if you move it to the left where the circle is fully filled in with color, it would be fully heated water. Don’t expect the fully heated switch to be hot to your standards, but know that you may have to move the switch around to get your water to be warm. Personal hygiene is also an important topic in Costa Rica, and if you don’t shower everyday that may be the reason your host-sister keeps giving you a sideways glance at the dinner table. Make it a habit to shower at least once daily in this tropical country, and as its usually warmer outside in the morning, it may work best for you to start your day off with a shower, as the afternoon may prove to be chilly and rainy and if your water isn’t hot like you like it, que pereza!

New habits that will help you fit in at your host family

At home you may take a shower and leave your towel on your bed, a little damp, or on the floor in the bathroom, planning to use a new one next time you shower. In Costa Rica it’s important to take a few things into consideration:

  • Leave your towel hanging out to dry, and never on your bed or on the floor. A towel is seen as a personal item that should be reused a few times before washing it. If you leave it on the floor, it becomes ‘dirty’ in the eyes of your Costa Rican host family, and if you leave it on your bed it’s likely to be smelly (and your bed sheets too) by the afternoon due to humidity. You may also consider bringing your own towel to your immersion program, as it’s seen as a very personal item for some families.
  • Make your bed in the morning – Not only is this nice for your host mom, but it will ensure that no random bugs (such as spiders or even scorpions in some regions of Costa Rica) will crawl into your bedding throughout the day. Regardless, lift your sheets up to check every night before tucking in just to make sure you don’t have any extra friends in there with you!
  • Shake your shoes out upside down before you put them on, and leave shoes you’re not wearing in a place a bit higher off the floor if provided (like a shoe rack or a low closet shelf). It’s always possible some bug may crawl into your shoes while you’re not wearing them, so just double check before putting your feet in!
  • Don’t walk around the house barefoot for the same reason. You’ll notice your host family wears sandals or house shoes in the house, and you should too!

Staying with a host family has amazing benefits for your Spanish language growth. Keep the above tips in mind as you stay with your host family and you’ll have a head start on your immersion experience!

For an in-depth discussion on how to maximize your Costa Rica immersion trip, be sure to read our post on how to have an amazing host family experience and learn more about the variety of Spanish immersion programs we run in Costa Rica. Pura vida!




84 thoughts on “5 “Must Knows” when Staying with a Host Family”

  1. If my house mom asks me my favorite way for eggs how do you say over medium eggs the best way? I love tico breakfast! It is my favorite meal of the day 🙂

  2. Interesting info. I will miss my steaming showers, but I spent childhood summers at our cabin w/ an outhouse and no running water, so I will adapt!

  3. Thank you for this info! It eases some of the apprehension I have about how to be a guest with a host family. I will definitely remember sandals!

  4. Wow! That was very helpful! Definitely going to be turning over all of my shoes before putting them on! Uff!

  5. Joseph Anthony Gilardi

    Super helpful and I will definitely reference this abroad. Thanks for the tips about the bugs!

  6. Mary Beth Black

    Good summary, thank you. I look forward to shaking up my habits and being conscious of other people’s lives outside of the USA.

  7. I once put my shoe on without realizing there was a mouse inside! So I am already accustomed to checking my shoes before putting them on

  8. Sharise Cunningham

    Regarding food, do you need to know up-front that I’m vegan (NO animal-based foods at all ) — willing to do vegetarian if necessary (minimal amounts of dairy or egg) — or do I discuss that with my host family upon arrival?

  9. All very good and helpful info! I’m hoping my family doesn’t serve large portions of food. I’ve finally lost the 20 lbs I put on during COVID lockdowns. I’ll have to think about what I’ll say about portions – I definitely wouldn’t want to insult la madre.

  10. Lots of great info that I wouldn’t have thought of. Definitely going to be keeping an eye out for bugs, eek!


    All great tips! This has helped me to feel a bit more prepared. I can’t wait for the food, I tend to eat more than I should, I’ll have to be really careful 🙂

  12. Thank you! It is interesting to be in a culture that has some similarities to mine from growing up in a different continental tropical country, and there were some nuggets here that I never would have known so I appreciate sharing these tips.

  13. Thank you for these tips- they raise the question for me as to if it is ok to take pictures of everything, or if it will be strange for my host family? I would love to video how to cook a certain meal & photograph my living space

  14. caitlin.banks

    All of these points will definitely help me in the case of traveling to Costa Rica, making sure I don’t do anything that isn’t socially acceptable or being cautious.

  15. Mary Tommie Williams

    This is very useful information. Even though I have been to Costa Rica a few times, I have always stayed at a hotel.

  16. I live in Colorado, so I am happy to learn more about bug checks, most of the year it is way too cold to have bugs around.

  17. Marissa Werchan

    This is very helpful information, I have grown lax in my bug checks after moving to frozen New England after living most of my life in hot humid Texas, where I used to check for scorpions and spiders in my shoes. I also appreciate the advice on social norms in everyday Costa Rica life!

  18. Bridgette Strange

    Great bug suggestions! I do not want any extra unwanted friends in my bed or shoes. As for the towel, I am glad I know they see it as a personal item. I will certainly bring my own.

  19. Kathleen VanEepoel

    Growing up in Florida (66 years) I totally get the bug suggestions. Good to know about the towel, going on Amazon right now for a towel that travels!

  20. Benjamin Kingston

    Thanks for letting us know about those things! I never thought about the issue with bugs, so it is very helpful to know about beforehand

  21. This brings back a lot of memories of my trips to Honduras 40 years ago!I love the food but I eat small portions so that will be a challenge. Looking forward to it.

  22. All helpful information. I am relieved that we are just checking our beds and shoes for bugs and not for snakes.

  23. Carly Woolman

    Great information! It is good to remember some of our best guest habits; such as, making our beds and not leaving clothing or towels laying around.

  24. A lot of these tips correlate with etiquette habits in India, which I have travelled to many times. I find that my trips to India will definitely supplement my etiquette habits in Costa Rica!

  25. Hummm, bugs in bed and in shoes–sounds like our time in Arizona. Thanks for the info on daily showers which are so nice when it is humid. The temptation might have been to skip them to save the cost of water for the family.

  26. I will make sure to follow this advice so I can have lukewarm showers and keep bugs from crawling on me.

  27. I am excited to stay with another host family. This was a very similar situation when I stayed with a host family in Madrid.

  28. Thanks! Would have hated to take a cold shower just because I didn’t know how the shower head works!

  29. Pingback: 10 Bulletproof tips to maximize language growth on any travel...

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