Domestic help is affordable and readily available in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s lower cost of living, while a bit higher than formerly, is one of several benefits to ex pat living and still an affordable option. Even though the Costa Rican government sets a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers, hiring a housekeeper, nanny, nurse or groundskeeper can be a relatively inexpensive proposition. As of late 2015, the minimum wage for a housekeeper was US$315 a month, plus statutory benefits and taxes.
Finding domestic help is easy; your Realtor can probably recommend someone. Ask neighbors or other ex pats; it’s very likely their employees know someone who knows someone to recommend. You may want to hire someone who is bilingual if your Spanish isn’t good. As with all things Tico, you’ll need to ensure you follow applicable laws.
As you interview your candidates, ask for references and check them. Be sure potential employees are Costa Rican residents or have a work permit; most household workers are Nicaraguan. It may seem obvious, but be clear about what you expect and how you want things done. It may seem silly but if you don’t want your non-stick cookware or silver scrubbed with an abrasive, you’ll need to spell it out. The point? There are different ways of doing things and you need to explain how you want things to be done.
Once you find someone to hire, execute an employment contract. Though seems a bit formal for hiring a maid, it protects you. Costa Rica’s labor laws support workers’ rights. Domestic workers receive paid holidays (official and unofficial) and vacation, social security/pension and health insurance, mandatory severance pay and maternity leave. There’s also the Alquinaldo, known as the 13th month, a month’s pay due each December. Wages are usually paid weekly, based on hours worked and the pro rata hourly rate of the monthly minimum wage.
Employer and employee have a 90-day trial period. After that, two weeks’ notice is required the first year; thereafter it’s a month. You may pay wages in lieu of notice. You may also be on the hook for accrued vacation and Aguinaldo. It’s customary for your employee to have a paid day off to look for a new job. If you housekeeper quits, be sure to have her sign a legal document (in Spanish) verifying she is leaving voluntarily and has received everything owed. Be sure to have someone witness her signature, for your protection.
For ex pats, good domestic help can be a real advantage. Your employees know how things work in Costa Rica and can help you understand their customs. While Costa Rica’s labor laws may seem excessive, if you think about it, they’re really just about fair pay, treatment and working conditions for a fair day’s work.