What happens if a group doesn't finish a project?
Most projects cannot be completed in the course of a week, but all projects do get finished. Projects are a combined effort and when one team leaves, another team comes in and picks up where the team left off. When teams are not available my construction team (local workers) complete the project. Especially in the case of homes, projects need to be completed as soon as possible, as families usually find temporary lodging from the time of demolition of the old structure to the completion of the new home. We live and work in Costa Rica 12 months out of the year, except vacation time the weeks before Christmas.
What if nobody in my group speaks Spanish?
You will have a Spanish speaking guide available to you at all times unless otherwise determined with your group leader. We have various full-time staff who speak both languages as well as Spanish speaking interns available during the busiest months.
How are payments and donations made?
Payments must be made by bank transfer 5 weeks before the arrival of your group in Costa Rica. The address for both payments can be sent to you. The addreses for donations can be found on the "Contact Us" page.
What items might I not have thought to bring?
Please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an info packet which contains a things to bring list.
Will my credit cards and debit cards work in Costa Rica?
Most ATMs in Costa Rica will give you cash in colones on your U.S. credit card or debit card. Some will even give U.S. dollars. It is important that you inform your credit card companies of your trip destination and duration as some companies terminate services with use in a foreign country and will not reactivate such services until they have spoken with you in person. Remember that more rural areas will often not have banks and if you are able to get money on your card through a local vender you may pay as much as 20% service charge.
What is the currency and rate of exchange?
The colon(es) is the currency of Costa Rica. The exchange rate varies a little, but as of March 2013 one dollar exchanges for approximately 490 to 500 colones. U.S. dollars, especially 20s or less, can be used in many places, although exchanging some money will be helpful for you in some areas and contributes to your experience of the Costa Rican culture. It is a good idea to bring some 1s, 5s, and 10s for local spending. Also, one very important point is that it is very difficult to use U.S. currency here if there are any holes or tears in the bills. Hundred dollar bills from the year 2001 are also difficult to get cashed as there are many counterfeit bills in Costa Rica with that date. We do not recommend any hundreds, as most places will not accept them.
How do we change money?
Strong Mission will change your money for you in our office, at the bank's rates, allowing you to avoid bank lines and save a tremendous amount of time.
Will calling cards and cell phones bought in the U.S. work in Costa Rica?
Only ICE phonecards will work with Costa Rican phones, and they can only be bought in Costa Rica. Some U.S. companies claim that their cards work here, but they do not. Save your money and buy a card here, as they are easy to find and to use. Some U.S. cell phones work here, such as Singular, although it often costs more than $3 per minute to place a call. We suggest that you check with your service provider for more details.
Do I need sleeping gear?
As of 2008 all of Strong Missions lodging offers beds, shared or otherwise. Floor lodging is no longer available, as it became apparent over recent years that teams enjoy their stay and work more efficiently if they get a good night's sleep. In some cases you will need a pillow and pillow case, and perhaps an extra blanket depending upon the current weather. Your team leader(s) should fill you in regarding any sleeping gear you might need after communication with the staff of Strong Missions. For more information about lodging, please request a team packet at email@example.com.
What's the weather and culture like and how do I dress appropriately?
Church and culture in Costa Rica are much more conservative in many ways than our own. It is important to remember that short-shorts are not appropriate in the city, although such clothing can be used at the beach and other specified fun destinations. Use of such clothing brings unwanted attention in a variety of ways. Other clothing recommendations depend on the project location. Many parts of Costa Rica have rain all year long and although the beach and lowland areas are warm to hot, the mountainous areas are often considerably cooler. This is why raincoats, long pants and lightweight jackets are suggested when working in Costa Rica, especially higher altitudes. Remember that good closed toed shoes are required for construction work, as are gloves and often safety glasses.
What do I do when I get to the airport?
From the time you exit the airport in San Jose and find the sign with "Strong Missions" on it and the person holding it, all your transportaion and lodging needs will be taken care of. Therefore relax and get to know the country. You do need to get the destination address for your immigration page, which is available below in another question.
Can you help me with good airfare prices?
Please see the airfare section on the "Trips" page for more information, and of course feel free to ask any additional questions you might have. There are a few tricks for smaller teams as well, and we'd be glad to speak in person about such options.
What do we do with our valuables while working, etc?
Valuables should be locked up as well as possible or kept on the person, however we suggest that things of such value other than passports be left in the U.S. It is just better to leave things you "can't live without" at home. "Out of sight, out of mind" are words to live by here, so keep all valuables safely tucked away in suitcases, backpacks, etc. Good security is a high priority for us, although there is no way to guarantee against loss due to theft. Do not leave anything unattended.
Can we bring gifts for the children, families, etc?
Absolutely, but the giving of toys, clothing, supplies, and other gifts must be coordinated through Charlie Strong, the Director of Strong Missions, and the directors, teachers and pastors, to later be distributed to the children, churches, families, or other communities. This is better for the esteem of the recipients and cuts down on children and adults learning to always expect gifts from overseas visitors, as well as making such giving a true act of charity. This is important so as to not contribute to a feeling of dependence as well as to keep recipients from arguing over who gets what, something that occurs occasionally among those who have so little. This policy is also inline with UMVIM policies and procedures.
Are there concerns about the food/water?
Most water in Costa Rica is potable and can be drank without fear, although at times contamination does occur, especially in lower lying areas during extremely heavy rains. Regardless, bottled water can be found everywhere. Most food can be eaten without danger, although most problems arise from unwashed fruits and vegetables or warm condiments. Travelers should be careful when eating from street venders, but our kitchen and most hotels, restaurants and homes have excellent food preparation procedures.
How much money do we need for the meals that are not covered?
Groups have all meals covered except for those that fall during the fun trips,etc. On average groups eat 5 or 6 meals that are not prepared by us, and these can range from $5 to $25 per meal, depending on your spending habits and what you prefer to eat. Those on extremely tight budgets can also buy sandwich items for the fun trips, thereby saving money.
Are there certain cultural taboos about which we need to be aware?
There aren't many, as the people here are incredibly friendly and patient with travelers. It is important to remember that South and Central America are also part of America, and so referring to ourselves as Americans can be thought of as rude. We should refer to ourselves as North Americans or citizens of the U.S. The term "gringo" is used here for citizens of the U.S. but simply because it is shorter than "estadounidense" or "norteamericanos". There is usually no malice when the people of Costa Rica use this term, and Costa Ricans also refer to themselves as "ticos". The church is generally much more conservative than many churches in the U.S., so short-shorts should not be used except during beach trips. Use of revealing clothing can and will bring unwanted attention in the church and in the streets. There are also certain hand gestures that mean different things here, and the game "got your nose" has a hand position that here is considered obscene, but such information will be distributed upon your arrival.
Should we be concerned about safety?
Safety is an issue in San Jose, Costa Rica, just as it is in any large city in our world. The rural areas are better, such as where we're located in Carrillos, but awareness and safe behavior is always advisable. It is wise to wear backpacks over the front of your body or under your arm, especially within cities, as pick-pockets are very adept at opening zippers. It is also better to wear long pants in the larger cities as ticos seldom wear shorts in city life. With long pants it's easier to go unnoticed. Of course, large groups stand out and therefore shorts don't matter so much, but then again there is safety in numbers. It is suggested that team members stay in groups when out for a walk, shopping, buying break, using the internet cafes, etc. for this very reason. A key point is to remember that pedestrians have no right of way here. Watch the streets carefully and cross only when no cars, buses, or motorcycles are coming, regardless of the color of the street light or what the "walk" sign says. Other safety tips will be discussed upon your arrival, but know that Costa Rica is still safer than all other Central and South American countries. It is also important to remember these safety tips in other areas with heavy tourism, as thieves are on the look-out in such areas as well.
What do you need to provide us with insurance and what will it cover?
For United Methodist Volunteers in Mission groups or individuals, please purchase insurance directly through them for 80 cents per day per person at http://gbgm-umc.org/vim/insuform.htm. If you do not have insurance through another international carrier you must purchase this through gbgm, as it covers you for accident, illness, and death. It's simply better to be safe than sorry.
Do I need any shots?
An up-to-date tetanus shot is a good idea, but that's really all that's necessary unless otherwise indicated to your group leader.
Do I need a power converter for my appliances, camera charger, etc.?
No, appliances and chargers, etc. work in the plugs here (220 main power supply and 110 from the breaker box). At times there are not many plugs available. Some electrical sockets are only for 2 prong plugs, so you may wish to bring an adaptor to go from 2 to 3.
Is there a minimum or maximum number of team members?
No. We've hosted as many as 63 on a team, and between multiple teams we've hosted as many as 80 here at one time. We have also hosted individuals, couples, families and other small teams. It is important to note that prices do vary according to team size, as transportation costs are less when split between more people. See the "Trips" page and request a Team Info Packet for more details.
What about medical emergencies?
We are fully knowledgeable of area medical facilities and pharmacies and can therefore take care of any emergency that arises, with a local clinic, pharmacy and doctor's office 5 minutes walking from our office, a dental office in front of our office, two large public hospitals within 20 minutes, and private hospitals within 1 hour from our office.
What address do I put as my destination on the form at the airport?
Strong Missions S.A., Carrillos Bajo de Poas, Hotel Los Horcones.
Does Strong Missions have a Child Protection policy? What is it?
Yes, Strong Missions does have a Child Protection policy. We ask all participants to read, sign and comply with it.
It is available in English at this link: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B5nooaBuEOHsZGhTSVlFcE1Rc21ORnpwMWtwN2JXdw