Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the common questions we receive regarding our trips…
General Team Information
I want to lead a trip. What are the steps?
Congratulations! We are excited to have you! Our Program Assistants are here to make this a easy process for anyone who wants to lead a team.
Step 1 – Request a team packet, read through the options, and submit your registration form
Step 2 – Decide on an itinerary and fun trip destination with the guidance of your Program Assistant
Step 3 – Gather up your team and distribute the information
Step 4 – Board the plane and let your mission begin!
Is there a minimum or maximum number of group members?
No. We’ve hosted as many as 63 on a team, and between multiple teams we’ve hosted as many as 99 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. Visit the SERVE WITH US page and request a team information packet for more details.
What if nobody in my group speaks Spanish?
You will have a Spanish speaking bilingual 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 bilingual interns available during the busiest months.
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 items might I not have thought to bring?
A detailed ‘Things to Bring’ list can be found in the team information packet that is distributed to all team leaders. Please contact your team leader or CONTACT US to receive an information packet.
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. If you are lodging at the Strong Missions bunkhouse, you will need to bring a pillow, but all linens and a blanket will be provided. 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 information packet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do I need a power cord adapter for appliance, 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.
How are payments and donations made?
Payments must be made by bank transfer 5 weeks before the arrival of your group in Costa Rica. Please CONTACT US for bank routing information. The addresses for donations can be found on the SUPPORT OUR MINISTRY page.
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. Also check your specific bank for any International Charges they may charge on top of ATM fees. Remember that more rural areas will often not have banks. Local merchants may or may not accept credit cards as forms of payment, so please check with each vendor in advance of any purchase.
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 August 2015, one dollar exchanges for approximately 520-530 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 Missions 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. We also do not charge commission like the money exchange at the airport, so it is best to wait until you arrive.
How much money do we need for meals that aren’t covered?
Groups have all meals while at the Strong Missions Center included in the trip cost, but meals that occur during a fun trip are the responsibility of the team. 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. Once you have determined your destination and schedule with one of our program assistants, we can provide you with a better idea of what you will need.
Connecting With Folks From Home
Will calling cards and cell phones bought in the U.S. work in Costa Rica?
International calling cards bought in the US are designed to call FROM the US to an outside destination and do not work calling from Costa Rica. Some US cellular providers offer international rates, but most need to be activated before arriving in Costa Rica. Check with your cell phone carrier. We recommend using a WiFi device with Skype or Facetime or a similar service for communications. Strong Missions does have a Magic Jack that is available to initiate phone trees or use in case of emergency.
Is Internet available?
Strong Missions provides a WiFi password to the team leader and it is up to the leader’s discretion to distribute amongst team members based on their individual device policies.
Can we send postcards home?
Unfortunately, the mail system in Costa Rica is not convenient or reliable. We recommend you take your postcards back with you to the states and mail them from the airport there.
What address do I put as my destination on the form at the airport?
Rancho Macho, San Isidro de Grecia
What do I do when I get to the airport?
After exiting the airplane, you will need to go through customs in San Jose. On your customs form for “Forseen Address” please use: RANCHO MACHO, SAN ISIDRO DE GRECIA. Each team member should carry a copy of their RETURN flight itinerary to customs to present upon request. Tell customs the purpose of your visit is TOURISM. Speak ENGLISH at customs and be concise, this is not the time to try out your Spanish skills or make a new friend. Once through customs, proceed to baggage claim, then through the scanners and the exit. As you come out the exit, look for our driver holding a sign that says “STRONG MISSIONS”. From this point forward all your transportaion and lodging needs will be taken care of. Therefore relax and get to know the country.
Can you help me with good airfare prices?
There are numerous options for flights available. Please see the airfare section on the PRICING PAGE for more information, and of course feel free to CONTACT US with any specific 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.
Costa Rica Weather and Culture
What’s the weather like?
Costa Rica has 2 seasons, wet and dry. The rainy season begins in late April and continues through early December. During this time, it is typical for it to rain daily anywhere from a light mist to torrential downpour. From late December through early April, it can go months without any rain at all.
Costa Rica has numerous microclimates and the temperature can vary between regions. The Strong Missions Center is in the mountains and so it is fairly moderate during the day and can cool off at night. Depending on your destination fun trip, it can be hot and muggy at the beach, or cool and windy in the cloudforests.
Your Program Assistant can help you plan for the season and location of your travels while you are in Costa Rica.
How do I dress appropriately?
Church and culture are closely related in Costa Rica and are much more conservative in many ways than in the US. It is important to remember that short-shorts are not appropriate in the city, although such clothing can be worn at the beach and other specified fun destinations. Use of such clothing brings unwanted attention in a variety of ways, especially being foreigners. If you are attending church, the attire is “casual clean.” You can wear knee length shorts, skirts, slacks, jeans, or dresses. It is important to remember that you are a representative of the organization and we ask that you dress respectfully.
For the workdays, we recommend long pants at least knee length for protection as well as closed toe shoes. Many projects also require work gloves and safety glasses.
Other clothing recommendations depend on the weather and travel destinations. 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 at higher altitudes.
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.
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.
Your Program Assistant can also help you with a current list of donation needs for the community and for the mission before your arrival.
Health and Safety
Are there concerns about eating the food and drinking the water?
Most water in Costa Rica is potable and can be drank without fear and the water at the Strong Missions site is 100% safe to drink straight out of the faucet and tastes fresher than a lot of tap water in the states. There are certain areas in the country that at times contamination does occur, especially in lower lying areas during extremely heavy rains. Your guide will advise you if you are going to be in one of these areas. Regardless, bottled water can be found everywhere.
Most food can be eaten without danger. Problems arise from poor preparation such as unwashed fruits and vegetables or warm condiments. Travelers should be careful when eating from street venders, but our Strong Missions kitchen and most hotels, restaurants and homes have excellent food preparation procedures. When dining outside of Strong Missions, your guide will advise you of places we are familiar with and have established good relationships with over the years. We will not recommend any place that is not safe for our groups.
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.
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.
What do you need to provide us with insurance and what will it cover?
Personal accident insurance is recommended for work here. If you are not covered by your U.S. policy for international travel, insurance can be purchased through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries regardless of church affiliation since we are a registered United Methodist Volunteers in Mission site. Please send your insurance papers and payments directly to them. For details on the 3 plans offered, please visit their INSURANCE PAGE.
Any team wishing to be recognized as an official United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team is required by the GBGM to register with your conference UMVIM office and purchase the GBGM insurance.
What do we do with our valuables while working, etc.?
We recommend that you leave all valuables and items you can live without in the US. Valuables you do bring, should be locked in your room as well as possible or kept on your person. “Out of sight, out of mind” are words to live by here, so keep all valuables safely tucked away in suitcases, backpacks, or pockets and they won’t be gathering unwanted attention. It is also not a good idea to wear expensive jewelry or watches, not only for theft, but also out of respect so that we are not flashing our wealth. 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.
Should we be concerned about safety?
We do not want you to be fearful during your trip, but we ask that you be aware. Safety is an issue in San Jose, Costa Rica, just as it is in any large city in our world, including in the US. The rural areas are better, such as where we’re located in San Isidro, 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.
Does Strong Missions have a child protection policy?
Yes, Strong Missions does have a Child Protection policy. We ask all participants to read, sign and comply with it.
Strong Missions S.A., Calle San Jose de Grecia, Alajuela, Costa Rica
phone: 1-512-614-8220 or 011-506-2444-0321 | e-mail: email@example.com
Specializing in short term missions trips to assist the children of Costa Rica