Medicine in Costa Rica

Hello! I was just wondering if anyone is currently or studied medicine in Costa Rica and is in the certification process to practice in the US. I will be studying medicine there as of next year, but I want to start my research in the certification process early. Thank you!

There several things you need to do if you want to practice medicine in the US after studying at foreign medical school.

California Medical Board Approved List

  1. check to see if your school is on the approved list of California Medical Board.

If your school isn’t recognized, then CA and any state that uses the CA Medical Board list will never grant you a license to practice in their state.

About 15 states use the CA Medical Board list. For states that don’t use that list, you will need to check each individual state for their specific educational requirements. If your medical school is not on their approved list, you will never be able to practice in that state


  1. You need to check with the ECFMG to see if your medical school is on their approved list.

Unless your med school is on their approved list, you will not be eligible to sit for the USMLE exams or apply for a US residency.

Matching to a US residency

Anyone who wishes to practice medicine in the US must complete a US medical residency.

To apply for a US residency, you must

a) register with the ECFMG

b) take and pass the USMLE exams (STEP 1, STEP 2 CS, STEP 2 CK).
No exceptions. You cannot match into a US residency without taking & passing the USMLEs.

c) gain US clinical experience by doing hospital-based patient contact rotations**, doing observerships or finding post-med school research positions. Hands on, direct patient care experience is strongly preferred. You will need at least 1 LOR (more than 1 is strongly preferable) from a US physician who directly supervised you during your clinical experiences.

d) once you have graduated from medical school, have passed STEPs 1, 2CK, and 2CS, and have USCE, you can apply for the NRMP Match through ERAS

[Charting the Outcomes in the Match: International Medical Graduates](

** some Caribbean med schools (mainly Ross and SGU) will arrange clinical rotations in the US for their students. Everywhere else, you will need to arrange for your own rotations. To do a patient contact rotation in the US, you will need to demonstrate that you have $1M in US malpractice coverage provided by your medical school. (US med students have to provide the same proof…)


The match rate for US IMGs (US citizens or permanent residents who have completed their medical education abroad) is low. Around 40%. That 40% rate is even lower for grads of schools that do not provide pathways for their students to gain US clinical experience.

Before you enroll and spend a lot of money on a medical education in Costa Rica, you should check 4 things–

  1. the number of US students who have passed the USMLE exams (all 3 of them) in the last 5 years
  2. the number of US students who have graduated on-time in the last 5 years

These will tell you if the schools is geared toward providing a medical education that will prepare you for return to the US. These numbers will also determine whether your school is eligible/will continue to be eligible for US student loans. Starting in 2020, new rules go into effect and all foreign medical schools will have to have a USMLE pass rate of 85% or better for US students in order for the program to be eligible for US federal student loans

  1. if your school is on California State Medical Board approved list
    (see reply #1 above)

  2. if your school is on the ECFMG approved list
    (see reply #1 above)

If your school is not on the approved lists, or if your school cannot or will not provide you with the info about their pass rates and on-time graduation rates, you should strongly reconsider this decision if you wish to practice medicine in the US.

Except for Canada, the US does not automatically recognize medical education completed in countries other than the US. Medical education on other countries does not necessarily provide the same educational foundation or same coursework as US medical schools do. It is often extremely difficult for foreign educated doctors to pass the USMLE exams, much less score high on the exams. Foreign-educated doctors need to score significantly higher than their US-educated peers just to get US residency program directors to consider their application. (See Charting the Outcomes linked in reply #1) Many residency PDs automatically filter out all applications for foreign educated applicants. (It’s a check box option on the ERAS download.)

tl;dr—don’t go to Costa Rica for med school unless you would be happy practicing medicine in Central America/Mexico/Caribbean because your odds of coming back to the US to practice are poor.

If you must study medicine abroad–there are better choices–the Big 4 Caribbean med schools (Ross, SGU, Saba and AUC), Australia (University of Queensland Oschner School of Medicine), Israel (Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv Sackler SOM, Technion), Eastern Europe (Jagiellonian University in Poland)
Ireland (University of Dublin, University College Cork, Royal College of Surgeons) or Mexico (Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara). Many of those schools offer 6 year direct-from-high-school entry programs.