Staying connected during your Costa Rica vacation is easier than ever. You can use your smartphone in Costa Rica by getting a prepaid SIM card or purchasing an international data plan with your carrier at home.
Getting a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica is very easy and not that expensive. We recommend getting a Costa Rica SIM card so you can have a local phone number and data which is very useful in case of emergencies. With that being said, in this article you will learn all about getting prepaid SIM cards in Costa Rica.
How to Get a SIM Card in Costa Rica
Click below to skip to the section.
- Where to get a SIM card in Costa Rica
- What you need to get a SIM card in Costa Rica
- Different phone companies and rates in Costa Rica
- Our recommendations
- How to recharge your SIM card in Costa Rica
- How much credit should you put on your SIM card (and how to see how much credit you have for Kolbi)
- Using prepaid cell phones in Costa Rica
Where Can I Get a SIM Card in Costa Rica?
At the San Jose International Airport, there is a small Claro (name of the phone company) stand left of the baggage claim where you can purchase a SIM card. (New since March 2020).
Otherwise, you will need to go to a telecommunications office or computer store in the country to purchase a SIM card for your phone.
If you are doing a land crossing from Nicaragua or Panama (not flying in), it is very common to see local vendors offering you a SIM card at the border. These guys will charge a little bit higher than if you buy it at the office but we have never had a problem with the cards before.
In the Country
You can go to any of the phone companies’ offices in the country. Additionally, you can get a SIM card at most cell phone or computer stores in Costa Rica. You will see signs in the window that says the name of the company and logo to signify that they sell them. Some supermarkets sell prepaid SIM cards, these are the ones that come with a prepaid plan (already have a set amount of credit on them).
For tourists, we recommend to get a Kolbi SIM card. Kolbi is the government cell phone network company and has the widest coverage in Costa Rica (I’ll talk a bit more about the other phone company options below). You can buy prepaid SIM cards at any of their branches and you can choose a prepaid plan or add credit.
In the touristic areas, there is a Kolbi office in Huacas between Conchal and Tamarindo, Santa Cruz in Guanacaste, a ton in San Jose, Alajuela and Heredia (not the airport but in the cities), Liberia (the city, not the airport), Tortuguero, Quepos by Manuel Antonio, Ciudad Neily, Paso Canoas by the Panamanian border, Atenas, Grecia, La Fortuna, Sarchi, Zarcero, Jaco, Puerto Jimenez, Golfito, Dominical, Uvita, Palmar Norte, Santa Elena in Monteverde, Cobano by Montezuma, Puntarenas central, Sardinal by Playas del Coco, Nosara, Samara, Nicoya and Nuevo Arenal. Just look for the office with a big green frog on it that says Kolbi.
Most offices close by 7 PM. If you fly into Liberia International Airport, there is a Kolbi office in Liberia 15 minutes driving away where you can get a SIM card.
In Playas del Coco, there is a computer store in front of the Super Luperon supermarket that sells SIM cards.
Requirement to get a SIM card in Costa Rica
To get a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica, you must have your original passport or photo ID (passport works best) and cash. You have to fill out a short form and present your photo ID to purchase a prepaid SIM card in Costa Rica which costs around 2000 colones or (~$3.50 USD). It is also best to pay in Costa Rican colones, not USD or credit card. When you purchase your SIM card, you can then load as much credit on there as you want.
Additionally, your smartphone must be quad band, it must use a SIM card and it has to be unlocked. The type of phone doesn’t matter. It can be an iPhone or Android, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry, whichever, as long as it fits those three requirements. Do note that Kolbi does not give refunds if your phone is locked and you already purchased the SIM card.
Pro tip: If you buy a Kolbi sim card, keep the packaging because it has your SIM card PIN number on it. If you input the wrong PIN number more than 3 times, you will get locked out of your Kolbi SIM card. To unlock your sim card, you have to go to the Kolbi office if the card gets blocked.
Costa Rica Cell Phone Companies
The 3 major phone companies in Costa Rica are: Kolbi, Movistar and Claro. Kolbi is most popular, then Movistar and Claro. With these companies you can buy the SIM card for 1-2000 colones (around $2-4) and they will give you the same amount for phone credit on the SIM card itself.
The prepaid SIM cards means they come with a plan and credit already loaded. You will see signs like this at the supermarket for them:
This is an option if you’re not sure how much credit you want to put. However, most people like to do the pay as you go and then recharge when needed.
If you’re doing a whole Central America trip, you may want to get Movistar. It works throughout Central America so you don’t have to keep buying and switching out cards. Movistar generally has pretty good service and internet.
Our Recommendations for Costa Rica Prepaid SIM Cards
When Samantha moved to Costa Rica, she had a Movistar SIM card pre-paid. The Internet worked fairly well but the only downside is that in Guanacaste, Movistar and Claro do not have quite the same reception as Kolbi. Because of this, she switched to Kolbi after we decided to live in Guanacaste.
The good thing about Movistar is that it works for other Central American countries so if you’re doing a trip throughout all of C. America, Movistar is the better option.
We have now been using Kolbi for several years and coverage is fairly good which is why we recommend it for tourists. We did notice that Kolbi does not have as good coverage down in the Osa Peninsula by Golfito/Pavones but Claro worked well there.
Using T-Mobile in Costa Rica
In 2018, Samantha has a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge from T-Mobile which was bought retail and unlocked. She just had to pop in the sim card and set up the network.
Now in 2019, Samantha uses a Samsung Note 9. T-Mobile has the free international data so she actually keeps her US phone number in Costa Rica for her main phone using Internet only (and is on airplane mode). She can text and use data for free when needed off airplane mode (albeit slow, but it works) and for calling US phone numbers, she uses Wi-Fi calling. You won’t be able to call Costa Rican phone numbers but many companies use Whatsapp so I recommend downloading the app.
She also kept her old Google Nexus and uses a prepaid SIM card for that phone in Costa Rica.
How to Recharge Your SIM card in Costa Rica
You can recharge your phone at the supermarket, pulperia (convenience store), cell phone stores or the phone company’s office. Business will have a sign with the phone company’s logo to indicate they can recharge SIM cards.
To add more credit, you must pay in Costa Rican colones (easiest). Just tell the cashier Me puedo recargar mi X (Kolbi/Movistar/etc.) and tell them how much or give them the cash. Or just hold out your phone and say the name of the company if you don’t feel like trying to speak Spanish. You will also need to give them your phone number. Your phone number will be on your original receipt but I always take a picture of it because I never remember it. I also write it down and put it in my wallet.
How Much Credit Should I Put On My SIM Card in Costa Rica?
This depends on what you plan to use it for and how long you’re in Costa Rica. For one week in Costa Rica, we recommend to put 5000 colones on your SIM card (~$9 USD) at first and then you can recharge it later if need be.
Keep in mind that hotels will have free Wi-Fi. Sending and watching videos will suck up your data on your SIM card fast so do that on Wi-Fi only.
Pro tip: For Kolbi customers, type *888# to check your balance.
Prepaid Cell Phones Costa Rica
Car rental companies rent out phones, usually local normal phone (not smartphones). Our partnership with Adobe Rent a Car includes a free local cell phone with one hour of credit for calls and texts. It is a nice option in case you already have an international data plan on your original phone but want a local number. This way, you can have a Costa Rica number in case of emergencies and be able to use your original phone and SIM card from home.