*New law! You can now keep your phone number between carriers! So if you have Kolbi, you can keep the same number if you change to Movistar! You have to go to your current phone company, fill out some paperwork and it’s free. It should take about 3 days for the whole process*
When you travel to any country it is always better to have a phone number available so family or friends can reach you. It is also handy to be able to call someone just in case of emergencies. You never know when one phone call could save your day!
Buying prepaid sim cards in Costa Rica is very easy and not that expensive. In this article you will learn:
- Where to get the sim cards and the requirements in Costa Rica
- Different phone companies and rates
- Phone requirements for Costa Rica networks
- How to recharge your SIM card
- Our recommendations
- Protect your phone
Click the section to skip to it.
How to Get a Sim Card in Costa Rica
Where to get sim cards in Costa Rica?
Most of the phone companies in Costa Rica have stands all over the country.
If you are flying, you will find booths in both our main airports (SJO and LIR). If you are doing a land crossing, it is very common to see local vendors offering you a SIM card at the border or customs. 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 service before.
The San Jose Airport Kolbi office is right after customs so you can grab a sim card after you pick up your luggage. Same with the LIR Airport Kolbi office.
If you are already in the country and want to get a SIM card, don’t worry. You can go to any of the phone companies’ offices and most computer stores to get one. The stores should have all the options, you should see signs in the window or by the door of which company the store sells. The only requirement you need is to present your passport or picture ID in order to fill out a short form.
Different phone companies and rates
The 4 major phone companies in Costa Rica are: Kolbi, Movistar, Claro, Tuyo móvil.
With these companies you can buy the SIM card for 2000 colones (around $4) and they will give you the same amount for phone credit on the SIM card itself.
Tip: If you buy a Kolbi sim card, make sure to keep the card because it has your PIN number on it. If you input the wrong PIN number more than 3 times, you will get locked out of your sim card and you have to go to the office or call to unlock it.
The rate per minute for local calls is 34 colones and like most of the services in Costa Rica it is regulated by the government. You can buy data by the day ($1), the week ($5), or the month. The rates will depend on the phone company.
Some companies come with sim cards with a plan already on it. 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 on there but 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 instead since it works throughout most countries in Central America so you don’t have to keep switching out cards and buying new ones.
Phone requirements for Costa Rica Networks
If you want to bring your phone and not pay for an international calling plan, your phone must be quad band, use a sim card and it has to be unlocked. The type of phone doesn’t matter, it can be an iPhone, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry, whichever. Call your carrier to find out if and how to unlock your phone.
Back in 2012, Samantha, she used a Samsung Galaxy S2 and she called her carrier (AT&T) to figure out how to unlock her phone. They gave her an IME number to punch in and her phone was unlocked. No extra fees, no expensive international calling plans, just put in the new SIM card and set up the network.
In 2015, Samantha used an international Google Nexus 5 and since it comes unlocked with no plan, it will work not only for Costa Rica but other countries as well. This phone is great in general and it’s even better if you travel a lot so you won’t have to worry about roaming or being stuck to a contract.
Now in 2017, Samantha has a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge which is unlocked and she just had to pop in the sim card and set up the network. It gets easier and easier with technology nowadays!
How to recharge your SIM card in Costa Rica
You can recharge your phone at the supermarket, the phone company’s office or online (only if you have a Costa Rica online bank account). Many business will have a sign outside with the logo of the phone company to indicate they can recharge SIM cards and which company.
Sometimes even pharmacies have the ability to recharge. You can either buy cards where you have to call the company, scratch the verification number and enter that in to add credit or the employee can do it directly for you, like at the supermarket.
To add more credit, you must pay in cash and colones is best. Just tell the cashier Me puedo recargar mi X (Kolbi/Movistar/etc.) and tell them how much or give them the cash. You will also need to give them your phone number, I always take a picture of the information card or write it down cause I never remember.
Since the day Samantha moved to Costa Rica, she has been using a Movistar SIM card pre-paid. The internet is faster than Kolbi and the credit lasts longer than the other companies. The only downside is that in Guanacaste, Movistar and Claro do not have the same reception as Kolbi and she does not always have signal in some parts of town.
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 options so you don’t have to keep buying new cards for every country.
Kolbi is the oldest and biggest company in the country. The brand belongs to the “ICE” and a few years ago the ICE was the only phone company in Costa Rica so they have better coverage.
Samantha switched to Kolbi from Movistar since Kolbi has more reception and it’s been working fine ever since. There are some parts of Costa Rica where there is no signal period, no matter the company but other than that, it’s been working fine.
You can also purchase packages. For example, you can buy Internet for 1 day, 1 week or 1 month or get a package like the one I mentioned above with Claro. This is helpful if you will be in Costa Rica longer or don’t know how much credit to put on.
Protect Your Phone
Due to the weather in Costa Rica, we highly recommend to get some protective gear for your electronics (we learned this from first hand experience with our camera). Phone cases in Costa Rica are not cheap and selection is very limited so make sure you have a good case for your phone for your trip.
Waterproof phone cases are getting really popular and it’s an easy and cheaper way to take pictures if you’re going snorkeling or at the beach. Samantha’s new phone, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is water resistant as well as my new Iphone 7+ but we still use waterproof cases when we’re at the beach.
Getting pre paid sim cards in Costa Rica is not difficult or expensive at all. You will have a Costa Rican phone number, internet and are able to stay connected with your friends and family back home.
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