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. In this article you will learn all about SIM cards in Costa Rica.
This post has been updated October 28, 2019.
How to Get a SIM Card in Costa Rica
Click below to skip to the section.
- Where to get a SIM card
- Requirements in Costa Rica
- Different phone companies and rates
- Phone requirements for Costa Rica networks
- How to recharge your SIM card
- Our recommendations
- Prepaid cell phones
Where Can I Get a SIM Card in Costa Rica?
Most of the phone companies in Costa Rica have stands all over the country. Sadly the SIM card stand in both San Jose International Airport and Liberia International Airport have closed as of November 2019. You will need to go to a telecommunications office or computer store to purchase a SIM card for your phone.
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.
In the Country
Now that the airport stands are closed, you have to go to any of the phone companies’ offices. Additionally, you can get one at the cell phone or computer store in town. You will see signs in the window that says the name of the company to signify that they sell them.
In Playas del Coco, there is a computer store in front of the Super Luperon supermarket that sells SIM cards. In Tamarindo, the phone store on the second floor of the plaza where the La Escalera tattoo shop is sells them.
For tourists, we recommend to get a Kolbi SIM card and you can purchase this in any computer store or you can go to the ICE (the government telecommunications company) office. Kolbi is the government cell phone network company and has the widest coverage in Costa Rica. In the section below, I will talk more about the different cell phone companies so you know which one to go to to buy your sim card.
Requirement to get a SIM card in Costa Rica
To buy prepaid SIM cards in Costa Rica, you must have your passport or photo ID, passport works best. You have to fill out a short form and present your photo ID to purchase a SIM card. It is also best to pay in Costa Rican colones, not USD or credit card.
Costa Rica Cell Phone Companies
The 4 major phone companies in Costa Rica are: Kolbi, Movistar, Claro, Tuyo móvil.
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 rate per minute for local calls is 34 colones. 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. 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.
Phone Requirements for Costa Rica Networks
The requirements for using prepaid SIM cards in Costa Rica are that 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. Kolbi does not give refunds if your phone is locked and you already purchased the SIM card.
Tip: If you buy a Kolbi sim card, 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. To unlock your sim card, you have to go to the Kolbi office if the card gets blocked.
Our Experience Using Sim Cards in Costa Rica
Back in 2012, Samantha, she used a Samsung Galaxy S2 and she called AT&T 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. Since it came unlocked with no plan, it will work not only for Costa Rica but other countries as well.
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 (which is on airplane mode). She can text and use data for free (albeit slow, but it works). She also uses Wi-fi for calling US phone numbers. 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 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 (small Costa Rican market), the phone company’s office or the pharmacy. 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. 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 to Check your Kolbi Balance
For Kolbi customers, type *1150# to check your balance.
How Much Credit Should You Put
This depends on what you plan to use it for and how long you’re in Costa Rica. If you’re using it for email, uploading photos, GPS, texting, surfing the web and watching Youtube, then I recommend putting at least 5,000 colones (~$10) at first. You can recharge later.
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.
Our Recommendations for Costa Rica Prepaid SIM Cards
When Samantha moved to Costa Rica, she has been using a Movistar SIM card pre-paid. The internet is a little faster than Kolbi and the credit lasts longer than the other companies for their packages. 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 option.
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.
How Much Credit Should I Put On My SIM Card in Costa Rica?
For tourists, we recommend getting a Kolbi SIM card in Costa Rica. For one week in Costa Rica, we recommend to put 5000 colones (~$10) at first and then you can recharge it later if need be.
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 or a free sim card. It is a nice option in case you already have an international data plan so that 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.
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