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 July 2018.
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. You can buy pre-paid sim cards in both San Jose and Liberia International Airport in Costa Rica. These are Kolbi stands.
The sim card stand in San Jose International Airport is at baggage claim and customs.
The one in Liberia International Airport will be after you exit customs through the doors. You will see the office a little to your left towards the departure area.
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.
If you are already in the country and want to get a prepaid sim card, you can go to any of the phone companies’ offices. Additionally, you can get one at the cell phone or computer store. You will see signs in the window that says the name of the company to signify that they sell them.
Requirement to get a sim card
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 2000 colones (around $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 instead. It works throughout Central America so you don’t have to keep buying and switching out cards.
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.
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. It just needs to be unlocked, use sim cards and is quad band.
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
Now 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.
However, T-Mobile has the free international data so she actually keeps her US phone number in Costa Rica for her main phone. She can text and use data for free (albeit slow, but it works). And then uses Wi-fi for calling but you can only call 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.
You can buy cards where you have to call the company, scratch the verification number and enter that in to add credit (I used to do this when I bought credit from the pharmacy). The easiest way is at the supermarket where the employee can do it directly for you.
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 too.
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 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 fast so do that on Wi-Fi only.
You can also purchase packages. You can find these at the supermarket or the cell phone stores. Many packages include free data for Whatsapp which is the most widely used messenger app in Costa Rica.
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 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. For tourists, we recommend getting a Kolbi SIM card in Costa Rica.
In 2017, Samantha switched to Kolbi from Movistar and it’s been working fine ever since. There are some parts of Costa Rica where there is no signal for any company but only in very remote places like in the Osa Peninsula.
Prepaid Cell Phones Costa Rica
If you don’t want to use or bring your smartphone, you can buy cheap prepaid cell phones in Costa Rica. The normal phones that aren’t smart phones are fairly cheap (around $50). You can also find $100-200 smartphones.
Some car rental companies have local non-data phones for rent. Our partnership with Adobe Rent a Car includes a free local cell phone with one hour of credit for calls and texts.
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