It can be difficult to determine the best way to use your cell phone in a foreign country, which is why we created this guide to using your cell phone in Costa Rica. We’ve made some mistakes and learned a lot about the best way to stay connected and why you always need to be able to use your phone in Costa Rica.
Now on to the guide…
Why You Need A Cell Phone in Costa Rica
Everyone tends to think Monteverde is the place to go for cloud forest, but if you want a more relaxing experience or are into birding, head to San Gerardo de Dota. Its only about two hours from San Jose and is one of our favorite weekend getaways. Just a warning it can be really cold there so bring layers!
There are many reasons why you need to be able to use your cell phone in Costa Rica. It’s important to remember that while traveling you will be in a foreign country which you are not familiar with.
We use our phones for directions, taking pictures (Thomas has the Samsung Galaxy S8 and it’s awesome), staying connected with family and friends (usually we wait until we have wifi at hotels for that though), making reservations at restaurants, in case of emergencies, etc.
Your Best Options for Using Your Cell Phone in Costa Rica
You have two different options for using your cell phone while in Costa Rica without going broke.
1. You can pay for an international plan from your cell phone company. Before traveling you can ask your cell phone provider how much it will cost for you to get a temporary international plan. Most cell phone companies will provide some type of service like this, but it usually isn’t very cheap.
2. You can buy a prepaid SIM card from Kolbi. There are plenty of cell phone companies in Costa Rica. Our personal favorite is Kolbi. Kolbi is a cell phone provider in Costa Rica that is widely used throughout the country. They have a stand at the baggage claim area of the San Jose airport where you can buy a prepaid SIM card for about $4. This money is then applied to your account. There is also a stand at the Liberia airport after you pass through Customs.
The process of registering takes about 5 minutes (they just need your passport). They will then put the SIM card into your phone for you and you are good to go! You can buy a top-up card at any mini market or grocery store throughout the country. To check your balance just dial 8888. We can usually take a 4 hour drive and use our phone for Spotify and Waze for directions and spend about $1 to $2.
If you arrive at the airport late and the Kolbi stand is not open, you can go to one of the many Kolbi stores throughout the country the next day to sign up for a prepaid account.
This is the best option in our opinion, but only if your phone is unlocked for international usage! If your phone is not unlocked for international usage, this will not work. If you are unsure if your phone is unlocked, you can ask your phone provider if it is unlocked and if not, you can ask if they will unlock it for you.
I had an iPhone that I bought from Verizon. When I moved to Costa Rica I took it to the Verizon store to ask if it was unlocked for international use. They told me it was not and that they could not unlock it for me, but that I could buy a different phone from them that was unlocked.
I decided to bring my phone to Costa Rica anyway and try it out. It works perfectly fine here with my Kolbi SIM card. Either the Verizon employees lied to me to try and get me to buy a new phone or they really didn’t know it was unlocked. I’m not sure which one to believe.
The lesson is, maybe it is worth trying out your phone here with Kolbi, but definitely have a backup plan just in case.
Last Tips for Using Your Cell Phone in Costa Rica
– Don’t forget to put your phone on airplane mode if you do not have a Kolbi SIM card or an international plan. If you don’t put it on airplane mode you could end up with crazy charges even if you don’t use it. Things like automatically receiving text messages will cost a lot of money.
– For directions on your phone, the best app here is Waze. It is free and fabulous.
– We have a full post about the best free apps you need while traveling in Costa Rica here.
– If you are in an emergency, the emergency number here is 9-1-1
– If you need to call your family or friends back home it is best to wait until you have wifi and use the free app Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, or Skype.
– There is free wifi at the airport if you need it. Also, wifi in Costa Rica is very prevalent. Almost every hotel and some restaurants have free wifi for customers to use.
– If you need to get around, the best option is Uber over taxis. You will need to have a smartphone in order to use the Uber app.
– The cell phone service in Costa Rica is pretty good in most spots. You may occasionally hit dead zones, but that usually only happens in very remote areas.
– Everything gets wet here. We highly suggest buying a waterproof case or buying one of these handy dry bags for while on the beach.
– If you book a rental car through Adobe on our site (we have a 10% discount for you) you will also get a phone to use for the length of your trip. This is not a smartphone, but it is great to have for emergencies or for making local calls for things such as dinner reservations.
– And the most important tip, don’t forget you’re on vacation. Ignore all those emails from your boss. Relax and live up the pura vida lifestyle! 🙂
If you have any questions about using a cell phone in Costa Rica just leave them in the comment section below and we will be happy to help you out!
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