Cell Phone in Costa Rica – How to Stay Connected While Traveling

cell phone costa rica

Are you looking for the best option for using your cell phone in Costa Rica? When traveling to a foreign country this dilemma always seems to come up.

How will you stay in contact while traveling? How can you use GPS to get around? How will you call someone in an emergency? 

So many questions!

When using cell phone service in Costa Rica, the two easiest options are purchasing a SIM card in Costa Rica to use temporarily or adding a temporary international plan on your normal cell phone plan to use while traveling.

Let’s go through each option and figure out what will work best for you. 

Buying a SIM Card in Costa Rica

cell phone costa rica

Costa Rican cell phone companies make it very easy for international travelers to purchase a pay as you go SIM card to use in the country.

There are multiple companies selling SIM cards in Costa Rica. The two main companies you will likely see are Kolbi, Claro, and Movistar.

There is a Claro stand at the Arrivals terminal across from the baggage claim at the San Jose International Airport.

At the Claro stand (or at any other Costa Rican cell phone service provider) you will be asked for your passport and they will set up a pre-paid account for you.

There is typically a fee of about $5 but this is then added as a credit to your account. 

The employee 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 four-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 Claro stand is not open, you can go to one of the many Clare, Kolbi, or Movistar stores throughout the country the next day to sign up for a prepaid account.

The one problem with this is that your phone needs to be unlocked for international usage in order to use an international SIM card. If you are traveling from the US and don’t know if you’re phone is unlocked, chances are that it most likely isn’t. 

You can always go to the store of your cell phone provider and ask them before your trip, 

Just keep in mind, with a different SIM card you will be temporarily using a different cell phone number. If you need people to be able to call you or you need to make phone calls using your normal cell phone number, this is not the best option for you. 

Pro Tip: If you plan on coming back to Costa Rica at some point, keep your SIM card at the end of your trip to use again next time.

Using An International Plan in Costa Rica

cell phone costa rica

Typically, your usual cell service providers will offer a temporary international plan for when you are traveling. 

These temporary plans aren’t always the cheapest option, but it is usually a bit easier than setting up a prepaid plan in Costa Rica. At least this way you know for sure that the service will work. That peace of mind is one less thing you have to think about when traveling.

For example, if you are in the US and use Verizon as your cell phone service provider (like 80% of people in the US) the company offers a thing called TravelPass.

With TravelPass you will be charged $10 per day to use your normal Verizon plan while abroad.

Other Cell Phone Usage Options

cell phone costa rica

– If you rent a car with Adobe, they offer a wifi router for $10 a day. This router can be connected to multiple devices and will provide great 4G coverage for while you are driving.

It is not a phone plan, so you can’t use it for making normal calls or sending texts, but you can use it for any other internet-based activity.

Keep in mind, we have a 10% discount plus other great perks for you if you rent with Adobe.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

– If you are a frequent traveler and need to always be connected, a good way to do that is with an international wifi hotspot such as Skyroam. I suggest this if you are traveling long term and need to be able to have a continuous good wifi connection for work while traveling.  

Using Your Cell Phone for Directions in Costa Rica 

cell phone directions

– For directions on your phone, the best app here is Waze. It is the most commonly used direction app in the country. We love it because other drivers can and do mark obstructions or delays on the road. 

For example, if there is a truck stopped on the road, Waze will usually notify you about .5 miles before you come to the obstruction. 

With roads that can be a bit crazy, it’s good to know what will be coming up on your journey. 

– If you will not have a cell phone plan while in Costa Rica, don’t forget to download offline Google Maps to get around. Google Maps is not always the best here, but it is a great free option.

For more about getting around, we have a full guide to getting driving directions in Costa Rica

Our Cell Phone Usage Tips for Costa Rica

cell phone costa rica

– Don’t forget to put your phone on airplane mode if you do not have a Costa Rica 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 due to international roaming.

– We have a full post about the best free apps you need while traveling in Costa Rica.

– 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 cheapest to wait until you have wifi and use the free app Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or Skype.

– If you want to listen to music from your cell phone while in the car, don’t forget to pack an auxiliary cord.

– 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.

– 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.

waterproof phone case

– And the most important tip, don’t forget you’re on vacation. Ignore all those emails from your boss. Post those nice Costa Rican pictures to Instagram when you return. Just 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!

LIKED THIS GUIDE TO USING YOUR CELL PHONE IN COSTA RICA? WE WOULD LOVE IF YOU’D PIN IT!

cell phone costa rica

Book Your Trip: Our Go-to Travel Companies

Flights: Skyscanner is always our go-to choice for finding flights. They seem to always have the best prices on the internet. 

Transportation: We suggest a local company called Adobe Rent a Car for your rental car needs. Book through us for a 10% discount plus other great perks. For private shuttles, we always use Adobe’s transfer company for dependable service and great prices. For taxis from the Liberia airport and Guanacaste area, contact our favorite family of local registered taxi drivers for a $10 discount.

Hotels: We always use Booking.com because they almost always have the lowest rate and offer great cancellation policies. 

For home rentals, we are now using VRBO instead of Airbnb. They have much better customer service. 

Activities: It is always nice to book activities directly through local activity companies. However, lately, we have been booking most day trips through Viator due to their good cancellation policies. 

Travel Insurance: Trawick International is the best insurance we have found that will cover you for COVID related travel changes, illness, lost luggage, and more. 

About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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19 Responses

  1. Hi! i’ll be traveling in costa rica for three months, do you know if there is still a kolbi kiosk in the san jose airport? I’ve read about it on some sites and others say there isn’t one anymore.

    1. Hi Riley. There isn’t anymore, but there is now a Claro stand right across from baggage claim. They provide the same option for prepaid cards at a great rate.

  2. I have a unlocked Blackberry 4g that I do not use. If I bring that phone to Costa Rica and purchase a sim card will it work while I am there. The phone works but I purchased a newer phone I use here in the USA.

    1. Hi Bonnie, It should work fine since it is unlocked. I can’t guarantee it, but I have used multiple unlocked phones and had no trouble.
      Let me know if you have any other questions as you plan!

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