cellphone in costa rica

How to Easily Use Your Cell Phone in Costa Rica

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

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

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.

Story Time:

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

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.
waterproof phone case

– 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.

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

– 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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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.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.

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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13 Responses

  1. I will be in Costa Rica for about 4 months. Would this option still be best or does it get more expensive the longer you’re there? I don’t want it to end up being more money than an international plan from a U.S. provider

    1. Hi Brielle! I think it would still be cheapest to get a prepaid card from Kolbi here (as long as your phone is unlocked for international usage). Every hotel and stuff has free wifi. Personally, we only use our phones here for directions and to look things up quickly while out. I use the prepaid Kolbi card and spend about $10 a month. Let us know if you have more questions!

      1. What do you get for the $10 a month? Is it unlimited everything? I will probably be using my phone quite a bit because I’m going down with a group of other young adults to teach English and don’t want to run out of data, texting, etc.

      2. Hi Brielle, You can do a phone plan but it easier to just do prepaid for a month. That way you dont need to do any sort of contract and can just stop by pre paid cards after a month and dont have to worry about canceling anything.
        So, for 2,500 colones prepaid (about $4) you get 150MB of data, 200 text messages (but I’m assuming that is within the country) and 3 hours of talk.
        In your situation, now that I realize you’ll be using it a lot, you may actually be better off asking your normal cell phone company how much it will cost to add an out of country plan for just that month. That might end up being cheaper in the long run and then you wouldnt have to worry if you are running out of money and need to add more minutes all the time.
        Let us know if you have more questions!

  2. I went to Guatemala a few years ago and tried to use my international plan, but when I got there none of the Verizon Phones were working. Do you happen to know if Verizon picks up the towers in Costa Rica? We will be in San Jose, Monteverdi and Liberia. Thanks,

    1. Hi Samantha you should have no problem. My parents have paid for the temporary international plan before with Verizon and used their phones throughout Costa Rica without any issues.

  3. I Purchased a Kolbi Sim card several years ago when visiting Costa Rica. Do you think that it still wouldn’t work now even though several years has passed?

    1. Hi Char,
      I’m really not positive, but I think it should work. They don’t seem to run out at all. I was able to give an old card from two years ago to a friend recently and it worked fine.

  4. Hi! Love your blog- We just found out we’re going to be living in Costa Rica for 3 months so I’ve been furiously reading it 🙂 I’m wondering if we bring our unlocked phones and get a SIM card do we have to get a whole new phone number? Thanks! -Kelsey

    1. Hi Kelsey! Yeay! You’ll have a great time. Yes, you will have to get a new Costa Rican number. Let me know if you have more questions as you plan your move!

      1. I will be living there for four months to study abroad. If I purchase a prepaid SIM card for my phone, will I still have unlimited access to usual imessages or facetime when connected to wifi?

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