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Costa Rica SIM or eSIM Card: The Best Data Options in 2024

Are you looking for the best SIM card options in Costa Rica for staying connected while traveling? When in a foreign country the dilemma of cell phone service always seems to come up. 

How will you send emails and check social media? How can you use GPS apps to get around? How will you call someone in an emergency?

Well, we are here to let you in on all the info on SIM cards and eSim cards in Costa Rica! We have been living in the country since 2016 and have had countless people visit us (plus helped countless people through our website). We know all the best ways to stay connected and what you need to be aware of before choosing the best SIM card option.

So, let’s go through all your SIM, eSIM, and portable WIFI choices to figure out what will work best for you in Costa Rica. 

Use an eSIM Card

This is Our #1 Choice to Stay Connected in Costa Rica. We suggest Airalo eSIM as the best eSIM option for Costa Rica

What is an eSIM Card?

An eSIM operates entirely in a digital format. 

This allows you to buy, install, and activate a mobile service plan directly from your smartphone before you even leave for your vacation. 

You won’t have to search for a SIM card provider once you arrive in the country, replace your physical SIM, or juggle multiple SIM cards while traveling.

It’s easy to set up, convenient, and provides great connection.

In our opinion, this is now the best way to get data while traveling in Costa Rica. 

Pros of an eSIM

  • Connect to the local mobile networks within minutes of arriving in Costa Rica.
  • Choose from flexible local, regional, and global data plans.
  • Avoid the hassle of searching for a local SIM vendor.
  • No expensive roaming charges for data usage.
  • Don’t have to remove your current SIM cards

Cons of an eSIM

  • If you have an older device it may not be compatible with eSim technology.
  • If your phone is not unlocked to be used by other cell phone sim card providers you may not be able to use an eSIM. 
  • You will have to set up an account and purchase a prepaid eSIM plan.
  • This is a data-only plan. You can not make local calls or send text messages. Tip: You can still call 9-1-1 if in an emergency.

Who eSIM Is For

  • You have a newer cell phone that is eSIM compatible.
  • Your cell phone is unlocked for other SIM cards.
  • You don’t need to make calls or send text messages.
  • You want affordable data packages and reliable coverage.
  • You want to have everything set up before arriving in Costa Rica. 

📞 Purchase an eSIM card from Airalo 📱

Use code AIRALOJUNE15 at checkout in June to save 15% as a new customer on purchases over $15!

Already a customer? Use the code AIRALOJUNE10 for a 10% discount

Check If Your Phone is Unlocked for an eSIM

You will not be able to use an eSIM card if your cell phone is blocked by your service carrier.

For example, if you purchased your cell phone directly from your service provider and received a discount for your new phone, it may be locked. 

You can check if you have an unlocked phone by: 

On Iphone

  • Go to Settings
  • Tap General > About
  • Scroll to “Carrier Lock” or “Network Provider Lock”
  • If your iPhone is locked, you’ll see the name of your carrier
  • If your iPhone is unlocked, you’ll see “No SIM restrictions”

On Samsung

On Android devices, this is not as easy to check. The best way is to manually remove your SIM card and replace it with another one.

See if your phone registers the change and allows you to use the new SIM. Then you know it is unlocked. 

You can always check with your normal cell phone service provider if you are unsure. 

Check If Your Phone is Compatible with eSIM

Additionally, you need to check if your phone is new enough to support E-SIM. 

With the Iphone, Iphone 11 and newer are all E-SIM compatible.

You can double-check on your phone by: 

Costa Rica SIM or eSIM Card: The Best Data Options in 2024
  • Go to Settings
  • Click Mobile Services
  • Scroll to see if you have an option to Add eSIM. This means your phone is compatible.

With Samsung, the S20 and newer all support eSIM.  

Costa Rica SIM or eSIM Card: The Best Data Options in 2024

You can double-check on your phone by: 

  • Go to Settings
  • Click Connections
  • Click SIM Manager
  • See if there is an option to Add eSIM. If yes, your phone is compatible.

Purchase an e-SIM

Our go-to e-SIM provider for Costa Rica is Airalo. We also surveyed many recent Costa Rica travelers. The overall consensus was that Airalo was the best way to stay connected. 

  • Step 1: Click here to purchase an eSIM for Costa Rica through Airalo (Use code NEWMAY15 at checkout for the month of May to save 15% as a new customer on purchases over $10).
  • Step 2: Choose your destination and package
  • Step 3: Install your eSIM
  • Step 4: Activate your eSIM once you land in Costa Rica.

And that is it! You will be connected to data from the local networks and can start your vacation!

Note: The travel data usage starts from the date of activation. In other words, we suggest purchasing the eSIM ahead of time. But, wait to activate it until just before you arrive in Costa Rica.

Which Airalo Plan to Choose?

Airalo offers a few different eSIM plans for you to choose from.

For Costa Rica in 2024 these plans are:

  • $9 USD for 1 GB data for 7 days
  • $17 USD for 2 GB data for 15 days
  • $22 USD for 3 GB data for 30 days
  • $31 USD 5 GB data for 30 days

Note: You can always easily add more data as your trip progresses. Airalo will send you a notification when you are running low on data with a link to top up.

If you will be traveling to other countries in Central America it is best to get a Latin America eSIM from Airalo. This will cover you for 19 countries in Central and South America.

For Latin America in 2024 these plans are:

  • $15 USD for 1GB data for 7 days
  • $28 USD for 2GB data for 15 days
  • $39 USD for 3GB data for 30 days
  • $60 USD for 5GB data for 30 days

📞 Check Rates and Get Your Airalo eSIM card 📱

Use code AIRALOJUNE15 at checkout in June to save 15% as a new customer on purchases over $15!

Already a customer? Use the code AIRALOJUNE10 for a 10% discount

Portable WIFI Router from Adobe-Rent-a-Car

We work exclusively with Adobe Rent-a-Car for car rental in Costa Rica. Rent through us and you will save 10% plus get many other perks. 

Adobe offers portable WIFI router rentals for the length of your car rental. This costs $11.30 per day and includes unlimited data.

If you book through us you will only need to pay for the first 10 days of router rental. Any additional days are free.

This router can be removed from the vehicle. It is small enough that you can easily carry it in your purse or backpack. In our experience, it has very good service throughout the country.

This works as any WIFI would. All you need to do is connect to your designated WIFI network from any of your devices and you are good to go!

Travel Tip: Just make sure you put your phone in Airplane Mode if you use this so that you don’t get charged roaming fees from your cell phone service provider.

Pros

  • If you are traveling as a family or group, this can be very cost-effective because you can all virtually connect to the router. At $11.30 a day this will likely be cheaper than using the data from an Airalo eSIM.
  • If you need to work and need a reliable WIFI service while traveling, this can be a good option. 

Cons

  • It is WIFI, so it doesn’t have cell phone service. In other words, you can not make regular calls or send text messages. You will need to use an app like WhatsApp for calls or texts. 
  • You will need to charge the router as the battery drains. A charging cord comes with the device. 
  • Getting an eSIM is usually more cost-effective unless you plan on using a lot of data.
  • You will need to rent a car from Adobe in order to reserve the router. If you plan on using g a different mode of transportation this will not be an option for you.

How to Add the Router to Your Car Rental

Costa Rica SIM or eSIM Card: The Best Data Options in 2024
  • Step One: Click here to get to our Adobe Car Rental discount page.
  • Step Two: Read through everything and fill in the booking widget to select dates and car.
  • Step Three: Select to add on the WIFI router in “Additional Option
  • Step Four: When you pick up your rental car the Adobe employee will see that you opted to add on the WIFI router. They will explain to you how it works and you can start your journey with great service!

Rent Your Car from Adobe and Save 10% Plus Reserve Your Hot Spot

Use an International Plan from Your Cell Phone Provider

Your cell phone service provider from home may have an international plan option.

For example, I know that Verizon offers the option to use your regular cell phone plan at an additional $10 per day while traveling (check this though, it could vary by plan). 

With Verizon, there is usually nothing you need to pre-purchase. As long as you leave your phone off of airplane mode and don’t use a different SIM card you will be able to use this option and will be charged the additional fees at the end of the month.  

Of course, this will vary by cell phone company and plan. 

There is a chance that your mobile phone service provider does not offer any coverage options in Costa Rica. Or, you might be charged high roaming fees. 

It is best to call your cell phone provider to check if you are interested in this option. If you call your provider also check about making international calls. If you will need to call your home country often this may be expensive. 

Pros

  • Easy to set up. You likely won’t have to do anything additional. 
  • You can use your regular cell phone number. This is important if you have a job in which you always need to be reachable by phone.
  • You can make phone calls and send text messages

Cons

  • This can be a lot more expensive than using an eSIM or local SIM card. 
  • Some providers don’t offer this service and you may be charged expensive roaming fees. 

Buying a SIM Card in Costa Rica

It is possible to buy a local Costa Rican SIM card from one of the many cell phone service providers in Costa Rica. This is a physical SIM card rather than eSIM.

In the past, this was what we suggested to people traveling to Costa Rica. However, so many people have had issues making this work, even with unlocked phones.

This especially seems to apply to people with cell phones from the United States. 

Also, all providers in Costa Rica only sell regular SIM cards, not eSIM at this time. If you have an iPhone 14 or newer purchased from the United States you will not be able to use a physical SIM card because your phone is only eSIM compatible.

So, we no longer strongly suggest this.

Reason Why We Do Not Suggest Buying a Local SIM Card

  • You will need to have an unlocked cell phone for this option to work. Please refer above to the eSIM section for how to check if your phone is unlocked.
  • You will need to drive to the store of a provider and there are sometimes long lines to get a SIM card.
  • If you do not speak Spanish this can be difficult to navigate setting up.
  • Sometimes even after that, it just doesn’t work. For example, my aunt visited and had an unlocked Samsung phone. She bought a SIM card from Kolbi and she would get text messages 5 or 6 hours after we sent them.

Despite my saying that I don’t suggest this, as people living in Costa Rica we use a prepaid phone plan from Kolbi and rarely have issues.

However, we both have unlocked phones and are proficient in Spanish for purchasing top-up cards.

Where to Purchase a Local Costa Rica SIM Card

The three main cell phone service companies you will see in Costa Rica are KolbiClaro, and Liberty (previously called Movistar). We use Kolbi and find that their service is very good throughout the country.

At Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose: I have heard that the Klaro stand at the San Jose Airport recently closed. Now, it is possible to buy a SIM card from a vending machine in the arrivals terminal. However, I have heard that it is a bit complicated to do the registration yourself.

Additionally, you can drive to the nearest Kolbi, Claro, or Liberty stores. There is a store for all three in the Alajuela City Mall, which is a 5 minute drive from the airport.

At the Liberia International Airport (LIR): There are no cell phone stores at the Liberia International Airport you will need to drive to the local Kolbi Store, Claro store, or Liberty store to purchase a SIM card. These are all located in the downtown area of Liberia.

There is no place to buy a SIM card in the airport.

The Prepaid Plans

The plan options from each company are constantly changing. So, we suggest checking them out on your own to see which one most appeals to you.

Process of Purchasing the SIM Card and Data

At the cell phone company shop you might first need to wait in line or get a number and then wait for your number to be called.

Once you speak to an employee, you will be asked for your passport. The employee will then set up a pre-paid account for you. They need your passport because it is required that you are registered in the central system.

Make sure you opt for a pre-paid account and not an actual plan!

There is typically a fee of about $5 to set up the pre-paid SIM card, but this is then usually added as a credit to your account. 

Most places take credit card, but I suggest paying in cash if possible. That way you can rest assured that you signed up for a prepaid account and won’t be billed for something monthly.

They should accept US dollars and Costa Rican colones (the local currency), but it is always best to have some colones on you.

The employee will then put the SIM card into your phone for you and you are good to go!

Note: Sometimes things can take forever in Costa Rica. Last time I needed a new SIM card I waited for 40 minutes in line at the Kolbi store in San Jose. Ugh!

We can usually take a four-hour drive and use our phone for Spotify and Waze for directions and spend about $1 to $2 worth of data.

How to Add Money to Your SIM Card

To add money to your account you can buy recharge cards at many convenience stores throughout the country. You will need to ask for them at the counter.

You will need to say what amount you would like. The cards are often sold in denominations of 1,000 CRC, 2,500 CRC, 5,000 CRC, and 10,000 CRC.

Once you purchase the card, you will need to scratch off the code on the back of the card and follow the instructions to top up your amount.

Additionally, now most of the companies make it possible for you to top up your balance online.

Why Should I Buy a Local SIM instead of an eSIM?

The only reason I would purchase a local SIM card instead of an eSIM card is if you will need to make local calls within Costa Rica.

However, even with an eSIM this shouldn’t be a problem because almost everyone in this country uses WhatsApp. Even restaurants often have a Whatsapp call number (I know….it’s weird).

Also, a local SIM card comes out to be a bit cheaper than an eSIM. But, with the stress of setting it up, I just don’t think it is worth it.

Using Your Cell Phone for Directions in Costa Rica 

  • For directions on your phone, the best app here is the free app 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.  
  • If you will not have a data 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

  • 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.
  • If you are in an emergency, the emergency number here is 9-1-1. You can call 9-1-1 without a cell phone plan or SIM card.
  • If you need to call your family or friends back home it is cheapest to use data and connect through social media, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Skype.
  • XE Currency Exchange is a free app that is so helpful when trying to understand currency conversions. I still use it all the time to figure out a price in USD versus Costa Rican colones.
  • Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance for Costa Rica. This helps be reimbursed for illnesses, delayed or canceled travel plans, lost luggage, stolen mobile phones etc. We like Heymondo. You can get a quote from them here.
  • We suggest bringing a power bank so that you can always be assured that your phone is charged.
  • Outlets in Costa Rica are the same as in the United States. If you are traveling from Europe, you will need to bring a converter.
  • 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. They have 4G throughout the country. 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 cell phone dry bags for while on the beach or hiking during rainy season.
  • 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! 🙂

📞 Check Rates and Get Your Airalo eSIM card 📱

Use code AIRALOJUNE15 at checkout in June to save 15% as a new customer on purchases over $15!

Already a customer? Use the code AIRALOJUNE10 for a 10% discount

Conclusion: Costa Rica SIM Card

In conclusion, an eSIM card is our favorite way to stay connected while traveling in Costa Rica. This is typically the most economical solution that also provides good coverage and is easy to set up.

If you have any questions about the best SIM card option for your travels in Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

You Might Also Like:

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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21 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I am worried I got more that I signed up for. Can you advise me?
    In the San Jose city mall I went to a a Kolbi store and paid 27 dollars for a one month prepaid plan that included data and talk. I paid by credit card and had to give them my passport.
    Now I’m worried that I unwittingly am in a contract and will be charged monthly . There was no mention of a contract. Do you have any experience with this?
    Thank so much. I love your blog

    1. Hi Eliza,
      Oh no! I hope it turns out OK.
      It is normal to give your passport, but I suggest calling Kolbi because paying $27 does kind of sound more like a plan.
      They can check for you and help you. And I know for a fact they have English-speaking service reps. I’ve had to call them about an issue once before and they were very helpful.
      My next course of action would be to call your credit card company and have them block any future Kolbi charges. Good luck!

  2. Brielle Williams says:

    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. Brielle Williams says:

        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!

  3. 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.

  4. Una Oarcea says:

    Thank you for the tips!

  5. Lynn Baumeister says:

    Thank You!!!!

  6. 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.

  7. 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?