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

cell phone costa rica

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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.

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

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– 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!


cell phone costa rica
Cell Phone in Costa Rica - How to Stay Connected While Traveling

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 allow you to visit more off-the-beaten-path destinations and will allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

Save 10% Plus Other Perks with Our Adobe Rental Car Discount

☀️ Should I buy travel insurance for Costa Rica?

Yes, travel insurance is always a good idea. It is not just for illness or injury, but also lost luggage, delayed trips, and more!

We like Heymondo for Costa Rica travel insurance.

✈️ 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

🌴 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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  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?