When you search for Costa Rica, you will find videos and images of people at beaches with clear water, waterfalls that make your mouth water, or incredibly looking volcanos. The nature in Costa Rica is beautiful, which makes it a recommended travel destinations.
Although one of the more expensive countries in Central America, buying a Costa Rica SIM card will be much cheaper than roaming with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy a Costa Rican SIM card when exploring the country. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Costa Rica. Let's go.
Telecom Providers in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has 3 telecom providers: I.C.E., Movistar Costa Rica, and Claro Costa Rica. The country also has one Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) called Fullmóvil. Fullmóvil uses the Kölbi network but does not sell prepaid SIM cards anymore. Therefore, they will not be discussed any further in this article.
I.C.E. is a state-owned company that focuses on telecommunications and electricity. They used to have a monopoly in the telecommunications market until Movistar and Claro decided to enter Costa Rica. I.C.E.’ prepaid brand is called Kölbi and has a market share of more than 50% with more than 4 million subscribers. Movistar Costa Rica and Claro Costa Rica have more than 1 million subscribers.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Costa Rica? If you want to buy a SIM card in Costa Rica, I would recommend going with Kölbi by I.C.E. because they have the best coverage and speeds in Costa Rica. If you prefer more flexibility in terms of packs, you can consider going with Claro, although their coverage is not as extensive as I.C.E.
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Just like other countries in Central America, you need to show your passport when buying a Costa Rican SIM card. Luckily, the process is fast and straightforward. Nowadays, you need to register your SIM with the national regulator called Sutel. Normally, the operator will do this registration for you.
With that said, let’s see what the Costa Rican operators can offer us.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
Kölbi by I.C.E.
Kölbi has the best coverage and speeds throughout Costa Rica, according to Open Signal. 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks can be found all over the country, and their 4G/LTE network is still being expanded to this day.
You can buy Kölbi SIM cards in I.C.E. stores throughout the country. However, if you are flying into San José International Airport, it would be better to buy your SIM card there so that you can deal with English-speaking agents. It will be challenging to find a good English-speaking in town, but it can be a fun challenge. If you speak Spanish, then there is nothing for you to worry about.
Kölbi SIM cards are sold for 1000 CRC ($2.50). Recharge cards are sold from 500 CRC to 10000 CRC or 10 USD and 20 USD. You can also recharge online with your credit card.
The following Kölbi data packs can be added:
- 200 CRC: 50 MB and 40 MB for social media app for 24 hours
- 600 CRC: 200 MB and 100 MB for social media app for 3 days
- 1300 CRC: 300 MB and 200 MB for social media app for 5 days
- 2500 CRC: 500 MB and 400 MB for social media app for 10 days
- 4000 CRC: 2 GB for 30 days
WhatsApp, Facebook, and Facebook are the social media apps for the 200 CRC and 600 CRC plans. For the 1300 CRC and 2500 CRC plans, Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest are included.
Movistar Costa Rica
Movistar Costa Rica, just Movistar, is Costa Rica’s second provider. Movistar is active in numerous countries in Latin-America. They have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE coverage throughout the country, and 4G/LTE covers more than 70% of the population.
Movistar SIM cards are sold for around 1500 CRC in Movistar stores and other vendors. The following data packs can be added:
- 200 CRC: 30 MB for 1 day
- 300 CRC: 200 MB for 1 day
- 300 CRC: 200 MB and unlimited WhatsApp every day (auto-renews)
- 600 CRC: 200 MB and unlimited WhatsApp for 2 days
- 800 CRC: 100 MB (daytime), unlimited WhatsApp, and unlimited data between 11 PM and 8 AM (auto-renews)
- 1200 CRC: 450 MB and unlimited WhatsApp for 4 days
Movistar also sells more combo plans that come with more data but for higher prices. WhatsApp usage with these plans are free:
- 2500 CRC: 650 MB and 20 minutes/SMS for 7 days
- 3200 CRC: 1 GB and 30 minutes/SMS for 7 days
- 4500 CRC: 1.4 GB and 45 minutes/SMS for 15 days
- 5900 CRC: 2.3 GB and 70 minutes/SMS for 15 days
Claro Costa Rica
Claro Costa Rica, just Claro, is another operator that is well-known in Central- and South America. They are the smallest network and have the “worst” coverage in Costa Rica, but they were the latest arrival in the country. Claro operates 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. 4G/LTE can mainly be found in the Central Valley.
Claro SIM cards are sold for 1500 CRC. Top up with at least 1000 CRC, and you will get 50 MB and 250 MB for select social media apps for 3 days.
Claro sells many packs. They will automatically renew if you have enough balance – be aware of that:
- 300 CRC: 100 MB and unlimited WhatsApp for 1 day
- 500 CRC: unlimited social media for 1 day
- 700 CRC: 250 MB and unlimited social media for 1 day
- 1400 CRC: 100 MB, unlimited WhatsApp, 20 minutes, and 10 SMS for 2 days
- 1700 CRC: 175 MB, unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook, 30 minutes, and 40 SMS for 2 days
- 1000 CRC: 450 MB and unlimited social media for 3 days
- 1000 CRC: 400 MB and 1000 CRC credit for 3 days
- 1500 CRC: 600 MB and 1500 CRC credit for 5 days
- 1800 CRC: 800 MB and unlimited social media for 5 days
- 2000 CRC: 1 GB and unlimited WhatsApp for 3 days
- 3500 CRC: 400 MB, unlimited WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, 60 minutes, and 60 SMS for 7 days
- 4500 CRC: 2 GB and 4500 CRC credit for 15 days
- 5400 CRC: 700 MB, unlimited WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, 120 minutes, and 100 SMS for 15 days
- 5500 CRC: 3 GB and unlimited WhatsApp for 7 days
- 8500 CRC: 3.5 GB and 8500 CRC credit for 30 days
Claro also sells data-only SIM cards for tablets and dongles, but those are capped at 2 Mbit/s. It is something you could consider, of course.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Costa Rica
I have discussed the relevant providers in Costa in this article because using a Costa Rican SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Costa Rica. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Costa Rica.
Roaming in Costa Rica with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is DigiCell from Belize, then you would be roaming with DigiCell in Costa Rica.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Costa Rica, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Costa Rica and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Costa Rica.
Using an International SIM Card in Costa Rica
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard and SimOptions.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Costa Rica. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in Central America require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Costa Rica
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Costa Rica
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Costa which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Costa, you can find hotspots here and there. Most of them are, however, slow.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Costa Rica
Getting a SIM card from Kölbi would do you well when considering a Costa Rican SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in Central America? Check out my Central America SIM card buying guide, covering other Central American countries, such as Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Costa Rica
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Costa Rica. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Costa Rica drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Costa Rica
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Costa Rica. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Costa Rican hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Costa Rica
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Costa Rica, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the currency of your destination for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!