Buy a local SIM card to reduce your roaming bills.
The cost of using your phone abroad doesn’t really hit home until you see the bill a month later. So, why not switch to using a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper deals, plans and tariffs? Costa Rica has some of the best deals in South America and you can get 1GB of data for as little as CRC1,500 (AUD$3.30). You can also use Costa Rica’s SIM cards in other South American countries, which will save you even more money! Cut down on costs on your next vacation by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.au.
There are three main operators in Costa Rica: I.C.E., Movistar and Claro. According to OpenSignal’s country report, Costa Rica’s network speeds have declined due to the recent adoption of 4G wireless services. Networks will improve over time, but during the initial teething stage, all providers are experiencing slow speeds on their networks.
OpenSignal ranked Costa Rica as an average operator compared to other South American providers. Though LTE services are still limited in Costa Rica, Movistar's network stands out in tests. 3G services are highly accessible in Costa Rica on all networks. Limited 4G availability means limited access to LTE's relatively faster speeds. Taking into account generally sluggish 3G and 4G performance, the typical data connection in Costa Rica is quite slow.
Costa Rica’s market leader is I.C.E., followed by Movistar and then Claro. All three operators offer prepaid SIM cards that can be bought from shops, supermarkets, kiosks, pharmacies, official stores and the airport. 2G, 3G and 4G plans are available for unlocked GSM phones. 4G/LTE is available on all networks. SIM cards can be purchased by showing your passport and your telephone number is already active upon receiving the SIM. Some providers might insist on registering the number but it’s not a must. To add credit, there are many prepaid card machines available around Costa Rica and vouchers are stocked in shops and supermarkets.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what will be available to you during your stay in Costa Rica.
I.C.E. is Costa Rica’s state-run telco and electricity provider. It runs its phone networks through Kölbi and has 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services available. I.C.E. has a large store located at San José airport so it’s a good idea to get a SIM card there when you arrive. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for CRC1,000, but check the latest deals and offers because there are always promotions. The "Súper Chip” deal comes with CRC1,000 of credit. You can get a bonus 150MB data valid for 3 days if you upload at least CRC500 within the first 7 days of purchase. Credit can be purchased online or by buying vouchers called “tarjetas” for CRC500, CRC1,000, CRC2,500, CRC5,000 or CRC10,000, or US$10 or US$20.
The standard default data rate is CRC0.00858 per KB. However, data packs are available:
|En Todas 1||24 hours||50MB data||40MB social||CRC200||Text “ET1” to 8888|
|En Todas 3||3 days||600MB data||100MB social||CRC600||Text “ET3” to 8888|
|En Todas Plus 5||5 days||600MB data||200MB social||CRC1,300||Text “ETP5” to 8888|
|En Todas Plus 10||10 days||500MB data||400MB social||CRC2,500||Text “ETP10” to 8888|
|En Todas y más||30 days||2GB data||CRC9,000||Text “ETM” to 8888|
Plans renew automatically so to cancel your service text “salir internet” to 8888. The social plans mentioned above include WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
There are also data-only SIM cards available for modems and tablets:
|Ultra Día 1GB||24 hours||1GB||CRC1,500||Text “Ultra dia” to 8888|
|Ultra Mes 6GB||30 days30 days||6GB||CRC13,500||Text “Ultra 6” to 8888|
|Ultra Mes 15GB||15GB||CRC24,000||Text “Ultra 15” to 8888|
Plans renew automatically so to cancel your service text “salir internet” to 8888.
Movistar is the second largest operator in Costa Rica and offers services on 2G, 3G and 4G networks. According to OpenSignal's report, Movistar offers the best coverage and speed from all three networks. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for CRC1,000 or CRC2,500 at official stores or approved resellers. To activate your SIM card, text “ACTIVAR” along with your name and passport number to 1693.
The standard default rate is CRC0.0086 per KB. The following packs are also available:
|25MB||1 hour||CRC80||Text “HORA” to 606|
|90MB||24 hours||CRC289||Text “DIA” to 606|
|100MB||Daily||CRC289||Text “DIARIO” to 606|
|1GB||7 days||CRC2,500||Text “SEMANA” to 606|
|3GB||30 days||CRC9,000||Text “MES” to 606|
|Unlimited||Nightly (11pm-8am)||CRC500||Text “NOCTURNO” to 606|
These packs renew automatically. Text “DIARIOBAJA” or “NOCTURNOBAJA” to 606 to cancel.
Claro is the smallest provider and has some problematic coverage areas. 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services are available and once you manage to get into one of the coverage zones the 4G speeds are the best. Prices are also very competitive and this provider often has deals and promotions, so keep an eye out for those. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for CRC1,500 and come with a 300MB data bonus once you top up your credit with CRC500 or more.
Claro’s standard default data rate is CRC0.0086 per KB, but the following data packs can also be purchased:
|20MB||24 hours||CRC100||Text “20MB” to 444|
|100MB||24 hours||CRC300||Text “DIA” to 444|
|250MB||24 hours||CRC600||Text “DIAFULL” to 444|
|1GB||3 days||CRC2,000||Text “1GB” to 444|
|3GB||7 days||CRC5,500||Text “3GB” to 444|
All packages auto-renew so to cancel your service text “FIN” to 444. Free WhatsApp use is included in packages of 100MB and above.
There are also two social packs available, one for Facebook and one for WhatsApp. Each one can be purchased for CRC350 and is valid for 24 hours only. Text “FB” or “WA” to 444.
Claro also offers a selection of data-only SIM cards for tablets and modems:
- 1 día (24 hours): CRC750
- 7 días (7 days): CRC4,900
- 15 días (15 days): CRC9,000
- 30 días (30 days): CRC17,500
Text the relevant package information to 555.
- Spanish is spoken in Costa Rica. If you don’t know the language, you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. Although some locals can speak English, many cannot and they like it when foreigners try to speak Spanish.
- Locals call a SIM card a “chip”.
- Ask the retailer to set up your SIM card for you. This will save you a lot of time and trouble, but it’s also helpful to have someone cover anything you might not understand.
- Make sure you get to the stores early before the crowds hit.
TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Costa Rica. Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- “When you land at the airport, you will find a Kölbi booth on the right-hand side after you pick up your luggage. You can buy a SIM card there. They are open until 10pm.”
- “We bought SIM cards for our phones at Movistar in San José. Gave them our phones and passports and US$20 for 4G. The service was sketchy in the mountains but worked great elsewhere.”
- “If you don't get a local SIM card and want to make sure you don't get roaming charges, put the phone in airplane mode and then turn on Wi-Fi.”
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM-compatible international phone. To double check that you have this option, contact your service provider before you set off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit available when required
- No in-store contract needed
- SIMs can be used in other South American countries
- SIMs could be compatible with your current phone
- No devices offered with the SIM card plans
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Poor coverage in some areas
The short answer is, yes, it is! All three networks will suffer in the country and mountain regions. It’s important to ensure that you only travel to those regions with an approved tour guide or with someone who knows the area well. Although local SIM cards will suffer in these regions, it’s not just those providers. Any phone on any network will also suffer the same problems. Our advice is to switch to a local SIM card to take advantage of better deals and to save yourself some money.