Buying a SIM Card in Costa Rica

Buying A SIM Card in Costa Rica

Justin Olsvik
Currently completing his Master’s in Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University, Justin is an acclaimed travel journalist with a particular eye for capturing life around the world through written word and organic photography. 

Justin Olsvik
An acclaimed travel journalist with a particular eye for capturing life around the world using the written word and organic photography. 

Published: April 27, 2022

How do I find the nearest supermarket? Am I supposed to tip in Costa Rica? What’s the Spanish for that one word again? WhAt ArE tHe KaRdAsHiAnS Up tO?!?!! In the digital age, our phones have become a universal crutch, and getting on-grid is likely to be a priority for you when you arrive in Heredia. If you’re new to travelling internationally, hunting down a SIM card can be intimidating, and if you want a little more help figuring it out, you’re in the right place.

First, make sure your cell phone is unlocked before you leave home. Depending on the laws (and business practises) in your country, your phone might be “locked” in with your home service provider – sort that out with them before boarding a plane.

When you head to buy your Costa Rican SIM, you’ll also need to bring along your passport. Buying the SIM itself will cost just a few hundred colonas. You can then load cash onto the card in a prepaid (prepago) plan catered to your YouTube-binging needs.

Costa Rica has three main cell phone providers: Kolbi, Claro and Movistar. Costa Rica is a mountainous country, and if you stray from the urban areas (which you absolutely should!), you are likely to experience spotty service at some point. Ask any Tico which is best and you’ll probably get a different answer each time, but here is the general breakdown:

Kolbi is the government-operated telecommunications operator, and it generally has the most widespread service in Costa Rica. It is the most popular choice for Ticos, but depending on the area, the other companies might provide more reliable service.

Kolbi offers two main prepaid mobile internet plans: 

Data
Duration
Price
1GB
15 Days
₡2500
2GB
30 Days
₡4000

Talk, text, and additional data boosters can also be purchased on an as-needed basis.

Movistar is considered to have slightly less extensive coverage, but still has a stable connection when in-service. Movistar also operates in other countries around Latin America, so it might be a better choice for you if you intend on travelling around and want to save yourself this same hassle in the next country (although additional roaming charges may apply).

Movistar mobile plans offer a lot of flexibility. Dozens of plans are available, but the most popular include:

Data
Calling in CR
Duration
Unlimited Use for WhatsApp, FB, IG and Twitter:
Price
2GB
45 min
15 Days
Yes
₡4500
1.2GB
20 min
7 days
Yes
₡2500
1GB
15 min
6 days
Yes
₡2000

Other plans and boosters are also available.

Claro has the reputation of having the least reliable service, although it is improving. Like Movistar, it also operates in multiple countries in the region, which could be a selling point depending on where you’re headed next. 

Claro also has dozens of packages available, and offers the most international services. Here are some of the most noteworthy.

Data
International Calling
Duration
Additional Social Media Data + Unlimited WhatsApp
Price
5 GB
85 minutes
30 days
Yes
₡10000
3 GB
45 minutes
15 days
Yes
₡4500

Additional plans or boosters are also available.

To purchase or recharge any of these SIMS, you can make a pit-stop at any of the dozens of shops that have the relevant sign hanging outside. Since the latest deals and promotions are always changing though, we recommend heading to the actual telecommunications store to buy the SIM itself – you may well get offered a better deal than is apparent on their websites.

If you want to shop around a little, head to Oxigeno Mall, where you can conveniently find storefront locations for all three brands.

Happy scrolling!

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