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Compare prepaid SIM cards for Costa Rica

Buy a local SIM card to reduce your roaming bills.

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Editor's choice: SimCorner

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  • Plans for 80+ countries
  • No roaming fees or extra costs
  • Worldwide delivery available
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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 (US$2.50). 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.

Compare international SIM cards

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Number of countries Data range Shipment time
SimCorner
80+
1GB-Unlimited
1-12 business days
SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards offer local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world. Choose from a range of data packages, including unlimited data in the USA.
Flexiroam X
150+
1GB-7GB
3-7 business days
Attach the Flexiroam X ultra-thin microchip sticker to your current SIM card to access data roaming in over 140 countries.
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Prices last updated 7 Jun 2017

Telco providers in Costa Rica

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.

About Costa Rica’s telco providers

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. (Kölbi)

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:

Package Time Data Social Rate Activation
En Todas 1 24 hours 50MB data 40MB social CRC200 Text “ET1” to 8888
En Todas 3 3 days 200MB data 100MB social CRC600 Text “ET3” to 8888
En Todas Plus 5 5 days 300MB 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 CRC4,000 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, Pinterest and Snapchat.

There are also data-only SIM cards available for modems and tablets:

Package Time Data Rate Activation
Ultra Día 1GB 24 hours 1GB CRC1,500 Text “Ultra dia” to 8888
Ultra Mes 6GB 30 days 6GB CRC13,500 Text “Ultra 6” to 8888
Ultra Mes 15GB 30 days 15GB CRC24,000 Text “Ultra 15” to 8888

Plans renew automatically so to cancel your service text “salir internet” to 8888.

Movistar

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:

Data Time Social Rate Activation
30MB 1 day CRC200 Text “HORA” to 606
100MB 1 day CRC300 Text “DIA” to 606
100MB 1 day WhatsApp Unlimited CRC300 Text “DIARIO” to 606
200MB 2 days WhatsApp Unlimited CRC600 Text “SEMANA” to 606
450MB 4 days WhatsApp Unlimited CRC1,200 Text “MES” to 606
100MB (8am-11pm)
Unlimited (11pm-8am)
Nocturnal Unlimited/day WhatsApp Unlimited CRC600 Text “NOCTURNO” to 606

These packs renew automatically. Text “DIARIOBAJA” or “NOCTURNOBAJA” to 606 to cancel.

Claro

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:

Data Time Rate Package
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.

Some top tips from finder.com staff

  • 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 tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

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.”

Pros and cons of Costa Rica’s top telco providers

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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • No devices offered with the SIM card plans
  • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
  • Poor coverage in some areas

Is coverage really that bad in the far-flung regions?

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.

Switch to a cell phone plan with international calling

Name Product Data Minutes Texts Can I bring my own phone? Cell phone plans starting at:
Sprint
Starting at 2 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$25
Get unlimited data, calls and text or a customized plan on a 5G network. Eligible plans come with Hulu, Amazon Prime or Tidal subscriptions.
SIMPLE Mobile
Starting at 2 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$30
30-day phone plans that allow you to cancel your service at anytime. Choose from five different talk, text and data options with the choice to add international calling for $10/month.
FreedomPop
Starting at 500 MB
Starting at 200 minutes
Starting at 500 texts
Yes
$0
Bring your own phone for a free plan with 500MB of data, 200 minutes and 500 texts per month using Sprint's CDMA Network. Prepaid plans with more data, talk and text start at $9.99/month.
NET10 Wireless
Starting at 1 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$20
30-day plans with unlimited talk and text and the option to choose how much data is right for you. Add-on rollover data is available starting at $5/500MB.
Straight Talk Wireless
Starting at 3 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$35
Choose from several different plan options with no contracts, no fees and coverage on the same networks as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
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