Amazing flora and fauna, wildlife, unspoiled beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, and uncountable national parks are waiting for you. Happy to hear you are planning a trip to Costa Rica! This is your complete guide for buying a local prepaid sim card in Costa Rica with all the info you need to know: where to buy one, prices, best network and our recommendation.
This article is updated with the latest info and prices as per October 2021.
Providing tourists with valuable information about local sim cards became a passion and that is why on Traveltomtom you can find more than 150 local prepaid sim card guides from all over the world: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Europe, Canada, USA, even Hong Kong, Thailand, South Africa and many more.
Why buying a sim card in Costa Rica
Amongst all the Central American countries, Costa Rica has the highest cost of living. Fortunately, buying a prepaid sim card in Costa Rica won’t break your bank and is the cheapest way to stay connected abroad.
It takes just a couple minutes and will cost you significantly less compared to international or overseas data plans. A local prepaid sim card beats an international sim card in many ways.
Some tourists disregard the importance of buying a local sim card and one month later when back home they get slapped with a $300 bill. We’re here to help you save money!
A short lists of benefits why it is convenient to stay connected when traveling:
- Use GPS for directions (Google Maps)
- Use taxi apps to get around safely (Uber)
- Call local numbers at local rates
- Traveling planning while on the move
- Kill time on long bus rides
- Use Spotify online
Also don’t rely on public WiFi. Most places like restaurants and hotels have public WiFi, but there is no guarantee it is working or it is fast enough. Plus keep in mind that roaming the internet on public WiFi is through an UNSECURED network. The use of a VPN is recommended!
Traveltomtom recommends a Kolbi prepaid sim card for Costa Rica. It has nationwide the best mobile coverageand offers a wide range of data plans.
We do NOT recommend international sim cards for world travelers. In most cases they failed the test or were simply too expensive. Read all about it in my article comparing and reviewing all the international sim cards with global coverage.
E-Sim for Costa Rica
Unfortunately when buying a sim card in Costa Rica there is not yet the option to choose an e-sim. None of the mobile internet providers are offering e-sim cards, only physical sim cards. However, online you can buy an e-sim card for Costa Rica through Airalo for example. These Costa Rica e-sim cards are provided by HOT Mobile and operate on the Kolbi ICE network. They do NOT come with a phone number and are for data only:
- $9 = 1 GB data for 7 days
- $24 = 3 GB data for 30 days
- $30 = 5 GB data for 30 days
Click here to check out the above Costa Rica e-sim offers.
Mobile internet operators in Costa Rica
The country has three mobile internet providers operators that sell prepaid sim cards for tourists:
Prices are more or less the same I can already tell you. However, the network strength across the country is not the same, which is the main difference between the internet operators. More about that later.
Buying a sim card at San Jose Airport Juan Santamaria
On arrival in San Jose international airport you won't find Costa Rica sim card kiosks anymore near the baggage claim carousels. There was a Claro kiosk as well as a Kolbi kiosk but unfortunately they are not there anymore. However, there is an alternative and you can find 2 Costa rica sim card vending machines at the airport as of October 2021.
One sim card vending machine is in the lobby of Terminal A, International Arrivals and the second place to buy a Costa Rica sim card at San Jose Airport is located in the ConRac Rental Car lobby, which is right across the street from Terminal B.
Prices for sim cards at San Jose Airport are slightly more expensive, but it is the most convenient place to buy a sim card for your trip to Costa Rica.
In San Jose city center there are many official retail stores. The best place is to go to one of the big shopping malls. Multiplaza Escazu is where you will find official stores of all 3 mobile internet providers. Almost all popular Costa Rica tourist destinations have mobile phone shops for buying a local prepaid sim card.
Traveltomtom recommends buying a sim card at an official retail store as they do the registration process the proper way and make sure that everything works before leaving the shop. They take care of your settings, etc.
Sim card registration in Costa Rica
All prepaid sim cards in Costa Rica have to be registered with the national regulator SUTEL. Therefore you will need to bring you passport when buying a sim card in Costa Rica. The registration process takes only a couple minutes. Per passport you can register 5 prepaid sim cards.
Only for unlocked phones
Ensure that your phone is unlocked before buying a local prepaid sim card. If your phone is locked (many US phones are) you can’t use a Costa Rica sim card. Therefore check with your provider first and unlock your phone before your trip.
Prepaid sim card prices
Let’s compare the mobile internet operators in Costa Rice based on their network coverage, packages and prices. 1,000 CRC = $1.60 USD.
What makes it easy is that all mobile operators charge the exact same for calling, texting and internet:
- 34 CRC per minute
- 3 CRC per text
- 8.6 CRC per MB
But it is of course the best to subscribe to one of their prepaid plans.
Because Kolbi enjoyed a monopoly for many years, it’s the most popular mobile internet operator in Costa Rica.
A Kolbi sim card costs 1,000 CRC and they offer 3 different monthly prepaid plans:
- 5,000 CRC = 2 GB data + 35 minutes + 30 sms + 3 GB for Whatsapp
- 8,000 CRC = 4 GB data + 50 minutes + 30 sms + 3 GB for Whatsapp
- 12,000 CRC = 5 GB data + 100 minutes + 30 sms + 5 GB for Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram
Click here to check out the latest prepaid offers on Kolbi website.
You can also top-up with one of the available data-only packages:
- 2,500 CRC = 1 GB data for 15 days
- 4,000 CRC = 2 GB data for 30 days
Not the super data deals you were may be hoping for as data packages are rather small. But…
One of the best things about a Kolbi prepaid sim card is the Social Package which gives you unlimited internet on Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter for 7 days and cost only 1,500 CRC, around $2.5 USD!
There is also a video package for those who love YouTube, this package also includes TikTok. Click on this link to read more about it and see how to activate it.
My recommendation for Kolbi would be to buy a sim card for 1,000 CRC, top up with 1 GB for 2,500 CRC + the unlimited social package for 1,500 CRC = 5,000 CRC ($8 USD) total for unlimited Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook + 1 GB for internet and other apps.
After Kolbi, Movistar is the second-largest mobile internet provider in Costa Rica. Movistar prepaid sim cards cost 1,500 CRC.
The Movistar data package plans are called Super Recarga:
- 2,000 CRC = 1 GB data + 15 minutes + free Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - valid for 6 days
- 2,500 CRC = 1.2 GB data + 20 minutes + free Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - valid for 7 days
- 4,500 CRC = 2 GB data + 45 minutes + free Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - valid for 15 days
Check the Movistar Costa Rica website for the latest prepaid data deals.
Movistar Free Prepaid Plan:
5,900 CRC = 4 GB data + 70 minutes + 70 sms + benefits* - valid for 30 days
*The benefits include international minutes to Canada, USA and Nicaragua. Free data roaming in USA, Mexico and Canada and 140 minutes to Movistar Costa Rica. Free Whatsapp and Twitter.
A pretty decent plan, but most tourists won’t use the free data roaming. However, it is a cheap plan to get more GB’s then some other Movistar Costa Rica prepaid deals. Check this link for more info.
The Movistar Free Prepaid Plan would be my recommendation if you choose to go for a Movistar sim card when traveling to Costa Rica.
Claro sim cards also cost 1,500 CRC and these are their prepaid sim card deals:
- 2,000 CRC = 1 GB data + free social media* + 20 international minutes** + 50 sms - valid for 7 days
- 3,000 CRC = 2 GB data + free social media* + 30 international minutes** + 100 sms - valid for 10 days
- 4,500 CRC = 3 GB data + free social media* + 45 international minutes** + 200 sms - valid for 15 days
- 6,000 CRC = 4 GB data + free social media* + 70 international minutes** + 200 sms - valid for 15 days
- 10,000 CRC = 5 GB data + free social media* + 85 international minutes** + 300 sms - valid for 30 days
*Free social media means: Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.
**International minutes: all of Central America, Panama, USA and Canada.
Claro offers a wide range of prepaid plan, check out the Claro Costa Rica website for the latest prepaid sim card package deals.
Best 4G/5G network in Costa Rica
To determine the best prepaid sim card for traveling in Costa Rica we will also have to look at the mobile internet coverage, so let’s compare the 4G/5G network in Costa Rica.
Is there 5G in Cost Rica?
No. Unfortunately, 5G is not available in Costa Rica at the moment. However, plans to launch it are underway. The deployment got delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The 5G standard will most likely be available in Costa Rica in 2022. I will keep an eye out and of course update this article with the latest information when available.
4G/5G coverage map Claro Costa Rica
4G/5G coverage map Movistar Costa Rica
4G/5G coverage map Kolbi Costa Rica
From the above mobile internet coverage maps for Costa Rica (source nperf) we can clearly see that Claro has the weakest network in Costa Rica and Kolbi has the best mobile internet network in Costa Rica.
The Kolbi internet coverage is also according to locals the best in the country and that is the sim card they recommend for tourists when visiting different tourist destinations in the country.
Best prepaid sim card in Costa Rica in 2021
Although prices for prepaid sim cards packages are more or less the same we can clearly conclude that Kolbi is slightly more expensive. Relatively about 20-30%, but we are talking about $2-$3 USD. Is that worth taking the risk of having a weaker 3G/4G signal when traveling around Costa Rica?
Kolbi is the best prepaid sim card in Costa Rica in 2021!
Because of its strong network, good data deals and packages Traveltomtom recommends buying a Kolbi sim card for traveling in Costa Rica.
Buying a Costa Rica sim card online
If you want the convenience of getting your Costa Rica sim card delivered to your home address then there is the option of ordering a sim card for Costa Rica directly online through Simoptions and they actually have pretty good deals.
They offer the following sim card deals for Costa Rica:
- $29.90 USD = 10 GB data for 30 days
- $39.90 USD = 12 GB data for 30 days
Click here to see all the Costa Rica sim card deals from Simoptions. After ordering the sim card will be send to your home address and are automatically activated from its first use.
My experiences buying a prepaid sim card in Costa Rica
During my visit to Costa Rica, I got a Kolbi SIM card and wasn’t sure how to check my balance. The other users I asked for help from had android phones and I wasn’t so sure that it was the same process for Apple users. I had to confirm and it was later confirmed that customers dial *888# regardless the type of phone.
Customers can also send a text with the word SALDO to 8888 after which they receive a text showing their balance.
I also loved how easy it was to recharge your sim card in Costa Rica. All I had to do was buy a scratch card or visit a supermarket, convenience store, or cell phone shop and give the attendant some cash and phone number (this is indicated in the original receipt given after purchase). It’s so easy even for people who don’t speak Spanish.
In my experience, the cell phone service and the Kolbi internet network in Costa Rica were good. Of course, especially in isolated regions in Costa Rica you will struggle to find a good data connection.
You can hold onto your Costa Rica sim card as it’ll still be active after you stop using it for another 6 months.
What was your cell phone experience like in Costa Rica? Feel free to share it all with us in the comment section regardless of whether it was smooth or disastrous.
I hope all the above tips for buying a prepaid sim card in Costa Rica were helpful for your upcoming journey.
Enjoy your trip to Costa Rica!