Which telephone operator to choose ?

The three largest operators are Kölbi; Movistar; and Claro. 

Costa Rica’s telecommunications network was installed by the national electric company ICE. In 1949 ICE created Kölbi, the national Internet access provider which until 2008 held the telecommunications monopoly in Costa Rica. The system’s capabilities have significantly improved since the entry into the market of Movistar and Claro, two major competitors active throughout Central and South America. 

Depending on where you are in Costa Rica, one of these three service providers may have better network coverage than the others, but for a tourist traveling throughout the country this may not matter. 

The real advantage of using Movistar or Claro in Costa Rica concerns people traveling from a country where they have already subscribed to a package with these access providers. By combining an offer available for their country with one for Costa Rica, they can benefit from almost unbeatable prices, conditions, and roaming services. If you plan to travel to other countries in Central America or South America in addition to Costa Rica, do not choose Kölbi but rather use another access provider like Movistar or Claro:

  • Movistar is also present in: Argentina; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Ecuador; El Salvador; Guatemala; Mexico; Nicaragua; Peru; Puerto Rico; Panama; Uruguay; and Venezuela.
  • Claro is also present in: Argentina; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Guatemala: Honduras; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Puerto Rico; and Uruguay.

This SUTEL website compares the offers of each mobile provider:

Price SIM card MinimumPrice Télécommunication Minute*Price Kb internet 3g/4gPrice MSG

* To landlines, mobile numbers and other mobile service providers in Costa Rica.

If your phone is locked by your service provider you can either have it unlocked, leave it blocked and use Wifi when available, or buy a replacement phone. 

All operators in the country also offer more expensive SIM cards with roaming rates that will lower the price per minute during your international calls. These offers could be attractive, if you are planning to make  several trips to Costa Rica and your loved ones do not have access to the Internet via Facebook, Skype, or Whatsapp for example. 

For the same price you may also be offered a special SIM card so that your private number will not be displayed when you make a call. 

Where to subscribe ?

Branches of these providers can be found in most cities and tourist spots across the country. You will need to show your passport and buy a prepaid SIM card. You will also be advised to pay for a top-up.

Since 2019, the Kölbi outlets located in the two International Airports have been closed.

How to recharge your phone credit ? 

You can find recharge cards with a code to be revealed when scratched. On the back of this card there is a number to dial and a list of the steps to follow. The process will take three minutes. Do not buy these cards from anyone in the street; only from shops. 

Automatic recharging by supermarket cashiers. You give your phone number and pay for the amount of additional phone credits you choose. The cashier takes care of everything in one minute. 

Recharge directly online using your bank credit card or by phoning the toll-free number of the access provider. In all circumstances I do not recommend this method because it is too slow. 

The larger the recharge amount, the longer the additonal phone credits will remain available for use.  Please note that such recharges will expire if they are not used before a certain fixed date. 

At Kölbi for example:

Amount recharged ¢500 à ¢2500¢2500 à ¢5000¢5000 or more…
Expiry after30 days45 days60 days

(Sometimes the expiry date is extended without any explanation)

In Costa Rica you will be surprised to learn that Facebook and WhatsApp are more frequently used as means of communications than websites or regular phonecalls . 

The rare phone MSG you will receive will normally be sent to you by your service provider advertizing special offers (Your next recharge is worth double if you do it before a specific date). More rarely the MSG will contain official information or warnings about natural disasters and the emergency measures to take.