Costa Rica Prepaid Phones: How To

Many owners and guests want to stay connected while in Costa Rica. Various cellular carriers from abroad allow roaming in Costa Rica, while some do not. Regardless, your cellular bill will be quite high if you choose this option.

Another option that is finally available and functional (mostly) is Costa Rica prepaid phones with SIM cards from the ICE. Most phones worldwide operate with SIM cards, which is simply a small computer chip that carries the account information for the provider in that country. North Americans may be less aware of how this works because so many carriers in the US try to force the purchase of phones (handsets) from that carrier. These phones are “locked” in the sense that the carrier has placed software on the phone that blocks it from using other SIM cards.

In Costa Rica, SIM cards are readily available for plug-in to any unlocked phone. High tariffs in Costa Rica make purchasing the actual phone (handset) in Costa Rica something to avoid, but bringing an unlocked cell phone along form your home country is easier than you think. Smart phones are readily available and cheap online through Amazon or other retailers. Just be sure the product says “unlocked.”

Unlocked Cell Phone

Unlocked Cell Phone

Once you arrive in the country, you’ll want to visit a branch of the ICE (the original Costa Rican phone company). Take a number as there is inevitably a line. For Coastal Property Management guests, the closest ICE office is in Huacas at Paseo del Mar on the way to Flamingo. Bring your passport.

When you get to a teller, you’ll want to request a Kolbi “tarjeta pre-pago.” Show them your phone so that you can be sure you get the right type of SIM card. Mini-SIM is the standard but can be cut into a “Micro-SIM” if you are using a Nexus 4 or newer Iphone. The card costs a minimum of 3000 colones and you should go ahead and put some extra funds on it.  All of this is payable via major credit card or cash.

Be sure to test your phone while with the ICE representative to be sure it works.

Making texts and phone calls will draw down your balance.  Initiating a data plan will also eat up some of your balance.

You will receive a copy of the optional data plans. Once you have a functional SIM card, you purchase data in blocks of time, rather than bandwidth like you would in the other countries. The way you purchase data is to send the correct text to the correct #. Follow the instructions on the sheet that you receive at the ICE office. The fastest speed currently available is 1 meg and is available for purchase of 2 weeks or a month.

A few tips:

  • ICE SIM cards require you to reenter your pin any time the phone turns off.  Keep a hold of the credit card-sized card that has your PIN and PUK.
  • Calling home is relatively cheap. However, if you use texts to people outside of Costa Rica, their replies will be billed as international transactions so be sure your friends and family are aware of this.
  • Your SIM will automatically be deactivated after 3 months if you do not add funds to it.

In Part 2, we explain how to add funds via Banco Nacional’s webpage. In the past it was possible to just visit the Kolbi webpage and pay with a credit card but that stopped working. Hopefully that functionality returns!

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