Amazing flora and fauna, wildlife, unspoiled beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, and uncountable national parks are waiting for you when you travel to Costa Rica. This is a complete guide for buying a sim card for Costa Rica with everything you need to get connected. Find out where to buy a sim card for Costa Rica, up to date prices as per October 2023, the best e-sim cards for Costa Rica, the best 4G/5G network, my recommendation, information about international sim cards and more.
Getting connected is thee first thing I do when arriving in a new country. That means buying a local prepaid sim card, but more and more often I use e-sim card because of its convenience of ordering online. Everywhere I go I write sim card guides and ss I am also aiming to visit every country in the world you can already find more than 200 sim card guides from all over the world on Traveltomtom: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Europe, Canada, USA, even Hong Kong, Thailand, South Africa, London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Bogota, Panama, Brazil, Bali and many more.
So when planning your next adventure abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid and e-sim card advice for your holiday destination. Bookmark this website!
Why buying a sim card for 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 it is fairly cheap. Buying a local prepaid sim card in Costa Rica is simple, but even easier is getting a sim card for Costa Rica on the internet before your trip. There are international as well as e-sim cards available online.
It takes just a couple minutes and will cost you significantly less compared to international roaming plans. Some tourists disregard the importance of buying a sim card to stay connected abroad and one month later they get slapped with a massive phone bill. We’re here to help you save money on high roaming charges.
A short list of benefits why it is convenient to stay connected when traveling to Costa Rica:
- Use GPS for directions (Google Maps)
- Use taxi apps to get around safely (Uber)
- Traveling planning while on the go
- Kill time on long bus rides
Also don’t rely on public WiFi. Most places like restaurants and hotels have public WiFi, but there is no guarantee it is working nor that it is fast enough to upload a photo or video. Plus, keep in mind that roaming the internet on public WiFi is through an UNSECURED network. The use of a VPN is very much 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.
Another great alternative is an international sim card for world travelers. These pre-activated travel sim cards will be shipped to your home address before your trip. Arrive prepared in Costa Rica, check out my comparison of the best international travel sim cards in 2023 and pick the one that suits your trip the best.
However, the easiest way to get connected when traveling to Costa Rica in 2023 is an e-sim card.
Before ordering an international sim card, buying an e-sim card for Costa Rica or a local prepaid sim card, make sure your phone is unlocked. Foreign sim cards only work in unlocked phones. If you are unsure about this ask your mobile internet provider in your home country if your phone is unlocked.
Best e-sim cards for Costa Rica
None of the mobile internet providers in Costa Rica are offering e-sim cards for tourists, only physical prepaid sim cards. That means you can not buy an e-sim card in Costa Rica, but only on the internet. Luckily there are several options.
You order directly online, receive a QR code in your email, scan the code, follow the instruction, apply the settings and you are all set.
Check out the following Costa Rica e-sim card plans from Airalo:
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $9 USD
- 2 GB data for 15 days = $17 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $22 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $31 USD
Click here to directly order a Costa Rica e-sim card from Airalo.
The above data-only e-sim cards for Costa Rica are from HOT Telecom and they operate on the 4G/LTE networks of Claro and Kolbi in Costa Rica. Incoming and outgoing phone calls are not supported.
There are also international e-sim cards that are valid in up to 130 countries, including Costa Rica. These are also data-only e-sim cards, but they come with a phone number so you can receive calls and sms, but outgoing calls/sms are not supported.
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $24.90 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $34.90 USD
- 6 GB data for 15 days = $39.90 USD
Click here to directly order an international e-sim card for Costa Rica or find more info.
Nomad is another e-sim card provider. They offer Costa Rica e-sim cards through Thruphone, a global mobile internet operators.
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $25 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $40 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $45 USD
Click here to order a Costa Rica e-sim card through Nomad.
With an e-sim card you keep your own phone number, but very important is that you make sure that your phone is unlocked and e-sim compatible before you order an e-sim card, because otherwise an e-sim card won't work on your phone.
Mobile internet operators in Costa Rica
The 3 main mobile internet providers in Costa Rica are: Kolbi, Liberty and Claro. Liberty took over Movistar, which is not operating anymore in Costa Rica. All mobile internet operators in Costa Rica sell prepaid sim cards for tourists.
Prices for prepaid sim cards are more or less the same, but there is definitely some difference in the network strength and the 4G/5G coverage. 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.
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.
Prices Costa Rica prepaid sim card in 2023
Let’s compare the mobile internet operators in Costa Rice based on their network coverage, packages and prices for prepaid sim cards. The below information and prices are updated as per October 2023. Prices are in Costa Rica Colon: 1,000 CRC = $1.87 USD and $1 USD = 534 CRC.
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 with data.
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
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 we were hoping for, 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!
For more info check out the Kolbi website. 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 ($9 USD) total for unlimited Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook + 1 GB for internet and other apps.
After Kolbi, Liberty is the second-largest mobile internet provider in Costa Rica. Liberty prepaid sim cards cost 1,500 CRC and you can choose from one of the following prepaid sim card plans:
- 1 GB data for 24 hours = 700 CRC - $1.3 USD
- 1.2 GB data + 20 minutes for 7 days = 1,250 CRC - $2.3 USD
- 1 GB data + 15 minutes for 6 days = 2,000 CRC - $3.7 USD
All data plans include free social media. Check the Liberty website for more info.
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 the Claro Costa Rica website for more info.
Best 4G/5G network in Costa Rica in 2023
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 of the mobile internet providers in Costa Rica.
Is there 5G in Cost Rica?
No. Unfortunately there is still no 5G available in Costa Rica as per October 2023. However, plans to launch the 5G network are underway. The deployment got delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The 5G standard will most likely be available in Costa Rica towards the end of 2023. That said they started rolling out 5G in some central areas in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
4G/5G coverage map Claro Costa Rica
4G/5G coverage map Liberty Costa Rica
4G/5G coverage map Kolbi Costa Rica
From the above mobile internet coverage maps for Costa Rica we can clearly see that Claro has the weakest mobile internet network in Costa Rica. Kolbi and Liberty are competing for the best mobile data network, but when we look closely we can see that the 4G+ network from Liberty is much better compared to Kolbi and therefore it is an easy conclusion that Liberty has the best 4G/5G network in Costa Rica in 2023.
Based on the network coverage I would say that Liberty is the best prepaid sim card for traveling in Costa Rica in 2023.
Best sim card for Costa Rica in 2023
Prices for most prepaid sim cards packages are more or less the same in Costa Rica. All mobile internet providers offer free social media apps included in their prepaid sim card plans. Data packages are rather small, but compared to e-sim cards and international prepaid sim cards for Costa Rica, the local prepaid sim cards are cheaper and give better value.
Also, all the Costa Rica e-sim cards you can buy in the internet are data-only sim cards and local calls and sms are not supported.
We can conclude that Kolbi is slightly more expensive than Liberty and since Liberty also has the best mobile network coverage in Costa Rica and therefore Liberty is the best prepaid sim card for traveling in Costa Rica in 2023.
Buying a sim card in Costa Rica is easy, but it takes time and you may feel like your a wasting your precious holiday time. Therefore there is the convenience of getting connected before even arriving in Costa Rica. E-sim cards are a great solution, but if your phone is not e-sim card compatible you have to look into buying a prepaid international sim card for traveling to Costa Rica.
Order a sim card for Costa Rica online
If you want the convenience of ordering a sim card for Costa Rica online and get it delivered to your home address then check out the following deals:
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $24.90 USD
- 5 GB data for 14 days = $49.90 USD
- 12 GB data for 1 year = $59.90 USD
- 24 GB data for 2 years = $79.90 USD
After you order online, this prepaid sim card will be send to your home address and it automatically activates from the first time it connects to a supported network. Plug and Play on arrival in Costa Rica.
Or when your phone is e-sim compatible get yourself an e-sim card for Costa Rica. Click on the link for more info.
My experiences buying a prepaid sim card in Costa Rica
During my visit to Costa Rica, I got a Kolbi sim card and it worked fine. On the airport in San Jose when I arrived I could unfortunately not buy a Liberty sim card, because it was closed and only Kolbi was open, the second best sim card for Costa Rica.
It was easy to check my balance with a Kolbi sim card through calling *888#. You can also send a text with the word SALDO to 8888 after which you 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 from a supermarket, convenience store or phone shop. Most of the times I gave the staff cash and my phone number and they did it for me. Including activating the data package.
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. Next time when visiting Costa Rica I will buy a Liberty sim card, as it supposed to have faster data speed and better network coverage. Let's see.
What was your cell phone experience like in Costa Rica? Feel free to share it all with us in the comment section below. Regardless of whether it was smooth or disastrous.
I hope some of the above tips for buying a prepaid sim card for Costa Rica were helpful. IF you have any more questions please leave me a comment below or reach out to me on social media.
Curious what it looks like trying to visit every country in the world? Go check out my Instagram account @traveltomtom and follow along. As of October 2023 I have visited more than 155 countries, so still a long way to go.
Enjoy your trip to Costa Rica!