Using Your Cell Phone in Costa Rica
Plans differ, depending on the provider. Some people get a $10/day plan for unlimited call & text, and some buy a burner phone here where you can purchase minutes.
The four cell phone carriers in Costa Rica are Kolbi (state-owned), Movistar, Claro and TuYo (all private companies). You can buy a low-end phone from any of these carriers for around $25, then buy a prepaid SIM card for texting, calling and internet use. Often a 5000-colon (US$9) prepaid SIM is sufficient for your average vacation, as long as you don’t make many international calls.
A new phone with a Costa Rican SIM card and phone number capable of texting and limited internet capabilities with a 30 day talk and data plan is just under $30 from the Kolbi kiosk in the Cariari mall east of the San Jose International Airport.
If you have an Unlocked Phone:
If you have an unlocked Quad-band phone you can buy a local Costa Rican phone number on a prepaid SIM card, insert it in your phone, enter the PIN (on the card holder or receipt) and dial away.
The easiest place to get a prepaid phone or SIM for your unlocked phone is in the airport. At the time of writing you had to pay in colones and cash only so you may need the airport ATM. You also need your passport to register the phone number of your new SIM card.
If you have a Locked Phone:
If you want to bring your own locked cell phone from the US and use it in Costa Rica, here’s what you need:
A cell phone that operates under (or can be switched to) DSM mode.
A Samsung Galaxy S4 cell phone, for example, can operate as either a CDMA phone (the mode used on Sprint in the US, with a Sprint account) or GSM (the mode you should switch to in Costa Rica). Once you land at the airport, you can switch to GSM mode (settings/connections/more networks/ mobile networks/network mode/chose “GSM”).*
Odds are pretty good they’ll speak English but it would be polite to try “Quiero comprar un teléfono y un SIM prepago por favor” or “Quiero comprar un SIM prepago por favor”
In the San Jose International Airport, across from the baggage claim carousels, is a blue counter with a sign that says Kolbi/ICE.