It’s said that the biggest fear one has it that of public peaking. For me, my biggest fear is not having cellular service, and not being able to connect while on the go.

So, how does one connect while in Costa Rica

Some quick tips to staying connected while on the go:
The international calling code/country code for Costa Rica is 506. A postage stamp to Europe is 125 Colones (around 21 US cents). The primary means of outside contact are through email and public pay telephones.

smart phones photo

Photo by The U.S. Army

Internet cafes are fairly easy to find in tourist areas, with prices all over the place. Some of these offer long distance calls over the internet. Public phones are accessed with calling cards (tarjetas telefonicas) which can be purchased at most shops, even in outlying areas. There are four different types of pay-phones: Coin phones (very rare).

Note that these only accept the older silver-colored coins. Chip phones. These phones allow you to insert a chip-type calling card into them and make your calls. Colibri phones. These phones have a small swipe bar for a scratch off type calling card referred to as a Colibri calling card which are available from 500 colones and up. The swipes often don’t work–you always have to enter the calling card access code on the keypad. Despite this, the Colibri calling card is the recommended one to buy as you can use it any of the types of phones whereas with a chip card you must search for a chip phone. Multipago (multi-pay) phones.

These phones accept coins, chip cards and colibri cards. Most public phones around the country have been changed for this type of phones. They also allow you to send SMS messages and emails as well. Both types of calling cards are typically available in pharmacies and other locations where you see the sticker on the door. Domestic calls are quite cheap and the price is the same wherever you call. Calls to cellular phones are charged significantly more though. International calls are fairly expensive.

The cheapest way to make them is over the internet using a service such as Skype at an Internet café. But making short calls using the domestic calling cards (you can make international calls using these but the denominations of the calling cards are quite small so your call will be short!) or the international calling cards available within Costa Rica is the next best deal. Certainly better than cr card calls or using a US calling card generally. Cell service in Costa Rica is provided using GSM technology at 1800 MHz and 3G data operating at 850MHz. Note that the GSM phone systems in the United States and Canada use different frequencies and that travelers from there will need a “world” handset, such as a tri-band or quad-band phone, if you want to use your existing cell phone.

internet cafe photo

Photo by Rachel Strohm

Most of the country has very good GSM coverage (including most of the capital). Roaming is possible with a GSM handset (i.e. using your regular cell number that you use in your home country) but can be extremely expensive. If you want to use a local Costa Rica number, you can rent cell phone service, and of course anyone can buy a cell phone. You used to have to be a documented resident of the Costa Rica to own your own cell phone number, and even then you only got one if there are numbers available. You still have to be a resident if you want monthly billed service to an address (such as in the U.S.).

But since the passage of the CAFTA treaty in 2009, the government cell phone monopoly has been broken and service is now provided by many operators, including Grupo ICE under the Kölbi brand, TuYo Movil (reselling the ICE service), Movistar and Claro (the latter two also providing service throughout Latin America). Currently coverage on Kölbi is best because the network is the oldest and most built out (e.g. there is no Movistar service in Monteverde). If you have an unlocked cell phone (either one from home or bought in Costa Rica — all cell phones sold in Costa Rica must be unlocked), prepaid (prepago) SIM cards can provide a local number and service can be purchased throughout the country by anyone with a passport from any country, or a cedula (Costa Rican ID card).

At the baggage claim at the San José airport is a Kölbi kiosk, and you will also see signs Kölbi, Movistar, Claro, and others throughout the country where service is for sale. Rates are set by the government and you can get a SIM for as little as ¢2500 (about $5) and 3G (or sometimes just EDGE) data service is also available by the day, week, or month for ¢300 or less a day. To add value you buy a recarga (recharge card), scratch off the card to get a PIN, and text the PIN from your phone to a special number.

To keep the card active, it must be recharged at least once in a 120 day period. If it is not charged within a 120 days, you have a 30 day grace period before your SIM chip is deactivated and you lose your phone number. Also keep in mind that you may have trouble getting your SIM activated on Sunday, because like many things in Costa Rica, the SIM activation system may be shut down on Sundays. Also not all shops sell SIMs — many just sell the recharge cards. Get your SIM at the airport if you can. Most tourist areas (hotels, coffee shops, bars, restaurants) have Wi-fi access for free. Just ask someone for the password. You can bring your smart phone loaded with skype or google phone and make calls to your home country. It is an easy way to stay connected with email and social media.

Other tips on staying connected while in Costa Rica? Please add your comments and tips.