- 1 Basics
- 2 kölbi (by I.C.E.)
- 3 Movistar (soon: Tigo)
- 4 Claro
There are 3 network providers on the air in Costa Rica:
- I.C.E., with its prepaid product called kölbi (state owned)
- Movistar (sold by Telefónica to Millicon, possible rebrand to Tigo)
- Claro (Mexican owned by América Móvil)
The market has been dominated by the state-run ICE and its brand kölbi in the past until in 2011 the market was opened and competition by Movistar and Claro started. Kölbi is still the dominant provider with 1/2 of all users and the best coverage, but its competitors give better speeds in the population center of the Central Valley and some other areas now.
Since 2012 first MVNOs have been started but are all geared to subscribtions. The biggest of them called TuYo Móvil has shut down its services. Other MVNOs like Fullmóvil has announced to stop offering pre-paid services as of April 1st 2019.
According to OpenSignal's Country Report of Costa Rica in June 2018 kölbi has the fastest networks with average 16 Mbit/s on 4G/LTE, but Movistar tops 4G/LTE availability with 69% at a somewhat lower speed. Claro is very much in third position.
Nowadays, it's very easy to buy a prepaid SIM card for a foreigner. You only need to show your photo ID or passport. Since 2014, all SIM cards need to be registered with Sutel, the national regulator, not only the operator. When they don't register your prepaid SIM in store, go online to Sutel registration website (in Spanish only), register your SIM card and wait for some hours to be activated. If you want to maintain your SIM card for more than a year, Sutel will send you an email and you may need to reconfirm your registration after one year. Otherwise, your SIM card may be blocked.
kölbi (by I.C.E.)
The I.C.E. for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, is the state-run electricity and incumbent telco service provider. Their prepaid product is called kölbi. They used to have the monopoly until 2011 and are now down to 52% of all users in the country in 2017. 2G (to EDGE) on 1800 MHz, wide coverage, 3G (to HSDPA) in the populated areas on 850 MHz: 2G/3G/4G coverage map 4G/LTE has been rolled out this year as the first provider on 2600 MHz (band 7) mostly in the Central Valley but is gradually expanded to more towns.
They have a store at the San José airport (6am-10.30pm) which is convenient for arriving passengers and the employees mostly speak English: store locator
Their prepaid SIM card is called chip and costs 1,000 Colones. Their "Súper Chip" comes with a credit of 1,000 Colones and when you make a recharge of 500 Colones or more in the first 7 days, you get 150 MB internet for 3 days included.
Recharges can be made by vouchers called cards (tarjetas) of ¢500, ¢1000 valid for 30 days, ¢2500 valid for 45 days and ¢5000, 10000 Colones valid for 60 days or US$ 10 or 20 valid for 60 days, or electronically from 100 to 25,000 Colones at many agencies throughout the country. To top-up by voucher dial 8888 and select option 1 and enter PIN and CLAVE.
Data feature packages
The default rate for internet is 0.00858 Colones per KB (equal to ¢8.6 per MB) at speeds up to 3 Mbps on 3G and 20 Mbps on 4G/LTE. They offer these data packages called "Internet 4G prepago" on 2G, 3G and 4G:
|En Todas 1||24 hours||50 MB||40 MB||¢ 200||ET1|
|En Todas 3||3 days||200 MB||100 MB||¢ 600||ET3|
|En Todas Plus 5||5 days||300 MB||200 MB||¢ 1300||ETP5|
|En Todas Plus 10||10 days||500 MB||400 MB||¢ 2500||ETP10|
|En Todas y más||30 days||2 GB||¢ 4000||ETM|
To subscribe, simply text code to 8888. Every plan renews automatically. To unsubscribe text 'salir internet' to 8888. Overuse is charged with the default rate. The social plans include a quota for WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook, the Plus plans additionally for Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter.
- APN: kolbi3g
- Website in Spanish: http://kolbi.cr
Movistar (soon: Tigo)
Movistar by Spanish Telefónica is the 2nd network. 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G on 850 and 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE has started in San José on 1800 MHz (Band 3) and spread major towns in the provinces so far with a 70% coverage: Movistar coverage map. It has a market share of 26% in 2019.
In 2019 Telefónica sold its Central American networks to Millicom. So a possible rebrand to Tigo can be expected once the acquisition is closed.
The SIM costs 1,000 - 2,500 Colones in their own stores Shop Locator and a lot of sales outlets. To activate a SIM with a foreign passport, text 'ACTIVAR <space> Your Name <space> Your Passport No.' to 1693, or call 1693 during regular business hours and select option 9 when prompted.
Data feature packages
Default rate is 0.0086 Colones per KB (equal to ¢8.6 per MB). They offer the following packages on 2G, 3G (up to 2 Mbps) and 4G/LTE where available:
|Basico||30 MB||1 day||¢ 200|
|Día||200 MB||1 day||¢ 300|
|Diario||200 MB||Free||daily||¢ 300|
|2 días||200 MB||Free||2 days||¢ 600|
|4 días||450 MB||Free||4 days||¢ 1,200|
To subscribe USSD code *123#. - code no longer works, need App Mi Movistar movistar.cr/app that is only available in the Costa Rican app store hence not available for foreigners . Subscriptions via text messages work however.
The packages Diario and Nocturno auto-renew, the others don't. Overuse is charged by the default rate.
|Text to Number||Word||Effect|
|606||SALDO||shows your saldo|
|606||DIARIOBAJA||unsubscribe daily renewal|
|606||NOCTURNOBAJA||unsubscribe nightly renewal|
|606||MINUMERO||shows your number|
Movistar now has new monthly prepaid packages that include minutes as well as data called PrePlanes. The packages are the following:
|Package||Data||Time||Voice||SMS||Price||Text to 606 with word|
|PrePlan 7||650 MB||7 days||Free||20 mins||20||¢ 2,500||Plus7|
|PrePlan 7+||1 GB||7 days||Free||30 mins||30||¢ 3,200|
|PrePlan 15||1.4 GB||15 days||Free||45 mins||45||¢ 4,500|
|PrePlan 15+||2.3 GB||15 days||Free||70 mins||70||¢ 5,900|
WhatsApp consumptions are free and not taken from the general data balance. Activation is through the app or online. All plans auto-renew. To stop text 'BAJAPREPLAN' to 606. If you renew your PrePlan, unused allowances roll over to the next month. For more data you can add:
- 100 MB for 1 day: ¢ 500, activation: text 'EXTRAPP100' to 606
- 200 MB for 3 days: ¢ 950, activation: text 'EXTRAPP300' to 606
- 500 MB for 3 days: ¢ 2,300, activation: text 'EXTRAPP500' to 606
American roaming option
In 2015 Movistar started its "sin fronteras" (without borders) option for regional roaming in Central America. By activating *123# and option 3, you can surf on the Movistar networks of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama for the domestic Costa Rican rate.
In 2016 they added the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela where you can roam on Costa Rican packages for US$ 5 per day. Overuse is charged at high US$ 1 per MB.
- APN: internet.movistar.cr
- Website in Spanish: http://movistar.cr/
Claro is the latest arrival and 3rd network in the country. It has good coverage in the Central Valley, but can be quite patchy elsewhere. 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G (to HSDPA) on 2100 MHz in the centers only. 4G started on 1800 MHz (Band 3) in the Central Valley mostly: Claro Coverage Map (click on cobertura) and now has CA on 2100 MHz too. In 2019 it has around 21% of the country's users.
Claro charges you 1,000 - 2,500 Colones for the SIM they call Superpack. It's available in their stores Store Locator and other outlets. If you top up 1,000 Colones or more when you activate the card, they'll give you 50 MB data and 250 MB for Facebook, Snapchat, Waze, Pinterest, Instagram y WhatsApp valid for 3 days.
Data feature Packages
Default rate is 0.0086 Colones per KB (equal to ¢8.6 per MB). They have the following data bundles for their voice plans available:
|1 day||20 MB||¢ 100||*555# opt. 4|
|100 MB||¢ 300||*555# opt. 4|
|social media||¢ 500||*555# opt. 6|
|250 MB||social media||¢ 700||*555# opt. 6|
|50 MB||20 mins, 10 SMS||¢ 1000||*555# opt. 7|
|2 days||100 MB||25 mins, 30 SMS||¢ 1400||*555# opt. 7|
|175 MB||WA + FB||30 mins, 40 SMS||¢ 1700||*555# opt. 7|
|3 days||450 MB||social media||¢ 1000||*555# opt. 6|
|400 MB||¢ 1000 credit||¢ 1000||*555# opt. 5|
|1 GB||WA||¢ 2000||*555# opt. 4|
|5 days||600 MB||¢ 1500 credit||¢ 1500||*555# opt. 5|
|800 MB||social media||¢ 1800||*555# opt. 6|
|7 days||400 MB||WA, FB, TW||60 mins, 60 SMS||¢ 3500||*555# opt. 7|
|3 GB||WA||¢ 5500||*555# opt. 4|
|15 days||2 GB||¢ 4500 credit||¢ 4500||*555# opt. 5|
|700 MB||WA, FB, TW||120 min.,100 SMS||¢ 5400||*555# opt. 7|
|30 days||3.5 GB||¢ 8500 credit||¢ 8500||*555# opt. 5|
All packages will automatically renew if there is enough credit. To deactivate text FIN to 444. Overuse is charged at the default rate. Social Media are special packages or add-ons for Twitter, Gmail, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Waze and Snapchat.
Claro offers a data-only SIM for tablets and dongles. This can be loaded with these packages giving you data at a max. speed of 2 Mbps on 3G:
- Light = 1 GB for 24 hours: ¢ 750
- Plus = 3 GB for 7 days: ¢ 4,900
- Pro = 5 GB for 15 days: ¢ 9,000
- Full = 10 GB for 30 days: ¢ 17,500
For activation text the Spanish name for the package to 555. These packages don't renew for a change.
- APN: internet.ideasclaro
- Website in Spanish: http://www.claro.cr/
TuYo móvil was one of the first MVNOs as a joint venture between the biggest TV broadcaster called Teletica and ICE using the network of ICE (kölbi) in 2G and 3G.
It is closing activities on 15 January 2019. The operator’s customer base has fallen drastically in recent years, from 96,000 at the end of 2013 to barely 4,000 at the end of 2017.
- APN: tm7datos
- Website in Spanish: http://www.tuyomovil.com/