Help! I Don’t Have a Cell Phone Yet!

WILL MY PHONE FROM HOME WORK?

An unlocked AT&T, Bell Mobility, Telcel, Telus, Rogers, or TIGO 3G phone from the States will probably work since ICE in CR uses 850Mhz for 3G. Unlike in the US, though, ICE’s GSM is 1800Mhz. An unlocked tri- or quad-band phone should still work, though. Note that most Verizon phones won't work in Costa Rica because they do not accept SIM cards. Movistar uses 850Mhz, 1800Mhz, and 2100Mhz and Claro uses 1800Mhz and 2100Mhz, although I don’t know which are for GSM and which are for 3G. Look up your phone online to make sure it supports Costa Rican frequencies.

GSM OR 3G?
GSM phones are cheaper, but the coverage isn’t as good and they’re harder to use for internet access. The price for calls and texts is the same on both phones. I’d only recommend buying a GSM phone if you’re sure it will work well in your site.

WHERE CAN I BUY A PHONE?
Cell phone prices change rapidly, so the information here may be outdated. As a rule of thumb, cell phones are most expensive in large stores like Gollo and Importadora Monge. They are cheapest in San José, at small stores, when you bargain, when you buy several at once, or when you buy them directly from ICE. Volunteers have had good luck in the past at GloboCel in San José (Av. 4 frente a Condominio Las Américas en la parte de atrás, 2258-9694) and Mall San Pedro.
As of April 2011, the cheapest GSM phones cost about ¢25,000 and the cheapest 3G phones about ¢55,000. Choosing a less prestigious brand, like Huawei, may save you a little bit more. Many volunteers looking for a 3G phone have chosen the Nokia 2730 or C2-01.

WHICH NETWORK?

Costa Rica has three cell phone carriers: ICE/Kolbi, Movistar, and Claro. As of November 2011, most volunteers use the state-owned ICE. Coverage in rural areas may be limited on the other carriers which have recently entered the country and are still building their networks. You can check coverage maps on www.grupoice.com, www.claro.cr, and www.movistar.cr.
It is highly highly recommended that you use a pre-pago plan on Kolbi (which has the best San José coverage) until you get your site assignment and determine which carrier is best in your site.
At the moment, all three carriers charge the maximum prices allowed by SUTEL--¢34 a minute to make a daytime[1] call and ¢1.7 to send a text message (receiving either is free). All three carriers also offer monthly plans beginning at ¢3,250 (Movistar and ICE) and ¢10,000 (Claro), and all offer discounts on phones when you sign up for a plan. All have similar internet prices, although Movistar and Claro claim to offer 1.5Mbps which ICE offers only 1 Mbps.[2] In the end, though, the most important factor in choosing a carrier is probably the coverage where you live.

¿PREPAGO O POSTPAGO?
It is highly highly recommended that you use a pre-pago plan on Kolbi (which has the best San José coverage) until you get your site assignment and determine which carrier is best in your site.
Pre-Prepago is a pre-as-you-use service; you pay per KB used. If you don’t use the internet a lot, this is the way to go: decent speeds, you can cancel anytime (just stop paying for more). Most volunteers get pre-paid SIM cards. Instead of paying a monthly bill, you recharge your phone by buying additional minutes just about anywhere. You might get cut off if you run out in the middle of a call, but prepago is nice because there’s no commitment or minimum fee, and you can’t accidently go over budget. You need a passport to purchase a Pre-Pago SIM/line.
Post-Pago is a pay-by-the-month service; generally you have 45 days after the bill to pay it. Great if you use the internet a lot, unlimited use with variable speeds. You can either buy a plan/SIM meant for a phone (and connect it via cable or switch the SIM into an external llave) or buy a plan/SIM specifically for an external llave (however these generally are yearly, not monthly, contracts that can only be purchased/modifying by a Tico). You need a cedula to buy most post-pago lines.

RECHARGING

You can recharge a prepago line at phone stores, with scratch cards sold at pulperías, anywhere you see a sign for “recarga de celulares,” online with a credit card (Masterpago.com, Multipagoscr.com) or through your Peace Corps bank account (see the BN Payments article).

CABLES & CONNECTING

Two Options:
  • Use a USB cable and computer program to connect to the internet with your cell phone (for Nokias you can get instructions here)
  • Buy an external 3G modem (“datacard”/“llave”) and use a SIM (about ₡30,000)

LEAVING THE COUNTRY

If you want to cancel your phone line when you leave the country, you can call 1193, press 2, and tell them to cut it off. Otherwise, the number might remain registered in your name and passport number. You can also retire your line personally at an ICE office. See more info from ICE.


[1] Between 5AM and 1AM. Nightime calls cost ¢28.
[2] All prices checked on November 25, 2011. ICE says there prices are good through December 31, 2011.