If you plan to travel to Costa Rica and stay for an extended time, you should consider having a local cellphone and installing Whatsapp.
Whatsapp is the most popular app in Costa Rica. According to a study by El Financiero, 97% of people that live in Costa Rica, have it installed on their smartphones. It is among the top free apps, along with Waze and Google Maps, that we recommend installing before you arrive in Costa Rica.
Since 97% of Costa Ricans have it installed, you can assume that any cell phone number (which begins with a 6, 7, or 8) can receive messages that way.
It such an important part of daily life in Costa Rica that the local cellphone carriers offer free data for Whatsapp in order to attract new customers.
Unlike traditional phone calls and text messages, Whatsapp isn’t complicated by national boundaries. When you have it on your phone in Costa Rica, not only can you communicate for free with local friends and businesses, you can also keep in touch with loved ones back home without the expense of an international plan.
Having a Local Cell Phone in Costa Rica for Whatsapp
To take advantage of such an offer, you will need to either:
bring an unlocked GSM smartphone
buy one when you arrive
Once you arrive, you can establish and a prepaid account and buy a SIM card from one of the local cellphone service providers.
In order to establish the prepaid line, you will need to show your passport and pay for the initial service. This can be as little as $5.
Once your service is established, you will have a local phone number.
Which Costa Rican Cellphone Carrier to Choose
Ten years ago there was only one choice in Costa Rica for cell service. It was the state-owned ICE, which is also the national electricity utility.
Since then, the market has been deregulated and competition has changed the competitive landscape.
There are three mass-market carriers. They are:
Kolbi, which is the service offered by the state-owned ICE
The company, OpenSignal analyses cell phone data performance. In their most recent report on Costa Rica, Kolbi has overtaken MoviStar as the best performing carrier. It offers the best 4G and 3G download speeds, twice as fast as the others.
Additionally, according to nPerf, Kolbi has the best overall geographic coverage of the three providers.
Getting a prepaid line and SIM card from Kolbi is super easy.
If you are arriving at the San Jose airport, look for the Kolbi kiosk in the baggage claim area. If you see the car rental area then you have gone too far. The Kolbi kiosk in the airport is no longer there. There is a Kolbi store less than ten minutes from the airport, inside of City Mall Alajuela.