Phones and Cell Phones

Phone Service in Costa Rica ranks among the best in Central America. This could be because service is provided solely by the government controlled monopoly for telecommunications known as ICE. Despite occasional glitches in ICE’s service, Costa Rica has one of the most efficient telephone systems in Latin America. This is a major reason many of the multinational corporations have branch offices here in Costa Rica. Strong service has also made Costa Rica home to call centers and sportsbooks.


Land lines are usually very good. As for cell phones, reception is generally good in most parts of the Central Valley and most developed beach areas and towns. Depending on the cell phone and technology one could have better signal than someone right next door.

ICE has public services over a fourth of the population and cell phone service for even more. In total about 80% of the population has access to phone services. There are over 1.5 million landlines in a population of around 4 million.

In the average family almost everyone over the age of 13 has a cell phone. Rates are based on call times and number of texts only. There are no by monthly plans so far. Therefore, if someone hardly uses their phone the bill can be as low as $7 a month. Incoming calls are free for the receiver. Even if someone uses their phone frequently and make a few international calls per month, their bill should not go much over $50.

How to Obtain a Phone Line

To solicit a line, sometimes there is a waitlist and people have to wait for the company to call them or announe which humbers are up. This process sometimes can take months so patience is required.

To request a line, one will need to go to the nearest ICE office. One must present proof of where they reside in Costa Rica, identification, and pay a 12,500 colones deposit. They will also need to prove that they bought their cell phone in Costa Rica or internationally to get it activated so they will need the receipt. This is a precaution to make sure ICE is not hooking up stolen cell phones.

If someone brings a cell phone from outside Costa Rica, it will need to be UNLOCKED and be compatible for GSM 1800. These types of unlocked phones can be found on Ebay or Amazon.

Currently, foreigners cannot technically own phone lines, but if a person owns a corporation the corporation can have up to 3 phone lines and nationals or residents are allowed 2 lines per person.

Renting a Cell Phone

Because it is difficult for non-residents to obtain a cell phone line, the logical solution is to rent a line.

How to Pay your Phone Bill

In order to pay your cell phone bill you can do this online from your bank account, at the bank, at most supermarlets, and other authorized places. Only outgoing calls and text messages are charged to your bill.

The best part is that the phone company will send you a text message to your cell phone a few days before your bill is due telling you the due date and the amount.For landlines a paper bill is sent to your residence.

If you do not pay your phone bill for 3 months they will cut off your service, retain your deposit, and begin a lawsuit against you which can place in danger any personal property that you own such as a vehicle or a lot despite the insignificance of the amount.

Phone Cards

One can buy a phone card at just about any corner shop, grocery store, or pharmacy. They come in a variety of denominations and are used to make calls from public phones or private lines without using the minutes from the phone. For local calls use the Colibri 197 card that is sold in denominations of 500 colones or 1000. For international calling card ask or purchase the Viajero card that dials 199. These are sold in denominations of 3,000, 5,000, and 10,000 colones.

Special Numbers and EMERGENCY Dialing

Since March of 2008, all phone numbers are now 8 digits. Land lines added an additional 2 in front and cell phones and 8.

Emergency calls are made in Costa Rica by dialing 911 the same as in North America. For the fire department you dial 118 and for the highway police 117, and for the Civil guard 127, and for an ambulance at Cruz Roja 128.

Collect calls within Costa Rica are made by dialing 110 and then following the simple instructions in Spanish. For directory assistance to find a number dial 113 and know the name and the location more or less of what is desired. To report a problem with a phone dial 119.

International Dialing

To reach an AT&T international operator dial 080001144114, Verizon or MCI is 08000122222, Sprint 08000130123, and Canada Bell is 08000151162 with these numbers on a pay phone no coins are needed.

To make an international call to the US or Canada simply dial 001, then the area code, then the local number. To call Costa Rica from the US or Canada you simply dial 011, then the country code which is 506, and then the eight digit telephone number (there are no local area codes in Costa Rica).

To make a collect call from a payphone internationally just dial 09 and then the international access code.

To avoid international calling charges many people national and foreign have switched to using Voice over IP (VOIP) services such as Skype or MSN Messenger on their computers. These services are free for computer to computer communication and are one of the easiest and most affordable ways to communicate. Plus usually they have a video feature so one can see the person they are talking to.

Pay Phones

Pay phones scattered all over the country and even in small towns one can spot quite a few. Many of these pay phones used to be coin operated but now almost no pay phone in Costa Rica operates using coins. For this reason people have to buy a national calling card known as the Colibri 197 to use these phones.

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