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Cell Phones

Last Updated: Dec 14, 2011

cell phone up close
 - Costa Rica

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) has been joined by other international companies, including Claro and Movistar, which provide cell phone service. ICE currently supports GSM and 3G technologies, while Claro and Movistar offer 3G service. Unlike in the U.S. and other countries, ICE only releases new cell phone lines several times per year; prepaid service is always available.

Both Claro and Movistar are new to Costa Rica, so they may have spotty coverage, especially in rural areas. Both companies have five-year concessions, and have announced plans to make phased expansions of their coverage areas during that time.

GSM

There are no plans or package deals for GSM cell service – each user pays for minutes used per month. Incoming calls are always free. With ICE’s Kolbi, there is a 12,500 CRC ($25) activation charge and basic account fees cost 3,277 CRC ($6.50) per month, including sales tax and 60 minutes of outgoing calls. Voicemail service, call waiting, call forwarding and conference calling are free. Caller ID costs an additional 250 CRC (50¢) monthly. Taxes are charged as a percentage of your bill, so the more you use, the more tax you will pay.

Minutes are billed at 33.90 CRC (6.7¢) per minute. Mobile messaging is extremely popular, and each text (SMS) or media (MMS) message (maximum: 160 characters) costs 1.70 CRC ($0.0033). Though in-country calls are inexpensive, international calling can really add up. Calls to the United States cost about $0.26 per minute. International cell phones may roam on ICE’s network, depending on the provider.

3G - Claro

Claro’s 3G plans range from $20-$100 per month, and include packaged minutes, SMS texts, and MMS messages. The rate is the same for minutes and messages in or out of the Claro network. International calls to the United States and Canada cost 34 CRC (6.7¢) per minute. Internet (256 kps-1.5 Mbps) may be added for 2.500 CRC -12,000 CRC ($5-$24).

Claro has special plans for smartphones, and announced its intention to sell the iPhone 4 beginning in early 2012.

Plan

Minutes

SMS

MMS

Cost

Claro 1

320

500

20

10,000 CRC

Claro 2

500

1000

40

15,000 CRC

Claro 3

700

1300

60

20,000 CRC

Claro 4

950

1500

80

25,000 CRC

Claro 5

2500

2000

100

50,000 CRC

3G - Kolbi

ICE’s 3G cellular service, billed under the Kolbi brand, has basic packages and phone packages available, but note that the latter can be expensive compared to purchasing a phone separately. There is a 12,500 CRC ($25) activation charge.

Incoming calls, voicemail service, call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID and conference calling are free. Minutes that exceed the selected plan are billed at 33.90 CRC (6.7¢) per minute for peak times (7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday-Friday) and 25.99 CRC (5.15¢) per off-peak minute. Mobile messaging, both text and media, in excess of the plan’s maximum cost 1.70 CRC ($0.0033) each.

Plan

Minutes

SMS

MMS

Internet

Rate

Kolbi Basic

60

30

--

Optional

3,277 CRC

Kolbi 150

150

350

10

Optional

6,485 CRC

Kolbi 250

250

500

15

Optional

9,647 CRC

Kolbi 500

500

1,500

25

Optional

17,874 CRC

Kolbi 750

750

1,500

30

Optional

24.423 CRC

Kolbi Executive 1000

1,000

500

30

Required

29,903 CRC +
Internet

3G - Movistar

There are five basic cell phone plans offered through Movistar, and each includes anytime minutes, minutes to a favorite Movistar number, and SMS texts. Minutes exceeding a plan’s package are billed at 25.99 CRC (5.1¢) to 33.90 CRC (6.7¢) per minute, depending on the time of day. Alternatively, extra package minutes may be added to any plan – 3,000 CRC purchases 150 additional minutes (20 CRC, or 3.9¢ per minute) – and are valid for one month.

Movistar also offers long distance plans ($5 for 25 minutes to the USA or Canada), BlackBerry plans, and high-speed Internet up to 1 Mbps. The company has announced that it will sell iPhone 4 plans, and estimates that this service will be ready by early 2012. Movistar offers reduced-cost cell phones to cell phone package clients.

Plan

Minutes

My Favorite Minutes

SMS

Cost

XS

60

60

60

3,250 CRC

S

250

150

500

9,000 CRC

M

500

300

1500

17,000 CRC

L

800

400

1500

24,000 CRC

XL

1500

500

1500

34,000 CRC

3G Prepaid

There are many prepaid cell phone options now available in Costa Rica, among them Claro, Kolbi and Movistar.

Kolbi has prepaid 3G service with both national and international SIM chips in several denominations: local service can be purchased in 2,500 CRC ($5), 5,000 CRC ($10) or 10,000 CRC ($20) increments, while an international chip to call the United States runs 11,400 CRC ($23). Within Costa Rica, daytime minutes cost 33.90 CRC (6.7¢) and nighttime/weekend minutes run 25.99 CRC (5.15¢). All Kolbi prepaid plans include voicemail, text messaging, call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID, and 911 service. Multimedia messaging (MMS) is an additional subscription service. Additionally, 3G Internet may be added to any prepaid plan; credit is discounted at a rate of $0.000027 per Kb downloaded.

When it’s time to recharge your minutes, there are two options: automatic payments or purchase additional minutes at authorized dealers. Automatic recharge is available at certain Servimas centers located in supermarkets and other commercial points. Recharge amounts begin at 50 CRC and minutes are credited immediately. The other option is to purchase scratch cards or electronic pins, which include a pin and password and are available at authorized dealers. Once you have obtained your pin and password, dial 150, choose option 1, and input your information to recharge your prepaid plan. You are required to recharge your prepaid plan within five days of credit expiration, or you will lose the line.

Claro’s prepaid cell phone service has an initial cost of 2,500 CRC ($5) to purchase a SIM card. Recharge amounts begin at 500 CRC, and can be bought via the company’s call center, online, or at one of the Claro hotspots located around the country.

Movistar has its own prepaid service for 28-34 CRC (5.5-6.7¢) per minute and 1.7 CRC (less than 1¢) per SMS or MMS. International SMS cost 85 CRC (16.8¢). The initial cost of a SIM card is under $5, but each card comes loaded with 2,500 CRC in credit.

iPhone 4

The Apple iPhone 4, available through ICE’s Kolbi brand, allows you to combine an 8GB, 16GB or 32GB iPhone 4 with different 3G service plans and term lengths. Claro and Movistar have also announced plans to sell iPhone 4s service plans beginning in 2012.

For an additional charge, the Kolbi iPhone 4 also offers international roaming, SMS and MMS, content and information services, and international calling. Video calling through FaceTime is available via WiFi connection, and is subject to a $0.17 fee each time you open the app.

As a current Kolbi customer you may upgrade to the Kolbi iPhone 4 plan and retain your cell phone number. If at any time you choose to cancel your 3G service, you will be required to pay a cancellation fee of $169-$809, depending on your selected plan and length of contract.

In order to purchase an iPhone 4 and a corresponding Kolbi plan, you must present current identification, proof of salary or income certification, and a signed document agreeing to automatic payments. Your proof of salary must be issued within 30 days of presentation and detail your net income, years worked (may not be fewer than six months), and show that you are free of liens or encumbrances.

If you do not want to commit to a Kolbi iPhone 4 contract, you can purchase an unlocked iPhone from the United States and bring it to Costa Rica. Though many customers report that unlocked phones work well on the Kolbi network, ICE does not guarantee or provide customer service for iPhones purchased abroad and affiliated with service plans other than Kolbi.

Plan

Minutes 

SMS

MMS

Internet

Rate

Kolbi iPhone 250 250 100 50 512 Kbps 16,435 CRC
Kolbi iPhone 500 500 200 100 1 Mbps 27,899 CRC
iKolbi iPhone 750 750 300 100 1.5 Mbps 39,278 CRC

* monthly plans do not include the cost of the iPhone 4

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