Communication in Costa Rica

I see all sorts of questions from people that are either going to visit Costa Rica or are testing the waters looking for living options about what to do about a cell phone.  There are a number of options just like in the US and Canada and Europe.  But there just aren’t as many and it really comes down to one word “lifestyle”.  I guess that seems to encompass many options in choosing where to live or how to live.  What is your expected “lifestyle choice” for a phone.

I will attempt to stay off my high horse here and simply state that I came here to simplify my life.  Yes, I was in sales in the US and I NEEDED to have the latest Android on the best service system in West Michigan, Verizon.  Does that phone work in Costa Rica?  NOPE.  It worked in Belize but only as a phone and as a WiFi Hotspot because data was limited there while I was there.  And it was costly.  What did I do when I got here?  I happily went to cell phone store in Perez Zeledon and walked up to the counter and asked to buy a simple phone.  It was $30 and made by Motorola.  The guy pulled it out of the box, activated and got me a number, then I bought $20 worth of minutes and by the time I walked out with tax it was just about $60.  And I was off and running.  I can call and text although it is the old fashioned way of texting.  But it is bilingual.  I can change back and forth depending on who I am texting to.  But I don’t text much here.  It is only a Costa Rica phone although I can make and receive calls from outside the US, I choose not to.  Too expensive.

So, the $20 lasted me forever at first.  Few people to talk to.  Now I just buy cards at any store, restaurant, gas station, kid on the street, pulperia or hardware store.  Really, you can get them anywhere you see a Kolbi or Movistar logo depending on what your phone is.  A 1000 colone card ($2) gets you 29 minutes of talk time.  And, incoming calls are free.  If I make a call, I try and make it a fairly quick one if possible.  Sometimes it lasts me 5 days… other times up to 9.  Yep, my “plan” costs me about $10 a month.

What about data?  Ok, so I still (sometimes) carry around my Samsung from the US as a wifi receiver if I know I am going somewhere that I am going to want to get on the internet.  Or you can carry a tablet or laptop or whatever you want.  OR, you can get a smart phone here, too.  The chef at our restaurant just upgraded from his dumb phone to a sleek new Samsung smart phone and he decided to go on a plan.  A lot of expats and locals choose this option but as I said before, I came to simplify a bit.  At the house I am fully reachable with a laptop, my Samsung phone, my tablet and the good old fashioned phone.  But when I am out and about, I can take a break from Facebook and enjoy what I am doing completely untethered.  

Off my high horse and back to the plans.  My friend just got this nice little Samsung.  He pays 10,000 colones ($20) per month and that gives him 60 minutes of outgoing calls, 300 texts and unlimited internet for the month.  Not terrible.  But, he has a contract for 2 years.  The phone was free of course.  As for me, I left Verizon happily to no longer be “under contract” to a cell phone provider.

My little trick is to have a Vonage app on my phone so I can call the US.  Yes, a Vonage line has a $20 cost and if you hook it up to a land line you get charged for that.  But, if you have internet and any type of device, you can use the app to make unlimited calls in and out of the US and Canada.  It is a simple download and you are up and running in minutes.  If your number back home is no longer tied to a contract, you can even convert your old home or cell number for free.  That’s right, no need to get a new number.

Of course Skype is a great option as well.  And there are other services like Viber for people that have the same app it is free as well.  Google Hangouts is another version but the other person has to be on Google Hangouts for it to work.

Preferably I just like my simple system.  Simple phone.  Add minutes as needed and no contract.  Pizza, restaurant and cabina rental clients can call me all they want.  As well as friends.  I can call home to my kids with my Vonage app and Skype and I am a happy camper.  If I go out, I can pull off wifi at a lot of restaurants and gathering spots.  You come to Costa Rica to not HAVE to be glued to your phone at every waking minute.  I say this as I am glued to my computer writing this from my high horse to you about being less connected.  GRRRRR….  More later.

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