Until mid 2011, Kolbi was the the only cellphone operator in Costa Rica.TuYo Movil was the first private operator to offer services in Costa Rica. TuYo Movil was quickly followed by Claro and Movistar by the end of the year. All cellphones sold by operators in Costa Rica must be unlocked, and must be certified by SUTEL. SUTEL also sets the maximum rates that can be charged for various services, and requires that the operators disclose all their charges for service. While SUTEL regulates the maximum rates, there is still a lot of competition between operators. Besides rates, you need to consider the operators coverage area, data speed rates for 3G connections, and contract conditions.
The following types of accounts are available:
- Prepago (prepaid) is available to anyone with a passport or Cédula. You can purchase only the SIM card, or a kit consisting of both the phone and a SIM chip. Changing operators is just a matter of buying a SIM chip from the new operator. At this time, you cannot transfer your phone number to the new operator. SUTEL is in the process of defining the requirements and finding an operator to manage switching your phone number to another operator. This feature should be available by the end of 2012, or early 2013. When you purchase the SIM chip, you also prepay, in colones, for use of the operators network. You can recharge the SIM chip by either purchasing a scratchcard (tarjeta raspable, or tarjeta telephono) for a designated amount, having an authorized agent add a specified amount to the SIM chip, via the Internet, or through on-line banking. To keep the card active, it must be recharged at least once in a 120 day period. If it is not charged within a 120 days, you have a 30 day grace period before your SIM chip is deactivated. Depending on the operator, the amount of the recharge can be as little as 50 colones (about 10 cents US).
- Postpago (billed) account is available only to legal residents of Costa Rica that can prove they have a billable address. This means that you must have a Cédula, or document that proves your legal status. The operator may also ask for proof of income. Postpago account may have access to services that are not available to prepago accounts. The billable rate for a postpago account can include the phone as part of the billable service. Before agreeing to a postpago account, you should read the contract, which is in Spanish. TuYo Movil and Full Movil do not offer postpago accounts.
In addition to voice and SMS service, operators also offer the following services:
- Data (3G Internet) is an optional service that an authorized agent must activate on your SIM chip. In Costa Rica, you pay for the data rate, and not the volume of data. For prepago accounts the data fee is deducted from the available charge on the SIM chip. By sending a text message a special number of the operator, you select that data rate, and the amount of time that you wish to purchase. For postpago accounts, you select the monthly data rate at the time of purchasing the contract. Postpago accounts may offer higher data rates than prepago accounts.
- International calls and SMS messages rates varying greatly between operators. However, the rates are normally cheaper than phone cards, but not as cheap as using a VOIP service, such as Skype.
- International roaming depends on the countries for which the operator offers roaming services. The rates are usually very expensive, and maritime calls are usually priced separately. There are so many differences between operators that this topic will not be covered in this article.
While not perfect, cellphone coverage maps provide you some idea of service availability for the area in which you live, work, and places to which you travel. The maps separate between 2G and 3G (sometimes referred to as 3.5G when the operator provides HSDPA, or HSPA+) coverage.
- Without question, Kolbi has the best coverage for both 2G and 3.5G according to their coverage map. The coverage area for 3.5G is greater than for 2G.
- Movistar has greatly expanded their coverage. You should get excellent coverage in the Central Valley, Guanacasta, and along all major highways. There is still no coverage for the northeastern costal area.
- Claro coverage is just about the same as Movistar.
- TuYo Movil is a virtual mobile network operator that uses the Kolbi network. However, there coverage is less that that of the Kolbi network as indicated by their 2G and 3G coverage maps.
- Full Movil links their coverate map to the Kolbi coverage map. Full Movil is also a virtual mobile network operator. Full Movil does state this relationship in their FAQ.
Prepago Rate Comparison
All the rate comparison tables shown below are for standard rates, and do not include promotions. It is always best to choose a service without regard to promotions. Once the promotion ends, you are going to be paying the standard rates.
(5am to 1am)
(1am to 5am)
|Kolbi||34 colones||34 colones||1.7 colones||$0.08|
|Claro||34 colones||34 colones||1.7 colones||65 colones|
|Until December 31, 2012, Claro overs a special plan. When you activate your chip for 2,500 colones, you get unlimited calls to a Claro number, 5 days of free Internet, and 100 free text messages. After that you just need to renew for 2,000 colones a month to receive the same benefts. For each additional text message beyond the free messages, you are charged 1.7 colones.|
|Movistar||34 colones||28 colones||1.7 colones||85 colones|
|TuYo Movil||40 colones||29 colones||1.7 colones|
|Full Movil||34 colones*||28 colones||1.7 colones||$0.17|
* Full Movil to Full Movil is 17 colones per minute for a voice call from 5 am to midnight, and 17 colones per minute from midnight to 5 am.
International call rates are generally based on the MIDA groups and fees for that group. MIDA groups countries as follows:
- Group A - USA, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Group B - South America, Caribbean, except Cuba, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan
- Group C1 - Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Panama
- Group C2 - Nicaragua
- Group D - Europe, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand
- Group E - Cuba and Rest of World
This is one area in which you need to consult the operators Web site for specific fees, packages, and promotions. The following table provides a general comparison of the costs, in US Dollars, according to the MIDA groups:
|Operator||Group A||Group B||Group C1||Group C2||Group D||Group E|
|Claro||The Claro international plan is far too complicated to explain in this article. You must visit their Web site to understand the rate structure.|
* Full Movil offers lower rates for calls to Nicaragua ($0.30), Guatemala ($0.27), and Panama ($0.27) from 10 pm to 7 am.
The pricing for 3G data is based on speed and how much time you wish to purchase. Each operator provides instructions on how to purchase the service you wish. In the following table, prices marked with an '*' are automatically renewed. The speeds shown are the maximum speed. The actual speed depends on the network load.
|Operator||Data Rate||hour||1 Day||7 Days||15 Days||30 Days|
|Kolbi||512 Kbps||300 colones*||2,300 colones|
|1 Mbps||4,500 colones||9,000 colones|
|2 Mbps||300 colones*||1,900 colones||3,800 colones||7,400 colones|
|Movistar||512 Kbps||50 colones|
|1 Mbps||289 colones|
|1.5 Mbps||300 colones*|
|TuYo Movil||512 Kbps||1 hour 17 colones||400 colones||3,225 colones||6,915 colones||12,240 colones|
|3 hours 57 colones|
|6 hours 115 colones|
|Full Movil||512 Kbps||3 hours 51 colones|
Postpago Rate Comparison
With prepago, you own the phone and are just purchasing a SIM card from a carrier. With postpago, there are plans for including the phone as part of the purchase, or just a plan for services. There are too many variations to compare plans that include a phone. The easiest way to compare services is to start with comparing plans in which you own the phone. From the base plan, you can calculate the cost of including the phone in the plan. Every operator also offers separate plans for iPhones and Blackberry phones. Cost comparison for these phones are not included in the following tables.
The voice and text message plans are based on the number of minutes and number of text messages included in the plan. You will need to refer to the operators Web site for additional charges that arise from exceeding the plan limits. The following table is ordered by voice minutes, with prices and number of text messages indicated for each operator. Movistar does not appear to differentiate between SMS and MMS messages.
|250||9,647 colones||500/15||6,300 colones||500|
|500||17,874 colones||1500/25||15,000 colones||1000/40||11,900 colones||1500|
International rates tend to be lower than for prepago plans for Kolbi and Claro. Carriers offer different plans, so you need to review each plan to determine which one fits your needs.
|Operator||Group A||Group B||Group C1||Group C2||GroUP D||GroUP E|
|Claro||The Claro international plan is far too complicated to explain in this article. You must visit their Web siteto understand the rate structure.|
The 3G Internet rates are separate from the voice rates. Kolbi and Claro provide separate price tables for 3G data costs. Movistar offers plans that combine voice and internet, without separating the cost. For the purpose of comparison, I deducted the voice rate from the combined rate for Movistar. The actual range for 1.5 Mbps of service was from 5,300 colones to 6,050 colones. The average was 5,700 colones for the three rates, which is the value used in the table. As with prepago accounts, postpago also provides unlimited access at the specified data rate
|128 Kbps||3,955 colones|
|256 Kbps||$13.56||2,500 colones|
|512 Kbps||$20.34||5,000 colones|
|1 Mbps||$27.12||8,500 colones|
|1.5 Mbps||5,700 colones*|
|4 Mbps||12,000 colones||4,800 colones**|
* Available on the 250, 500, and 800 minute plans.
** Only available on the 1500 minute plan.
The information presented in this article is the best available at the time of writing. It is subject to change, as there is competition between operators in Costa Rica. Besides, SUTEL can adjust the maximum rates. Thus, this is just a guide to making your decision of which carrier to use. Before making a purchase decision, you need to verify the exact rates, and conditions. Promotions are tempting, but remember promotions have a time limit. It is best to make your decision based on non-promotional costs.