The Internet in Costa Rica and Internet Security

Contents (also see recommended software and hardware for Costa Rica)

Overview of services
Cable Modem Service
Viruses, Worms, & Trojan Horses
Virtual Private Networks (VPN)


Overview of Internet Services Costa Rica

If you are moving to or visiting Costa Rica, you will certainly want to connect to the Internet. 

For years, the Internet fell under control of the  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).  No more. With the passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the ICE monopoly was removed. There are now several cable and Internet companies as well as cellular service providers that also offer Internet on your cell phone.

One of the most often asked questions goes something like this:  "I am moving to Costa Rica and I am going to live in XXXXXX.  Can I get absolutely reliable high speed Internet there?".

I have two fast answers. 

1. High speed Internet is available in an ever-growing number of locations. Now how you define high speed may vary. It will depend on the company you use for service, but some of the amazing speeds available in the US may not be available here, or may cost a great deal more. I use a 6 MB connect and it serves me well. It is bundled with my cable TV service.

I live in the Central Valley where I have cable modem. Mine is 6 MB download which is certainly OK for most me and should be more than adequate for most folks. If you are used to the often blazing speeds currently available in the US, however, you need to understand the services here are not going to be equal or you will pay a premium to get them.

2.  There is absolutely no 100% reliable service here from any Internet Service Provider unless you are using leased and fully redundant, high speed lines such as T-1 (or greater) connection (which can be outrageously expensive here). 

Interruptions are not common (maybe 1-2 times per month where I live) and seldom last for more than a few minutes. While this is probably very acceptable to many people, some others might find it annoying or unworkable, especially if you simply cannot have any downtime.

While you will generally get decent service, there can be outages, problems with IP addresses being blocked for outgoing email, system slowness, and DNS (name server) problems that plague IT professionals.  I experience these in my San Josť office, but it is more of an annoyance than a deal breaker.  I have a ton of Tico clients here who can attest to the sometimes spotty service offered in Costa Rica. 

Customer service is worse, and you will need patience to get matters resolved. So is it just impossible? No Just annoying.. Saying that, type A people may have a hard time of it though.

The problem is exacerbated because most Internet Service Providers (ISP) simply have untrained or maybe UNDER trained technicians. This is not an issue if you, the customer, know nothing, but presents real frustration to professionals who know what is wrong yet cannot get those techs to understand this issue. Most frustration is the "It's the other company's fault, call them" or "There is something wrong at your end". Recently, I called my ISP to report an issue I KNEW was related to DNS servers not functioning, and sure enough, I get the "It's your PC issue, we cannot help". I escalated the call (FIVE levels, and was told that their DNS servers had been offline and were back now... all starting working perfectly. So the summary? Bring your patience. Also, (technical) Spanish helps a LOT.

"Internet Service Providers? I thought there was only one".

Well sort of... but there are cable and cell phone companies and RACSA that offer their own Internet connections and customer support and of course there is ICE itself. ICE owns RACSA and is attempting to effectively disallow them from selling Internet services, probably because RACSA is competent.

Here is s short list in order of service quality and knowledge:

  1. Cabletica - head and shoulders above the rest,
  2. RACSA - They have improved customer service and I hear good things. Better than their parent company, ICE
  3. Tigo - Crummy "It's your fault" customer service. Many service interruptions
  4. ICE - No clue how to fix issues. Same blame game as Tigo
  5. Claro - no data yet
  6. Movistar - Good mobile Internet

Cable service is sold by the zone, so depending where you choose to live, you get only one.

Finally, expect few support staff to speak any English at any of these companies.


As I said, there are outages, slow downs and other irritating issues, but saying this, unless you are a day trader, or a true IT professional who absolutely HAS to have a solid 24 x 7 connection, the system here in Costa Rica is quite tolerable.  99% of you will use your connection for surfing, email, paying bills and so on... so a 5 to 45 minute outage or a system slowdown, while irritating, simply is not critical. 

Rarely do I meet people who really DO need 100% reliable service.  The ones I do meet don't really need that service, they are just the A types who want that service quality. If you are an A type, you probably won't care much for CR anyway!

I own several companies here all of which use the Internet extensively, and I can work nicely with the current system... though it can also be an annoyance.

Availability of higher speed service is spreading.  DSL is now available in many locations with more very day..  This was not true a year or two ago. I hear few complaints.

The ONLY way I know to RELIABLY find out if DSL service is available in any specific location is to call ICE (or RACSA) and ask if it is available NOW, at a specific address where there is installed this exact phone number.  Do NOT presume that because you meet someone online or are communication with someone who says "I have DSL and I Live here" that it will be available in YOUR location, even if that location is only a few blocks away.

You will generally find more reliable and more widely offered services in the Central Valley, and your chances of resolving a support issue in San Josť is far better than in remote locations, but this IS improving all the time.

Also, be aware that English (or other languages) are not spoken here.

For WIFI, wifi or hotspots in Costa Rica - Click here.




Cable Modem Service Costa Rica

Cable modem service is available through the various cable TV companies in Costa Rica. CAble Modem means Cable TV and Internet.

Here are some of the companies around the valley. There are others outside the Central Valley. I have no data on them.

  1. Cabletica - head and shoulders above the rest,
  2. RACSA -
  3. Tigo - Crummy "It's your fault" customer service. Many service interruptions
  4. ICE - DSL people and now Internet TV

Cable service requires the purchase of a cable modem.  Prices range from around $60.00 to $100.00, and can be paid over time on the monthly bills.




DSL Service Costa Rica

In mid June, 2005, ICE began to offer DSL service to much of the Central Valley AND the outer areas, including some beach areas.  The promise of high speed service for the whole country is behind schedule, but as of 2011, a lot of locations offer this service.  Beach areas and mountain locations, who never had a high speed option, may now have this service.  As this changes almost weekly, I will make no attempt to keep the locations where DSL is currently offered.  If high speed service is a requirement, contact ICE before you sign the rental or purchase papers.  It will help if you obtain the phone number at the location.  As with cable Internet, a special modem will be required.  You will pay less than $100.00 for the modem.

ICE has had serious problems with their IP addresses.  Much better now though. Many had been used to send SPAM, and routinely, I receive calls from people (my clients) whose IP addresses have been blocked for outgoing email.  This is a huge annoyance for people in general an for businesses in particular.  It means you may be dead in the water for sending emails until the problem has been resolved.  ICE does not have a great track record on prompt resolution of these problems, but as I said, MUCH better now.

For techies only:  A further problem is that many of ICE's IP addresses do not have the reverse DNS configured properly.  As many email servers now look for Reverse DNS to be available, emails can be refused at the receiving mail server.  This drive people nuts here, but it is almost impossible to explain why they cannot send mail to Yahoo, Hotmail and other servers.


Dongles known as Data Cards in the USA and elsewhere

A dongle is a kind of modem, broadband Internet device that looks like a pen drive (small USB hard drive for backups), USB drive, etc but on steroids.

It allows connection to the cell phone system Internet (3G). A cell phone is not required. The SIM resides inside the dongle. Maximum speed is 1MB . If you live in a location that has no other option, this can be the answer. 1MB is not great speed, but fine for email, light surfing, etc. Forget watching movies. Cost varies. Dongles cost from $75 to $200.00. I use one from a US company and they are waaaay cheaper if purchased in the USA.

In general, Dongles suck here in CR. In the USA? they are excellent.... Anyway... I suggest you not use them unless there are absolutely no other alternatives.



Virus Problems in Costa Rica

I am not sure why, but your exposure to viruses, Trojan Horses, and Worms is far greater here than most other countries.  People approach me to ask about what I use to protect my personal and business PC.  So I added a page that tells you everything that I use to keep safe.  Here it is.


Virtual Private Networks (VPN) - Internet Security

Identity theft is now common in all countries. The Internet can be a very dangerous place, and if you use WIFI (without using a VPN)... well, you are just asking for problems. WIFI is nothing more than just a transmitter and a radio. Anyone can listen!

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is technology using hardware, software, or both to secure and privatize data across a network, usually the Internet, by building what techies call an “encrypted tunnel.” Data passes through this “tunnel,” protected from anyone who tries to intercept it. Even if the data is intercepted, it is hopelessly scrambled and useless to anyone without the key to decrypt it.

Large businesses commonly use VPNs between offices to secure company data, and often provide individual “remote access” VPN solutions to home-based or traveling employees to protect data between them and the company’s network.

With a VPN service, you initiate the secure encrypted tunnel from your side, so it is not dependent on the web sites you visit. Your security and privacy is now maintained whether you see an https:// or not. Still, even with the protection of the VPN service, you should use https:// where available for end-to-end security to a specific web site.

It’s also important to note that VPN protection and privacy is not limited to just browsing. Good VPN service encrypts and anonymizes all your Internet data to and over VPN gateways. This includes Skype, IM, streaming, e-mail, as well as browsing.

A really good VPN like the one I use can also make other computers and servers "think" you are someplace you are not. Something in the US cannot be viewed here? No more. Make yourself "look" like you are in Miami... or Denver... or LONDON! Also solves many online buying problems from foreign countries.

Is this like a Firewall?

A software firewall only protects your data on your computer, and anti-virus software only protects you from, well, viruses. Neither protects your data as it flows over your local network, at a Wi-Fi Hotspot, or through your ISP. Without a VPN, your data is completely exposed and can easily be monitored and captured.

As laptops, smart phones, and wireless networks have grown more popular, a great deal more data has become a great deal more mobile. Your ISP, search engines, and every web site you visit captures and stores information about you. It is more crucial than ever to protect your data, as well as your identity and privacy, with a VPN.

How does a VPN work?

When you activate a VPN, it instantaneously builds an encrypted tunnel through your Internet connection from wherever you are (coffee shop, airport, hotel, home, car, etc.) via secure gateway. All Internet data between you, and the gateway you are using, is now encrypted. Nobody can break the encryption, including even your ISP.

There are free VPNs and VPNs that you pay for. I personally do not trust "free" anything, even free anti virus programs.

As I use a LOT of wireless connections, I just do not want to be worried about who is "listening".

What do I use?

With this is mind, I have arranged a discount for my web site visitors that will provide a 15% discount. If interested, click HERE. No obligation and 45 days to test drive it. Cancel at any time. Perhaps the best customer service in the world.






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