Telephone Service

As with all telecommunications in Costa Rica, the residential phone system is operated and controlled by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).  Phone service here is generally very reliable and very inexpensive (about $8 - $20 per month depending on usage).

ICE now has competition from CLARO and MOVISTAR for the cell phone and related markets.

However, at some locations throughout Costa Rica, there are simply not enough available lines.  What does this mean?  It means that if you want a phone line in your home, there may not be enough lines to give you one.  This means you must wait.  How long?  I know people, especially in the more remote areas from San Josť, that have waited 10 years. I know people IN San Jose waiting for 2-3 years. 

This means you might have to depend on cell phone service for your communications.

What to do

If you are renting a place, the phone line will be owned by your landlord.  They will probably make the line available to you, but it may well be restricted from making (or even receiving) calls from outside Costa Rica.  Clear this up before you sign the contract. Restricting outgoing calls is reasonable, but incoming should not be blocked.

If buying an existing home, the ownership of the line should be included in the home purchase if even as a side contract.

If purchasing new property or building a home, the builder may well assure you that you will  get a line.  DO NOT BELIEVE IT. Get it in writing with heavy penalties for non-performance.

It is not wise to live here without communications, so if a phone line is not available, consider renting a cell phone line long term. For more information on long term phone line rentals, contact Cell Phones Costa Rica.

International Service - Long Distance (LD) Callback Service

This is an add-on.  You must go to an ICE office and request this service.  Only the owner may do this.  Take your passport or cedula!  If the phone is in the name of a corporation, you may well need to take a current (less than 30 days old) copy of your personeria.

Here is a rate chart for international calls as of April, 2011

MIDA Service Fee

Cost per minute in U.S. $

Group Rate

Charge per minute

$ 0.26 ivi

Group A

United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, U.S. Virgin Islands.

$ 0.44 ivi

Group B

South America, Caribbean exept Cuba, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

$ 0.32 ivi

Group C1

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Panama

Group C2

$ 0.32 ivi


$ 0.54 ivi

Group D

Europe, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand

$ 1.02 ivi

Group E

Cuba and World

ivi indicates taxes are included

Some folks elect to use a callback service.  Callback can best be described as like having someone in the USA (which has the lowest LD rates) make a call for you and then conference you in!  The difference is that the 'friend' is actually a computer system.  This can save you a LOT of money on your Long Distance bill BUT it is totally ILLEGAL in Costa Rica to use callback services as this defrauds the government of revenue.  Use at your own risk. SKYPE and other services are legal and even cheaper.

Calling Cards

Calling cards are available in Costa Rica but the international calling cards, designated as "1199" cards, can be difficult to find at times. They are normally available at some ICE (phone company) service centers, called agencias de ICE.

They come in denominations of $5, $10 and $20. A $10 card gives you maybe 35-40 minutes of calling to the USA, but these cards can be used to call any country, so the minutes will depend on the country called.

800 Service to Costa Rica

Toll free 800 number services from the USA are cheap, reliable and legal.  I use them in all my businesses here in Costa Rica as well as personally to keep in touch with US relatives.  They are available here.

Cost from the US or Canada is $.15 per minute and might be a viable alternative if you want to save some money.  Note this solves your INCOMING problem, but does not lower the cost of the calls you MAKE.  Some folks set up calling times or just hook up over MSN or Yahoo when they want a call made.

Voice Over IP  (VOIP) in Costa Rica

To work really well, all of these services require a broadband (fast) Internet connection to make and receive quality LD calls.  Some say they do not, but I disagree.  They ARE worth trying at a lower speed if you have no choice.  All require a high speed (128k min.) connection to work decently.  The service I use allows you to pickup calls on your computer, wherever you go around the world, with a SkypeIn number. For more information on what I use, read here.

ICE, the local monopoly has said they support VOIP as the future and will not be blocking!

Goodies (Extra Services)

You may order service with call forwarding, call waiting, caller ID, and order an unlisted number as well.

FAX and Answering Machines will work fine here. Same connection.

Caveat - Internet usage

If you plan to use your home phone for a modem so you can use your computer, be aware you are charged by the minute.  If you do a lot of surfing, even though the cost per minute is quite low, it can and will add up and the cost for service (above) will be on the low side.

Pre Paid SIMs (prepago)

Pre-paid SIMs can be a great deal. They are cheaper and will work in any quad band unlocked phone. They offer SMS messaging and international long distance. Be careful of the international SMS though as they are still working out the bugs.

Avoid ICE pre-paid SIMs as they are stupidly expensive.

Be careful of buying really cheap phones here with a pre-paid SIM included. Many are just junk and do not provide decent service. Pay a bit more and get a good, brand name 3G phone with SIM installed. You will be happier. You can get a good new cell phone with a excellent pre-paid SIM from Cell Phones Costa Rica. Sometimes, they have used phones available and those are even less money. They can also provide Pre-Paid SIMS for iPhones and iPads and they will do the trimming to make them fit.



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