With the advent of smartphones, Internet cafés are dwindling in number. Downtown San José still has a few with high-speed connections; prices are usually less than $1 per hour. As you move away from the capital, prices rise to $2 to $4 per hour and connections become less reliable. Wildly expensive satellite Internet is available at some exclusive hotels in remote areas. Most major hotels have free wireless access or use of a wired computer. Denny's, McDonald's, and a number of upscale cafés have Wi-Fi, although a few travelers have been robbed of their laptops and tablets in restaurants. (Smartphones are generally safe.)
Internet access via your smartphone should work in most cities of any size, but we recommend always looking for a Wi-Fi signal to avoid surprises on your bill after you return home. Data charges are high.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on Earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally.
Calling Within Costa Rica
All phone numbers have eight digits. Landline numbers begin with 2; cell numbers begin with 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8. There are no area codes in Costa Rica, so you need only dial the eight-digit number, without the 506 country code. Coin-operated phones have been phased out in favor of those that use local calling cards.
Calling Outside Costa Rica
The country code for the United States is 1.
Internet phone services such as Skype are by far the cheapest way to call home; it is a viable option in the Central Valley and major tourist hubs. For other regions or for more privacy, a pay phone using an international phone card is the next step up; you can also call from a pay phone using your own long-distance calling card. Dialing directly from a hotel room is very expensive, as is recruiting an international operator to connect you. Watch out for pay phones marked "Call USA/Canada with a credit card." They are wildly expensive.
To call overseas directly, dial 00, then the country code (dial 1 for the United States and Canada), the area code, and the number.
AT&T and Sprint access codes make calling long distance relatively convenient but can be very expensive. When requesting a calling card from your phone provider, ask specifically about calls from Costa Rica. Most don't work in Costa Rica. Callingcards.com is a great resource for prepaid international calling cards. It lists a calling-card company with a rate of 87¢ per each block of three minutes for calls from Costa Rica to the United States.
You may find your phone company's local access number blocked in many hotel rooms. If the hotel balks, ask for an international operator, or dial the international operator yourself. One way to improve your odds of getting connected to your long-distance carrier is to sign up with more than one company: a hotel may block Sprint, for example, but not MCI. If all else fails, call from a pay phone.
Callingcards.com. 866/299–3937; www.callingcards.com.
International information. 1024.
International operator. 1116.
Local information. 1113.
Phone cards can be used from any telephone in Costa Rica, including residential phones, cell phones, and hotel phones. It's rare to be charged a per-minute rate for the mere use of the phone in a hotel. Phone cards are sold in any business displaying the gold-and-blue "tarjetas telefónicas" sign. International cards tend to be easier to find in downtown San José and in popular tourist areas.
Tarjetas para llamadas nacionales (domestic calling cards) are available in denominations of 500 colones and 1,000 colones. Phone-card rates are standard throughout the country, about 1¢ per minute for local calls; a 500-colón card provides about 100 minutes of landline calls. Tarjetas para llamadas internacionales (international calling cards) are sold in $10, $20, 2,500-colón, 5,000-colón, and 10,000-colón amounts (denominations are inexplicably split between dollars and colones). In busy spots, roaming card-hawkers abound; feel free to take advantage of the convenience—they're legit.
To use the international card, dial 1199. Select Spanish or English, then key in the PIN on the back of your card (revealed after scratching off a protective coating), then dial the phone number as you would a direct long-distance call.
If you have an unblocked phone (some countries use different frequencies than what's used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, Cingular, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old cell phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell-phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
If your cell-phone company has service to Costa Rica, theoretically you can use it here, but expect reception to be impossibly bad in many areas of this mountainous country. Costa Rica works on an 1,800 MHz system—a tri- or quad-band cell phone is your best bet. Note that roaming fees can be steep.
Most car-rental agencies have good deals on cell phones, often better than the companies that specialize in cell-phone rental. Rates range from $5 to $15 per day, plus varying rates for local or international coverage and minimum usage charges. Local calls average 70¢ per minute, international $1 to $1.50. You'll need your passport, a credit card, and a deposit, which varies per phone and service but averages $300 to $400; some rent only to those over 21.
Friendly and professional, Cell Service Costa Rica will get you hooked up and provides door-to-door service.
Cell Service Costa Rica. 2296–5553; www.cellservicecr.com.