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Costa Rica Cell Phone Update

November 22nd, 2006

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) – our friendly local state-run telecommunications monopoly has decided to purchase an entirely new GSM cell phone network rather than expand the current network.

Why is this a big deal? Because with this announcement, we know that it will be at least another year… more likely two-three years before cell phone (telephone) numbers can again be purchased. Believe it or not, this is probably good news.

The current GSM network has been criticized by users for offering poor service, in both signal strength and coverage. Further, at peak hours, service is poor, calls are dropped or not connected. Coverage in many areas of the country is just crummy. In reality, these are understatements as the current GSM system truly sucks and offers lousy service at best.

Purchasing a new system may well heal some of the issues now prevalent with the current system. According to one report, ICE has stated that the new system will be available within 8-9 months to a year, but those of us who live here find that to be a bit… well… optimistic. Nothing happens in nine months in Costa Rica… except births. In reality, things just don’t work that way in Costa Rica. So for now, those who are eligible to buy a cell phone line (currently citizens and legal Costa Rica Residents), must add their names to a list… and wait… and wait…

The few TDMA cell lines (also known as “the old system” or more accurately “the system that actually works”) were available last week, but they are now gone.

11 Responses to “Costa Rica Cell Phone Update”

  1. Gil on November 27, 2006 2:40 pm

    My daughter is studying in Costa Rica this winter and we are trying to find the best way to talk with her while she is there. Is it possible to rent a phone while you are down their. Any suggstions for the best way for her to be in contact with us if renting a phone is not practical?

  2. Tim on November 27, 2006 6:57 pm

    Try http://www.cellphonescr.com

    If she will be in CR more than 2-3 months, inquire about long term rentals as they re MUCH cheaper.

  3. Lacey on December 20, 2006 8:58 am

    Hi! I’m going to be teaching in Costa Rica for a year. My town is called La Estrella and it’s in the mountains about half an hour SW of Cartago. They just got a (landline)phone service there two months ago, but I have no idea what kind of cell phone coverage might be there. Is it at all worth it to try and have a cell phone there, or should I just count on the land line and use a calling card?

  4. Jill Walsh on January 11, 2007 12:44 am

    If your daughter has access to cable you can buy a vonage phone in the states with a number local to you. You get a modem with that purchase and it costs about $25 US a month. All she has to do is hook up to a cable access (cable tica) and you can talk to each other for unlimited time at no additional cost. We have one for our home in Costa Rica so that we can talk to our friends/family in the states. It works great.

  5. Tim on January 14, 2007 9:44 am

    I have received a TON of complaints the Vonage works poorly (at best) in Costa Rica, though every once in a while, you do hear from someone who is happy.

    I prefer Skype (www.skype.com) and it is about as reliable as you can get. Cheap too at $.02 per minute to the US and most of Europe. Can work from my PC or with a $40 box I have, I connected it to the house phone system so I can make calls and receive them from anywhere.

  6. Makai on March 14, 2007 9:26 pm

    I am hoping to move to Costa Rica but need to Telecommute and call the US often anywhere I am at in Costa Rica- which means a cell phone. Im wondering if anyone in Costa Rica uses Skype on a Skype mobile phone or a Skype on a Pocket PC from the US. Im interested in reducing the cost as ICE charges .45 a minute to call the US from a mobile phone- plus the rental company would charge an extra .20 per minute for an 800 # (so US folks dont have to dial an international # just to talk to me. ) I know this is a very specific question but I would think it would be a very popular desire especially with all the telecommuters now.

  7. Daniel on April 3, 2007 11:38 am

    I have been using Vonage for two years now, and it works great. However, you need to have a GOOD Internet connection. There are two options, ADSL or Cable Modem. In case expect to pay about $60/month for enough bandwidth to support the Vonage and Internet surfing at the same time. Also, with the cable modem you have to buy a router, however with ADSL the telephone company provides a router. If you do not have enough bandwdith (at least 256kb/upstream) then IT WILL NOT WORK. It can take longer than a month to get ADSL on a working telephone line, and add several weeks if you have to request the line as well. Also the owner of the telephone line has to request the service. If you use a shared Internet connection, then you should TOTALLY expect your Vonage to not work well. Good Luck. It is fun to wait in line at the phone company. Pura Vida.

  8. Tim on April 3, 2007 12:53 pm

    I would urge you to think about Skype (www.skyper.com). MUCH cheaper, works with half of less the bandwidth and is generally a MUCH better option for Costa Rica.

    Vonage works poorly here unless you have a ton of bandwidth and even then, friends tell me it does not compare to Skype (which I use).

  9. Patty on May 9, 2007 11:47 am


    Since I will be living in a condo that has wireless, do you think that VONAGE is not such a great idea? or maybe skype will be better?

  10. Tim on May 9, 2007 2:02 pm

    Vonage will soon be out of business and works poorly here. Go with Skype

  11. Bill on November 24, 2007 7:23 am

    We moved to Costa Rica four months ago and have been using Skype on a regular basis. Skype is great! We regularly make Skype calls to the US and Africa and have found that international Skype connections are far superior than the local phone service we receive from ICE, the local phone monopoly.

    Skype does require a high bandwidth connection. We have internet access through Amnet, a local cable provider, which provides service more than adequate for using Skype. However, it can be tough getting internet access outside of the central valley of Costa Rica.