Downtown San José is full of Internet cafés 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 slower and more unreliable. Wildly expensive satellite Internet is available at some remote, exclusive hotels. Cafés are generally good places to make international Internet calls, but expect echoes and a mediocre connection. Most major hotels have free wireless access or use of a guest Internet computer. Eateries such as Denny's, Bagelmen's, and a number of upscale cafés are also Wi-Fi-friendly, although a few travelers have been robbed of their laptops in public restaurants. Dial-up access is spotty and frustrating, but if you're desperate and have both a computer and access to a telephone line, you can buy one of RACSA's (the state Internet service provider) prepaid Internet cards in three amounts: 1,800 colones (5 hours), 3,550 colones (10 hours), and 5,300 colones (15 hours). Cards are sold at Kodak stores, Perimercado supermarkets, and some branches of the Banco Nacional. The cards come with the access numbers, and a help line with English-speaking operators.
Cybercafes. Cybercafes lists more than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide. www.cybercafes.com.
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. In some countries you can phone from call centers or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. And then there are mobile phones, which are sometimes more prevalent—particularly in the developing world—than landlines; as expensive as mobile phone calls can be, they are still usually a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.
Calling Within Costa Rica
In 2008, all phone numbers in Costa Rica were assigned an extra number. A 2 was tacked onto the front of all landline numbers and a 4, 7, or 8 was added to the front of all mobile phone numbers. In-country 800 numbers were not affected by the change. Many signs and business cards still show the old seven-digit number.
The Costa Rican phone system is very good by the standards of other developing countries. However, phone numbers do change often. There are no area codes in Costa Rica, so you only need dial the eight-digit number, without the 506 country code. Coin-operated phones are disappearing rapidly.
Calling Outside Costa Rica
The country code for the United States is 1.
Internet telephony is 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. You can make international calls from almost any phone with an international calling card purchased in Costa Rica. First dial 1199, then 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.
When requesting a calling card from your phone provider, ask specifically about calls from Costa Rica. Most 800-number cards don't work in Costa Rica. Callingcards.com is a great resource for prepaid international calling cards. At this writing, it lists at least two calling-card companies with rates of 29¢ and 56¢ per minute for calls from Costa Rica to the United States.
You may find the local access number blocked in many hotel rooms. First ask the hotel operator to connect you. If the hotel operator balks, ask for an international operator, or dial the international operator yourself. For service in English, you'll have more luck dialing the international operator (1175 or 1116). 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.
AT&T, MCI, and Sprint access codes make calling long distance relatively convenient but can be very expensive.
To make a person-to-person direct-dial call from any phone, dial 09 (instead of 00 for a regular call), the country code for the country you're calling, and then the number. The operator will ask for the name of the person you're contacting, and billing at direct-dial rates begins only once that person comes to the phone.
Direct-dial calls to the United States and Canada are 27¢ per minute.
Callingcards.com (866/299-3937. www.callingcards.com.)
International information (1124.)
International operator (1175 or 1116.)
Most public phones require phone cards (for local or international calls), but phone cards can also be used from any nonrotary 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 an array of shops, including Más X Menos supermarkets, post offices, offices of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), and at any business displaying the gold-and-blue "tarjetas telefónicas" sign. International cards tend to be easier to find in downtown San José and in tourism 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, half that at night; a 500-colón card provides about 125 minutes of daytime landline calls. This decreases sharply if calling a cell phone; rates vary. Tarjetas para llamadas internacionales (international calling cards) are sold in $10, $20, 3,000-colón, and 10,000-colón amounts (denominations are inexplicably split between dollars and colones). It's harder to find the 10,000-colón cards; your best bet is to try a Fischel pharmacy or an ICE office. In busy spots, roaming card-hawkers abound; feel free to take advantage of the convenience—they're legit.
Some public phones accept tarjetas chip ("chip" cards), which record what you spend, but avoid buying chip cards: they frequently malfunction, you can use them only at the few-and-far-between chip phones, and they are sold in small denominations that are not sufficient for international calls.
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 mobile 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, you theoretically can use it here, but expect reception to be impossibly bad in many areas of this mountainous country. Costa Rica works on a 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. If you're not renting a car, a number of companies will rent TDMA or GSM phones; remember, coverage can be spotty. Although service is evening out, TDMA phones have tended to work best in the Central Valley and Guanacaste; GSM is better for remote areas such as Dominical, Sámara, and Tortuguero. Specify your destination when renting. 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. The deposit drops significantly with companies that can hook you up with a rented local chip for your own phone.
Friendly and professional, Cell Service Costa Rica will get you hooked up and provides door-to-door service; it doesn't rent SIM cards. Cellular Telephone Rentals Costa Rica has higher daily rates but free local calls, and will set you up with a card for your phone.
Cell Service Costa Rica (2296-5553. www.cellservicecr.com.)
Why Not Phones? (800/378-7422 in North America. www.whynotphones.com.)
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