One of the necessities when traveling to a foreign country is to make sure we stay connected. In our case, we don’t really need to have the access to a cell phone that allows for international calling. If ever we needed to “call” home, all we needed was access to WiFi and we could easily use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or FaceTime to stay in touch with our family.
Plan A: $10 per day with Verizon calling plan
One of the options was to pay Verizon (our cell phone provider) $10 per day. AT&T has the same offer of $10 per day. We were in Costa Rica for 9 days meaning, if we used Verizon’s international calling plan, we’d be paying a total of $90 for 9 days. I was not thrilled about that. I knew better not to do that.
I could use this as my back-up plan, meaning, if all else fails, I know that I could opt for this $10/day plan.
Plan B: Use a local SIM card
But, when we’re on the road or out and about, we need to have data coverage for our cell phones to help us navigate our way around. I’ve gone all over Europe and Asia, including Peru and have resorted to purchasing a local SIM card. There are SIM cards that you could buy at the kiosk inside the airport, but chances are, those SIM cards and the data plans will be charged at a higher cost vs. buying the SIM card outside the airport.
To make sure this works for you, your phone has to be UNLOCKED. So make sure and check with your local provider in case you don’t know if your phone is or isn’t UNLOCKED.
What happens to your phone’s pictures or music and apps when you use a new SIM Card
Everything stays in your phone. Your apps, pictures, music, etc – all should still be there. They will not be deleted. You’re just giving your phone a new way to stay connected.
Best to buy local SIM card outside of the airport
Fortunately, I’ve read that one of the places to get a SIM card that was close to the SJO airport = Walmart. The challenge was how to get to Walmart without data connection? First of all, we did not need data connection to get to the car rental since we were driven there via shuttle. Since I had no cell phone service, I needed to get directions from the car rental lot to Walmart (which was not that far away). The rental agent told meto download Maps.Me using their WiFi. I did….and while I was still there, I looked up Walmart, and was given the step by step direction, and the Maps.Me app worked offline (even without WiFi or cell service).
Once we got our car rental, we headed straight to Walmart which was just less than 5 minutes away. I really just needed data and text message, but mostly data. We don’t make phone calls, we don’t really have anyone to send text messages to. We needed the SIM card for using apps such as Waze for maps and directions, and for social media.
Tip: When you get to Walmart, you’d have to buy the Claro SIM card (500 colones or $1) from one of the regular registers. You then go directly to their electronics (Tecnologia) section, and ask for assistance for someone to help get your card activated. The gentleman understood what I needed, and within 5 minutes, one of them called Claro (the SIM card provider), and was able to get me a phone number for my personal use. He also gave me a little flyer with the data plan options. I was asked to choose which plan I wanted. I opted for the 5 GB plan that was good for 30 days, with unlimited use of social media. That ran for around $17. So with my $1 SIM + $17 data/text/calling plan – we are now talking $18 for everything. The big plus was that I had unlimited use of Facebook and the other cell phone users in my family were also able to use my phone’s hotspot.
How was the reception?
At best, I was getting 4G reception the entire time we were in Costa Rica. Some areas were spotty (no signal), and other times 3G. But there was never a time that I felt that Claro failed me.
Besides getting an international plan with your phone provider, in the past I’ve also used T-Mobile service and Google Fi. Worth looking in to if you are interested in switching to having them as cell phone provider. But in my case, we are happy with our Verizon Wireless service in the US, and while we tend to travel quite a bit, it’s not enough for us to warrant a switch to another service provider.
So there….$90 for 9 days with Verizon international calling plan vs. $18 using a local SIM? Hmmmm…you do the math.