I am traveling to Costa Rica next week and wondered what the best option for calling to US would be. I have a Skype app but don't know how to use it.
You can buy local SIM card inexpensively. For using Skype you need access to internet and whoever you want to call, need to have Skype installed and also be connected to internet
I use skype in Costa Rica. For 2.1 cents a minute I can call phones in the US, they don't need skype or Internet, just a phone (you need Internet). You can then also use it to call phones in Costa Rica too (but the rate is higher, but still a deal). Try it before you leave, you probably have to put in $5 or $10 to start (don't get suckered into a monthly plan).
If your phone is on a contract, some companies have locked your phone and you just can't pop in a new SIM.
Last thing, if your phone is an iPhone, download the free app Galileo and get the free Costa Rica map for it before you go!
If you have a unlocked cell phone and your phone takes a SIM card, you can buy a SIM card in Costa Rica for your time here. Calls are inexpensive - including calls to the US.
And yes, you can use SKYPE. In addition to computers at hotels, you will find internet cafes wherever you go.
Other than my geeky friends (only the international travelers), most people I know in the US couldn't tell you if their phone was unlocked or not (and the laws on unlocking / jailbreaking change occasionally). I know AT&T and multiple companies keep their iPhones locked for the length of the 2 year contract (AT&T even keeps it locked until after you pull it off a plan); I'm sure the same is true for some of their other smart phones. If you're not on a contract and your phone has a SIM, I think you're safe(er), but you still need to check.
I've run into more travelers in Costa Rica that this became a problem for them because they didn't know/understand SIMs and their phone beforehand (and neither did the people in the US store that gave them information before they left) and they're stuck since they are in Costa Rica.
I usually just put international data on my phone (since my phone is locked), I don't make any voice calls through the phone (send incomming calls to voicemail), I can make calls over the data with Skype and then I can text and send pictures too. Not the cheapest way, but ultra convenient.
If you are going to a foreign country, there are some "basics" that you need to know about: what is the language, money, safety and..... how to use your phone.
People can easily find out if their phone is locked or not. And, it's also easy to buy a cheap unlocked phone from EBay to use while you are in Costa Rica. Even with paying for the phone, it will be cheaper than using your "regular" phone if it is not unlocked and you can't figure out how to unlock it. (Both Google and YouTube have detailed information on how to do this......)
The easiest option would probably be to do the SIM option IF you could be certain it would work okay with your phone / plan. (And you phone even has a SIM, some companies don't use them).
There are some other apps out there that might even call the US for cheaper or free (MagicJack or Vonage?) but Skype is kind of the biggest thing out there that people are super familiar with (and if your friend has Skype it's free and clearer and you can do video); for me the extra nice part of Skype is that I've configured it so that when I call a phone in the US, my actual number shows up in the caller ID and they know to answer!
Below are some blog posts on Skype, the one specifically talking about international travel. The part about Google Voice is a little complicated but it avoids fees from incomming calls to your phone (you're charged internationally even if you don't answer). If your doing the SIM option this isn't an issue since your US phone SIM is "off".
And I forgot the links!
FYI, in Montezuma, the cellular data speeds on my iPhone are awesome, I can call home via Skype over they cellular and they tell me it sounds clearer than when I'm calling direct from the US. The coverage is great in Montezuma too, from the top of the waterfalls and for much (not all) of the 2 hour hike north to El Chorro. Towards Cabuya is when I lose it (and none at Cabo Blanco), but that's probably the same for phones with a SIM too, no coverage is no coverage.
Hattie, A cheap phone is a good idea. I used to drag a cheap flip phone with a SIM around with me to Costa Rica but the first few times I had it I arrived in Costa Rica late and left Alajuela early and never got around to activate it (then AT&T really lowered international data rates and I started using that)
This was an AT&T GoPhone but the downside was they never wanted to tell me if it was unlocked (they wanted it on their network!) but looking on-line it appeared that it was unlocked already.
I had a heck of a time getting my last AT&T iPhone unlocked (I was selling it), mostly because the people on the phone were telling me it was already unlocked (and it was NOT unlocked) so clearly they can't always tell at their end (and I had Apple and AT&T pointing fingers at each other), if I'd listened to the first person that said it was unlocked and got it to Costa Rica, I'd have had issues.
And no offense intended to the original poster, but if they haven't figured out how to use Skype they're probably not going to Google how to unlock their phone. Figuring out Skype would probably be the easiest.
Gary - just so you know..... there are many places all around the country where you can buy a SIM card - not just Alajuela or the airport or the ICE office. That little tienda down the street? They have them. Just look for the little frog graphic and the name "Kolbi."
I don't know a lot about cellphone packages in the US -- I do know that I bought a SIM card in the US to use in my phone when I was visiting my son and it was very difficult. (The first TWO I bought didn't work.) There are various companies with various packages in the US and if someone is coming to Costa Rica, they will need to understand their specific package and figure out which would be best to thing to do in Costa Rica.
Also - different people have different needs. Some tourists have businesses that they can't ignore for a week or two and so will have heavy usage while others just want to keep in touch with the folks back home.
It is always handy to have a phone with a Costa Rican SIM card so you can call that taxi that you like, call ahead to your lodging if you have a question -- or call after you leave if you forget something, call to make a booking for an excursion, of course - 911 emergency, or if you are hiking and get lost and would like to call the ranger station.
I do know stores with SIMs are all around (I'd say there is an overabundance of them in the cities!), but I usually spend most of my time in Montezuma and they didn't have them there (at least when I originally looked and I haven't for years) and then I just started adding data to my iPhone. I like having the data and I can make calls on it too (with Skype) so I've never bothered to add money to a phone SIM too.
It's the complicatedness of the SIM is why it's not my first recommendation, even your experience in the US shows that. I've asked questions at Costa Rica carriers before and gotten mixed answers. One huge advantage in Costa Rica is that they country pretty much standardized on the SIM (GSM) system before the other carriers came in and people there understand it.
In the US, if you've got Sprint and Verizon, unless you've got a recent iPhone or a phone labeled as "global" or "GSM", I don't believe they've got a SIM chip. Many US AT&T and T-Mobile customers probably don't even realize there is a SIM in the phone. I'd bet a higher percentage of Costa Ricans with a cell phone knows more about SIMs than US users (and I'll even limit that to US cell users on a carrier that require SIMs).
T-Mobile has a really great deal if you're on a regular plan with them, free international data (but it's throttled slower), free international texts and relatively cheap calls (I think 20 cents, but I'm not sure if that's in Costa Rica or to US or both). AT&T lets you receive free texts internationally but 50 cents to send; they charge for phone calls even if you don't answer though (that's why I set my phone to automatically to forward to voice mail).
Even without any data or plan when in Costa Rica I can call emergency numbers with my US AT&T phone (as long as I haven't restricted international calling) I'm not sure what it'd cost for 911, but if it's an emergency it doesn't matter (it might even be a free call); so even before I started putting data on my phone I'd still take it with me. Not sure about Costa Rica, but in the US all cell phones are required to be able to call 911 even if the phone has no plan on it (even if the phone has a passcode on it, I think you're supposed to be able to dial emergency numbers).
I'd hope if someone had to make a lot of calls, they'd mention that in their request, since they gave no specifics, I can only assume a limited number of calls. They didn't even say they had a phone with Skype, could just be an iPad or tablet of some sort.