Using Modern Technology in Costa Rica: Top 10 Conveniences, Gadgets & Apps We Love

iPhone Apps Icons


Imagine moving abroad and not having the modern conveniences that you love and are so dependent on in your home country, especially if you are from a “first world” country.

On top of not knowing the language, how would you cope without reliable (or any) internet service, any addresses, no street signs, constant power outages or surges, no smart phone, etc.?  Well, expats who moved to Costa Rica in the distant past have done just that and they are all alive and well.

As a new expat, I often ponder what it was like to move here back then and as a result I find myself so thankful for many modern technological conveniences that are now available.

In my opinion, these expats are truly warriors and trail blazers, most likely braving a foreign land with paper maps (remember, there are no street signs here), learning a new language, and getting a helping hand or two (or more, a lot more) from the locals and/or other expats who came before them.  So, living without these modern conveniences can be done.

Nowadays there are some expats who consciously choose to unplug and do without all the technology, and they seem to be very happy.  Costa Rica can definitely transport you back to a simpler time if you let it, a time where  people actually go out and chat with their neighbors, where one is not constantly bombarded with information or being instantly gratified.  It’s truly a beautiful thing to slow down and smell the Costa Rican coffee.

I can own up to the fact that my husband Scott and I love our modern conveniences and gadgets.  We choose to have and use them to save time, for communication, convenience and entertainment.

 

Where would we be without the WAZE app in Costa Rica?  LOST.

 

I consider us blessed in our timing to move to Costa Rica.  I admire the expats who came here before us, and it seems a lot has changed in the past 10 years (even 2-3 years) to make the transition of moving here a little less painful and confusing.

We are so grateful for the following list of conveniences that we use to live (survive, communicate, research, and to be entertained by) here in Costa Rica:

1.  SMART PHONES

We cancelled our phone service and brought our iPhone 6+’s before moving here (secret – all iPhones are internationally unlocked, just pay your final US bill).  We bought Costa Rican SIM cards for our phones for about $4 each and we buy credits for our phones as we go.  Our monthly cell phone cost each is about $10 to $15 a month, which by U.S. standards is incredibly cheap, but for Costa Rica is on the more expensive side.  We use quite a bit of data for apps like Waze, but the rates here are far cheaper than any provider can give you in the U.S.  I’ve heard of many people who only pay $4 to $6 per month for their cellular service here.  I think you can get away with that if you don’t use a lot of data.  Needless to say, with your smart phone you can text, use apps, check your email, etc. just about anywhere, anytime.  The data used is deducted from your prepaid phone credit.

Oh, and if you’re concerned about cell service when you visit the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile offer pay as you go SIM cards that are reasonable depending upon your needs and the assigned phone number will last six months without usage (so if you visit a couple times per year, there is no need to get a new one, just add credits when you visit the U.S.).  Just swap the SIM cards during travel and you are ready to go.

By the way, almost all of the photos and videos I take and post are from my iPhone.  The camera is excellent and versatile, and I am hardly ever without my phone, which makes it the most convenient way to record all of our adventures.

 

This is what the SIM card looks like. I was a sheltered American, I had never seen one until I moved to Costa Rica.
This is what an iPhone 6+ SIM card looks like. I was a sheltered American, I had never seen one until I moved to Costa Rica.  I didn’t even know where it was in my phone.

 

2.  FACETIME

If you own an Apple gadget (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iTouch or iPod), you can FaceTime with someone else who has an Apple gadget as well for free.  FaceTime is a audio/video chat app similar to Skype.  If you dislike the video function (“I didn’t know I had THAT many chins!”), you can just use FaceTime audio instead.  It works best with Wifi and it does work on my cell network.  I taught my 72 year old mother how to FaceTime and this is our main form of communication (but please Mom, more face, less ceiling!).  My niece and nephew also FaceTime me from their iPods.  Even our dogs FaceTime (Jake still wonders how we fit people into those small boxes!).

 

Mom FaceTime
FaceTime with my Mom LOL

 

3.  INTERNET SERVICE AND WIFI

Internet service is by far the most expensive utility in our house.  Where we live we can only get satellite service (via a small dish) which offers higher speeds (up to a whopping 6 Mbps – in the States we were getting over 300 Mbps!), and is costly (about $113 a month including tax) compared to a DSL line (about $30-40 per month).  We have a landline phone at the house we are renting, but ICE (Costa Rican Electricity Institute, Costa Rica’s public energy and telecommunications company) does not provide DSL service in our area (too high up the volcano).

We use internet service for typical things including online banking, streaming music, movies, and TV shows, social networking, blogging, etc.  Another thing to note about having internet service is that it allows expats to work online to create an income, whether they are working for someone else from their home country or running their online business.  This option would have been near impossible in the past.  When our gadgets are on WIFI (phone, tablet, etc) we do not get charged by our cell phone company for texting or using apps.

4.  VPN

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network.  They are handy for a variety of reasons, but living in Costa Rica, unless you want all your websites in Spanish or to limit your streaming to Spanish and few English programs, you will need a VPN.  The VPN gives websites the impression you are sourced from another location, such as in Houston.  This works because you are routed through servers located in those cities and your source IP address (in Costa Rica) is not visible to the sites you are visiting.  There are some new limitations to this because services like Netflix have been pressured to stricter enforcement of their regional broadcasting limits.  Thus, a dynamic IP address is detectable by some of these services as a proxy, and they limit your streaming of certain media.  The only way around this is to establish an assigned IP address via one of the VPN services, and this costs extra.  You can install a VPN simply on each gadget or on your router, although this is a bit more expensive and involved.

5.  MAGICJACK

MagicJack is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone service that is great for calling back home.  You can buy the MagicJack plug-in device at Best Buy, Target, or other comparable stores.

 

Magic Jack Go
Magic Jack Go

 

With MagicJack, you can port your U.S. phone number over before you cancel your contract in the states and keep the same number while living abroad.  Be careful doing this though.  Your MJ account is tied to an email address, and they will not (currently) permit you to change it.  So, just make sure your email address is an online address (Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. and not a local internet provider which you will lose when you leave).  You can also just get a new number with your Magic Jack, if you so desire, tied to whatever state you wish.

Your friends will use their phone as normal to call you.  To call your friends at home, just dial their number through the Magic Jack app (called MagicApp) no international code is necessary since you will have a U.S. number.  Just dial their area code and phone number like you would do in the States.  This app is available for your Mac and your iPhone, and is free if you are on Wifi and will work on your iPhone if you are not on Wifi and have sufficient cellular credits.  It will be recognized as data, and that data will be deducted from your prepaid phone credit.  We find that we actually get better connection using our cell network versus wifi with this app.

6.  WAZE

Where would we be without the WAZE app in Costa Rica?  LOST.  It took us by surprise that it works really well here.  It works so well that many Costa Ricans, who of course have lived here all their lives, also swear by it!  Waze is a GPS app that uses satellite and its social network to direct people to where they are going to as accurately and as quickly as possible.  In other words, the more people use it, the better, more accurate it gets.  It is indispensable in this country where the streets have no name and addresses are “200 Meters West of the Post Office.”

7.  WHATSAPP

About a decade ago, a friend of mine who moved to London introduced me to WhatsApp.  I used it once then deleted it from my phone.  Since moving to Costa Rica I have learned that the whole world uses this app to text, share pictures, videos, etc.  Many people abroad (I wouldn’t doubt that many Americans use it too, but I did not), including Costa Ricans, use this app as a main form of communication because texting on it is free via Wifi (not subject to per txt charges).  This is the main way I stay in touch with my Costa Rican friends.  It was the means by which I communicated with our friend who house and dog sat for us while we were away in the States.  FYI, if you are not on Wifi when you use WhatsApp on your cell phone, you get charged for data.

8.  GOOGLE TRANSLATE

Nothing can stop you faster in your tracks than not knowing Spanish in Costa Rica.  As we are learning Spanish, this is a great app to help us communicate.  It cuts down on the charades and broken Spanish, and makes us look a little less incompetent.  You can type what you want to translate or speak it into the app. There is also a function where you hold your phone camera up to text (signs, menus, etc) and get it translated right before your eyes into the language of your preference!

9.  TRIP ADVISOR

Trip Advisor is pretty reliable when it comes to finding decent places to stay, things to do and good places to dine wherever you travel.  It is one of my resources here because as a new expat, I am essentially also a tourist, exploring different places in Costa Rica for the first time.  Having the app on your smart phone is a great convenience at your fingertips wherever you go.

10.  APPLE TV

This is our “television” here.  We have chosen not to get cable or dish (yet) here in Costa Rica.  We have found that we do not have a need for TV since we can find whatever we want to watch and need to know on the internet and, we don’t really watch Spanish speaking shows (yet).  We use the Airplay function to stream movies, tv shows, videos, and to display photo slide shows.  We can also access channels like NETFLIX, HBO, AMC and YouTube (this is where the VPN on the router comes in handy).

OTHER

Other apps and items that we use (that I won’t elaborate on) include Facebook, photo apps for my blog and Instagram feed, ROKU (streaming TV and media player), a Blu-ray player and Playstation 4.  There are apps like Skype, Line, etc. that help people stay in touch with one another (we currently do not use these, but many do).  Note that in this day and age, if you have a smart phone or computer, you have a plethora of options to choose from.


I am by no means an expert in any of this, but I can definitely say that my tech gadgets and apps have certainly made life easier here.  I was motivated to write this post to let you know that with a smart phone, decent cellular service, internet and Wifi, life can be a little less difficult and confusing when transitioning to living in another country.

I’m sure we could still create a great life here in Costa Rica without the technology if it were not available, but Scott and I are grateful that we can take advantage of these modern conveniences to enhance our expat adventure.

Just to let you know we do unplug more often here than in the U.S.  There are so many new people to meet and visit with, Costa Rican coffee to smell, and plenty of beautiful sights to see.

 

Unplugging is easy at Jaco Beach
Unplugging is easy at Jaco Beach

 

We are so blessed to live the Pura Vida!


Fellow expats, what modern technological conveniences (gadgets, apps, etc.) do you love to use to help your life abroad?  If you are so inclined, please comment below and share!

For the social media savvy, you can get more details about life in Costa Rica on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @puradonna

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