General, Estilo de vida

The Best Smartdevice Apps for Expats in Costa Rica

When considering an international move thousands of “to dos” come to mind: selling belongings, packing, selecting an international moving company, setting up a mail service, creating an international banking system, reassessing credit cards, international business, and downloading apps that will assist his/her new life abroad. Well, maybe the latter doesn’t initially enter the mind of a new expat but it should. There are a variety of applications that can simplify daily life and save money for the expat. The Costa Rica Star has previously reported on other applications specifically for the iPhone.

The following is an excerpt from Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica


Probably, the most used and most valuable app for expats.  This as a must have app.  So you have downloaded Skype on your computer. Once you have a smart phone or tablet, download the free app, and sign in.

I highly recommend making two purchases on Skype, an unlimited calling subscription and a personalized phone number.  I purchased the subscription that allowed unlimited calling to landlines and cell phones in the United States.  I paid around $3 a month.  Rates constantly change with different promos, but typically Skype rewards you for paying for the entire year in advance.  The other purchase was just as important.  If you don’t purchase a number then businesses, family, and friends can’t call you.  While you can call them anytime you want, they will see a different number each time and not know it’s you.  You can choose your area code when you purchase a number.

I take Skype with me everywhere I can get cell service on my iPhone.  That way I can make a call to loved ones or for business back to the States.  If anyone needs to reach me, and I have Skype logged in on my phone, it will ring!

There are competing apps that offer similar phone service, Vonage, magicJack, and TextPlus.  Skype has been at it the longest, has a proven track record and adds video conferencing and instant message features.


In case you have been under a rock for the last 5-7 years, texting is practically required to keep in touch with people. I know some who refuse to answer their phone, but will quickly respond to a text.  International text messages get pricy if you don’t know about great apps like TextPlus.

Build a free account, choose your number with any area code you’d like and text away!  Ask your friends and family to add the number to their address book as text message only so they will know it is you.  The old edition required you to use wifi to send/receive messages, but was recently updated so anytime you are connected to the internet (3g or wifi) you can use the app.  There is also an option to call from the app but I do not recommend this feature because while it is cheap international calling, Skype wins my money when it comes to calls.  See Skype for more info.


“Breaker Breaker, Ginger’s on the move.” I loved walkie talkies as a kid.  This app allows you to talk to other people just like you are both on walkie talkies except you are not restricted to a 200 foot range.  You could walkie talkie with someone in Africa if they have the app and a cellular or wifi signal.

If you hate text messaging, you’ll love this.  If you find that the second you get behind the wheel you need to text everyone  talk into the phone instead and they will get your walkie message.

The downside of this app is the other person must also have the app but they don’t have to be logged in to receive the message. The app will notify them of a new message waiting to be heard.  In order to talk back and forth in real time, both parties need to have the app open.

Google Voice

Google Voice allows the user to transfer their phone number to Google Voice and then forward it to a second number!  Currently, they do not allow forward to an international number, but you can forward it to your Skype number!  Also, if you are connected to wifi you can use it to make calls and text for free to the States (if that is where you have it set up).  To learn more about how Skype and Google Voice can integrate see:

XE Currency

This app is exactly what it sounds like, a currency converter.  It’s nice to keep an eye on the currency transaction rates so you know what’s a good deal.  You can also show the small shop owner what the current rate is and bargain if using USD.  It may not work, but it’s worth a shot.  Plus, if you explore in neighboring Nicaragua or elsewhere it’s very helpful.

Google Translate

A translator app that every expat should have in their arsenal is Google Translate. Even if you are not in the smart phone arena, make sure and take advantage of Google Translate on your computer. The biggest drawback to the app is that it requires cellular service or wifi to work. If you are struggling with the same word, however, it remember previous translation requests.

Card Reader

For business owners, a mobile device card-reader is a great addition to your financial tools.  One card-reader/ merchant account does not fit all.  I’ll highlight the most popular choices and you can decide which one fits your companies needs the best.

Flagship ROAMpay

  • Ranked #1 by Top Ten Reviews
  • Geo-tag
  •  each transaction
  • 0.38-1.58% commission!
  • iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Blackberry compatible
  • 0 monthly & setup fees
  • Free card reader


  • 2.75% commission
  • 0 monthly & set up fees
  • Free card reader
  • Hardware accessories like Cash Register stand for the iPad


  • 2.7% commission
  • Free card reader
  • 0 monthly & set up fees
  • Add a Pay with Paypal button to your web site
  • Bill me later options (you get paid upfront and the customer can receive your product without paying a nickel for up to 6 months!)

For an excellent review conducted by Top Ten Reviews go to:


As an avid traveler, I love this app!  It is the ultimate travel organization app.  Sometimes I book my airfare, hotels/ hostels, and rental cars months out while other times only days out.  After downloading TripIt, creating an account and authorizing it to access my email, I no longer need to worry about printing or organizing my confirmation emails.  I used to search my email for these confirmation codes, reservation codes, etc.  Now, TripIt recognizes when I receive an email confirmation that pertains to travel.  The app automatically adds it and sends me an email alert that it has the confirmation email.

It also allows you to create trips.  I recently returned from a three month trip to South America.  I was able to separate all of my reservations by creating multiple trips: Machu Picchu trip, Ecuador trip, and going home trip. Soon thereafter, I added a wedding trip and a honeymoon trip!  It was so great to see all of my complex plans organized so clearly without an ounce of effort on my part!  Also, when I create a new trip, I can place the date span.  After I set the dates, any new confirmations for those dates automatically get added to the corresponding trip!  I can access my trip info on my iPad, my iPhone, or any computer at How great is that

Airport Ace (iPhones only)

This app provides detailed information for most major airports. It provides all parking options and their corresponding fees. It lists food and shopping options for each terminal complete with maps.  SJO has not been added yet, but most layovers getting to SJO are included.  I primarily use this app to decide where I am going to grab a bite to eat on a quick layover, so I don’t loose time searching the terminal.

Convert Units

This is really only needed if you are from the US.  Since the United States is hell bent on being different, Americans don’t know: what price per kilo gets us, if we are speeding at 50 kph, how much space is 1000m2, or how large is 2 hectares of land.  Until you learn these new measurements an app like Convert Units is very helpful.


Everyone has heard about the Kindle.  What you might not have heard is how hard it is to find books written in English in Costa Rica. Unless you are in San José or other large town, it is near impossible.  So, even though I prefer a book in my hand over a screen, I have completely sold out to the Kindle App.  It’s nice to have all of my books in my skinny iPad and iPhone.  I chose the Kindle App over iBooks and the Nook.  Kindle, as an Amazon derivative is often $2 or $3 cheaper than the Barnes N’ Noble’s Nook.  All 3 programs have similar interfaces, so no deciding factor there.  The Kindle has more book options than any other book app.  Surprising, since I am a Mac geek, but I don’t see any Apple oohs and aws like I usually do, to use their application in this instance.  I miss Steve Jobs…


Dropbox has been around for awhile now and it still does a great job storing your documents.  There are numerous competitors now: CX, Cloudme, TeamDrive, ShareFile Egnyte, Huddle, Cubby, Syncplicity , Box, Amazon Cloud Drive, Wuala, SugarSync, SpiderOak, and Microsoft Live Mesh to name a few. I’m sure that many are just as good as Dropbox. So far, I have stuck with DB because it has never failed and that kind of consistency with my key documents is important to me. They have tried to spruce things up by adding a photo loader that launches anytime a camera is hooked up to your computer, but I don’t pay for extra space on DB, therefore, I don’t use the photo launcher.  A free subscription caps at 2 GB which is plenty for thousands of documents.  I keep my precious manuscripts and documents for my publishing business on Drop Box. I use an external drive for my video production company, and a second external hard drive to back up my entire computer (pictures and video included).

Don’t be caught without a backup in the States or in Costa Rica. You cannot recreate the memories captured by your thousands of pictures. I’m also sure you don’t want to re-create that presentation for work or rebuild your music collection.  In Costa Rica, your computer liability increases.  The humidity is like kryptonite to your hard drive, sand is the devil, and you can be sure that both will be in your computer if you live near the beach.


While you may not have been a “Facebooker” in the past, once you live in a different country you may re-think your stance.  Facebook provides a way to stay connected and informed in your loved ones’ lives.  You can see pictures from their trips, watch their children grow up, and comment on each adorable photo, making a virtual appearance in their lives when a physical one is not possible.  You can also share with them the adventures you are having in Costa Rica.  I know from experience that people love seeing new exotic places.  After seeing some of your gorgeous photos, they might be compelled to plan a trip to visit you!


The post office system in Costa Rica is flawed at best. Packages arriving empty is not uncommon. Postcards usually make it to the States but take 4-8 weeks!  Photocard is a cool app that lets you assign a picture you have taken on your iPhone/ iPad as the postcard cover, then allows you to write a message in a variety of fonts and sizes.  It even has stickers so you can decorate the card.  Once completed, you purchase one credit for $2.99 to have it printed and put into the US mail that day!  With a 2-3 day turnaround, your grandkids, buddies, parents, or clients can have a fun, personal, and customized card from you!

Weatherbug for iPhone

I enjoy the interface of this weather app on the iPhone.  It has great radar quality, and you can easily add different cities around the world so you can call up your family and ask them how the snow feels.

KVUE WX for iPad

This is my favorite interface for the iPad as it is aesthetically very pleasing!  It includes: hourly forecast, windchill, heat index, wind speed and direction, sunrise / sunset and a variety of other handy bits of information easily viewed.

For more information about moving, living, working, or retiring in Costa Rica click the link below.

Shannon Enete, author of Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica