The time Costa Rica almost ran out of phone numbers

Call me, beep me, if you wanna reach me.

In 1994, Costa Rica added a seventh digit to its phone numbers. At the time, the Electricity Institute (ICE) said seven digits would meet Costa Rica’s needs for 40 years, until 2034.

Their calculations were off by just a little bit: 26 years.

In 2007, ICE realized that growing demand meant Costa Rica was again set to run out of phone numbers and was left scrambling for a solution. Their plan, once again, was to keep adding digits.

That strategy didn’t come cheap: ICE budgeted $8 million for the technology and invested an additional $600,000 for a national informational campaign. Businesses had to update signs and advertisements, and everyone had to manually change their address books.

The big change happened on March 20, 2008. At midnight, Costa Rica’s millions of active phones got an extra digit: a “2” before any landline, and an “8” before any cell phone. All new lines followed the same eight-number scheme.

Thankfully, the process went smoothly enough, especially since ICE set up an automated voicemail that corrected anyone who mistakenly dialed a seven-digit number. (Some 1,500 landline phones stopped working, but the culprit was thieves who had stolen a telephone cable overnight.)

Today, “2” is still the prefix for landlines, and the prefix for cellular devices depends on your carrier. Kolbi uses “8,” Claro uses “7,” Movistar uses “6,” and so on.

Per ICE, the change to eight digits added millions of possible phone numbers, enough to last Costa Rica until 2038. Then again, they don’t have a great track record for those projections.


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