When travelling it is often essential for me to get online. Not content with relying on hotel/hostal wifi, I decided that when in South America, I needed a local SIM card.
Then I stumbled upon Zab Scoon’s excellent post ‘Buying SIM cards in Argentina, Bolivia and Peru‘, I thought ‘great’ someone has been to the areas I plan to travel to and done all the research for me.
Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. Written back in 2013, I found some of the information in Zab’s post out of date. Not surprising given the fast moving nature of the mobile industry.
So with the details fresh in mind, I thought I’d share my experience of buying a local SIM in South America.
Here I went with Personal, which ‘personally‘, I feel was a mistake. The generous data offers for prepay sims were a thing of the past. The only useful package I came across was PACK INTERNET 30 DÍAS, at AR$59 (around £6) for 30 days internet access. What I discovered later was that it limited to just 10mb per day at full speed i.e HSDPA, then it would reduce to something more reminiscent of a 56k modem.
The good news is that buying a sim card in Argentina is straight forward. You don’t need to register, and the sim card (super chip), is cheap.
The Personal store I bought mine in didn’t activate it for me, so I had to figure that out myself, which took a while since I don’t yet speak Spanish.
Topping up is easy. Credit is bought online, in store, or at booths located in most convince stores.
Next time I think I’ll try Movistar or Claro here.
Buying a sim in Peru was a breeze. After the poor experience with Personal in Argentina, I decided to go with a major international brand this time. For that I chose Movistar.
Unlike Argentina, in Peru your sim card purchase needs to be registered. In the Movistar store this was done by taking our passport details. Movistar have a larger number of packages, but I chose a promotion costing around 48 soles (£10) in total, and offered 500mb of data for 30 days, plus a bonus 150mb, and unlimited whatsapp.
HSDPA speeds were excellent in and around cities. In places like Santa Theresa (on the way to Machu Picchu), and in Colca Canyon, Claro offers better coverage. I still got reception, but it was limited to 2.5g in these areas.
For those visiting Machu Picchu via the more traditional routes, reception is excellent at the site itself, and in Aguas Calientes below.
If 500mb isn’t enough, Movistar also offers larger packages of 1gb, 2gb.
Chile has a large number of mobile carriers and NVMOs. The formerly state owned carrier of Entel has the best coverage, closely followed by Movistar, and then Claro in third place. My SIM of choice was Virgin, which piggybacks on the Movistar network.
As data was my main priority, Virgin was a no-brainer. Their data packages are by far the most generous on the market. There’s a snag though. Their SIMs are only sold in certain outlets, and there is no guarantee you’ll find one outside of the major cities. Best use the locator tool to see if there is an outlet near you.
I entered Chile in Arica, and the only Virgin distributor was out of stock, meaning I had to wait until Iquique to get my hands on one.
The department store Ripley is the main distributor of Virgin SIM cards in Iquique, and there I found the assistant extremely helpful. I actually bought two cards, both for data only and the assistant went through the process of setting them up.
There’s no need to register your details like in Peru so if everything goes smoothly you can be in and out in 5 mins. It took me a little longer as the second SIM card was DOA and the assistant had to go through a returns process with Virgin before issuing a third, which worked like a charm.
I paid 10,000 pesos for the two cards with 500mb on each. The small data package was due to the fact that I’d was leaving Chile for Bolivia, then re-entering a few weeks later.
Top ups again are super easy. My foreign credit card wouldn’t work when attempted to top up online, but it was a none issue as you can top up Cruz Verde pharnacies which are virtually everywhere, and Shell petrol stations.