Cell phone use in other countries
September 16, 2012 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Cell phones in countries (Americas-Latin, South, Central etc.)

We travel a bit to countries in the Americas and are wondering what capabilities regarding temporary cell phone usage is available. Ideally we would like to be able to make calls cell to cell (unlike skype). In some countries, we were told, they do not sell SIM cards. (I have a jail broken Iphone which can hold other SIMs) We dont want to use our service abroad as it is really expensive

The basic question is around getting access to a cell phone in other countries, we are curious how others manage when they travel. Thank you.
posted by pakora1 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
 
When I went to Russia a few years ago I rented an international phone from my US carrier. Renting the phone itself was not terribly expensive; it was an ordinary-looking phone with a SIM card and a UK number. The calls were charged per-minute, and the rates depended on what country you were in. Russia was in the most expensive category, at $5/minute. I signed up for the rental since I couldn't find anything better, thinking that I was probably getting totally screwed, but I turned out to be the only North American at my conference with a reasonable way to phone home and there were other attendees begging me to make calls.

It was probably this program from Verizon that I used, and it looks like the details have changed in the five years since I used it, but it still exists. Probably every carrier has a similar program.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:25 PM on September 16, 2012


I bought a cheap cell phone in Nicaragua for $15 and just prepaid for minutes. That's pretty much what everyone does in Central America. I was able to text and call to the us.
posted by empath at 3:39 PM on September 16, 2012


Prepaid cell phones are also standard in Guatemala. Some people do use jailbroken iPhones or other fancy phones, but they still have prepaid service. Apparently US-style monthly plans are available, but nobody I know uses one.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2012


In Mexico it's simple technologically (buy or bring a cheap cell phone, insert prepaid SIM) but there are bureaucratic hurdles due to recent changes in the law designed to make it harder for drug runners to communicate or something like that.

Before you can use your prepaid phone number, you have to register as its owner. Mexicans can do this with a phone call. But as a non-Mexican citizen, this means you have to bring the SIM/phone and your passport to a customer service center of the company that sold you the number so they can register it to you. For me, this required finding out where the service center was and how to get there, taking the city bus, standing in line for 20 minutes or so, and speaking Spanish. So figure this hassle into any Mexican plans you have.

I now have an unlocked iPhone, bought in Mexico, for which I have a monthly plan. I could use a prepaid SIM with it, if I understand correctly, but with the registration requirements mentioned above.
posted by ceiba at 4:22 PM on September 16, 2012


Before you can use your prepaid phone number, you have to register as its owner. Mexicans can do this with a phone call. But as a non-Mexican citizen, this means you have to bring the SIM/phone and your passport to a customer service center of the company that sold you the number so they can register it to you. For me, this required finding out where the service center was and how to get there, taking the city bus, standing in line for 20 minutes or so, and speaking Spanish. So figure this hassle into any Mexican plans you have.

We had this issue in Mexico City that was solved by paying a guy at a phone kiosk some extra pesos when we bought our Prepaid SIM from Telcel.
posted by wcfields at 5:52 PM on September 16, 2012


What celba said about Mexico. For me when I got prepaid SIMs in Mexico I skipped the retailers and just went to the "Centro de Atencion" which I found online. Paid something like 150 pesos for the SIM which came with 100 pesos of airtime. They asked for my passport and I was in and out in a few minutes. Last month I went to change my regular sized SIM in for one that fit in my iPhone and it was even faster. Because I'm not down Mexico way all the time, I like the way they sell data by the hour or MB or month. I can top off my account online or at any of a trillion Oxxos or other places that sell airtime (they even have a network of points of sale in the US to buy more time. Grocery stores, liquor stores, places that where you can buy airtime for US carriers). Once you get a Mexican SIM, you don't need to deal with the registration thing again unless you let your airtime expire. I think after 6 months? I'll top off 100 pesos every few months to keep the account alive so I don't have to deal with the registration.

I've tried to get prepaid SIM from movistar, another carrier, but they will only sell me one if I have a residency visa.

wcfields experience getting a reseller to register the card is something I've heard of. Apparently in the first months of the phone registration scheme tens of thousands of phones were registered to President Calderon, address: Los Pinos which I found pretty funny.

The only other country I've gone to frequently in the Americas south of the border is Costa Rica and usually I'll use wifi for data and pay the 99¢ roaming a minute for short calls. I don't talk on the phone a lot at home and even less when I travel. ATT doesn't charge me for SMS I receive in Mexico and I don't think they charged me for Costa Rica either (it has been a while). It cost 50-99¢ to send texts either locally or back to the US.I think if I needed to log serious minutes on the cellphone, I'd just by a cheap one to use (I have an old Sony Ericsson dumbphone I take with me to swap out the SIM from the el cheapo models if I don't like them. Note that CDMA is used in Mexico/Central/South America too, and obviously those phones don't have SIM cards).

Lastly, I noticed that Telcel offers lower roaming rates (not a lot cheaper, but a little) in other countries than AT&T does. I've thought next time I'm traveling down there I may load up the Telcel account and use that as my phone instead of the ATT account.
posted by birdherder at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought a prepaid SIM card in Argentina (BsAs) in June. It worked just fine in a jailbroken non-smart phone from the US. They jailbroke it for me there, too, actually.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:04 PM on September 16, 2012


Most places have gsm (hence sim cards). You will have to be more specific, or simply doa google search for each country you're interested in. I've had no problems with a jail broken iPhone 3GS, (so no micro sim stuff) in Argentina, Chile or Peru
posted by defcom1 at 2:08 PM on September 17, 2012


If you go to Mexico regularly and don't want your Mexican phone number to expire, you can top it off it every few months at prepaid.com. The Telcel person told me the number would expire in 3 months if i didn't buy some airtime or use it, but I've heard it's really 6 months.
posted by ceiba at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2012


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