Phone in Guatemala?
May 13, 2015 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Guatamala for a few weeks, in two weeks! I'll be at language school in Xela. For various reasons, I'd very much like to have a cell phone with podcast-playing capability while I'm there; I also use a meditation podcast when I fly and would very much like to have that available to me while I'm getting there and leaving. How should I go about making this happen? I currently have an iPhone with Verizon within the US, would be fine getting something new for the few weeks I'm there. Money is not limitless, but this is a pretty big deal for me so I can be flexible.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you don't want to use your iPhone? If you are worried about roaming charges, put it in airplane mode and then turn on wifi. Doing that turns it into a wifi-only device - it won't pick up any cell signal, 4G or otherwise. You can also use wifi to make calls and send messages - there are various apps that allow this, or you can just use Facetime and iMessage.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2015

Response by poster: That is almost definitely the solution to my problem! If I wanted to make actual calls, is there some sort of way to circumvent roaming charges? Some type of calling card or similar?
posted by c'mon sea legs at 12:30 PM on May 13, 2015

For making calls, you could use your iPhone connected to wifi and an app such as Skype, FaceTime, Viber, etc.

It might also be a good idea to just buy a phone once you get to Guatemala. I live in Honduras and phones here are very cheap. You don't need to sign up for a plan either. They work on a "recarga" system, so you can purchase a specific amount of minutes, use them until you run out, and then purchase more. You can use that phone for local calls or international calls. If you use it for international calls make sure you ask someone to explain how to buy a "paquete" for calling the U.S. Here in Honduras it's not very expensive to call the U.S.
posted by Lingasol at 1:20 PM on May 13, 2015

Looks like you could pay $40/month to have 100 minutes, 100 sent texts, unlimited received texts, and 100 mb of data from verizon (look at the "bundled plans"). If that's sufficient (you could also access unlimited data, skype, imessaging, etc. over wifi), that might be the least headachey way to do it - no fussing with new phone numbers, extra phones, etc. and it should just work as soon as you get there. Getting something there would likely be somewhat cheaper, though, so it depends on your preference.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:08 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I brought my iphone 4S to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, then bought a local SIM card (with data) in Mexico. You should be able to get a decent # of international minutes and mediocre data speeds (i.e. 3G) for less than $75. Both 4S and 5 onwards have a SIM slot (not sure about earlier versions).

As mentioned above, wifi is prevalent at restaurants and hostels on the central american backpacker circuit (including Xela I'd imagine, though I haven't been), so if all you want is to be able to sporadically download podcasts/check email, I would consider not having a data plan/local SIM and simply using wifi. That will be much cheaper.
posted by 11dawgs1 at 3:29 PM on May 13, 2015

I go to Guatemala frequently, and I have a $50/mo T-Mobile plan that includes unlimited data and texting, and local calls for $0.20 a minute in most Central American countries. If Verizon doesn't offer something similar, get a chip with data once you're there. IPhones are popular, so most shops will carry those chips.

Cell minutes are called 'saldo' and data is bought by megabyte. Take a local or a decent Spanish speaker with you, unless you have a good command of technical Spanish already, as choosing a chip and setting up your phone can be confusing.

There's plenty of wifi at hostels and restaurants in Xela. Keep in mind, though, that the wifi and cell data is going to be much, much slower than you're used to in the States. If you have problems downloading or streaming on your phone, the best data speeds to be had are at wired (not wifi) internet cafes -- you can download your podcasts quickly on their computers and then transfer them to your phone.
posted by ananci at 7:55 PM on May 13, 2015

I just got a local prepaid data for my iphone 4 in Guatemala. Before that I did the airplane mode/wifi thing and that worked fine because I have reliable wifi at home; in my experience free, functional wifi is nowhere near as universal as it is in the US, even in the most touristy of areas. My phone is unlocked and that was a question that they asked when I signed up - is yours?

I went with the company Tigo. It cost about $7 for the new sim card and $13 for up to 1.5gb of data for up to 30 days. Looks like for $4 you can get 500mb/1 week validity. You simply add credit to your account, which allows you to make calls or send messages at a fixed rate per minute/message, then you can buy the data plan that you'd like using the credit that's already loaded. The whole process of getting the sim card, adding credit, and having the representative walk me through how the whole thing worked took about 20 minutes, though I do speak Spanish.

I have to disagree that data speeds are significantly slower than in the US. My phone only accommodates 3G speeds (the companies here offer 4G but I can't confirm how much of the country is actually covered), but I've been surprised that coverage and speed are more than comparable to what I've experienced back home. I've had no problem downloading podcasts and making calls on viber over the 3G networks here.
posted by exutima at 8:54 PM on May 13, 2015

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