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Cell phones in Central America

TheBays

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  • Added on: February 20th, 2006
We are planning a year-long trip to Mexico and Central America and are planning on taking a cell phone with us. I've done some research and I've found out that a dual-band phone will work for all Central American countries (with the exception of Belize). A tri-band phone will work in all countries in Central America.

Have you also brought a cell phone with you? What has been your experience with taking a cell phone with you. Do you have reception most of the time? Are SIM cards readily available in Central America?

Our real motivation to take a cell phone is so we can stay in contact with our family so our kids (ages 1 & 3 now, 2 & 4 at the time of the trip) can stay in touch with their Grandparents during the trip. If a cell phone is not the way to go, do you have any other suggestions?

Also - if you have a cell phone in Central America, do you know if you have to pay for incoming calls as well?

River Rat

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  • Added on: February 24th, 2006
TheBays,
I would actually urge you not to bring a cell phone from the US here. More than likely you would have the same of two problems we all have had by doing that: 1. They tell you that you will have service, then you find out you don't Or that your phone isn't compatible with any of their SIMS cards here in CA. Or, 2. You will have to pay a lot for each outgoing call (from 50 cents to $1.99 per minute).
In Mexico you can buy a cheap phone with a SIM card, as low in cost as $25 US and you just buy pre-paid cards and put them in when needed. The cost per call is so much cheaper (if I remember right it is just .15 cents or .20 cents perminute at the most). Make sure you buy a phone with a SIM card. Try to stick with these brands....Motorola, Samsung...Nokia. They are the most popular brands here. Then in Guatemala, and the rest of CA you can have the chip changed out quite easily and cheap. Here in Guatemala the cost per call (local and US/Canada) is about .12 cents per minute unless it is "Double minutes Day". When it's double your minutes day, you can cut that cost in half. Those special days occur at least twice a month here. And no, you don't get charged for incoming calls. But a note here: Those calling CA from the US can be charged $3.50-5.00 per minute. Usually we tell people to call say who they are and then we call them right back to save them the high cost.
Hope this is all helpful to you.
Bien Viaje!
Christal

amsong

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  • Added on: February 24th, 2006
In my limited experience, I was able to find cheaper minutes buying a calling card from www.speedypin.com and calling from the US to El Salvador and Guatemala than the people in those countries managed to find in the reverse. However, I was the one in Guate. I rented a phone from my spanish language school (I was there short term), and I felt like the minutes were not as much as promised (supposedly, there were no extra charges- watch out for that)- but my minutes ran out incredibly fast. Something was definintely wrong. The school told me that it was the same as buying directly from the minutes card anywhere else in town. If you have your own phone and are working directly with one of the companies, maybe you will find better rates than what I was offered (this was only in one town, also). The mins from San Salvador were running much higher than speedypin with a cell phone from a store there (like 20-25 cents per min).

I find rates around 9- 12 cents per min on speedypin, but watch out for "Just Call"- it looks great but DEFINTELY I recommend steering clear of that particular brand. You may want to buy several cards to see which ones end up giving you the clearest connection, the fewest drops, as well as the best prices. But they all expire a certain number of days after purchase, so read all the details really carefully!

My own cell phone service people here in the US told me to not take my own phone down there, just to deal with it when ya get there.

Ann-Marie
"If you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, your life will be safe, expedient and thin."

from the book HorseWomen

River Rat

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  • Added on: February 27th, 2006
amsong,
Sorry about your experience with the cell phone here in Guatemala. We have been living here for 2 years, and love the phones here. You can also find some free cell phones, but they don't come with minutes already loaded on them, and they are cheaply made. For future reference, there is a flashing 'air time' after each call, and it's in the menu, of how long you talked each time. Write down the 'total (life) air time', then put a card in it. When the card is out, you've used those exact minutes. And the cell phone companies here do not round up to the half-minute or minute. They round to the centavo (Guatemala cent). Smile

TheBays,
I truly stand by my previous post. When we use the double your minutes days, our calls are 6 cents a minute. The double days work like this:
You put a card in (specified Q100-150). Those are better anyway because you get more free minutes. The phone then starts using your free minutes first, then your paid. You use them up over a period of 30 days. It's not just a one-day thing. Plus, as in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the rest of Central America....buy a cell phone with a SIM card in it and change it out to each country. Keep your old ones for use again some day.
Here on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, we get cruisers (people traveling on sailboats as we did) who have cell phones from the US by various companies who say they work here, but they don't. They end up buying a cell phone here Wink

Bien Viaje!
Christal

ernestt

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  • Added on: March 6th, 2006
Dear Members,

We are traveling to Guatemala City and then travel to Jalapa to do missionary work and medical clinic. We would like to be able to keep in touch with our family in California. We did discuss in our planning committee about cell phone coverage. It has not been easy to get reliable information among us. I have a Tracfone and called the company and they don't have phones that will work from Guatemala. I checked out T Mobile and Verizon shops and you have to sign a one year contract with them and they will ship a phone to you before you leave. I then scoured the web for information. I could order a triband and quadraband cell phone unlocked but when I tried to find a sim card that would work in Guatemala there were none available as Guatemala doesn't have a GMS sim card available due to the type of available system. One site said to get a local cell with the sim card already available. I checked the rental system and the rates were quite steep. It was more than what you would pay for the phone it self. I checked the satellite system at that was the same situation-expensive. I also checked Craigslist for local used cell phones for sale that were unlocked and that had the right frequencies for Guatemala.

So, what I wanted to find out was if anyone of you were able to purchase cheap cell phones with local sim card and phone cards that would work on cell phones to call back to the US. Do you know of any phone cards that would work in the US that you could call to cell phones in Guatemala? Where is the best retail store to buy this phone in Guatemala City or Jalapa? How much would you expect to pay for this phone? How many phone cards do you need for a typical call if you limit yourself to about 10 minutes a day for three weeks?

Would appreciate some answers about this matter soon as we are planning to leave for Guatemala City in 9 days on March 15th.

Thanks for any and all information and contributions to this matter.

Ernest

River Rat

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  • Added on: March 8th, 2006
ernestt,
The cell phone prices here range. They are new phones. It depends on what you want (camera option, brand, flip or not, etc.) They are the same type phones you can find in the US (Motorola, Samsung, Nokia, and a few other cheaper brands as well). I would highly reccommend buying one here in Guatemala.
You can buy them easily all over the country, even in the larger villages or small towns. Guatemala City has a wide variety. Just stop in any mall in the city, or any self-standing store.
You have a choice of different companies (Moviestar, Tigo, Comcel, PCS). I would reccommend either Moviestar (Telefonica) or Tigo. PCS and Comcel aren't quite as good.
The cost of the phones are from Free to $200 US. The higher being the 'top-of-the-line' like my husband's (camera, flip, and all the goodies).
They come with a 110v charger in the box.

Now, for the cards....
If you buy a Q 100 phone card (about $12.50 US), you get 100 minutes (local or the US/Canada) which is about 12.5 cents per minute. If you put the card pin into the phone on double-minutes days, you 200 minutes (which comes out to about 6 cents per minute). The minutes are good for 30 days. If they expire and you still have minutes left, just buy another card and the minutes roll-over.
We've had our phones for almost 2 years now and truly enjoy the service here. Our favorite company (which our phone are through) is Telefonica Moviestar (formerly BellSouth).
Too many people have brought phones from the US and regretted it. Here in Guatemala there are NO contracts. You buy the phone and use it, then either keep it and take back to the US, or sell it to another traveler (or even give it away). You might even be able to find someone selling a phone fairly cheap because they are leaving to go back to the US.

Bien viaje!
Enjoy Gautemala!
Christal

Maryann

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  • Added on: March 10th, 2006
Cellphones in Guatemala, at least, are very easy. Everyone uses them, because the land line system was so bad for so many years. When I was there last year, I bought a Moviestar phone at a corner store in Antigua for about $13US. That same phone will take SIM cards from just about any country in the world except the US (oh, a few others, too--but just about any place in Latin America.) Even without the double minutes discount--read the newspapers to see what days they are--calls to the U.S. cost 1Q--12cents--per minute. Except for email, it is the cheapest way to communicate with home. You don't get voicemail for that price, which is a pain, but the tradeoff is that you can also use the phone to communicate with your new local pals. And they will all expect you to have one.



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