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Cell phones in Central/South America?

Lacey

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  • Added on: May 5th, 2008
Hello,

I am planning to travel to Central and South America this fall, for Spanish study, volunteering, etc., for as long as I can afford to (months? a year or two?). I will probably start in Guatemala, then make my way through Central America and down into South America.

I do not currently have a cell phone, but was considering getting one to keep in touch with my family back home in the States, and with other travelers I meet along the way. However, I'm having a hard time finding useful information online about whether or not this is a good idea, what the requirements would be, and how much it would cost. Does anybody have any ideas?

I know that I would have to get a quad-band phone in order to have any hope that it would work in all of the countries I will be visiting. But I can't tell whether it would be cheaper to purchase an international plan in the States (anybody have any recommendations?), or to get a SIM-unlocked phone and buy a new SIM card in each country I visit.

Or, would it be cheaper and easier just to make calls from internet/phone cafes along the way, and skip the cell phone altogether? The most obvious downside of this option would mean that people back home or new friends wouldn't be able to contact me by phone if they needed to.

My friend wants to get all our friends to contribute to buying me an iPhone as a going-away gift, but I'm hesitant to accept it because it would be such an obvious theft-magnet.

Does anybody have any advice on phones (or alternative means of keeping in touch) while traveling? Thanks in advance for any insights!

smiles,
Lacey

Roque Mocan

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Posts: 26
Joined: March 15th, 2008

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  • Added on: May 5th, 2008
Cell phones are cheap in Central America. Just buy one here... (There are pre-paid cell phones for less than $ 20.00). You might want to buy from a company which has operations in various countries (Claro, Telefonica and Tigo come to mind) but ask if it is possible to transfer the service between countries. Many people, after finishing using the cell phone, give them as a gift to locals. Also, the iPhone only works with ATT in the USA, so you won't be able to use it as a phone here in Central America (I am based in El Salvador, near Guatemala). I have seen here my share of iPhones hacked to "open" them to local services, but you are tempting fate and you iPhone can be damaged. Also blackberries...
Roque Mocan
www.GuanacosOnline.ORG

gettinglost

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Posts: 46
Joined: March 29th, 2007
Location: Los Angeles

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  • Added on: May 6th, 2008
I just got a phone through AT&T, and got the international calling thingy-ma-jig turned on. It's $6 a month, and greatly reduces the international roaming rates. I've got a quad-band Samsung, and I'll be able to recieve calls from the US. Even better, my hubby can can call me from bootcamp!!!
But, a cheaper option for you, if you don't absolutely need a US phone number for people to be able to get in contact (they don't let you call internationally from bootcamp)- is to go with a cheapie throwaway. Prepaid is better... that way you don't blow your budget on cell calls, and learn to use it only in an emergency, or to let people contact you. Because, there's always Skype if you want to call out...and it's 10 or 15 cents a minute, instead of two dollars Smile
Furthermore: iphones, blackberries, or ANYTHING that looks even remotely expensive... is a sure way to attract ladrones. Tell your friends, that unless they have a strong desire for you to be robbed and assaulted- to exnay on the iphone.
That also goes for jewelry, computers, expensive mp3 players, designer handbags, shoes, and cameras.
Just say no.

My verdict: Roaming is even more expensive than calling out. Unless you need a US line, I strongly agree with Roque- go for the prepaid local job.
"It's not down in any map. True places never are."
-Herman Mellville, "Moby Dick"

Lacey

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Joined: April 21st, 2008

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  • Added on: May 20th, 2008
Thanks for the responses. It sounds like my best bet will be to buy a phone when I get there, and new SIM cards whenever I move out of a particular regional network. I appreciate the reassurances that it will be cheap and easy -- SO much better than worrying about an iPhone all the time!

Lacey

Lisa Britt

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Joined: March 23rd, 2005

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  • Added on: June 26th, 2008
How about signing up for Skype. Pay for your own phone number, by some headsets and use internet cafes all over central America. I know Costa Rica has internet in some of the smallest most remote places. Id try to figure out an internet way to keep in touch. I have ATT, my phone works here in Costa Rica but the bill is VERY expensive.

globetrots

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  • Added on: July 7th, 2008
The consensus here is correct: buy a cheap local one and make your friends call long distance--the cheapest calls around are from the U.S. But use Skype whenever you can as it's free when talking to other Skype users and less than 10 cents a minute most of the time when you use SkypeOut. I use it all the time in Central America when I'm there. (For lots of other useful advice on the region, you might want to check out the book Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America.)
Editor, Perceptive Travel and author of [url="http://travel.booklocker.com]The World's Cheapest Destinations[/url]

rpbroz

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Posts: 19
Joined: June 17th, 2007
Location: Suchitoto, El Salvador

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  • Added on: August 14th, 2008
Buying one or several cell phones on your trip would be the best advice, although Roque quoted less than $20 here in El Salvador, I have seen them as little as $9.99, hsi advice to leave them as gisft also goes over good with new friends. I have an Internet Cafe here in Suchitoto and travelers as well as mysefl use skype to call the US, I even let customers use my account(funds) if they don´t have one. I would suggest that you bring a good usb headphone set as they work much better than the regular headphones. I bought some on ebay on my last trip to the US for around $20.
For information about Suchitoto, El Salvador see http://www.gaesuchitoto.com and for general travel information about El Salvador see the site in my signature.
Have a great trip
Robert Broz
Suchitoto, El Salvador
Life is short, enjoy it while you can.
http://www.theotherelsalvador.com

Lacey

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Posts: 15
Joined: April 21st, 2008

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  • Added on: August 15th, 2008
Thanks for all the tips. I did buy a cell phone here in Guatemala for about $18, and a pre-paid plan that seems to be working fine. I suppose I´ll just use it until it doesn´t work anymore, and then buy another in the next place I go. Smile I will probably try Skype at some point as well if I feel the need for a longer conversation with folks at home, though I don´t have USB headphones (or any other headphones, for that matter). Smile



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