Oct 15 2013

Getting a SIM in Argentina/Mexico

travel sim mexico argentina

I recently took a trip to Buenos Aires and Playa del Carmen, and found getting mobile data kind of an ordeal. I wanted to document what I did since the guides online seemed slight out of date.

In Argentina

Movistar runs a prepaid cell service with unlimited data for AR$1/day. To get this:

  1. Go to a kiosko or locutorio with the Movistar logo in the window with ‘chip’ or ‘chipo’ or ‘SIM’ (not recarga).
  2. Ask for ‘chip prepago’ specifying Movistar if needed (‘chip’ is pronounced like ‘cheap’). If your phone takes micro-SIM (most newer phones), you’ll need to buy a regular SIM and cut it down to size (not too hard, just need scissors and a steady hand). None of the kioskos sell micro-SIM, and if you ask they will simply tell you ‘no’ instead of ‘buy this one and cut it down.’
  3. Your chip may have been opened, the chip taken out, and taped back in. This happened to me in Argentina and Mexico, and as far as can tell it’s OK and the chip was simply returned by the previous owner.
  4. If your phone is micro-SIM, now’s the time to break out the scissors. If you screw up, you only lose AR$10 which is about US$2 so it’s not that big of a deal. microsim-shop has details, just make sure to get the position and alignment of the metal contacts right. If you’re cutting the metal contacts themselves then you’re doing something wrong.
  5. Insert your new SIM. You may need to reboot your phone for it to register.
  6. You’ll know you did it right if the phone registers itself on the Movistar network and has signal. A fresh SIM on Movistar is supposed to have an ‘overnight’ activation period with a confirmation text, but since the SIM I got was opened I think it was operational from the start.
  7. We’re about to put money toward this number, so make sure the phone is registered on the network and has signal. If isn’t, you may need to reseat the SIM and reboot or, if you cut your own micro-SIM, buy a new card and try again.
  8. Your phone may not be able to read the number off of the SIM, so I suggest you write down the number on a piece of paper or email it to yourself so you have it handy. In Buenos Aires this should be a 10-digit-long number.
  9. Go to a kiosco or locutorio with ‘recarga Movistar.’ This may or may not be the same place you got the SIM.
  10. Ask to ‘recarga Movistar,’ give the cashier your number and pesos, and hopefully the transaction will go through. If it did, you’ll get a text with your new balance. Certain days Movistar will text you about a 2-for-1 promotion, if you’re in BA for a longer term it may be worth the wait to top off then.
  11. Some places may sell you a scratch-off card to recharge, I’d recommend just finding the places that will do it directly with your number.
  12. You should be able to text ‘SALDO’ to either 444 or *444 to get your current balance. This can be done 10 times a month before costing money.
  13. Unlimited internet is automatically charged $1/day. You may have to send DATO to 2345, or bring the phone in to Movistar HQ to have internet activated (Avenida Santa Fe 1844, usually open 9-6 on weekdays). Service is much quicker if you already have the chip, since you can just talk to the people on the first floor right at the entrance.
  14. Your number externally (if you want to attach it to Google Voice) is +54 9 (your 10 digit number). I was able to receive both voice and texts from GVoice, but was unable to call out. Inside Argentina, there is something wacky about substituting the ‘15’ for ‘11’ in your number that I don’t fully understand, Fodor’s has some data on this:
  15. I was unable to connect the sim online to ‘mimovistar,’ so I was unable to recharge the phone online.

In Mexico

The Movistar SIM worked prefectly in Mexico, but the data rate was very expensive and I chewed through my remaining credit very quickly. I bought a Mexican SIM from Telcel (¿tiene chip prepago?) that worked fine once cutting down to microsim size. however, I had to buy a separate internet package which can be done online via credit card. The nice thing is that you are able to do this from the phone’s internet connection directly, even if you haven’t bought a plan yet. I was unable to get Google Voice to text or call the Mexican SIM.

Good luck!



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