One of the first things on your to do list when you arrive in Buenos Aires will be to buy a SIM card and get connected. Don’t even consider switching on your roaming, as you’ll run up a gastronomic phone bill. There is free Wi-Fi in most cafes, restaurants and even parks around the city but a SIM card makes life just that little bit easier when you’re on the go and trying to navigate the streets. Follow our guide to buying a SIM card in Buenos Aires.

Bring an unlocked cellphone with you

Using your unlocked cellphone in Argentina — © DanielMenR / iStock.
Using your unlocked cellphone in Argentina — © DanielMenR / iStock.

Due to high import taxes, Apple products are like gold in Argentina (and cellphone robbery is unfortunately commonplace) so you might want to consider leaving your fancy smart phone at home and bringing an old unlocked cellphone with you to use. If you are going to bring your iPhone, use it discretely and don’t wave it around when you’re walking the streets.

Prepaid vs. Contract

While you might be used to a contract phone back home, if you’re only going to be in Buenos Aires for a limited time, it’s much easier to buy a prepaid SIM (or chip as it’s fondly known in castellano) and top up as you go. Argentine phone providers require visas and a bunch of paper work to set up a contract and there are multiple prepaid packages available with good deals so you can shop around and find the right one for you.

Where to buy a SIM

Buying a prepaid SIM card at a Movistar store in Buenos Aires — © Leonardo Ferrer / Flickr.
Buying a prepaid SIM card at a Movistar store in Buenos Aires — © Leonardo Ferrer / Flickr.

While you might read that you can easily buy a SIM card in any local kiosco (and you can) activating them can be a headache, particularly if you’re not very confident with your castellano, as you will have to dial various numbers, select options in Spanish and sometimes even speak to an advisor, who might not always speak English. What’s more, with the rise in cellphone crime, new laws were brought in last year making it compulsory to register your SIM card to your DNI number so if you’re a tourist without a DNI, you’ll need to go into the office of your cellphone provider and show your passport to be able to activate your SIM. It makes more sense then to do it all in one go and buy your SIM, register it and top it up at one of the office of your chosen cellphone provider.

The top three phone providers on the market

Claro store for mobile plans in Buenos Aires — © Leonardo Ferrer / Flickr.
Claro store for mobile plans in Buenos Aires — © Leonardo Ferrer / Flickr.

Claro has a good selection of different prepaid plans available that you can purchase online (after you’ve bought your SIM card) or in one of their stores, including a special range of short-term packages for tourists. For example, for around USD 4 (at the time of writing) you could get a 2GB of data and free Whatsapp usage for 15 days that you can then top up.

Movistar has a similar range of prepaid plans available, all with unlimited Whatsapp usage and some with call time and Internet combined, depending on what you do more often. You can also access everything online or in store and keep an eye out for text messages from Movistar to multiply your credit by sending an SMS to a certain number.

Personal is the other big contender on the telecommunications market, offering similarly priced packages and deals.

All the above providers offer similar coverage and have various offices dotted around the city so you might just want to base your decision on the nearest office to you. The whole process is generally pretty quick and efficient. Take a number from the machine and wait to be called. In most places, there’ll be some English-speaking staff on hand to help you if you get stuck.

Tip: Whatsapp is the King of communication in Argentina and everyone chats and calls via Whatsapp so make it the first app you download when you arrive (if you don’t have it already).

Recharging your SIM card

You can top up your credit at automated vending machines that you’ll find in many kioscos and shops around the city (the same machines where you can top up your trusty SUBE card) or just look out for the cargo virtual sign in a shop and the shop staff can do it for you if you give them your number, phone provider and amount you want to add. You can also top up your phone using your credit card and buy specific plans via your cellphone provider’s website directly.

Dialing rules

Use messenger apps like WhatsApp to stay connected and save costs — © grinvalds / iStock.
Use messenger apps like WhatsApp to stay connected and save costs — © grinvalds / iStock.

Cellphone numbers in Argentina are always preceded by a two-digit number, either 15 or 11, and either can be used when you’re in Buenos Aires. However, when dialing a Buenos Aires cellphone from another country, for example if your friends or family back home want to call you, they will need to dial the Argentina country code +54 then 9 then 11 followed by the number (leaving out the 15).

Got any other tips for buying SIM cards in Buenos Aires? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments section below.

Originally published on Ailola by Sophie Lloyd on January 29, 2019.