No sane person in this day and age would contemplate living without a cell phone, no matter where they are in the world. So what’s the story with getting one in Buenos Aires? Well it’s easy enough if you want to buy a cheap phone here with prepaid service. The big three phone companies – Personal, Claro, and Movistar – will all sell you a SIM card with a phone attached for about $150 to $175 pesos (that’s for the most basic phone). You’ll need to show your passport to buy one though.
If you want to bring a phone from home to use here, make sure it’s an unlocked 1900mhz GSM phone and you’ll be fine (that band is common in North America so it shouldn’t be a problem to find one). At the moment, a Motorola 195 or 197 would be a good choice – reliable, but not so flashy you’ll make yourself a target for thieves. They’re cheap on Ebay. Any tri- or quad-band phone should also work.
Once you have a phone, you should be able to go to a phone company store and buy a prepaid chip to insert into it…but sometimes the phone company stores don’t actually carry them! An easier and cheaper option is to go to Once train station, where they sell SIMs out the front for every carrier for $5 pesos. It’s the same story at the Retiro bus station stores.
If you’re buying a phone to bring here and you plan to stay in Argentina for a while (or forever), it’s a good idea to bring an extra phone or two in case you lose one and so that you have one to lend to friends while they’re visiting you here.
You can of course purchase recharge cards for prepaid cell phone plans from any kiosco, or some do it electronically if you give them your phone number and tell them how much you want to spend.
So far, so easy. But what if you want to get a cell phone with a contract rather than a prepaid plan? You’d most likely want to do this so that you can get a plan with data for your smartphone. Well, that’s more difficult. If you have a DNI and a debit/credit card then you might be in business, but the phone company will check that your visa expiration is at least 12 months away and may also require a Veraz credit report.
If you don’t have a DNI then one option is to ask a friend with a DNI to get the contract for you and you pay the bill. If it helps, after 6 months have passed you should be able to make a cambio de titularidad, but only to someone else with a DNI.
Some people have reported being able to get a contract with Claro without a DNI by paying an extra deposit and giving proof of at least a one year rental agreement. Give it a try if you have no other option.
Note that if you have an iPhone or similar you really need a plan with unlimited data, otherwise you’re going to be paying a lot in excess data charges. Also note that your iPhone needs to be “jailbroken” in order for it to work with an Argentine SIM card.
Above all remember that in Argentina nothing is universal, so the veracity of all of the information here is subject to the whims of the particular Claro clerk you happen to get!
Finally, a word of caution: cell phones, especially expensive ones, are very common targets for thieves in Buenos Aires. If you insist on carrying an expensive phone, think twice about where you are and who can see you before pulling it out (yes, that’s not easy to do when it suddenly starts ringing).
Supplement: phoning home
If you have relatives in another country that you to be able to call regularly from Buenos Aires you have a number of options:
* Call from home on a landline. Like anywhere else in the world, you can of course call internationally from Buenos Aires using your home landline (providing that you have one). The downside is that it’s usually the most expensive option.
* Skype (www.skype.com). Almost everyone knows about Skype by now, but if you’ve been living in a cave the last five years then here’s the deal: Skype is a service that allows you to make telephone and video calls over the internet using your computer (and a mike and headphones). Calls to other computers anywhere in the world are free, while calls to landlines and cell phones requires buying credit – but it’s very cheap. You will of course need a fast broadband internet connection to use Skype effectively.
* Call from a locutorio. Locutorios are of course the internet-café-and-phone-booth shops that are on almost every block in Buenos Aires. They’re cheap, even for international calls, and they even have a meter so that you can see how much the call is costing you. The downside of course is that you have to go to one to make a call – you don’t get to chat from the comfort of your own home.
* Use magicJack (www.magicjack.com). This is a recent invention that a lot of people are saying good things about. It’s a little device (smaller than a pack of cigarettes) that you plug into the USB port on your computer. Then you plug a normal phone into your magicJack, and voila! You can make unlimited calls to any phones in the United States and Canada. It costs $40 and that includes a year’s worth of service.