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Buying SIM Cards in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru

By Zab Scoon Get Connected11 Comments

Prior to leaving London, I’d spent many hours researching local SIM cards in South America.

I looked through the various blogs and forums and just got the impression that if we wanted to use a mobile for other than phone calls and text messages it was going to cost us a small fortune!

After several months travelling in South America, I’m pleased to report that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s how we organised phone, SMS and data usage in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

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While this article is mostly about buying physical local SIM cards, if you have a recent iPhone or other supported device, the best way for you to stay connected in South America may well be to buy an eSIM instead.

That’s true for individual countries, but it’s especially the case if you’re traveling throughout the region. While physical SIMs that let you roam cheaply throughout the region are somewhat rare, there are many eSIMs designed to let you do exactly that.

We’ve put together an explainer of what eSIMs are all about if you’re not familiar with them. In short, because they’re software rather than a physical plastic card, you avoid the hassle of kiosks and phone stores entirely, and are connected as soon as you land.

We mostly use Airalo: with low prices and easy setup, it’s a good option for most travelers. There are several different travel eSIM companies out there, though, so compare the cost before you buy. It can be about the same as a physical SIM, especially for shorter stays.



  • We used Personal

Other options include Claro, Movistar, and NEXTEL.

How to Buy a SIM Card in Argentina

There are many Personal stores around Buenos Aires and other large towns and cities in the country, although English may not always be spoken. No passport is required for a PAYG SIM.

Do remember that depending on your device, you may have to cut the SIM card to fit your smartphone as they are a standard SIM size. See general notes below.

Prepaid SIM Costs

Please note that quoted prices are for the region your SIM card was purchased. For example, a SIM purchased in Buenos Aires will have a Buenos Aires number. When traveling outside city limits, call costs are slightly more expensive.

I paid AR$17 ($3) for the SIM and AR$50 ($10) for PAYG credit. Calls cost AR3.25 ($0.60) for local calls, but prices rise by 20% on average when long-distance calls are made. If you top up AR$40 you receive 200 national text messages.

To use 3G internet a daily add-on costing AR$1 ($0.18) is available for unlimited data. Honestly, it’s quite a bargain! You purchase this add-on via menus that appear on the screen after dialing the access code.

To reduce costs I used Whatsapp, which is very popular in South America – if you have a data connection. A single call can easily cost many times more than the 1 peso for a day’s 3G service.

Topping Up

Most kiosks, as well as Personal stores, will be able to top-up your credit. Kiosks will sell you a card for either 10, 20, or 30 pesos.

Follow the instructions on the reverse of the card and you will receive a text message confirming your top-up amount.

You can also check your balance directly from your phone. Use Google Translate if you are having difficulty understanding the instructions.

Coverage and Data Speeds

Like US and European services, data speeds and network coverage vary. It’s not unusual to have no signal or data capabilities if you are in remote or mountainous regions like Patagonia. Two-way or satellite radios are often the only form of communication there.



  • We used VIVA

Other options include Entel and Tigo.

How to Buy a SIM Card in Bolivia

You are required to register your PAYG SIM in Bolivia. I would recommend doing the initial purchase and registration of the SIM card and device in a VIVA store, not forgetting to take along your passport.

These stores seem to be only in cities or large towns, eg: Tarija, Sucre, Santa Cruz, and La Paz. SIM cards are only currently available in standard size. See general notes below.

Prepaid SIM Costs

I paid Bs 10 ($1.50) for the SIM, and Bs 50 ($6.50) for PAYG credit. Calls cost Bs 1.55 ($0.24) if made between 7am to 9pm and Bs 0.68 (($0.10) at other times. An SMS cost Bs 0.20 ($0.03) for national texts and Bs 1 ($0.15) for international texts.

I had the option of hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly data add-ons. DO NOT choose the hourly bundle as it’s a waste of money. I’d recommend purchasing the following for a one month stay:

1. A bundle called BOLSA VOLUMEN PRE-PAGO Móvil 500 MBx50Bs 30 días (days) on your first day for Bs 50 ($7.50).

2. On subsequent days purchase the Móvil Diario 7MBx1Bs 1 Bs. 1 día (day) bundle for Bs 1 (US$0.15).

If you are intending to stay in Bolivia for only one or two weeks, you can purchase less than 500MB to start with.

NOTE: The VIVA system uses the 7MB first as it’s only valid until midnight on the day of purchase. Your unused 500MB balance rolls forward for 30 days if you purchase data each day. All up, the equivalent of 710MB for 30 days cost Bs 80 ($12).

Unlike in Argentina, Bolivian mobile providers charge the same call and text rate wherever you are in the country. To reduce costs I’d still recommend using text messages or an application like Whatsapp or Skype, even though calls and texts are far cheaper in Bolivia.

Topping Up

You’ll find many kiosks as well as VIVA stores where you’ll be able to top-up your credit. Note that the kiosks will sell you a card for 10, 20, 30, or 50 bolivianos.

Follow the instructions on the reverse of the card and you will receive a text message confirming your top-up amount.

You can also check your balance directly from your phone. Use Google Translate if you have difficulty understanding the instructions.

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Coverage and Data Speeds

Data speeds and network coverage varied more in Bolivia more than other South American countries we visited. Again, it is not unusual if you are in remote or mountainous region to have no signal or data capabilities.

The infrastructure in Bolivia seems to be mostly based on wireless communications, as opposed to the US and European cable systems.

It is not uncommon in a hotel or hostel to find a dongle plugged into the back of a wireless router and on occasions, in more remote areas, it only functions for a set number of hours a day.



  • We used Movistar

Other options include Claro and Nextel.

How to Buy a SIM Card in Peru

As in Bolivia, you’re required to register your PAYG SIM. You won’t be able to add an internet bundle to your account if you haven’t registered the SIM card and device. Your passport or driving licence is required along with a fingerprint.

I would strongly recommend doing the initial purchase and registration of the SIM card and device in a Movistar store. Again, they’re mostly found in cities or large towns like Puno, Arequipa, Cusco, and Lima.

Do remember that depending on your device you may have to cut your SIM card to fit – see general notes below.

Prepaid SIM Costs

I paid S/8 ($3) for the SIM and S/70 ($27) for PAYG credit. National calls cost S/0.49 ($0.18) and text messages cost S/0.10 ($0.04). International texts cost S/0.25 ($0.09).

You have the option of a daily, weekly, or monthly data bundle. For a one-month stay, I’d recommend purchasing the Elige tu Supercarga de Internet for S/60, which provides 1GB of data that lasts for 30 days.

NOTE: This bundle is a one-off monthly payment and does not require you to purchase Internet services each day. There are other data bundle options if required – if you’re only staying for 1 or 2 weeks, for instance, you can purchase less than 1GB. See pricing here.

Like Bolivia, calls and texts aren’t particularly expensive for PAYG SIMs. Again, to keep costs down I would still recommend using an application like Whatsapp or Skype to make international calls and texts, especially if you’ve already purchased a data package.

Topping Up

You will find many corner shops (as well as the Movistar stores) that can top-up your credit.

At the corner stores, you ask for a top-up of however many soles you require. They contact Movistar by either phone or computer. You receive a text message confirming the amount of your top-up, pay, and get a receipt.

As in Argentina and Bolivia, you can also check your balance directly from your phone. Use Google Translate if you are having difficulty understanding the instructions.

The menus across the networks and countries are very similar, so once you have mastered one the others become far simpler.

Coverage and Data Speeds

Data speeds and network coverage vary less than other South American countries we visited. Again, it’s not unusual if you are in remote or mountainous region to have no signal or data capabilities.

General Notes

It is important to note that my experiences have been with an iPhone 4 running iOS 6. Therefore, anyone owning an iPhone should be able to simply insert the SIM, register if required, and then have a working phone.

I’m aware that it can be a slightly tricky process in some cases if you own non-Apple smartphone, as they can require manual configuration of APN settings in order to use the various SIM cards.

I would strongly recommend that both Apple and Android smartphone users purchase (and where necessary, register) their SIM and device in a dedicated store for that network provider. They often have technical support in-house, or can easily phone support from their store.

A SIM card cutting tool could be useful, as all PAYG SIMs we found were the standard size, not micro or nano. Currently, we use a penknife and an old micro SIM as a template to cut the new SIM to size.

I suggest you don’t add credit to your account before cutting the SIM to size yourself. You don’t want to lose your money!

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author

Zab Scoon

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Zab Scoon, a recovering workaholic, is currently travelling in South America with his partner, and together they run the blog Indefinite Adventure. Originally a corporate accountant, he then co-ran his family jewellery business for several years before selling it all to travel. Currently, he's learning to develop databases with FileMaker and trying to juggle that with the challenges of full time travel.


  1. Avatar

    Thanks for featuring Zab’s piece. I think he did a really good job of it, and hope it proves useful for anyone travelling in South America!

  2. Avatar

    Great article Zab – and very timely, as I’ve just started my two month stint in Bolivia! I don’t have a smart phone but I do have an iPad – do you reckon the same rules apply if I want to get a 3G SIM? I assume I’ll have to cut it down (which terrifies me only slightly…) and I’m guessing from this piece that you’d suggest Viva as the best carrier. Love to hear your thoughts on this!

  3. Avatar

    Hi! I know VIVA also provide SIM cards for iPads but that may require you to have a contract as opposed to a PAYG SIM card. Some of their contracts do allow you to cancel them before the minimum time period for a small fee, so worth checking out. If they only offer contracts with no possible opt out I would try a regular SIM with a little credit on and just see what happens – at worst you could lose around £5/US$7.50.

    Here are a few PDFs from the VIVA website about using 3G and 4G with your iPad.

    I hope you are enjoying Bolivia! Any more questions, let me know.

  4. Avatar

    So you want to buy a SIM card in Peru? Be prepared for a long
    bureaucratic process – it’s a ‘fun’ way to improve your Spanish 🙂

  5. Avatar

    This is so useful – thanks so much. Got my Viva sim (in Bolivia) but now trying to work out the best mobile modem for my laptop. Any ideas?

  6. Avatar

    Just bought a Personal SIM for Argentina. It’s rubbish. Their internal package allows you to use 10mb as full speed, then it drops to 64kbs, which of is super super slow.

    For those needing decent internet access I’d recommend trying Movistar or Claro.

    Hopefully I have better luck in Bolivia.

  7. Avatar

    I’ve been traveling Latin America since April 2015. I’ve run into various cell companies throughout. Claro in Guatemala has a special deal to call USA for ~$.04/min.; same with MasMovil Panama. Claro-Colombia has this rate but limited to 25min/mo. I’m currently in Peru and have a Movistar chip. Is anyone aware of other Latin American countries with special USA dialing rates? And if so how are they accessed?

  8. Avatar

    A bit of an old article (in web terms) but great to find the answer to “what happens if i get a monthly package in Bolivia and also a daily package – which is used first?”

    Just to reply to the Gringos complaining about “why do I have to register my SIM card”

    Because people use anonymous SIM cards to do extorsion where they send hitman round if you don’t pay their money. This was used on even primary schools in SMP in Lima while I was there.

    Safe to say if they had to choose between inconveniences for Gringos and…..

    Well. you get me

  9. Avatar

    I’m planning a year long trip through South America in 2016. I currently work remotely and will continue to work while traveling. I’m concerned with the Internet connections in SA, specifically in the more remote areas. I’m planning on purchasing SIM cards in each country I enter and using my cell phone as a hotspot / tethering device when there is no Internet connection. I’m concerned that in these remote areas there will be NO Cell Phone Reception which will mean No Internet Connection. How often would you say you ran into no cell phone reception? And would you say its possible to continue to work remotely in SA by using my cell phone as a hotspot?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Ryan,

      Firstly, sorry for the slow response. We have been on the road and getting over jet lag. It’s great you have the year to travel around South America. I’m a firm believer in travelling slowly especially if you work remotely like we all do.

      It really depends how remote you’re talking about. The most difficult time for internet connection was in El Chaltén in southern Argentina. It was painfully slow, though I have heard that much has been improved. I would suggest asking a hostel or hotel in this large village if you are planning on visiting. Also when travelling, as in on buses, and it is very remote, we most certainly didn’t get internet and on occasions no phone signal.

      It’s been two years since we were in that part of the world. It’s important for folks to realise that many of these countries rely heavily on mobile internet systems (GSM masts/satellites). Installing cables around the country is just neither feasible nor cost effective.

      So the upshot is we never went several days without internet and having your own sim card and using your phone as a hotspot is a good idea. I would suggest a couple of things for you. Have a spare battery pack and if you don’t have an iPhone make sure you are fully versed in how to set up the phones network and data settings. We met several people who had a lot of hassle or just didn’t get the system to work with their phones.  Things may have changed but with their android OS they had to request the mobile network send a profile to the device.

      Any further questions let me know.

  10. Avatar

    I travelled in Argentina in December 2018-January 2019. I originally purchased a prepaid cell package from Movistar but found that I could not access the internet. After multiple trips to Movistar branches I ended up at a Samsung store where the staff person told me that from time to time he has found the internet does not work on cell phones purchased outside of Argentina, and it is always with Movistar packages!
    I switched to Claro and the internet worked like a charm. Claro also provided coverage in the rural Traslasierra Valley in Cordoba Province, where friends with Movistar and Personal packages had no signal.

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