Without a DNI (Argentine identity card) foreigners in Argentina will not be able to get a cell phone contract in most cases.This means that most visitors use pay-as-you-go or prepago cellphone plans.
Using pay-as-you-go means becoming accustomed to the bothersome ‘no credit’ beep and wondering how a one-minute phone call could possibly have used up the rest of that 10 peso credit.
Cellphone users will have to get used to frequently purchasing more phone credit or ‘topping up.’ For non-Spanish speakers, this can be a daunting task, but with a little preparation it’s not as difficult as it seems.
Cell Phone Companies and SIMS Cards
SIM cards or chips can be purchased at many kioscos (kiosks) at phone shops or even on the street or subway.
There are three phone companies in Argentina: Claro, Personal and Movistar.
There are two ways to purchase phone credit in Argentina:
Option One – carga virtual or ‘virtual top-up’
This option is possible at some kioscos, locutorios (places where you can use payphones/ the internet), Pagofacil (where Argentines go to pay their bills) and the national pharmacy chain, Farmacity.
Because the systems are often not working right when one needs credit, it is wise to ask if the top-up system is working or if the place does virtual top-up before demanding credit. Ask, ´¿Hay cargas virtuales de Claro/Movistar/Personal?´ to find this out.
If the answer is ´Sí´ tell the cashier how much money you wish to add to your phone, for example, ´30 pesos de Personal por favor´.
The cashier will then ask you for your cell phone number. If your Argentine Spanish isn´t so hot, have the number written down and hand it to the cashier to avoid confusion.
The cashier will then top-up your phone and give you a receipt saying that the credit has been added. Most mobile phone companies then send a message to the phone to confirm your new balance. That´s it — your phone is now topped up.
Keep in mind that there is a sometimes a minimum top up amount, usually 15 pesos. If the place doesn´t have virtual top-ups or the system is down for some reason, see option two.
Option Two – tarjetas de recarga or top-up cards
Top-up cards can also be bought at kioscos or locutorios. They come in various denominations and contain a pin that needs to be entered into the phone in order to charge credit.
If you´ve tried to get a virtual top-up and for some reason the place doesn´t have it, ask if they have tarjetas de recarga or just tarjetas: ¿Hay tarjetas de Claro/Movistar/Personal?´ Customer service is a concept that has really caught on in Argentina, so the cashier is unlikely to offer this information unless asked.
If the place has cards, the cashier will likely ask: ´¿De cuánto?´ or, ´How much credit do you want?´
Tell them the amount and they will hand you a small card. Unwrap the card and scratch off the silver on the back to reveal your pin code.
Read the instructions on the back of the card to charge your credit — each company has a slightly different system.
To Recharge Credit on a Claro Phone
There are three options:
- Send a message to 444 with the pin code of your phone card in the message, you will shortly receive a message saying that your credit has been added.
- Call *444 where you will receive instructions to top up your phone.
- Bring up your phone´s menu, click the ´menu Claro´ option, select ´services´ and then ´My Claro.’ Choose the option ´pre pay´ and then select ´charge credit/card´ and type in the pin code from your card. You will then receive a message confirming the top-up and your new balance.
—To check your balance, send a message that says ‘SALDO’ to *555 and wait for a message with your current balance.
To Recharge Credit on a Movistar Phone
- Send a message to 444 with the ´pin code #´ and you should receive a message saying that your credit has been added.
- Or call *444, choose option two, and then mark your pin code followed by # , the code will then be repeated back to you, press 1 if it´s correct, 2 if it´s incorrect. Your credit will be added.
—To check your balance, send a message that says ‘SALDO’ to *444.
To Recharge Credit on a Personal Phone
- Send a message to *151 with the word REC and the pin code, you should receive a message saying that your credit has been added.
- Dial *151 and follow the instructions.
—To consult your balance, send a message that says ‘SALDO’ to *150.
Things to consider when using a pay-as-you-go cellphone in Argentina:
|• Choose the same phone company as your friends||-It is significantly cheaper to call or text someone on the same network. It is also possible to add free numbers from the same network to your account so you can call or text a few specified numbers for free.|
|• Top-up on days when there´s a promotion or credito de regalo.||-Phone companies often send texts on days where customers get free credit for topping up a certain amount. Beware though, the small print often means this is not always as good as it seems. Often the free credit only lasts for 10 days and only applies to calls made off-peak or to people on the same network.|
|• Top-up little and often||-Phone credit has to be used with 30 days. If it is not used within this time the credit is frozen until another top-up is made.|
|• Text, don´t call||-Calls are notoriously expensive and gobble up your credit before you can even say ´hi, how are you?´|
|• Don´t leave voicemails||-These are expensive to listen to as they are charged by the minute rather than by a flat rate. Many simply won´t listen to a voicemail as they don´t have sufficient credit. Note, if you do want to call your voicemail and can´t figure out what your password is to access it, try the last four digits of your phone number or ‘1234’.|
—by Rosie Hilder