Who's Calling, Please (and, How)? Cell Phones and Argentina.

If you're traveling to Argentina and wish to communicate via telephone, you have a few choices:

- rely on the landline in your apartment/hotel

- use your home country cellular service

- use an argentine based cellular service

- use a VoIP service

- make your calls using a locutorio (it's a telephone and internet service shop -- they're on almost every block).

The first and last options are physically limiting: you must stay near the hardwired equipment. However the VoIP option (think Vonage or the like -- or even a Magic Jack) is the most economical option for calling to and from the USA, if you will have access to a computer and the internet.

If you use the landline in your apartment to make calls, grab a "Habla Mas" card at a kiosko -- use that to place your international calls. Note that many temporary rentals have landlines that have to have time replenished by the use of prepaid cards -- they don't have unlimited local calls -- so you'll need to also buy cards for whatever local service provider is used by the landlord when you run out of time.

If you use your home country cellular service you'll end up paying their prices for international roaming (ouch!) and you'll probably not get any calls from anyone you meet or need to have call you in Argentina (because they'll have to make an international call to reach you). Plus you'll get to pay for getting all those calls you didn't want to get from back home (there's nothing like paying roaming charges for a "will you take our survey about customer assistance?" call).

Using an Argentine service is the most practical for MOST uses within Argentina (it is not the best for incoming international calls -- use your landline or a VoIP service) -- and best yet: it's easy and inexpensive. Just follow these steps:

1) You will need an UNLOCKED tri-Band or Quad-Band cell phone (and no this doesn't mean just the keypad being unlocked -- it means unlocked so that it will accept and use SIM cards from any carrier). Most phones in the USA are sold to you by your carrier locked. So you need to unlock your phone. You can do this one of three ways:

a. After you make sure you have a tri-band or quad-band phone, have your carrier unlock the phone for you. From personal experience, AT&T will provide you the unlock code and instructions for your phone if you've been with them awhile, you will be traveling outside of the USA, AND you "apply" for the unlock code at least 10 days in advance of your trip. However, certain phones cannot be unlocked (i.e. iphones). But, there is hope: take out that old phone of yours and check it out -- it might just work.

b. You can have a local, INDEPENDENTLY OWNED cellular repair shop unlock the phone for you. This usually costs $20 to $25. Ask them if there are any risks involved with your make/model phone.

c. You can do some research on the internet, try to get the unlock codes and instructions and do it yourself. However you need to understand YOU ARE TAKING THE RISK OF "BRICKING" (freezing up) YOUR PHONE if it doesn't work. Then your phone will never work (except as a paperweight). I always go with option "a" myself.

Or you can buy an unlocked phone (used unlocked phones can be cheap on online auction sites or you can research which models of new phones are unlocked -- i.e. some of the cheap prepaid phones found at big box stores are actually unlocked and run about $30).

Or you can rent a phone in Argentina.

2) You need an Argentine sim card. There are 3 major companies:

Claro ( formerly known as CTIMovil)

All have comparable rates -- But Claro is considered the least expensive (and because it is -- the cell time refill cards are more readily available in outlying areas).

3) You will need to buy time for the phone. Time is purchased in the form of cards "tarjetas" which can be purchased at kioskos (think mini-mini mart) all over Argentina. 20 peso cards are the easiest to find. But 50 peso cards tend to be the best value. Follow the instructions on the card for loading the time onto your phone. This involves dialing an access code, using the scratchoff PIN number on the card, then waiting for a few seconds for the time to register.

Be warned: the way cellular phone tariffs work in Argentina is different than in the USA: the caller pays for the airtime of the recipient cell phone... so it can eat up credits very quickly. This also makes is more unlikely that people will call you, because it costs them double (their airtime and yours), so texting is king in Argentina.

4) You'll need to know how to dial and be dialed. Telephone numbers are not the familiar 7 digits.. so, let's start with some basics:

11 = country code for Argentina
54 = area code for the province of Buenos Aires
26 = area code for Mendoza area
29 = area code for northern Patagonia
11 = city code for Buenos Aires
14 = city code for Mendoza
44 = city code for Bariloche
15 or 16 = area code for cellular phones within Buenos Aires

Landline telephone numbers are 8 digits of which the first two are more specific area code (i.e. most of the telephone numbers in Palermo start with a 48) So, now that you're confused, here is

How you dial a landline number from the USA:

011-54-11-xxxx-xxxx (number in Buenos Aires)
011-54-29-44xx-xxxx (number in Bariloche)

How to dial a Buenos Aires cellular from the USA:

011-54-911-xxxx-xxxx (this is tricky: you substitute 911 for the 15 or 16 at the beginning of the cellular number, so you're dialing 9-11- then the last 8 digits of the cell number)

How to dial from within Buenos Aires:

landline: xxxx-xxxx
cellular 15-xxxx-xxxx or 16-xxxx-xxxx

Dialing a landline to another area of Argentina from with Argentina:

0-54-city code-xxxx-xxxx

Dialing to the USA from Argentina:

001-area code-telephone number

Happy Talking!


Miranda said...

This is very helpful. Thanks for the tips!

superior said...
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