Cell Phones in Argentina
It’s very easy to get a SIM card for your cellphone in Argentina. First off, bring a phone with you, as electronics are some of the few items that are very expensive in Argentina. You’ll want a GSM-compatible phone (ideally a quad-band 850/900/1,800/1,900 MHz GSM phone, which you’ll be able to use all over the world). If you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S. your phone will work down here. If you’re on Verizon or Sprint, you’ll need to make sure that your phone has a SIM card slot and is GSM-compatible, as opposed to CDMA-only (most iPhone 4Ss and newer and most newer Android phones have both GSM and CDMA). You’ll have to be careful bandying your phone about as it can get snatched out of your hand by pickpockets, but nowadays lots of people down in Argentina have smartphones, including Blackberries, iPhone 5s, and Samsung Galaxy S4s. I ended up selling my Galaxy S4 for a healthy profit down here and switching to a cheaper Galaxy Pocket, which I figure is also less like to get stolen.
A SIM card on one of the three major networks will run you US$1-5. The main networks are Movistar, Claro, and Personal. All three work well in Buenos Aires, although Movistar seems to have a stronger network outside the city, and you’ll be able to use Movistar and Claro cards in other South American countries. Once you pick up a SIM card from one of the network stores (bring your passport), you can add money to your account at most kiosks (although strangely, not at the network stores). Just go to a kiosk, tell them you want to recharge (recargar) your phone, and give them some money and your phone number. You’ll start to get text messages offering lots of specials – usually there is a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 deal going on, so putting 20 pesos on your card will usually get you 40 or 60 pesos worth of value. On Movistar, the best deal is 7 days of unlimited data for 27.9 pesos (around US$3), which I used for my entire time down here.
If you’re calling from the U.S., dialing an Argentine phone number will look like this: 011-54-9-11-xxxx-xxxx.
The 011 means you’re calling from the U.S. 54 is Argentina’s country code. 9 means you’re calling a mobile number. 11 is the Buenos Aires area code, and then each individual phone number is 8 digits.
My cellphone number is technically 15-xxxx-xxxx. In-country, the 15 means it’s a mobile number. Sometimes you need to dial it, sometimes you don’t, don’t ask.
Half the time I just leave my cell data off because every place under the sun has wifi down here, so you can use Skype or Facetime or Google Hangouts. I also highly recommend getting a Google Voice number, so that people can continue to text and call you at your U.S. number (it can be a pain to activate a Google Voice number if you’re already outside the U.S. – if you’re interested in some workarounds shoot me a message, or start on your own by researching sipgate). Good apps to use with a Google Voice number to completely replace your usual cellphone and get free international calls are Talktatone (my favorite), GrooVe IP, and Viber.