How to get your iPhone or cell phone to work in Argentina!

Updated:  08 December 2014

I have been to Argentina three times since this article was originally published.  On my last trip, I was able to use my new T-Mobile iPhone 6.  The great thing about T-Mobile is that it lets you use your phone (any phone on the normal plan) at a cost of on $0.20 cents / minute with no roaming charges.  Hands down this beats anything available for SPRINT, AT&T, or Verizon.  The details below have been updated to reflect my experience of using T-Mobile in Argentina.

Everything written in my original post below still applies.

Introduction:

You are going to visit Argentina, and you want to use your cell phone there, but you don’t know if your cell phone will work there.  What should you do?

The first thing to know is if you even have the right kind of phone.  Global System for Mobile (GSM) is the transmission standard used by all cellular phone operators in Argentina.  In the US, some carriers use GSM, and others use Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA).

We will do our best here to tell you what to expect in Argentina will your cell phone from the four major cell phone operators;  Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.  In addition, we will also give you the current roaming rates and costs to make a call.  The table below shows the transmission technology used and the international rates for phone calls of the four major US cell phone operators.

Company

Transmission Standard

Phone Requirements

Cost / minute without an international dialing plan

AT&T

GSM & LTE

  • You AT&T phone should use GSM quad phone technology
  • International roaming must be setup

$2.50 / minute

Sprint

CDMA & LTE

  • In general, your phone will not work in Argentina
  • Some Sprint phones are World Phone’s, and will work on both CDMA & GSM quad phone technology.
  • International roaming must be setup for your phone.
  • Your Verizon phone must support GSM.  Most newer Verizon Samsung and iPhones will support GSM internationally.

$1.99 / minute

T-Mobile

GSM & LTE

  • You T-Mobile phone should use GSM quad phone technology
  • You need to make sure your phone is set up for roaming.
  • Your normal T-Mobile place does not have roaming charges in Argentina.

$0.20 / minute

Verizon

CDMA & LTE

  • In general, your phone will not work in Argentina
  • Some Verizon phones are World Phone’s, and will work on both CDMA & GSM quad phone.
  • International roaming must be setup for your phone.
  • Your Verizon phone must support GSM.  Most newer Verizon Samsung and iPhones will support GSM internationally.

$1.99 / minute

Charges listed above assume that you do not have a package for overseas call.  If you what a plan with your carrier for international calls that includes Argentina, your costs could be considerably lower.

There are three options for using your cell phone in Argentina as I see it.  I will explain all of them here.

  1. Use your own USA cell phone in Argentina, and take your luck on the roaming charges,
  2. Purchase an inexpensive unlocked cell phone for travel in Argentina and other countries, or
  3. Rent a cell phone in Argentina.

Since I do not like renting cell phones, I am only going to discuss options 1 and 2.  My personal cell phone in an iPhone 4S, and my US cell provider is sprint. An iPhone 4S fits the class of a “World Phone” in that it can run on both CDMA and GSM. I purchased my phone at the Apple store, and was just set up to work on CDMA, and done not come with a GSM chip installed.  I understand that if I had purchased the iPhone 4S directly from Sprint, it would with a GSM chip pre-installed.  While you may have another provider, the basic things that I did hear should work for all of you.

International Roaming & your cell phone

 Cell phone rates overseas users of Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon are so expensive, even with a plan, that for me the best option is to get a prepaid plan in Argentina.  With T-Mobile, you will not have any roaming charges.  Getting a prepaid will be discussed later.  In general, the following needs to be done for US cell phones.  There are two options when using your GSM phone Argentina:

  1. Have your phone set up for international roaming, or
  2. Have your cell unlocked so that you can install a chip from one of the cell phone companies in Argentina.

 Getting my Sprint iPhone 5 to work in Argentina

I had to get the following done for my account to get my phone to work in Argentina:

  • International roaming turned on for my account
  • My phone unlocked to allow a Argentina GSM chip to be installed into my phone (more on this later).  My cell acct is with Sprint.  It can be a frustrating experience to do this, but it you are persistent, they will do it.

Getting you carrier to unlock your GSM phone is an issue that you need to take up with your carrier.  I got Sprint to unlock my iPhone 4S, and they explained to me that steps that I needed to follow through iTunes.  If you call your carrier and explain that you want to put a GSM chip into the phone while you are in Argentina.

Three options for cell phone usage that I want to consider in Argentina:

  1. You want to receive calls from your friends or family while you are traveling in Argentina.  Who cares what the reason is, it is just important to you to be able to receive calls while you are in Argentina.
  2. You want to make local calls while you are in Argentina, and be able to receive calls.
  3. With T-Mobile, you will only pay $0.20 / money for receiving international calls, making local call, or make international calls.  If you have your T-Mobile phone on WiFi, you will not pay for any calls back to the USA, or have any charges for local in-country or International calls if you have the $10 / month plan to anywhere in the work to land-line phone, or the $15 / month that includes international calls to mobile phones.

With Option 1 you might just want to receive calls from your and friends, and will only be making emergency calls, I suggest that you just get your phone set up with Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon for international roaming.  Of course at the phone rates listed above, I would not recommend talking very long on any call, but this way you will be able to get emergency calls from your friends and family.  If you are going to be receiving a number of calls, and need to call back to the US extensively, I suggest you call your carrier, and discuss their internal roaming options.

For those that want make and receive local calls while traveling in Argentina, I suggest that you get a prepaid plan in Argentina from one of the major carriers there (Claro, Movistar, and Personal).  A prepaid plan allows you to pay as you go, is generally a bit cheaper than using your US cell phone carrier, and allows you to stay in touch with your friends and relatives in the US.  I will give details about getting a prepaid GSM chip for your US cell phone, and using your phone in Argentina, but first I need to explain how things run in general with cell phones.  A prepaid plan will give you a fixed number of calls you can make.  If you want to make more calls, you can always recharge the account associated with the plan.

General guidelines for using your cell phone in Argentina (except for T-Mobile)

Call Type

Points to remember

Receiving calls
  • Incoming calls are free
  • The person making the call pays for the call
  • Call from a land line (regular phones cost the person making the call a lot more than a cell phone.  Therefore, you might not want to talk very long when receiving a call from a land line)
Making Calls
  • You are charged for outgoing calls
  • Calls to a land line calls cost more, and can be very expensive
  • Calls to other phone companies (cell and land lines) involve special dialing codes.  This will be discussed in greater detail later

Getting a prepaid phone chip for your US cell phone

I got a GSM chip for my iPhone 5 from Personal in Oct 2013.  It will cost you AR$10.00 pesos from Personal.  I will discuss the basic steps that I followed to get the chip. Movistar and Claro should have similar policies and pricing.  I had to go to several Personal stores in Buenos Aires, and none of them could do the required micro chip.  I had to go to the main Personal store near the corner of Florida & Corrientes on Corrientes.  I could only get the chip there.  To get credit added to my account, you have to visit one of the many mini food kiosks, or a locutorio (phone cabinas / Internet cafe) to get credit added to the phone.  Some places can directly added credit to your new prepaid acct, and some give you a prepaid card, and then you have to add the credit to your phone yourself.  I found a locutorio that could add the credit directly to my account.

If you have a chip converter, you can turn a regular GSM chip to a microchip for your cell phone.  You can get a chip converter at Amazon.

Just like the US, there are both company stores, and stores representing certain carriers.  Some of these stores will not have prepaid GSM chips, and you will have to go to another store.  Cell phone stores are as easy to spot in Argentina as they are in the US.

You can buy GSM chips over the Internet in the US, but I would recommend against doing this.  First, the chips seem to be more expensive than Argentina, and second, if you buy in Argentina, you have a place to go if you have trouble with your chip.  If you buy the chip in the US, how will you get help while you are in Argentina?

Check my Brazil write-up to see how to install a check in your iPhone 4S / iPhone 5:

http://www.memorypoint.net/popeblog/2012/12/08/your-cell-phone-and-your-trip-to-brazil/

You will have to call your cell phone carrier, or read the instructions for your cell for the instructions for putting a chip into your cell phone.

Another option – purchase an unlocked cell phone

Inexpensive unlocked cell phones are easy to find at Amazon.

Of course I am assuming that you just want an inexpensive way to both make and receive cell phone calls while you are traveling in Argentina.  These sources have low-cost phones that can be used after you buy your GSM phone chip in Argentina.

What you need to know to make a cell phone call in Argentina

I will not even begin to discuss how to make a cell phone call in Argentina.  Things are just plain confusing when making a call in Argentina.  Just like the USA, you need to know the city code (same as US area code) and the code for the cell phone company of the person you are calling.  Below is a link that explains making a cell phone call in Argentina

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_numbers_in_Argentina

Links to the four largest cell phone carriers in Argentina( I could not find web pages in English for these companies):

Claro:                http://www.claro.com.ar/portal/car/

Personal:         http://www.personal.com.ar/

Movistar:         http://movistar.com.ar/

Getting an Argentina GSM Chip in the USA on eBay or Amazon

I recently purchased a chip on eBay for my unlocked GSM phone.  The same vendor was also selling chips on Amazon.

I successfully used this chip on a recent chip to Argentina, and plan to use the chip again when I visit in October 2014.

I think it is worth noting that if you do purchase a chip on eBay for Amazon, you need to get the seller to explain the following:

Activating the chip,

Recharging the trip,

How long the chip is good for, and

Other usage limits on your purchased chip.

Overall, I was quite happy with the chip I purchased, but I have been to Argentina about 30 times in the last 10 years.  That background helped me to understand what I was doing.  For someone that does not get a good explanation for the seller, the chip you purchased on eBay or Amazon might not be a good deal for you.

If you are getting this chip for an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus or a new Samsung smartphone, or any other cell phone that uses a microchip, you will need to have a method to cut your chip to the size of the chip used in your phone.  The chip that you will purchase on eBay or Amazon is a regular size chip.  You will have to modify the purchased chip for your iPhone.  If you are not comfortable doing this, you should not do this purchase on either eBay or Amazon.

I cannot say enough about my T-Mobile phone when traveling Internationally.  Besides low rates for calls, I can get my email and surf the Internet for free.  During my November 2014 trip to Argentina, I used by iPhone 6 there without an a local sim.  After getting home, I did not have any surprises on my bill.  The only down side to my T-Mobile iPhone 6 in Argentina was not the fault of either T-Mobile or the Apple iPhone 6, but rather the Argentina cell phone carriers.  The main problem in Argentina is that your T-Mobile phones will work for voice, but large parts of the cell services in Argentina will not support an Internet connection.  Without an Internet connection, you cannot surf the web or get email.  However, when Internet connectivity was available, the T-Mobile free web browsing and email was great.

 

One thought on “How to get your iPhone or cell phone to work in Argentina!”

  1. I’m Canadian so I didn’t even try to follow because we have different carriers, all horrible. None of my Canadian phones have worked here until this year, when my Androd device welcomed me to Argentina and suggested that I set up my dataplan at really stupidly incredible rates. Generally I buy or borrow an old phone from someone/where and use carga virtual, i.e. you put money in a machine along with your phone number and you’re good to go. When I change phones I just move the chip to the next one. I have a land line, which my younger friends like if they rely on paying carga virtual, but you can’t call from landline to cell unless the phone is set up that way, and the charges are almost the same as for long distance. I used to use phone cards with the landline such as Llamada Directa. Irritating b/c you have to dial three very long numbers, but I could call Canada (as of 2 years ago) for 70 minutes, 10 pesos. Yet if I had to call a cell phone with the same card it cost 4x as much even though I was calling across town, not 10,000 km! So many mysteries. For example, when you charge up your card at the highest non-special-offer rate you will get a msg from the company with some kind of bonus. Sometimes it doubles your minutes, or it tells you that you get unlimited calling to people using the same provider until the amount runs out, or it tells you that you’re about to be out of credit but you can borrow 2 pesos’ worth (or whatever) to be deducted from your next card. Anyone on a budget knows what providers their friends and families use so they can take advantage of stuff like this. People are astounded when I tell them that I have a landline and a cell phone and each one allows me to call anyone, anywhere, no problem.

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