Buy a local SIM card to reduce your mobile phone roaming bills
If you are planning a trip to South America, every cent will count towards food, flights, hotels and basic expenses. Living on a shoestring budget can be difficult so it’s important to scrimp and save on things that are not such a necessity.
A top tip for keeping down costs is to switch your mobile phone provider to a local SIM card to take advantage of local tariffs, plans and deals.
Chile has some of the best mobile phone deals on the market but the reliability is questionable. You can get 1GB of data from Chile’s top telco providers for about AUD$20. So, whether you’re a short- or long-term traveller, you can save money by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.au.
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There are six main telco operators in Chile: Entel, Movistar, Virgin Mobile, Movil Falabella, WOM and Claro. Each one can be trusted, but we have selected the top two to help you reduce costs.
According to OpenSignal’s 2016 country report, Movistar was voted the best overall performer in Chile, while Entel had the best 3G speeds. Therefore, these are the two leading carriers we have selected.
About Entel and Movistar
Both Entel and Movistar are two of the leading telecommunications companies in South America, and offer the best deals on the Chilean market. SIM cards for either can be purchased at Santiago airport, phone kiosks or local stores and supermarkets, and they can also pick up service on nearby Easter Island.
Both networks provide users with 2G on 1900 MHz, 3G on 850 and 1900 MHz, and 4G on 2,600 MHz platforms, and offer a wide range of options.
Plans offered by Entel and Movistar
Both Entel and Movistar sell set plans rather than prepaid credit, which allow users to take advantage of local offers and deals.
Once you’ve bought your SIM card, credit can be purchased any time, and at any pharmacy and some supermarkets across Chile.
Entel SIM cards are available for CLP$3,500 or CLP$4,000 and come with credit bonuses of CLP$1,000.
The in-store agent should activate the SIM for you, or you can dial 301 once your SIM has been placed inside the phone. The SIM won’t allow you to connect to data unless you purchase an add-on data package.
Current Entel data packages:
- 40MB - 1 day: CLP$500
- 50MB - 1 hour: CLP$500
- 150MB - 7 days: CLP$1,500
- 300MB - 15 days: CLP$2,500
- 500MB - 30 days: CLP$3,990
- 1 GB - 30 days: CLP$7,500
The Entel data-only option is no longer available on prepaid plans.
Movistar sells its SIM cards for CLP$2,000 and additional credit rates apply. An LTE-enabled SIM is required for 4G, sold in most stores and supermarkets.
To activate the SIM, insert it into your device and call 103. Once you receive a confirmation SMS the phone is ready to go.
Current Movistar data packages:
Credit can be added by buying the following “bolsas” packages:
- 30MB - 1 day: CLP$590
- 80MB - 2 days: CLP$1,000
- 200MB - 7 days: CLP$2,000
- 200MB and 200MB social media - 7 days: CLP$2,500
- 500MB and 200MB social media - 30 days: CLP$4,000
- 500MB and 500MB social media - 50 mins, 50 SMS - 30 days: CLP$5,000
- 1GB and 500MB social media - 30 days: CLP$7,500
- 1GB and 500MB social media - 100 mins, 100 SMS - 30 days: CLP$10,000
Movistar still sells its data-only SIM cards for routers and tablets. The “Banda Ancha Móvil prepago” deal has the following plans:
- 4MB - 60 minutes: CLP$500
- 4MB - 180 minutes: CLP$990
- 4MB - 24 hours: CLP$2,990
- 4MB - 7 days: CLP$9,990
Movistar SIM cards also allow users unlimited roaming in: Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, Canada, USA and other Movistar locations. The "passport" option can be activated through dialing *101# and is valid for 12 hours at CLP$4,490 or 24 hours at CLP$6,990.
Jeremy says that to avoid massive roaming bills, you should consider purchasing a local SIM card in Chile. The best telco provider to use is Entel. “You can only buy SIM cards from department stores and not from the telco providers directly. Stores you can buy a SIM card from include Paris, Ripley and Falabella, which are in most major shopping centres,” Jeremy says. “Even though Entel is the best, coverage can be patchy and slow in some areas. Practise meditating while some things are loading,” he adds. Unfortunately, you can’t recharge your phone directly at a phone shop – you must buy credit at a pharmacy. So, Jeremy has come up with a few handy phrases to help you purchase your top-up, if your Spanish isn’t up-to-scratch. “To ask to buy credit say ‘queiro cargar mi cellular de Entel por favor’. They will say ‘cuanto plata?’ (how much money?). “You can then just show them the note you want to pay with. They will then ask for your phone number; just show it to them rather than reading it out,” Jeremy explains.
Tried and tested by finder.com.au
Some top tips from other finder.com.au staff:
Jeremy says that to avoid massive roaming bills, you should consider purchasing a local SIM card in Chile. The best telco provider to use is Entel.
“You can only buy SIM cards from department stores and not from the telco providers directly. Stores you can buy a SIM card from include Paris, Ripley and Falabella, which are in most major shopping centres,” Jeremy says.
“Even though Entel is the best, coverage can be patchy and slow in some areas. Practise meditating while some things are loading,” he adds.
Unfortunately, you can’t recharge your phone directly at a phone shop – you must buy credit at a pharmacy. So, Jeremy has come up with a few handy phrases to help you purchase your top-up, if your Spanish isn’t up-to-scratch.
“To ask to buy credit say ‘queiro cargar mi cellular de Entel por favor’. They will say ‘cuanto plata?’ (how much money?).
“You can then just show them the note you want to pay with. They will then ask for your phone number; just show it to them rather than reading it out,” Jeremy explains.
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
While it’s well known for advice forums and for booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor offers a large selection of user reviews that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Chile.
Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- "For Santiago and other major urban areas, Entel is best."
- "Definitely buy your SIM card at Falabella or Paris, both are department stores. The SIM card is CLP$11,000 with a CLP$10,000 credit."
- "Skype-to-Go is in Chile and you can use it from your cell phone. Enter your Skype account to setup the numbers for Santiago (area code 2)."
- "The only problem that I have had so far is that the prompts to reload the minutes are in Spanish (and I don't speak a word of Spanish). Luckily someone helped me set it up initially."
- "Don't forget to tell the seller to activate it for you as you need an RUT number to activate the service."
If you prefer to stick with an international brand, then you may want to consider the Virgin Mobile SIM card. The service uses the existing Movistar network platform to operate on in either 2G, 3G or 4G.
SIM cards can be purchased at Virgin sales kiosks, supermarkets, metro stations or stores. You might require help from the agent to set up and activate the SIM for you.
A "Chip con saldo" (their version of a basic SIM) can be purchased for CLP$2,000 with credit, valid for 90 days. The slightly more expensive “Chip 500 Megas” can be purchased for CLP$4,000 with 500MB included, which must be used within 30 days.
You can also register your SIM at the official Chilean Virgin Mobile site and take advantage of the many plans they have on offer.
Móvil Falabella is another carrier that operates off the back of another network – in this case, one of our two leading picks for the best provider, Entel.
The Móvil Falabella SIM card is exclusively sold in stores owned by the Falabella group: Falabella, Homecenter Sodimac, CMR Falabella and Tottus.
There are many SIM card options to choose from. SIMs can be purchased for CLP$10,000 including CLP$10,000 credit and 150MB (to be used within three months), or smaller amounts of credit can also be purchased.
Originally called Nextel, WOM is the smallest network operator in Chile, but a cheap and reliable one. It operates on a 3G platform, but unfortunately can’t offer a 2G/GSM service.
WOM uses Claro for roaming due to its inadequate service availability in the country. WOM has also launched a 4G/LTE service in Santiago and Viña del Mar. Roaming costs are low but not as low as the other carriers we have listed.
WOM's SIM cards are exclusively sold at WOM stores or kiosks. Once the SIM card has been registered and activated, you can purchase top-ups at Cruz Verde pharmacies. This small but respected telco usually has three starter SIM card packages on offer; prices and deals vary month-to-month.
Formerly known as Smartcom or Chilesat, Claro is the third largest operator in Chile with good coverage and a well-respected reputation. It was the first operator to offer LTE services to prepaid customers and has a huge presence in the South American country.
Claro’s starter packs known as “chips” are sold for CLP$1 ,000–2,500. SIM cards can be purchased at Santiago airport, stores, supermarkets or newspaper stands, and a wide range of deals and plans are always on offer, to reduce costs.
Mobile phone providers are being encouraged to ask tourists to provide either their passport as proof of identification or an RUT number, a Chilean tax number, when purchasing SIM cards.
Although it’s highly unlikely that you will possess an RUT number, it is still possible to purchase a SIM by giving the required nine-digit number as 999999999.
From March 2017, Chilean regulator Subtel has announced that smartphone users will be required to pre-register their IMEI numbers before they can be used. The aim is to cross-check this number with a list of stolen devices to reduce the 400,000 handsets stolen each year.
We briefly touched upon OpenSignal's country report earlier on, which detailed how Entel and Movistar were voted the best telco providers in Chile.
However, OpenSignal did in fact put Chile's four leading nationwide mobile operators - WOM, Movistar, Entel and Claro - under the microscope and awarded them accordingly:
- OpenSignal awarded WOM and Movistar with best availability. Testers were able to get a 3G or better connection 92% of the time and an LTE signal roughly 60% of the time
- Claro won best 4G speed, downloads of 27.3 Mbps on average. Movistar and Entel also surpassed 20 Mbps
- OpenSignal found that the 4G availability for Movistar was higher than Entel and Claro, meaning that users could take advantage of better performing LTE connections
- All four operators provided users with a 3G or better connection 87% of the time
There are several Entel recharge card options available at MobileRecharge.
Many Movistar coupons and discount codes can be found online.
Pros and cons of Chile's top telco providers
Entel and Movistar SIM cards will require a SIM-unlocked GSM 1900 compatible international mobile phone. To double check you have this option on your mobile phone, or if it’s possible for your current mobile phone provider to unlock the phone, contact your service provider before setting off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Great coverage
- Month-to-month plans
- No in-store contract required
- Can be used in Chile, Argentina, Easter Island and other South American countries
- Could be compatible with your current mobile phone
- No mobile phone devices offered
- Can only be used on SIM-unblocked GSM phones
- New rules, regulations and RUT numbers may hinder users
Q: Where can I find information on the Entel and Movistar SIM card services in English?
A: There isn’t an English language option on either the Entel or Movistar Chilean websites. Therefore, further English information can be found at fandom.