Traveling to El Salvador? Here’s your guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card
Reduce your roaming rates by using a local telco deal.
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Using your home phone in El Salvador can prove to be expensive. A top tip for saving money and reducing roaming rates is to switch to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper deals, tariffs and plans. El Salvador has some of the best SIM card deals in Central America and you can get 1GB of data for as little as $3. You can also use the SIM cards in other Central American countries which will save even more money. So, cut down costs by comparing your SIM card options.
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Telco providers in El Salvador
There are four main providers in El Salvador: Tigo, Claro, Movistar and Digicel. Each one has been tried and tested by both locals and visitors, and they can all be trusted. According to OpenSignal's country signal map, El Salvador's network is good close to the main cities and urban areas, but once you head out toward the outer, more suburban regions it can get worse. However, El Salvador still ranks “fair” among its global and Central American peers in terms of coverage.
About El Salvador’s telco operators
El Salvador’s market leader is Tigo, followed by Claro, Movistar then Digicel. All four operators offer prepaid SIM cards and can be purchased from shops, supermarkets, kiosks, pharmacies, official stores and at El Salvador International Airport. 2G, 3G and 4G wireless plans are available on all networks for unlocked GSM phones. SIM cards can be purchased by showing your passport, and your telephone number is then activated. To add credit, you can buy vouchers from shops and supermarkets, and can also be picked up online. Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what they can offer you during your stay in El Salvador.
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Tigo is the largest operator in El Salvador with a 32% market share. It has the best coverage but that comes with the highest rates. This provider offer customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for as little as US$1, depending on promotion. Standard, mini and micro SIM cards can be purchased from official stores, approved resellers and some supermarkets. SIM cards come with 75MB of data and are valid for 2 days, until you add credit plans. There’s a 5% tax charge added to all purchases, and credit vouchers can be purchased for numerous amounts starting at US$1.05. You can also top up cards using the Tigo app.
As another option, the pacetigos data packs can be purchased. The following table provides details, including the activation code in the right hand column that you must text to 404.
|2 Horas||US$0.25||25MB||Valid for 2 hours||DOSHORAS|
|1 Día Lite||US$0.50||50MB||Valid for 1 day||DIALITE|
|1 día||US$0.99||250MB||Valid for 1 day||1MUSIC|
|2 días||US$1.50||200MB||Valid for 2 days||DOBLE|
|3 días||US$1.99||300MB||Valid for 3 days||TRIPLE|
|3 días||US$2.50||400MB||Valid for 3 days||3MUSIC|
|1 Semana||US$3.50||600MB||Valid for 1 week||SEMANA|
|2 Semanas||US$5.99||900MB||Valid for 2 weeks||2SEMANAS|
|1 Mes Lite||US$14.99||1GB||Valid for 1 month||MES|
|1 Mes||US$18.99||1.5GB||Valid for 1 month||30MUSIC|
Dial *123# and select the relevant package to activate. You can also text the relevant code from the right-hand column to 404 to activate, or do it online with a Tigo account.
The following data packs are available for modems and tablets:
Dial *611# and select the relevant plan to activate.
Tigo’s APN: tigo.com.sv
Claro is the second largest provider in El Salvador, with a nearly 30% market share. It has good network coverage, equal to Tigo but offers better rates and deals. SIM cards can be purchased for as little as US$3, depending on whether it’s a promotion. Standard, mini and micro SIMs can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers and come with 350MB data, valid for 5 days. Credit can also be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, or online.
The standard default data rate is charged at US$0.05 per MB. The following superpacks are also available:
|US$0.25||25MB||Valid for 1 day||128kbps|
|US$0.50||50MB||Valid for 1 day||128kbps|
|US$1||150MB||Valid for 1 day||1.5Mbps|
|US$2||350MB||Valid for 3 days||1.5Mbps|
|US$3.50||500MB||Valid for 7 days||1.5Mbps|
|US$2||1GB||Valid for 2 days||1.5Mbps|
|US$5||1.5GB||Valid for 10 days||1.5Mbps|
|US$10||3GB||Valid for 20 days||1.5Mbps|
For phone activation dial *555# and choose the relevant pack to activate, or purchase online. Packages of 50MB or above come with free WhatsApp and packages of 150MB or above come with free Facebook use as well. The following superpacks are also available:
Text the code in the right hand column to 4777 to activate the package you want. All packages include free Facebook.
Claro’s APN: internet.ideasclaro
Movistar is the third largest provider with a 24% market share. The coverage is not great but data can be used in neighboring South American countries on the sin fronteras plan, 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services are available. SIM cards can be purchased for as low as US$1, depending on promotion at time of purchase. They can be picked up from official stores, approved resellers or at selected supermarkets. All SIM cards come with US$2 of credit, valid for 2 days. Top ups can be purchased from official stores, approved resellers, or online.
The following data packs can also be added:
Dial *700# and select the relevant option. Overuse rate is US$1.49 per MB.
Movistar also offers a regional roaming option for Central America, called sin fronteras. Users can now use their Movistar network in other Central and South American countries which offer a similar Movistar network. You can use this service for a US$5 surcharge per day, so dial *131# to activate.
Movistar’s APN: internet.movistar.sv, username and password: Movistar
Digicel is the smallest provider in El Salvador with less than a 15% market share. It has the lowest coverage and only offers 2G and 3G platforms. Although they claim to run a 4G platform, it’s only a super 3G service. SIM cards can be purchased for US$1 from official stores and approved resellers. Check stores at time of purchase because they often have different deals available. SIM cards will come with US$3 preloaded.
The following data packs are also available, and they carry additional apps:
Digicel’s APN: wap.digicelsv.com
Some top tips from finder.com staff:
- Spanish is spoken in El Salvador. If you don’t know the language, you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. Although some locals can speak English, many cannot and they like it when foreigners try their language.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM” or “chip”.
- Ask the retailer to set up the SIM for you. This will save you a lot of time and trouble, but is also helpful to cover anything you might not understand.
- Make sure you get to the stores early before it gets busy.
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through which SIM cards have been tried and tested in El Salvador. Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
“Claro is a good company to use, calls are inexpensive (even international calls). Once you have their SIM card you can then buy prepaid minutes. They have one day a week on which if you buy time you get double the minutes.”
“You'll probably want to load something like Skype or WhatsApp so you can make free app to app messaging and voice calls using Wi-Fi or your data plan.”
Pros and cons of El Salvador’s top telco providers
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Can be used in other South American countries
- SIM cards could be compatible with your current phone
- No new devices offered with the SIM card plans
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Poor coverage can be found on all networks
- Digicel doesn’t operate on 4G and has bad service in some areas
One more question
Q: What do I do if I lose my phone in El Salvador?
A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when traveling around Central and South America. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated. If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you still have no luck then cancel any plans or payment methods associated with the phone, report it missing and make a note of the crime number to claim on insurance. Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let the new one out of your sight.
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