A traveller’s guide to purchasing the best prepaid SIM cards in Panama
Reduce your roaming and data charges by investing locally during a trip to Panama.
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Home to one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world, Panama is at the crossroads of South and Central America. As such, it has many visitors per year, both for business and tourism, all seeking to cut the price of their trips. A great way to do this is by investing in a local SIM card to offset the roaming costs for making calls, sending texts and using data while outside your home network. A startup package with a seven-day data plan containing 800MB of data costs around US$5 (AUD$6.37). In order to help you make the best selection for your prepaid SIM card needs in Panama, finder.com.au offers the following guide to the nation’s telco operators.
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Smartphone network operators in Panama
All four of the networks have 2G and 3G while +mốvil, Claro and Movistar all started 4G networks in 2015. Some areas of the country do not have coverage at all, so if you are planning to travel away from the major cities, you should consult local merchants to see if they offer coverage at your destination.
Formerly Cable & Wireless Panama, +mốvil offers 4G/LTE for prepaid on 700 MHz. The starter bundle is called “kit++mốvil” and is sold at +mốvil stores and other outlets for a low, flat fee. Top-ups can be acquired either online or at any of +mốvil’s numerous retail outlets, costing between US$2 and US$15. The standard data rate is US$0.06 per MB, but there are plenty of cheaper packages online, including the following:
Dial the same activation code for any of the plans and follow the prompts to make your selection. The maximum speed is 20Mbps. If you surpass your data allotment, you will be charged US$0.01 per MB.
Website (in Spanish only): http://www.cwpanama.com/masmovil/
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Claro is owned by America Movil and has slowly expanded its 4G coverage from just the capital city to other parts of the country. You can check out a coverage map, translated into English, at the company’s website. You can also use the Claro website to find the nearest store to your location for buying its SIM cards. Top-ups range from US$1 to US$70 and give you additional credit for between 2 and 120 days.
The default data rate is US$0.025 per MB. The following data bundles are available on 4G/LTE.
Text any of the activation codes to 464 to buy.
Website (Spanish only): http://www.claro.com.pa/personas/
Based in Jamaica, Digicel practices a bit of false advertising, claiming to have 4G speed when it’s really only 3G/HSPA+. Its SIM cards are available in its own stores and other outlets, and recharges are valid for the next 365 days. These can be purchased in person or online. The data bundles are as follows:
When activating, enter the code and then follow the instructions. The one- and two-day plans include 150MB free on WhatsApp. The plans that are at least three days long get 10GB free on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Waze, Badoo and WeChat.
Website (in Spanish): https:www.digicelgroup.com/pa/es/movil.html
Movistar has 2G, 3G and 4G coverage available, but you’ll need its free 4G/LTE SIM to utilise the LTE network. Recharge cards come in denominations of US$2 to US$15, and you get bonus minutes as great as five times during certain promotions. Here are Movistar’s data bundles:
|Price||2G/3G data||4G data||Validity|
Activate any plan by dialling *888#, choose option 2, then select a package. All packages come with limited minutes and SMS messages as well. If you buy a package for four days or more, you have unlimited free data on WhatsApp.
Website (in Spanish): https://lte.movistar.com.pa/
Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Panama
In addition to being an online review platform for hotels and attractions, TripAdvisor has an impressive online community of members. Here’s some advice from recent visitors to Panama:
“I mostly use Digicel, but between us we have most of the carriers; handy when you are out of one’s coverage area. I usually use EzTop to add minutes to them and/or stores selling cards are common. Digicel has good coverage, including the San Blas. +Movil seems to have a more limited coverage area.”
“We use Mas Movil when we are in Panama. Each company offers specials, where you can recharge and you get additional minutes for calls on the same network. We put Skype on our phones (with an active subscription for US$3.50/month) and have unlimited calls to North America. No big phone bill when we come home and before we leave the airport for the trip home we put US$5.00 credit on each phone so when we return next year we still have credits, which seem to be good for one year.”
“Digicel is the only carrier with coverage in San Blas. So ultimately which carrier to choose depends on where you will be.”
“Make SURE the SIM card you get is date enabled; apparently, not all of them are. When you insert your card, just go to the setup menu to activate your credits and apply the various amounts to the services you want. Each carrier is different, but the directions, printed in Spanish, are on each phone card.”
“I would not recommend to buy at the airport, they cost a lot there (I paid US$30 for 2 GB / Movistar).”
Pros and cons of Panama’s top SIM card operators
Panama has four major SIM card providers. Here are some of the positives and negatives about these companies.
- Digicel offers bonus data free to a number of popular sites.
- Movistar offers bonus minutes with its top-ups, as great as five times your purchase amount.
- Claro’s 4G/LTE coverage map is more of an illustration. Anyone who doesn’t know Panama’s geography by heart will be at a loss.
- Digicel claims to have 4G service, but it’s really offering 3G/HSPA+.
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