i remember from my last visit here (July 2010) that getting a SIM card was not an easy task, so i was ready for some trouble. as you can see, i’ve run the gamut.
tl;dr third company’s the charm. after trying Movistar and Personal, i finally have a fully-working phone via Claro. Claro was also the easiest to set up (no forms, no passport, in-store credit load), with Movistar being slightly more difficult (add credit at a kiosk, not at the store), and Personal being the hardest, with long lines and forms and red tape. NOTE that my troubles are not typical; others have reported success with both Movistar and Personal. scroll all the way down to read my success story, although you may want to go through the other sections since i detail the buying experience for each company (especially Personal, which is bureaucracy at its finest).
attempt 1: Movistar fail
i got to the Movistar on the north end of Calle Florida (remember, in Argentinian Spanish, it’s ca-zhay, not ca-yay) 15 minutes before it opened (9 AM weekdays) and diligently waited outside since last time i was here, there was a long queue at the Personal store. when it opened and i got inside, though, i was told that if i wanted a prepaid SIM, i’d have to go to the Movistar kiosk on the first floor of the Galerias Pacifico, which opened at 10. i didn’t have that long to wait, so i moved down the street to the Personal. moral of the story: don’t go to the main Movistar for a prepaid SIM. there were three other addresses on the little map i was given that would sell prepaid SIMs in addition to the one at the Galerias: Florida 524, Florida 373, and Av. Corrientes 536.
attempt 2: Personal fail
Movistar was my first choice since i heard there is immediate activation, but i didn’t have time to waste (i had to get back for a conference call) and thus could wait for slow activation with Personal which i remembered from 2010. this wasn’t the Personal store i went to last time i was here, but it was a lot nicer (a block or so north of the Movistar on Calle Florida). the steps, though, were the same. SO DIFFICULT.
stop 1: reception
when you enter, stop by one of the reception stands and tell them you want a prepaid SIM. they’ll take your passport and enter your name into the queue computer. wait in the waiting area until someone calls your name. the English of the people i spoke to today was decent enough, although it helps to know some Spanish, e.g., “tarjeta SIM” (SIM card), “prepago” (prepaid), “illimitado” (unlimited [as in data]), “¿es todo?” (that’s all? when you need to make sure you completed all the steps at your particular stop).
stop 2: sales consultant
someone will come out and call your name (they might use a number system when it’s more crowded, but this morning there were only a couple people waiting, so i didn’t have to wait long and they used names). follow them back to their cubicle. i told the representative i was only interested in data, and gave him my passport. he told me the SIM card would cost 10 pesos (~$1 US), and data would be 1.25 pesos per day for unlimited data (about 12 US cents per day!). after a long while futzing with the computer, he printed some forms and led me to stop 3. take your stuff with you; you won’t be coming back to his station.
stop 3: payment
at the back of the store is the cashier. i tried to pay my 10 pesos with a 100 peso bill, but they didn’t take it (it’s really hard to get someone to make change around here!) so i had to use a credit card. yes, i charged a dollar to my Amex. :\ the cashier will stamp your form indicating you have paid.
stop 4: SIM card pickup
after payment, continue to the right and hand your forms over at the next counter where the employee will take them to a window and pick up a SIM card for you. he had a cutter and was able to cut the micro-SIM down to a nano-SIM for my iPhone 5S. you’re now the proud owner of a prepaid SIM!
stop 5: convenience store
IMPORTANT: dial *188# to activate your SIM card. (i’ve been waiting around for hours for it to autoactivate when i saw this on the back of one of the brochures that came with the card.) activation was immediate after this.
i don’t know why they can’t top up a card when they sell it to you, but no, you have to go to a convenience store (e.g., “Open 25 Hours” [yes, 25]) and use one of the kiosks there to add money to your account. in 2010 you could go to any of the newspaper stands in the street buy a scratch-off card with a PIN you texted in to add credit, but it seems that it’s now all electronic. on the kiosk, choose “recarga prepago” or “recarga cellular” and then your network (in this case, Personal). enter your phone number (look for the number next to “Linea” or “MSISDN” on the forms you got from the store — it should be 8 digits long) and how much you want to reload. note that for Personal the minimum is 20 pesos in cash only, and it does NOT give change. you may also be able to reload at the cashier at a convenience store, but with a convenience charge (~1 peso).
stop/step 6: activate Internet
i read on the Prepaid With Data wiki that the default “unlimited” data speed gets severely throttled after 10 MB, so i activated the 7-day unlimited data pack for 7 pesos, or about 70 cents. send ACT SIMPLE to phone number 152. (you can see pack options here)
even after activation, though, i do not have any data access. no E, no 3G, nothing — even after 4-5 hours. i went back and talked to my sales consultant and i think they were pretty clueless. he told me i had to call *152 and use the automated system (press 1, 1, 4 to get to internet packs) to add internet, but when i tried, it said it couldn’t do it — because i already had the pack on my system! *sigh*
sidebar: Personal Wifi even with my broken(?) SIM card, i’m able to sign on to Personal Wifi hotspots located around the city. you will need to set up a PIN code which you can either do on their website (when you create an account) or by dialing *CLAVE (free) on your phone.
attempt 3: back to Movistar fail
i went to the kiosk at Galerias Pacifico (when they say first floor, they mean the top floor) and got a SIM card there. super easy, although again, the man did not speak English (you shouldn’t expect people to, even in the touristy areas). he didn’t even need a passport and he had a SIM cutter to get me a nano-SIM. long story short: activation happened within 5 minutes, automatically. he told me internet would cost 1 peso per day, but i had no internet, even after getting a message saying i was automatically put on that plan. i tried buying internet packs (send INTERNET to 2345) and got confirmation they were activated, but still, no connectivity. i have the 3G indicator, but no service — everything just times out. note that for both Personal and Movistar i tried every combination of APNs at unlockit (which you shouldn’t have to do, but i did just to be thorough).
I GIVE UP! i’ve sunk enough money into this endeavor ($15 maybe? lol). i shall (*gasp*) live without!
ok. i lied. i had to give it one last shot.
attempt 4: Claro success
i’ve seen reports of Claro not working well, so i saved it for last. maybe i should have tried it first. i went to the store on Av. Santa Fe a couple blocks east of Av. 9 de Julio and got a SIM card for 20 pesos ($2). like Movistar, it was really easy with no forms and no passport required. i told the man i needed internet for 5 days and he told me to load 20 more pesos on (which gave 40 pesos of credit total due to a promo?). activation was immediate, although data took about 5 minutes to start working. he was able to do the reload at the store, too! no need to go to a kiosk! just be warned that he does not speak English, so you’d better brush up on your Spanish. if i can do it, so can you!
(by the way, if i had a peso for every time i said, “quiero comprar una tarjeta SIM” and pointed to my phone…)
oh, i tried to add a 5-day internet package as described on the Prepaid with Data wiki page, but it says i already have internet (which is true). i hope it’s not the type that’s throttled…i’ll report back if it is.
update: indeed you are limited to 10 MB at full speed, at which you get throttled to super-slow. you get an SMS saying to get back to full speed, send TURBO to 252, costing 2 pesos (~20 US cents). for simple tweets and emails, the slow is definitely OK, but if you’re going to be sending lots of images, you might need to upgrade.
from their homepage:
Internet: Precio nominal de $2,50 por día, bonificado hasta el 28/02/2014 a $ 2,00. Duración hasta las 23:59 hs. del mismo día. Velocidad hasta 10MB por día, luego 64Kbps. $2 serán descontados del crédito de la línea al conectarse a Internet.
depending on what i’m reading online, the 2 peso TURBO to 252 is only good for 10 MB OR good for 24 hours. i just sent off a TURBO; we’ll see how long it lasts. the TURBO home page has very few details.
update 2: yep, it only buys you 10 MB of full speed. i rummaged around on the Claro homepage and it didn’t seem like they had any sort of pack or upgrade for unlimited high speed.