Internet and telecommunications in Argentina for the traveller, with pre-paid SIM cards

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This is a short 1-2-3 on how to get mobile internet or phone service with a pre-paid SIM card in Argentina:

  1. Buy a SIM card, a chip
  2. Buy a top-up with the amount of money you want to use, a cargo (maybe in another place than #1)
  3. Send an SMS to the operator with the relevant code to activate the service

Here are a few more details:

You can buy prepaid or on subscription, SIM cards in many places. There are three main operators:

  • Claro (by América Móvil)
  • Movistar (by Telefónica Spain)
  • Personal (by Telecom Argentina)

They are all fairly similar.

Some sources, even information from Movistar, say that since 2017 you have to register to buy a SIM card; you have to provide an ID document when you buy a pre-paid sim. That seems not to be correct. (Movistar info says that you need the following: A photo of your passport (or similar ID document), a selfie with your passport and you, a photo of the SIM card (Movistar) that you want to activate, your address in Argentina, the duration of your stay in Argentina. Nothing like this was required when I bought a pre-paid sim in 2020.)

A SIM card is called a chip.

A SIM card and its case
A SIM card and its case, copyright BKWine Photography

You first have to buy a chip and then you have to fill it up. Topping up a pre-paid card is called cargo or cargo virtual.

You can buy a SIM card in one of the telcos own shops, or in many other outlets.

Topping up the card can (curiously) not be done at a telco shop but instead in many, many “kiosks” (convenience stores) and other shops. They usually have a sign saying cargo with the telco operators’ logos outside. There are also vending machines. You can also top up on the operators’ web sites if you already have a sim.

When you buy a refill you need give your mobile number (the number on your SIM card) to the vendor, so make sure you have your number with you. You just refill with a certain amount of money. Then you send a code to the operator to show how you want to use the money.

A selection of wifi routers (mobile hot-spots)
A selection of wifi routers (mobile hot-spots), copyright BKWine Photography

You will also need to send an SMS to the operator with a pre-defined code (see example below) to tell them what you want the top-up to be used for. Ask the vendor who sold you the card or the top-up what code you should use, or look it up on the telco’s web site. (When you put the SIM in your device you get an SMS from the operator. You just send the code to that number.)

Once you have sent the code you can then use the card.

It may sound a bit complicated but it is actually very simple.

Dialling rules in Argentina

Mobile phone (cell phone) numbers have a prefix of 11 or 15.

If you call from a landline to an Argentinean mobile phone you have to dial:

  • [area code, if there is one]+[11 or 15]+[the number]

If you call from a mobile phone to an Argentinean mobile phone you have to dial:

  • [area code, if there is one] +[the number]

If you call from another country to an Argentinean cell phone:

  • [your international dialling prefix]+[54, Argentina’s country code]+[9]+[area code, without the 0]+[the number]

In this case you should not use the 11 or 15 mobile prefix.

A wifi router, also called mobile hot-spot
A wifi router, also called mobile hot-spot, copyright BKWine Photography

Movistar

Movistar is my preferred operator in Argentina – for no other reason than that they have a Movistar shop near our hotel. Movistar is owned by Telefonica in Spain. It is the second largest operator in Argentina.

You first buy a chip, which costs maybe ~AR$50 (not much) (caution, inflation is high so this changes quickly, the numbers here are from January 2020).

They have many different prepaid data (internet) packages. Some examples:

  • 1 GB for one day, AR$30, activation code D1GB
  • 2 GB for 5 days, AR$90, activation code D5GB
  • 2 GB for 7 days, AR$120, activation code D7GB

(The ARS amounts will be very outdated when you read this but in general internet is very cheap.)

You pay the amount you want in a top-up shop and then you send a code to activate the plan you want.

These prices and codes may no longer be correct so check locally what the current situation is.

More details:

The other operators have similar ways of working.

You can get more tips about how things work in Argentina in our Argentinian FAQ on tipping, currency, restaurants and more.

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