How to stay connected and avoid expensive roaming fees while traveling in Peru


There are many conveniences of traveling in Peru with your cell phone. For starters, it’s nice to keep in touch with friends and family back home and share photos from your latest adventure on Facebook. Your phone also comes in handy for converting currencies, “translating speech”:, navigating unfamiliar streets using GPS, and so much more.

It’s only when you start to think about incurring expensive roaming fees that doubt sets in.

Fortunately, a prepaid SIM card allows you to stay connected in Peru at an affordable rate even when you don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Find out what type of phone you need and how to use a SIM card in this handy step-by-step guide.

*STEP 1: Know your phone*

Cell phones can connect to one of two different types of networks: GSM (Global System for Mobile) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).

Like in other South American countries, there is GSM in Peru. A GSM phone uses a subscriber identity module (SIM) card: this is a small chip that stores all the data on your phone and is linked to your account. When a SIM card is taken out of one phone and put in another, all the phone data is transferred to the new phone, including the number. In Peru, travelers can buy a local SIM card to insert in their GSM phone, they can make calls, send text messages, and even connect to the Internet for a reasonable cost. (You also have to make sure your phone is “unlocked”, a term that is explained in Step 2 below.)

Alternatively, a CDMA phone does not use a SIM card and is instead connected to a network-based registry that can only work on its own network.Two examples of CDMA providers in the United States are Sprint and Verizon Wireless. If you own a Sprint phone it will not work on a Verizon plan or vise versa. Most Sprint and Verizon phones (among other CDMA brands) will not function in Peru using a SIM card because they don’t have a built-in slot for the chip.

SIM cards
_(Photo collage: Peru for Less)_

Global phones, such as new iPhone models, are another category. They have a SIM card slot to support a foreign network even if the device is connected to a CDMA network back home. In this way, global phones are a great option for traveling to Peru. (But again, your global phone must be “unlocked” so read STEP 2.)

*STEP 2: Make sure your phone is unlocked*

So, what’s the difference between a locked and unlocked phone?

Carrier locks come with just about any cell phone you buy when you sign up for a calling plan. This means that your phone is ingrained with a specific software code, or “lock”, that is meant to ensure the phone cannot be used on any other carrier’s network. Typically, the only devices that don’t have carrier locks are ones that say they are “unlocked,” such as the Google Android and iPhones sold at Apple stores.

How to go about “unlocking” your phone really depends on what company you purchase cell phone service from and what kind of phone you have. To begin, you’ll have to call your phone provider. Terms of removing the carrier lock my include paying full price of your device or being in good standing with your service provider when your contract ends.

If unlocking your phone seems overwhelming, then bypass the hassle altogether and purchase an unlocked phone in Peru. A no-frills phone costs about S/.40 and more expensive options are also available.

*STEP 3: The “how-to” for using a SIM card in Peru*

A prepaid SIM card can be purchased without a contract in Peru and comes with a 9-digit Peruvian number. After buying credit for your SIM card (S/.20 should be enough to get started), you can dial and receive local calls, send text messages, and connect to the internet.

SIM card
_(Photo collage: Peru for Less)_

Claro and Movistar are the main communication providers in Peru. Both companies offer a variety of mobile phone and data plans and also sell prepaid SIM cards. A SIM card is called _un chip de prepago_ in Spanish and costs about S/.15.00 (about US$5). Bring your passport with you at the time of purchase and a store representative will help you set-up your phone.

Fortunately, adding credit to your phone is easy and can be done at a Claro and Movistar location, small corner store, or large supermarket. There are two methods for buying credit: purchase a card with prepaid minutes – called a _tarjeta de Claro_ or _tarjeta de Movistar_ – sold in increments of S/.10+, or give your number and the amount of money credit you want to a store checkout clerk who will then do the paper-free transaction for you.

Making calls and surfing the web on your cell phone in Peru doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little pre-travel planning and patience, you can have connectivity at your fingertips courtesy of a prepaid SIM card and enjoy connectivity at your fingertips.

For even more information about “SIM cards in Peru”:, and other Peru travel advice, “check out our blog”:

_*Britt Fracolli* is a writer and editor for Peru for Less. She is a travel enthusiast on a mission to explore the length and width of Peru and always plotting out her next adventure. Interested in a trip to Peru? Contact “Peru For Less”: the Peru travel experts._