Bolivia has many remarkable cultural sights. If you are not into that, you can find flamingos in Uyuni Salt Flat or Laguna Colorada, or see ancient ruins in Isla del Sol. If you are into cycling or mountain biking, you should try the adventurous North Yungas Road. Bolivia is an amazing travel destination in South America.
What may not be amazing, however, is receiving a high roaming bill after you have been roaming with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers buy a local SIM card in Bolivia so that they can enjoy domestic rates. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about Bolivian SIM cards. Let's do this.
Telecom providers in Bolivia
Bolivia has 3 telecom providers: Entel, Tigo Bolivia, and Viva. Entel is the largest-provider in Bolivia with more than 5 million subscribers, followed by Tigo Bolivia by Millicom, and Viva by Nuevatel. Viva should not be confused with VIVA (all in caps). VIVA was a company operating in Bahrain and Kuwait and has been rebranded in STC Bahrain and STC Kuwait.
All operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. All prepaid customers can use 4G/LTE without a surcharge.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Bolivia? If you want to buy a SIM card in Bolivia, I would recommend going with Entel because they have the best coverage and speeds. Viva would be the budget option if staying near the bigger cities and towns because their coverage is not as extensive as Entel.
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Coverage and speeds vary widely depending on where you are, but they are decent in the cities. Speeds in Bolivia are slower than the South American average, but you can browse the web fine with all the providers.
Just like most countries in South America, you have to register your SIM card upon purchase. As a result, you should bring your passport with you when buying your SIM card. Besides that, getting a SIM is quite straightforward and easy in Bolivia.
With that out of the way, let’s see what the three providers have to offer to us.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
Entel is a state-owned company with the most subscribers in Bolivia. They also have the best coverage throughout the country, even in rural Bolivia. 4G/LTE has been developed in the big cities and is slowly being expended to the countryside.
Entel SIM cards are officially sold for 10 BOB ($1.45). However, some resellers may charge you a bit more if they are short o SIM cards. Make sure not to spend more than 30 BOB. Otherwise, you are getting ripped off.
Top-up vouchers are sold from 10 BOB to 100 BOB.
The following Entel data packs can be added:
- 2 BOB: 120 MB until midnight
- 4 BOB: 240 MB until midnight
- 9 BOB: 180 MB for 30 days
- 15 BOB: 920 MB until midnight
- 20 BOB: 500 MB for 30 days
- 40 BOB: 1 GB for 30 days
- 50 BOB: 2 GB for 30 days
- 140 BOB: 6 GB for 30 days
- 198 BOB: 10 GB for 30 days
- 230 BOB: 14 GB for 30 days
- 288 BOB: 20 GB for 30 days
Tigo Bolivia, just Tigo, is the second provider in Bolivia with more than 3 million subscribers. Tigo has a large presence in the Americas and Africa and has a good reputation in this region. 4G/LTE can be found in at least one city of Bolivia’s 11 departments. However, 4G/LTE is still being expended to this date.
Tigo SIM cards are sold for 10 BOB in Tigo stores and kiosks. Recharge cards are from 10 BOB to 100 BOB. The following data packs can be added:
- 4 BOB: 110 MB until 6 AM the next morning
- 4 BOB: 100 MB for 2 days
- 5 BOB: 220 MB until 6 AM the next morning
- 10 BOB: 500 MB until 6 AM the next morning
- 20 BOB: 1050 MB for 24 hours
- 25 BOB: 800 MB for 7 days
- 35 BOB: 1.2 GB for 7 days
- 55 BOB: 1 GB for 30 days
- 120 BOB: 4 GB for 30 days
- 189 BOB: 6.2 GB for 30 days
- 200 BOB: 8 GB for 30 days
Viva is the smallest, but cheapest, provider in Bolivia with more than 2 million customers. It has gained traction by offering low rates for its services. However, their coverage is limited, meaning that Viva should only be considered if they have coverage in the place you are staying at. Viva was the last operator to build its 4G/LTE network, meaning that it cannot be found in many places yet.
Viva SIM cards are sold for 15 BOB and come with 10 BOB in credit. Recharge cards are sold from 10 BOB to 80 BOB. The following data packs can be added:
- 5 BOB: 230 MB until 1 AM the next day
- 10 BOB: 525 MB until 1 AM the next day
- 15 BOB: 300 MB for 7 days
- 20 BOB: 1.1 GB until 1 AM the next day
- 30 BOB: 1 GB for 7 days
- 50 BOB: 750 MB for 30 days
- 100 BOB: 2.5 GB for 30 days:
- 200 BOB: 8.1 GB for 30 days
- 300 BOB: 18 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Bolivia
I have discussed the relevant providers in Bolivia in this article because using a Bolivian SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Bolivia. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Bolivia.
Roaming in Bolivia with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is Antel from Uruguay, then you would be roaming with Antel in Bolivia.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Bolivia, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Bolivia and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Bolivia.
Using an International SIM Card in Bolivia
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard and SimOptions.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Bolivia. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in South America require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Bolivia
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Bolivia
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Bolivia which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Boliva, you will not find many hotspots around the country.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Bolivia
Getting a SIM card from Entel would do you well when considering a Bolivian SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in South America? Check out my South America SIM card buying guide, covering other South American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Bolivia
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Bolivia. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Bolivia drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Bolivia
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Bolivia. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Bolivian hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Bolivia
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Bolivia, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the currency of your destination for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!