Buying Prepaid SIM Cards in Central America Guide

Traveling to Central America can be one of the greatest adventures and experiences of your life. The overall beauty is charming and will take your breath away. Some places also offer unique views into the Mayan civilization, so if you are a fan of learning more about other cultures, this is undoubtedly a hot spot.

When traveling to Central America, you will need a SIM card. Every country in Central America has its own companies that offer SIM cards and coverage, some with better prices than others. However, it seems that the most popular Central American companies overall include Tigo, Claro, Movistar, and Digicel.

If you want more information about the best SIM cards for Central America, keep reading! I break it down country by country to show you which companies have the best coverage and pricing so you can save while still staying in touch with friends and family members back home.

Why Do You Need a Local SIM Card?

If you are putting together a trip to another country, one thing that might slip your mind is SIM cards. Why do you need one? Are they indispensable?

The simple answer is no – you do not have to have a local SIM card. However, if you do not want to spend mass amounts of money on data and roaming charges, then you should highly consider opting for a SIM card.

No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!

SIM cards will ensure that you can stay in touch and do all of the things you need to do on your phone without the ridiculous pricing.

Tip: Visiting multiple countries in Central America and are 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!

Belize SIM Cards

Belize

If you are interested in traveling to Belize, you are not alone. This beautiful and exotic area is the go-to for many people going on vacation and wanting to see some beautiful sights throughout their trip. However, you do not want to go without a SIM card, so you do not end up spending an arm and a leg on roaming charges.

The locals refer to SIM cards simply as chips or SIMs, so keep that in mind when purchasing. It is also important to note that Belize is rather small, and shops can fill up fast. To ensure you are not spending half your trip in line, get to the shops early.

Lastly, the two SIM card providers in Belize, DiGiCell, and Smart!, both offer competitive rates. The overall connection is average compared to other Central American countries, not being the worst but not the best, either.

Digicel Belize

Digicel will be the go-to for most consumers as they are the only company to sell SIM cards for GSM phones. Other users with CDMA will need to use the Smart! Company, which will be discussed in greater detail below.


As Digicell is truly one of the only companies offering SIM cards in Belize, their prices can be a little steeper than other areas. However, they provide a wide selection of deals and packages in 2G, 3G, and 4G. 4G service requires the purchase of a uSIM. There are also several WiFi hotspots throughout Belize.

Digicel data plans start off at 225 MB for 24 hours, which costs 2.25 BZD and ends with a 5 GB plan that can be used for 30 days for only 45 BZD.

Smart!

Smart! is the other company in Belize. They were solely a CDMA and EVDO network originally, but they are beginning to switch over to GSM phones as well. They offer plenty of different plans and packages for the consumer, including the exclusive Zoom+ plan that offers 4G/LTE and 1 GB of data for only 15 BZD.

Prepaid plans are popular with Smart!, and they offer a seemingly endless amount of plans to choose from, making it easy to find something that suits your needs. To get an idea of their available plans, see below:

  • 14 BZD: 1.2 GB for 15 days
  • 39 BZD: 2.8 GB for 40 days
  • 59 BZD: 6.2 GB for 40 days
  • 159 BZD: 30 GB for 40 days

Smart! offers many more data plans, but the ones mentioned above are just a handful of them.

Note about GSM and CMDA

Both GSM and CMDA are telecommunication technologies that are used throughout the world. However, GSM is the most popular one. Almost all providers use GSM nowadays, except for a few carriers in the US (Verizon, Sprint, and some mobile virtual network operators).

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Belize? Check out my Belize SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Belize!

Costa Rica SIM Cards

Sunset at a beach in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country that travelers flock to in search of the beautiful views throughout. If you are planning on going to Costa Rica or stay long-term, then you want to make sure you get your hands on a good SIM card.

The overall service in Costa Rica is reliable, and you should not experience too many issues with slow speeds. Locals refer to SIM cards as ‘chips,’ and you can expect plenty of crowds in the stores, so try and get there as early as possible.

Three major companies offer their services to the people of Costa Rica: I.C.E., Movistar, and Claro. Buying a chip from one of these retailers will allow you to save even more money as they can be used in other parts of Central America, too.

I.C.E.

I.C.E. is not only a telco provider for Costa Rica but electricity as well. Their biggest and most popular shop is located at the San Jose Airport, so when you arrive in Costa Rica, this may be the first place you want to hit. In terms of service, they offer 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE plans.

I.C.E. is known for providing its customers with some fantastic deals and specials. Always check to see what kind of promotions they are offering as you can snag a whole lot of data for less.

Aside from that, you can expect to pay anywhere between 200 CRC to 4000 CRC, depending on your specific needs (100 CRC is about $0.17). An I.C.E. SIM card will cost you 100 CRC.

Movistar Costa Rica

Movistar may be a bit smaller than the I.C.E. counterpart, but that does not mean they lack in terms of quality or service. In fact, Movistar is known for providing the best speed and coverage out of all three services in Costa Rica.

A Movistar SIM card will cost you 1500 CRC. There are a few different options when buying with Movistar. Plans start at 200 CRC for 1 day (30 MB) up to 5900 CRC for 15 days (2.3 GB, 70 minutes, and 70 SMS).

Claro Costa Rica

Claro is the smallest company in Costa Rica, offering prepaid SIM cards. It has a reputation for having more problems when it comes to coverage and speed. However, when you are in an area that is covered, you can expect to have the highest speeds with 4G/LTE.

Claro SIM cards are sold for 1500 CRC and come with 1000 CRC in credit. Data package prices are competitive, and you can expect to pay anywhere from 300 CRC for 100 MB (1 day) to8500 CRC for 3.5 GB (30 days)

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Costa Rica? Check out my Costa Rica SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Costa Rica!

El Salvador SIM Cards

African Turtle in El Salvador

Traveling to El Salvador is exciting, but roaming fees can be outrageous. That being said, it is essential to get your hands on a SIM card, which is referred to as a ‘chip’ by locals of El Salvador.

In terms of service, you can find the best coverage in more populated areas and cities. As you head out into less urban areas, you will likely struggle to get a connection. However, El Salvador is still ranked as having ‘fair’ coverage in comparison to other Central American countries.

There are four different providers in El Salvador, including Tigo, Claro, Movistar, and Digicel. Each is tried and trusted, and you can feel confident buying from any of them.

Tigo El Salvador

Tigo was the largest company in El Salvador and provides its customers with a wide variety of plans and services ranging from 2G to 4G/LTE. The prepaid SIM cards can be bought for as little as one dollar (US dollars), and you can buy a standard, miniature, or microchip. Note: El Salvador started using the US Dollar since 2001. Before then, they used the Salvadoran colón.

Tigo SIM cards, that can be bought for $1.50, automatically come with 75 MB of data that can be used for 2 days. Topping off, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1 for 100 MB (1 day) to $7 for 1.5 GB (14 days).

Claro El Salvador

Claro became the largest company, after beating Tigo off its trone, that provides SIM cards in El Salvador. And while their coverage is just as good as Tigo, they offer better pricing overall. SIM cards are available in standard, miniature, and micro sizes.

Claro SIM cards, sold for $5, come automatically with 350 MB of data, which is valid for 4 days. Topping off, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1 for 150 MB (1 day) to $10 for 3 GB (30 days). If you get yourself a data-only SIM card, you can get 10 GB for $10 instead, also valid 30 days.

Movistar El Salvador

Movistar is the second-largest company for SIM cards in El Salvador, and their coverage seems to be lacking the most. They do, however, have some great deals and plans if you are looking to save money.

Movistar SIM cards are sold for $3 and come with $3 in credit. Data packs start from $0.60 for 100 MB (2 days) to $10 for 3 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 20 off-net minutes, and unlimited Facebook & WhatsApp (15 days).

Digicel El Salvador

Lastly, Digicel is the smallest company that provides SIM cards for El Salvadorians. However, they are known for having the lowest coverage overall. The company only offers 2G and 3G services.

The major difference with this company is that unlimited WhatsApp included in their data plans. This unlimited use will not wreak havoc on the data you have purchased.

That being said, a Digicel SIM card will cost you $3, you can buy 1 GB for $3 up to 2 GB for $5. Of cource, more packages are available.

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in El Salvador? Check out my El Salvador SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to El Salvador!

Guatemala SIM Cards

Hammocks in Guatalama

Guatemala is the heart of the Mayan civilization, and that draws many to travel to the area. However, roaming rates can skyrocket here, so you want to make sure you have a good SIM card. You will be happy to know that Guatemala has some of the best deals when it comes to SIM cards.

There are three primary providers of SIM cards in Guatemala, including Tigo, Claro, and Movistar. Each of these companies has a variety of deals and specials to choose from. Coverage in Guatemala is best in more popular areas. The more rural and inland you travel, the trickier it will be to find a connection.

Tigo Guatemala

 Tigo is by far the largest and most popular SIM card company in all of Guatemala. They offer 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE services to its customers. Remember that you must show a passport at the shop to buy a SIM card.

SIM cards are bought for 50 GTQ (1 GTQ = $0.13, so $6.50). This comes with a credit of 25 GTQ as well as 200 MB of data. At this point, you will need to top-up your SIM card for more use, including:

  • 1 day: 100 MB for 5 GTQ
  • 2 days: 300 MB for 10 GTQ
  • 3 days: 500 MB for 15 GTQ
  • 7 days: 800 MB and unlimited Facebook for 30 GTQ
  • 30 day: 2 GB and unlimited Facebook for 100 GTQ
  • 30 days: 20 GB and unlimited Facebook for 500 GTQ

Claro Guatemala

Claro may be the second-largest company in Guatemala, but that does not mean they slack on coverage. In fact, Claro is known to have the best 4G/LTE service out of all three companies and is becoming increasingly popular among the young crowd.

With Claro, prepaid SIM cards come with 150 MB data as well as 30 SMS for only 30 GTQ. From that point, you can purchase more credit varying between 5 GTQ (100 MB for 1 day) to 200 GTQ (6 GB and unlimited select social media for 30 days).

Movistar Guatemala

Movistar is the smallest company in Guatemala. They have good coverage when it comes to 4G/LTE coverage; however, they are known to suffer in terms of speed in some parts of the country. It is also essential to make sure you only buy these SIM cards at reputable shops and outlets instead of street stalls as they can be fake.

Movistar has a lot of deals for customers, with the prepaid SIM card being GTQ30. That comes with 20 minutes of call time to the US and 250 MB of data. You can top-up your card at any time and spend anywhere from 5 GTQ (150 MB for 1 day) to 100 GTQ (3 GB for 30 days).

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Guatemala? Check out my Guatemala SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Guatemala!

Honduras SIM Cards

Honduras

If you are planning to travel through Honduras, you will be happy to know that they have the cheapest providers in the entire world, as well as being one of the best in all of the Americas. Overall coverage in Honduras is excellent, especially in major cities and towns. However, it may slow down a bit, the more you venture out into the countryside.

The only two companies providing SIM cards to customers is Tigo and Claro. They are tried and trusted and have some fantastic deals that will make any customer happy. Locals refer to SIM cards as simply ‘SIM’ or ‘chip.’ Get to the shops early to avoid potential crowds, which are common in Honduras.

Tigo Honduras

Tigo is the largest company that sells SIM cards in Honduras. Keep in mind, though, that you will need to show your passport when purchasing, so always ensure you have it ready to go. 

Tigo offers its prepaid SIM cards for 50 HNL (10 HNL = $0.40, so $2). From there, you can add data to your device. There are not too many options, but you can find something you are happy with:

  • 24 hours: 100 MB for 40 HNL
  • 2 days: 200 MB for 40 HNL
  • 7 days: 2 GB for 105 HNL
  • 30 days: 5.5 GB, 565 HNL

Claro Honduras

The second-largest company in Honduras is Claro. And while it is second to Tigo, it offers the best coverage when it comes to 4G/LTE service. This company is quickly becoming the go-to for the younger crowd as they have better deals for using social media.

Prepaid SIM cards are available with Claro for 50 HNL. From there, you can top-up your card with more data starting at 30 HNL (100 MB for 1 day) to 850 HNL (10 GB for 30 days), depending on what you need.

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Honduras? Check out my Honduras SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Honduras!

Nicaragua SIM Cards

Cathedral in Nicaragua

A large amount of the United States population is actually Nicaraguan, so it is no wonder why there are so many traveling here day in and day out. But whether you have family or friends in Nicaragua or simply want to visit and check out the scenery, one thing you do not want to go without is a SIM card.

As of right now, three companies offer SIM cards to the locals and tourists of Nicaragua: Claro, Movistar, and CooTel. All three of these companies offer competitive prices and deals. Coverage may be a little hit-and-miss in a lot of areas, but certain regions like Managua have top-notch coverage.

Claro Nicaragua

First on the list is Claro, which used to be known as Enitel. This top company in Nicaragua offers 2G and 3G coverage for most regions, and 4G/LTE coverage in specific regions, including Managua, Leon, Esteli, and Matagalpa.

You can buy a Claro SIM card for 50 NIO (10 NIO = $0.30, so $1.50). After that, you will need to choose from one of the many data bundles and packages to use your device. There are a wide variety of bundles offered by Claro, including:

  • 1 day: 100 MB for 23 NIO
  • 3 days: 300 MB for 57.50 NIO
  • 5 days: 500 MB for 92 NIO
  • 7 days: 1 GB for 100 149.5 NIO
  • 15 days: 1.5 GB for 264.5 NIO

One of the major bonuses of opting for a Claro data bundle is that it comes free with unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook app usage.

Also, be aware that Claro advertises its plans WITHOUT 15% sales tax. I have added the tax to the prices listed abobe.

Movistar Nicaragua

Movistar is the second largest provider in Nicaragua. While their coverage may not be as great as Claro, they have better overall package deals and pricing. As an extra bonus, they add the tax in the final price for you, so there is no second-guessing how much you are paying.

Movistar has a lot of different bundles to choose from. Their package deals can range anywhere between 1 day of use to 30 days of use, and the amount of data can be anywhere from 75 MB for 15 NIO lasting you 1 day to 2.5GB for 500 NIO lasting you 30 days.

A major plus to choosing Movistar is that you not only get Facebook and WhatsApp usage free of charge, but you also get unlimited free Snapchat use as well. That is a massive plus among the younger crowd!

CooTel

To use CooTel, you will need to purchase one of their devices. The company does not sell SIM cards that can work with other devices than their own. This is a plus for someone who does not currently own a phone but makes it impossible for someone to buy a SIM card for their current device.

CooTel has a variety of different packages to go with their phones. The timeframes available are anywhere between 7 days to 30 days, and you can buy data starting at 512 MB and ending at unlimited usage. Expect to pay anywhere between $1.00 and $20.00 (they advertise their prices in USD instead of NIO). Do note that speeds are throttled to 1.5 Mbps.

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Nicaragua? Check out my Nicaragua SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Nicaragua!

Panama SIM Cards

Panama

With a unique location bordering both Central and South America and being one of the most prominent engineering spots in the entire world, Panama is greeted eagerly by both tourists and business personnel. But if you want to make sure you are saving money during your trip, you will undoubtedly need a SIM card.

There are four different companies that offer their services to the people and tourists of Panama, including +movil, Claro, Digicel, and Movistar. While you will find that there is good coverage in the cities, you might not be able to find coverage at all in other parts of the country.

If you are planning to venture away from the city, it is important to talk to local merchants to discuss whether or not the specific location will be covered by the network.

+movil

+movil, which used to be known as Cable & Wireless Panama, offers 4G/LTE services at a great price. Their exclusive starter bundle is known as the kit++movil and will less than $3. After that, you will need to add additional service to your device for it to work. Note: the currency of Panama is the Panamanian Balboa. The Balboa is pegged with the US Dollar (meaning 1 PAB = 1 USD). Since 1904, the US Dollar has legally circulated in Panama. As a result, both currencies can be used in Panama.

With +movil, you can expect to pay $0.06 per 1 MB. If you shop online, however, you can find exclusive deals and packages at a discounted rate, such as:

  • $3: 650 MB
  • $9: 1 GB
  • $15: 2 GB

Claro Panama

Claro is the second-largest company to offer SIM cards in Panama. They have just recently expanded the 4G coverage to extend out from the capital city. This means you will have a higher chance of getting top-quality service the further you go away from the city. However, remember that there are still a lot of areas that are not covered, so always check with the coverage map.

You can get Claro SIM cards for free at mall stands, or you will pay $2 if you buy them in stores. Claro is slightly more expensive than +movil, with their default rate for data being $0.025 per 1MB. You can also add some special data bundles including:

  • 1 day: 150 MB for $1
  • 2 days: 250 MB, 20 minutes, and 5 SMS for $2
  • 7 days: “Unlimited data”, 25 minutes, and 25 SMS for $5
  • 15 days: 3 GB, 50 minutes, and 50 SMS for $10
  • 30 days: 4 GB, 150 minutes, and 75 SMS for $15

Digicel Panama

The downside to using Digicel is that they only offer 3G services as of right now, but they are selling it as 4G/LTE. However, their speed is really only 3G/HSPA+, which is technically false advertisement to the public. They are cheaper than Claro and +movil, though, which makes them more desirable to plenty of consumers.

All Digicel data plans come with “unlimited data”. It is not clear what the fair-use policy is The plans also come with unlimited on-net calls and SMS. These plans range from $5 to $35

Movistar Panama

Movistar is the smallest company in Panama and offers 2G and 3G coverage. They also have 4G available, but that is only after buying their 4G/LTE SIM card (which is free for an upgrade). They have a variety of deals available. Perhaps the biggest perk to using Movistar is they have bonus minutes during promotions.

As far as data packages are concerned, there are four readily available:

  • 2 days: 250MB, 5 minutes, and 5 minutes for $2.00
  • 4 days: 525 MB, unlimited WhatsApp, 10 minutes, and 10 SMS for $3.00
  • 7 days: “Unlimited data”, 25 minutes, and 25 SMS for $5.00 (unknown fair-use policy)
  • 15 days: 1.5 GB, unlimited WhatsApp, 40 minutes, and 40 SMS for $10

RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in Panama? Check out my Panama SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.

Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog for your flights to Panama!

Conclusion

Anyone traveling to Central America can benefit from purchasing a SIM card. Whether you are exploring ancient history or relaxing on the beach, make sure you buy a SIM card to save on roaming charges that will occur with your normal phone. Always check with the merchant to make sure you will have coverage in your specific area and ask for help if needed when setting up the SIM card.

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 Central America

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 Central America or already within Central America. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Central America drop.

Book Your Accommodation for Central America

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 Central America. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a South American hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for Central America

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 Central America, 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!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan, and plans on exploring Oceania and more of East and Southeast Asia.

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