Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in El Salvador Guide

El Salvador may be the smallest country in Central America, it is the most populated country in the region. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, has a volcano, cathedrals, and theaters. Go to Santa Ana for the Santa Ana Cathedral and the national theater. Suchitoto has a beautiful church called Santa Lucia Church. As you can see, there is a lot of history to be explored in El Salvador.

Many travelers who visit El Salvador want to buy a local SIM card because it is much cheaper than roaming with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which can break the bank. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in El Salvador. Let’s do this.

Telecom Providers in El Salvador

El Salvador has 4 telecom providers: Tigo El Salvador, Claro El Salvador, Movistar El Salvador, and Digicel El Salvador. All providers, except for Digicel El Salvador, have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

Digicel El Salvador is expected to have a 4G/LTE network in the future. Right now, just like other countries in the Caribbean and Oceania, they falsely advertise their 3G network as 4G/LTE – be aware of that.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting El Salvador? If you want to buy a SIM card in El Salvador, I would recommend going with Claro or Tigo if you are planning on exploring El Salvador because they have the best coverage. If you are staying in the cities, then Digicel would be a good option. They have the “worst” coverage in the country but have the lowest rates.

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Just like most countries in Central America, you need to bring your passport when buying your SIM Card.

El Salvador used the US dollar as its currency. All prices will be listed in just “$.”

With that being said, let’s see what El Salvador has 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!

Claro El Salvador

Claro Logo

Claro El Salvador, just Claro, is the largest operator in El Salvador. Together with Tigo, they have the best coverage in the country. Claro SIM cards are sold for $5, but you can often get them for less. Each SIM card comes with 350 MB to be used within 4 days.

The following Claro data backs can be bought. Each pack comes with unlimited WhatsApp use. Almost all, except for the $1.50 pack, come with unlimited Facebook as well:

  • $1: 150 MB and $1 airtime for 1 day
  • $1.50: 250 MB for 2 days (no unlimited Facebook)
  • $2: 200 MB and $4 airtime for 4 days
  • $2.50: 350 MB for 5 days
  • $3.50: 400 MB and $6 airtime for 7 days
  • $3.50: 500 MB for 7 days
  • $5: 1.5 GB for 10 days
  • $6: 800 MB, unlimited Twitter, and $12 airtime for 15 days
  • $10: 1.2 GB, unlimited Twitter, and $20 airtime for 30 days
  • $10: 3 GB and unlimited Twitter for 30 days

To activate a Claro package, dial *555# and choose the package from the prompt. All packages auto-renew. By texting FIN to 4777, the auto-renewal will be canceled. Text CONSUMO to 4777 to see your balance.

You can also get a Claro data-only SIM cards that come with the following data packages:

  • $2: 1 GB for 1 day
  • $3: 2 GB for 2 days
  • $5: 3 GB for 7 days
  • $15: 5 GB for 15 days
  • $10: 10 GB for 30 days

Movistar El Salvador

Movistar Logo

Movistar El Salvador, just Movistar, is El Salvador’s second-largest operator. Their coverage is slightly worse than the ones of Claro and Tigo, but your data allowance can be used in neighboring countries without a surcharge.

Movistar SIM cards are sold for $3, but it is sold for cheaper when promotions are going on. The card comes with $3 in credit valid for 3 days. The following packs can be purchased:

  • $0.60: 100 MB for 2 days
  • $1: 200 MB for 2 days
  • $2: 600 MB, 50 on-net minutes, 10 domestic minutes, and unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook for 5 days
  • $4: 1 GB, 100 on-net minutes, 10 domestic minutes, and unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook for 7 days
  • $10: 3 GB, unlimited on-net minutes, 20 domestic minutes, and unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook for 15 days

You can activate a Movistar package by dialing *700#, and select the plan of choice in the list.

Tigo El Salvador

Tigo Logo

Tigo El Salvador, just Tigo, used to be the largest operator in El Salvador but is now the third-largest operator. Together with Claro, they have the best coverage throughout the country.

Tigo SIM cards are sold for $1.50. They come with 75 MB for 2 days. These data backs can be added, which all come with unlimited WhatsApp chat (no VoIP):

  • $1: 100 MB for 1 day
  • $1.50: 300 MB for 2 days
  • $2: 500 MB for 3 days
  • $4: 1 GB for 7 days
  • $7: 1.5 GB for 14 days

A Tigo plan can be bought by dialing *123#. The packages will be listed in the pop-up. You can also buy a plan in the Tigo app or on the Tigo website.

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Digicel El Salvador

Digicel Logo

Finally, we have Digicel El Salvador, just Digicel, as the smallest operator in the market. They have the “worst” coverage, meaning that you should only consider going with them if you are staying in major cities because they have the lowest rates.

Even though they claim to have a 4G/LTE network, they do not – their 4G/LTE network is simply high-speed 3G/HSPA+. I do not know why Digicel does this in many nations they operate in, but it is extremely dishonest. However, they are planning to roll out real 4G/LTE in the coming years.

Digicel SIM cards are sold for $3, but you can often get them for less. They come with $3 in credit. The following data packs can be added, which all come with unlimited WhatsApp. Some plans marked with an “*” come with unlimited data from 11 PM until 5 AM:

  • $0.50: 50 MB and 5 minutes for 1 day
  • $0.50: 100 MB for 1 day
  • $0.50: 50 MB for 7 days
  • $1: 300 MB * and unlimited on-net calls for 2 days
  • $1: 150 MB and 10 minutes for 7 days
  • $1: 200 MB for 7 days
  • $3: 500 MB and unlimited Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for 7 days
  • $3: 1 GB * and unlimited on-net calls for 7 days
  • $5: 1.5 GB and unlimited Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for 7 days
  • $5: 2 GB * and unlimited on-net calls for 14 days
  • $10: 4 GB * and unlimited on-net calls for 30 days

A Digicel plan can be activated by dialing *444#. From there, you can select your plan of choice. You can also use the Digicel app or go to a Digicel store to activate a package. Dial *120*137# to check your balance.

Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in El Salvador

I have discussed the relevant providers in El Salvador in this article because using a Salvadoran 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 El Salvador. 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 El Salvador.

Roaming in El Salvador 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 Tigo Guatemala, then you would be roaming with Tigo Guatemala in El Salvador.

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 El Salvador, 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 El Salvador 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 El Salvador.

Using an International SIM Card in El Salvador

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, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner.

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 El Salvador. 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 Central 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 El Salvador

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 El Salvador

Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in El Salvador 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 El Salvador, you can find hotspots here and there. Most of them are, however, slow.

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 El Salvador

Getting a SIM card from Tigo or Claro would do you well when considering a Salvadoran SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.

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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 Central America? Check out my Central America SIM card buying guide, covering other Central American countries, such as Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. 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 El Salvador

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 El Salvador. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to El Salvador drop.

Book Your Accommodation for El Salvador

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 El Salvador. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Salvadorian hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for El Salvador

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 El Salvador, 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 US dollars 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 due to the current pandemic and does not have any travel plans for after his stay in Taiwan.

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