Nicaragua is a relatively large country in Central America. The country is set between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Nicaragua is known for its volcano called Momotombo, its many lakes, and beaches.
From cathedrals in Managua to the Concención Volcano in Ometepe, there are plenty of things to do in Nicaragua.
Many travelers who visit Nicaragua 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 Nicaragua. Let’s do this.
Telecom Providers in Nicaragua
Nicaragua has 3 telecom providers: Claro Nicaragua, Movistar Nicaragua, and CooTel Nicaragua. Claro Nicaragua and Claro Nicaragua have 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. CooTel Nicaragua has only a 3G network.
CooTel uses unusual technology that does not allow you to use your own device when using the CooTel service. You can buy a CooTel phone from 10 USD or use a CooTel mobile hotspot from 50 USD.
CooTel is only interesting to those staying in Nicaragua for a long period, or those who are in areas where CooTel has coverage. You can get unlimited data at 1.5 Mbps for 30 days.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Nicaragua? If you want to buy a SIM card in Nicaragua, I would recommend going with Claro because they have the highest speeds and best coverage throughout the country. Movistar would be an option for those on a budget. However, their coverage is slightly worse than Claro.
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Unlike most countries in Central America, you can buy a Nicaraguan SIM card without a passport.
With that said, let’s see what Nicaragua has to offer to us.
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Claro Nicaragua, just Claro, is the largest operator in Nicaragua. They have the best speeds and coverage throughout the country, which is why I recommend them, even when visiting remote places.
Claro SIM cards are sold for 50 NIO in Claro stores. Top-up vouchers are sold from 10 NIO to 2500 NIO. You can also recharge online. The following data packs can be added:
- 23 NIO: 100 MB for 1 day
- 34.50 NIO: 150 MB for 2 days
- 57.50 NIO: 300 MB for 3 days
- 92 NIO: 500 MB for 5 days
- 126.50 NIO: 750 MB for 7 days
- 149.5 NIO: 1 GB for 7 days
- 264.5 NIO: 1.5 GB for 15 days
Claro also sells data-only SIM cards for modems and tablets. You can buy those too, as long as you do not mention that you want to use the SIM card for your phone. The following data-only packs can be added:
- 28.75 NIO: 500 MB for 12 hours
- 57.50 NIO: 1 GB for 24 hours
- 287.50 NIO: 3 GB for 7 days
- 460 NIO: 1 GB for 30 days
- 805 NIO: 5 GB for 30 days
- 1035 NIO: 8 GB for 30 days
Do note that prices listed in Claro stores are exclusive of 15% sales tax. I have incorporated the tax in all the prices for your convenience.
Movistar Nicaragua, just Movistar, competes with Claro with lower rates, albeit having worse coverage. Movistar SIM cards can be bought in Movistar stores, and top-up cards are sold from 29 NIO to 199 NIO in many non-Movistar stores like supermarkets.
The following Movistar data packs can be added. All packs come with unlimited WhatsApp chat (no VoIP):
- 15 NIO: 75 MB for 1 day
- 20 NIO: 100 MB for 1 day
- 30 NIO: 150 MB for 2 days
- 50 NIO: 300 MB and unlimited Facebook and Snapchat for 4 days
- 110 NIO: 700 MB and unlimited Facebook and Snapchat for 7 days
- 250 NIO: 1.5 GB and unlimited Facebook and Snapchat for 20 days
- 500 NIO: 2.5 GB and unlimited Facebook and Snapchat for 30 days
CooTel is a carrier that operators in select cities and regions. As mentioned in the introduction, you need to buy a CooTel phone or mobile hotspot device if you want to use CooTel. They do not even sell SIM cards. The following monthly data packs can be added, which are listed in US dollars (just $) instead of NIO:
- $1: 512 MB (for 7 days)
- $2: 1 GB
- $3.50: 2 GB
- $8: 5 GB
- $10: 8 GB
- $11.50: 10 GB
- $14: 15 GB
- $20: Unlimited data
Remember, all packs are limited to speeds up to 1.5 Mbps.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Nicaragua
Now you know everything about buying a SIM card in Nicaragua, but what are your other options? Although buying a local SIM card is almost always the cheapest option, the cheapest option would be using free WIFI connections in Nicaragua, but you can also roam with your provider in Nicaragua, use an international SIM card in Nicaragua, or use a mobile hotspot in Nicaragua. Let’s see what our options are.
Using Free WIFI hotspots in Nicaragua
Using something free is always better than paying for something. However, sometimes, free stuff may be of bad quality. Sure, you do not have to pay anything for using a free hotspot (unless you are required to purchase a beverage or meal at an establishment), but it may be a challenge to find a free hotspot. Moreover, the connection may be so slow that it is practically useless.
In the case of Nicaragua, you can find many hotspots in the bigger cities. Do not expect to find many in rural areas, though.
Do note that public hotspots are unsecure. Hackers love to steal sensitive information on unprotected connections because it is apparently easy to do so. That is why I use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using a public hotspot, and I would encourage you to do so too.
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 NordVPN subscription now!
Roaming with Your Provider in Nicaragua
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 Claro from Ecuador, then you would be roaming with Claro Ecuador in Nicaragua.
Roaming may be the most convenient way of using your phone abroad. You do not have to buy a new SIM card, which, in turn, means you do not have to swap SIM cards. As a result, your friends and family from home can easily reach you on your cell. With many providers, the only thing you need to do is to turn on the data roaming setting on your phone, and you are good to go.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Although roaming with your provider may be the most convenient way of staying connected in Nicaragua, it can also be the most expensive option. There have been many horror stories where people have racked up roaming bills up in the thousands and even more than ten thousand.
Luckily, many providers have affordable roaming plans, allow you to roam for free in some destinations like Nicaragua, or allow you to use your plan’s allowance in Nicaragua. For example, with Virgin Mobile Canada, you can use your plan’s allowance for 12 Canadian dollars per day. This may be affordable in some destinations for a small number of days, but it will be expensive for prolonged periods.
If you are unsure about the roaming options of your provider, I have written many articles about roaming with various operators around the world. I analyze them in-depth and give you my advice on whether you should roam with your provider or not. If yes, I also state for how long you should roam to take the most advantage of the offer.
One thing that should be avoided at all costs is to Pay As You Go roaming where you pay per minute, SMS, or MB. This is how many people get expensive roaming bills because the roaming prices for data are usually extremely high.
If you want to roam, make sure to get a roaming plan. Unless your provider offers extremely low Pay As You Go roaming rates, which is only a handful of providers, then you can consider doing so. Furthermore, if your provider lets you roam for free in Nicaragua, then you should go for it. Just note that your speeds will be lower as a roamer than if you were to buy a Nicaragua SIM card.
Using an International SIM Card in Nicaragua
International SIM cards are SIM cards that work internationally. Most SIM cards do work abroad, but then you have to roam with your provider. International SIM cards, however, let’s you use one SIM card in many destinations around the world for, often, the same price. This way, your friends and families can still reach out to you while traveling.
International SIM cards are, however, much more expensive than buying a local SIM card in many cases, but they are often cheaper than to roam with your provider. There are many international SIM card providers out there, but a few providers I can recommend are OneSimCard, SimOptions, and Surfroam.
International SIM cards are useful for those who frequently travel for leisure or for business. That way, everyone can reach you on one number instead of a handful of local numbers scattered around the world.
Moreover, many destinations in the world require you to register yourself before you can buy a local SIM card. In some countries, the process is quick, while others require much more of your time. Furthermore, the registration process may be cumbersome in countries.
Finally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some. It can be a challenge dealing with a salesperson who does not understand you. They may try and sell you the most expensive option out there. Luckily, you know the prices of SIM cards and packs in Nicaragua, so you cannot be taken advantage of.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple destinations in one trip, 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 a Mobile Hotspot in Nicaragua
A mobile hotspot is a portable, battery-powered wireless router that allows 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.
Many companies have created mobile hotspots (just have a quick search on Amazon, for example, you will find many). Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers I know. 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.
I often recommend mobile hotspots to those who are traveling in groups or with families. They can save groups a lot of money if they are visiting destinations where buying multiple SIM cards would become an expensive endeavor.
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.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Nicaragua
Getting a SIM card from Claro would do you well when considering a Nicaraguan 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 Central America? Check out my Central America SIM card buying guide, covering other Central American countries, such as Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, 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 Nicaragua
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 Nicaragua. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Nicaragua drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Nicaragua
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 Nicaragua. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Nicaraguan hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Nicaragua
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 Nicaragua, 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 local currency 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!