From Cell Phones to SIM Cards: Staying Connected in Peru

Whether you’re traveling for business or for leisure, there’s something special about having access to emails as they come in, maps and GPS to get around town, search engines to find restaurant recommendations, messaging and social media apps to stay in touch with friends and family back home, and a phone to make calls. Smart phones, of course, make this possible, but if your mobile plan doesn’t include free-of-charge international roaming, your trip to Peru could get a whole lot more expensive.

But, making calls and surfing the web on your cell phone in Peru is easy and pretty cheap with a little planning and patience.

Know Your Phone

Cell phone networks are separated into two categories: GSM (Global System for Mobile) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). In Peru, cell phones connect to GSM which means all of the information needed to get the cell phone working is on a small chip called a SIM card. If you have a GSM phone, you can take out the SIM card from one device and put it in another and the phone number and data plan are still usable. The same is true for the phone – you can put any SIM card in the phone as long as it is ‘unlocked’ (more on that below) and use that phone with any network plan. These types phones will work in Peru with relative ease.

On the contrary, CDMA networks don’t use SIM cards and instead favor network-based registries. What this means is that the cells phones are only compatible with plans on their own networks. Two examples of this are the United States cell phone companies Verizon Wireless and Sprint. If you own a Verizon phone, you can’t use it on a Sprint network and vice versa. This also means if you have a CDMA phone, you can use it in Peru with your plan from abroad (roaming charges will apply), but you can’t use a Peruvian pre-paid plan.

Finally, there is a third category. Global phones have a SIM card slot to support foreign networks even if the devices run on a CDMA network. If you have a newer model iPhone, even if it is from Sprint or Verizon, your phone has the capability to work anywhere in the world.

The Key to Unlocking Your Phone

Cell phones purchased from mobile companies are usually locked, and for good reason (as far as the company is concerned). They don’t want you taking that fancy smart phone you bought from them for $1 during a promotion, and using it with their competitor. That said, most companies will also assist you in unlocking the phone.

First, call your wireless service provider and ask if your phone can be unlocked and what steps you need to take to do so. It can take some time to unlock your phone (for me is was a 90-day wait from the time of purchase), especially if you’ve recently purchased it, so don’t wait until the last minute to call.

If your provider won’t unlock your phone, you can buy one in a specialty store or online. eBay, for example, always has inexpensive unlocked cell phones for sale. You can also buy an unlocked phone in Peru at one of the two phone and data providers – Movistar or Claro – or at an independent electronic store. Feature phones (non smart phones that can only make calls) start at as little as S/. 40 or about $14.

The Step-By-Step Guide to SIM Cards in Peru

Once you arrive in Peru with your unlocked phone, you need to get a prepaid SIM card (no contract required) so it will start working. You can choose to go with Movistar or Claro as your wireless provider. You can purchase the cards at the retail stores or at independent technology store for S/.10-15 ($3.50-$5), which will include some credit so you can immediately start using the phone.

To add more minutes, texts and data, you will need to recargar, or recharge, the phone. Most bodegas and supermarkets can do this, or you can do it online with a credit card. As long as you have credit on the phone, you can make and receive phone calls and text messages. If you would like to add data into the mix, you will have to go through a few extra steps, so be sure to ask for the how-to guide when you buy the SIM card from the retailer.

Phone Calls in Peru

Cell phones in Peru are made up of nine digits, while land lines are make up of eight (city code + seven digit phone number). To call a cell phone, just dial the nine-digit phone number. To call a land line (say for a midnight pizza delivery), dial 0 + city code + the seven digit phone number. For example, if you call a land line in Lima, it would look like this: 0 + 1 + ???-????.

To receive calls from abroad while in Peru, the people calling you will need to add Peru’s country code before the cell phone number. The country code is “51.”

Finally, here are some important numbers you should jot down before coming to Peru in case you find yourself in an emergency.

Emergency calls: 112

Civil Defense: 115

Police: 105

Fire: 116

Ambulance: 117

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