How to Use Your Phone in a Spanish-Speaking Country
When I was a kid growing up in Guatemala, cell phones were not as common as they are today. They were chunky, simple, and almost exclusively used for phone calls. I remember being blown away when phones came out with mp3 players and colored screens. Today, those features are basic on every smartphone. These devices have gone far beyond making and receiving calls, expanding the ways we’re able to communicate to include pictures, voice notes, texting, and more. We take our phones everywhere we go and knowing what to expect when you need to stay connected while abroad can save you a lot of trouble.
If you’re going to travel or live abroad, you might want to get a local number to be able to call, text, and browse the internet without worrying about extra roaming fees. Today we’ll explore cultural differences in phone-use as well as some tips to get a phone if you’re in a Spanish-speaking country such as Guatemala.
Before we begin, I’d like to remind you that some of the information provided here may not apply to all countries in Latin America, since rules and requirements can change depending on where you’re traveling. However, I’ll touch upon universal tips that are useful regardless of location.
Prepaid or Fixed Plan?
The first thing to consider when planning to buy a phone abroad is whether you want a prepaid or fixed plan. On one hand, if you plan on using your phone on a need-to basis, you will want a prepaid sim card to avoid consistent monthly costs. On the other hand, if you plan on heavier usage, you’ll get more bang for your buck with a fixed plan. Are contracts to be avoided when getting a phone abroad, you wonder? In most situations, yes! That’s why phone companies came up with “contract-free plans,” where you pay a monthly fee and get a fixed amount of data to spend. What are the pros and cons of these two alternatives? Let’s find out!
Prepaid sim cards are easy to get and easy to use. Most companies will sell you a temporary number for around $1, then you decide how much money you want to put in the card and use it as you need it. This method is simple and fast to set up. It’s perfect for the short-term traveler who doesn’t want to commit to a long-term plan and uses their phone mostly for calls and texting. One of the downsides of prepaid phones is that data and calls tend to be more expensive. Running out of minutes when you’re in a pinch is not a fun experience, so remember to be aware of your minutes. Choosing a prepaid phone is ideal for exchange students, backpackers, and volunteers!
Contract-free plans get you a package of call minutes, internet, and text messages to spend at your leisure throughout the month. You pay for these plans for as long as you need, and the pricing ranges from $30-$40 a month. With this kind of plan, you won’t have to worry about looking for WiFi all the time, and running out of minutes is highly unlikely. Some plans supply up to 50 hours of call time and over 10gb of internet data! Taking a contract-free plan like this is a big choice. You should consider how much you’re going to use your phone while abroad, or you might end up spending more than what you’re using. Plans like these will get you enough data to be reasonably comfortable throughout the month, and it’s a viable choice if you’re staying in a country for longer than six months.
Buy Local or Abroad?
“My phone won’t take foreign sim cards!” Phone companies can be annoying sometimes. If you buy a device, shouldn’t you be able to do whatever you want with it? That’s not always the case, and your phone might not be able to take foreign sim cards. Always contact your carrier at home before buying a number abroad as they can sometimes allow you to use foreign sim cards. Buying a phone number and not being able to use it is a disaster, so keep this in mind. Some companies allow you to unlock your phone free of charge, so give them a call and ask if they offer that service before buying a new sim card.
What if you want to get a new, temporary phone? In Guatemala, there’s a slang word for very cheap cell phones. Frijolito (pronounced free-hole-ee-toe) translates to “little bean.” The term comes from the fact that cheap phones like these resemble beans! These phones are insanely cheap (as low as $10, or Q.50!), but most of them will only be able to process calls and basic text messages.
Buying a low-end smartphone in a foreign country is also possible. That way you’ll have more useful options with your phone. I asked my carrier for their cheapest smartphone, and the one they offered was $40.
Which Company Should I Choose?
I remember as a kid getting annoyed at my dad when we wanted to buy something. He would do so much research beforehand and take so long to make simple decisions, that it bored me to death. Now I’m a bit older and (questionably) smarter, so I get why he researched so much before making a purchase. You should do the same! Phone carriers are as eager to sell as ever, so they’ll dump lots of offers on you the moment you ask them for information. Always ask for the cheaper option until they give you the cheapest one. Here is a list of useful questions to ask your carrier before deciding to get a number with them or not. As you’re reading, can you think of more questions to ask? Just like my dad taught me, the more questions you ask, the better deals you’re going to find.
|Is there a cheaper option?
|¿Tiene una opción más barata?
|What documents do I need to present?
|¿Qué documentos necesito tener?
|Is there an alternative to this plan/offer?
|¿Existe alguna alternativa para este plan/esta oferta?
|Can I cancel the plan any time I want?
|¿Puedo cancelar el plan cuando yo quiera?
|What payment methods do you accept?
|¿Qué modos de pago aceptan?
|Do you accept foreign credit/debit cards?
|¿Aceptan tarjetas de crédito/débito extranjeras?
|Where can I buy minutes for my phone?
|¿Dónde puedo comprar saldo?
If you’re not fluent in Spanish, I highly recommend you get someone who does to help you make these phone calls. They might even get you a better deal than usual! However, if you can hold a casual conversation on your own, it’s okay to make the call yourself. In that case, a fluent Spanish speaker will help you out with any misunderstandings that might come up.
The Most Important Thing To Remember
If you’re thinking about getting a phone in a foreign country, the most important thing is research! I talked about important aspects to consider, but if you want to get the best deal available, calling local carriers and asking locals is your best bet when getting a phone number abroad. If you want to be able to text your Spanish-speaking friends like a pro, take a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy to gain the skills!
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