Nowadays it is a near-necessity to stay connected and online at all times even when travelling or moving. In Peru, which has seen a tremendous development in mobile networks over the past years and today is one of the best in 4G availability in Latin America, that’s relatively easy.
While travelers of course can use their mobile and provider from back home when coming to Peru (check frequency compatibility especially when using a US phone), roaming fees and the usual costs for calls and especially mobile data might get your head spinning when comparing to prices for the same service in Peru.
And even though free Wi-Fi can be found in numerous places across the country including, airports, parks, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, bars and cafés, for most users – short- and long-term travelers as well as foreigners living in Peru - the best and most affordable option to stay online is to go with a Peruvian telecommunication service provider.
All you need is an unlocked GSM phone and a local SIM card (called “chip” in Peru). As getting a contract isn’t that simple (Peruvian residency and credit history required) going for a prepaid system is a quick, easy, hassle-free and inexpensive solution.
With a prepaid SIM card (no contract) you get a Peruvian phone number which allows you to make and receive calls as well as send and receive SMS in Peru. You can add additional credit whenever needed but have to depending on the provider in certain time intervals otherwise your unused credit will be blocked until you recharge again.
With your credit you can buy different plans (which usually include free calls and SMS, free social media access such as Facebook, WhatsApp and a certain amount of free data for a certain time), top up your existing plan or add data packs. All this is done via text message.
Main cell phone / mobile internet providers in Peru
In Peru you have 4 main cell phone and mobile internet providers which all offer a variety of prepaid (and postpaid / contract) options:
Movistar (Telefonica Peru): Movistar is the largest provider in Peru and has the best network coverage throughout the country. According to OpenSignal the company offers the best 3G download speeds and the second best 4G availability, 4G download and upload speed and 4G latency. On the Movistar website you find their current cell phone prepaid plans which are clearly structured and offer good value for money.
Claro (America Movil): Claro is the second-largest provider in Peru and has a good network coverage throughout the country. The company offers 3G and 4G services and in Lima according to Open Signal scores with the best 3G and 4G download speed and good 3G latency. On the Claro website you find available cell phone prepaid plans which are reasonably priced.
Entel (former Nextel): Entel is the third player in Peru’s telecommunication service market. Long ignored due to lacking network coverage, today according to Open Signal Entel is on top of the game regarding 4G availability and overall download and upload speed. Entel’s website provides more info on the different chips (SIM cards), recharge option and data packs.
Bitel (Viettel): Bitel is the fourth mobile telephone operator in Peru which actually has the largest fiber optic network in the country though still limited network coverage. While the company, which operates in Peru since 2014, is still way behind its competitors speeds, according to Open Signal it scores high in LTE reach. On the Bitel website you find current prepaid plans.
As each user has different priorities and needs and each of above-mentioned telecommunication service providers their strengths and weaknesses, we highly recommend checking out the current offers on the provider’s websites.
If you are in Lima or other larger cities in Peru network coverage of all four is more or less the same, so the decision might be taken on other factors such as 4G availability, speed or latency. However, the further you get away from the cities into remote areas, the poorer network coverage might get (here Movistar or Claro might still be the better option). So, if you are a lot on the road in rural areas in Peru, it might be wise to check the network coverage of each provider before deciding on the right operator for you.
How to get a Peruvian SIM card?
Prepaid SIM cards (“chips prepago”) can be purchased at the official stores of each company and authorized distributors all over Peru. You find these for example at the most airports in Peru including Lima and Cusco, in shopping malls and larger supermarkets or somewhere in the center of town.
As all cell phone numbers have to be registered in Peru, an official ID (DNI for Peruvians, carné de extranjería for foreign residents or passport for tourists) is required.
The SIM card itself costs depending on the company between S/ 1 and S/ 15 (US/ 0.30 – 4.50) and might already come with a few free calls and a small amount of free data valid for a few days. Depending on the company and prepaid plan you choose, credit has to be added immediately.
Best have the retailer set up the SIM card for you to save time and avoid any troubles, especially if you are not familiar with the system. Nonetheless it might take a few hours until your Sim card is active and you can get started.
Be aware that even if you still have credit, you have to recharge a prepaid SIM card in regular intervals to stay active. Furthermore, prepaid plans in Peru are only valid for a certain time (anything between 1 and 15 days). So, if you pay for a plan or pack with for example 2GB data, you can only use it within a certain period. If you don’t use it, it expires.
On the other hand, you can add as much credit as you may need. Additionally, you can change your prepaid plan, add data packs or seize a special offer simply via text message using the companies special (promotion) code any time.
Each company has its own number to check for balance and validity of the credit, change prepaid plans and activate packs; so best ask for it when getting a new SIM card.
How to add credit?
Adding credit to your phone is simple in Peru. You can purchase credit literally everywhere in the country including supermarkets, bodegas (corner stores), gas stations, pharmacies and drug stores.
Just head for the checkout and ask for a “recarga”. Name your provider, amount you want to recharge and phone number and in seconds you get a text message confirmation on your phone.
Additionally, you find “recharge” machines across several Peruvian cities. If you have a bank account, you as well can quickly and easily buy credit online.
How to make calls?
Yes, even though today we use our mobiles mostly for all sorts of messaging and web surfing, sometimes we still need to make a call.
If you are in Peru and want to call another Peruvian cellphone from your mobile with a Peruvian SIM card, just dial the corresponding 9-digit number – no prefix necessary. If you want to call a landline phone from your mobile with Peruvian SIM card, first dial the city code and then the landline number.