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Movistar, Tigo or Claro?

by Diana Pastor

If you’ve decided to hang around Guatemala for a while, chances are you’re thinking about getting a cellphone. The first thing to know is that there are only three companies operating here: Movistar, Tigo and Claro. Deciding which is best for you obviously depends on what your needs are and your budget, but also where you will be spending most time in the country.

All three offer pre-paid and contract deals. Most foreigners (and many Guatemalans) go pre-paid, so we’ll focus on that option. You recharge your account credit (saldo) with scratch cards you can buy everywhere for between Q10 and Q100, or, more commonly, with “electronic recharges”. These are available from Q5, and can be bought in various tiendas, supermarkets, gas stations, etc – you can even do it online via credit card.

So they’re the similarities. But what are the differences? Generally speaking, if you need good reception in rural areas, go with Tigo. Call rates aren’t cheap, but they do offer billing-per-second, meaning you only pay for exactly how long you talk. Tigo has the best nationwide coverage, and regardless of where you are, if there is cellphone coverage, Tigo will have reception.

If you’re a texter, Movistar offers good deals – you can subscribe to a plan offering 100 messages per day for Q5. Movistar also has the most frequent “double, triple or quadruple days”, where your saldo will be credited 2, 3 or 4 times what you pay.

Claro’s call costs are somewhere in between the other two, and their signal coverage is patchy. Their advantage is that they tend to sell the phones themselves cheaper, so if you’re only going to be here a short time or are worried about your phone getting stolen, the initial investment isn’t too large.

What you should know is that with all three companies your saldo has an expiration date (duration varies between companies) and if you do not pay to top it up during that time, you lose the balance. Also, the lower value the recharge, the shorter expiry date it will have (so you may have as little as two days to use a Q10 recharge, but a month to use Q100). If you are recharging on a promotional day, make sure you check your saldo afterwards – sometimes the system gets saturated and you account doesn’t get credited. And that’s when the real fun begins.

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