Navigating Cell Phones

Trying to obtain a cell phone here as a foreigner without a DNI (national ID number) is a bit farcical. (As you read this, remember, I was figuring all of this out with my imperfect Spanish.)

Sin abono” is the crux phrase. That means, “without a plan.” If you do not have a DNI, you must purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone. This also translates to, “you pay a fortune for your telephone calls.”

We were okay with that, we figured we wouldn’t be making that many calls anyway.

Now, many people who go sin abono buy an unlocked phone, in other words, a phone that can be used with any of the three cell phone carriers in Buenos Aires. Translation: you not only pay a fortune for your calls, but you get the additional pleasure of paying a fortune for the telephone itself.

(There is a thriving grey market where unlocked telephones — probably stolen — are sold at a discount price.)

Anyway, we didn’t feel like paying a fortune for a cell phone, so we bought a subsidized telephone, sin abono, which means that we are locked into one carrier from which we must purchase our telephone cards to recharge our telephone account. It also means that we have the cheapest phone ever (pictured above).

We thought obtaining our phones would be the hard part, but we still had a few lessons remaining.

It turns out, in Baires, it is the initiator of the call who pays. And, if you call from a cell phone to a land line, that call is billed at an astronomical charge…I used up about $7.50 US making three telephone calls to land lines in the space of 15 or 20 minutes. (Oopsy!)

I am now going native and use text whenever possible (much cheaper), happily answer my phone (no charge) and am loathe to call people back!

And, don’t think that we’re totally home free. Tom needs to overcome his language barrier and set up his phone (he has a totally disco ring tone that had Ian and I on the floor laughing). And, Tom’s voice mail doesn’t work either. We’ve been depending upon the big guns (that would be Ian’s Spanish) to try and correct the problem…to no avail thus far.

5 Responses to “Navigating Cell Phones”

  1. Barbara

    If it’s any consolation, even with a DNI you would have to get a phone sin abono — unless you had PERMANENT residence. In other words, if the DNI has to be renewed every year, none of the companies will give you a contract.

    You’ll get used to the cell phone system. With Movistar, you’ll soon start receiving text messages offering discounts, etc. for charging 30 pesos or more. And you can even go to a PagoFacil and get a little customized tarjeta (for free) that you can use to recharge your phone at any PagoFacil (maybe they have it for other carriers, too, I don’t know). That has the advantage that you don’t have to go kiosk-hopping to find 15-, 20-, or 30-peso, etc. cards when you need to recharge your phone.

    Basically, just text everyone, avoid calling land lines, and don’t call anyone clueless (eg, the sort of people who want to put you on hold while they go consult their spouse about the simple question you asked them!).

  2. melissa s.

    adding ‘farcicle’ to my favorite word list.

  3. Michele

    Oh great, you are super mom, you make amazing crafts, and you have a favorite word list…it’s not fair!

  4. steveinbsas

    Two years ago I was able to get a “lease” contract with Nextel with my passport and my “residencia precaia” (my DNI was pending). I have a land line in my apartment and I didn’t use the cellphone enough to justify the cost, so after a year I turned in the phone with no further obligation. I don’t know if they have changed their policy since then.

  5. Michele


    Thanks for the note! With kids, we pretty much have to have a cell phone in case of emergencies–especially since ours have life threatening nut allergies. There’s no gettin’ around it!

    I’ve heard that Nextel coverage isn’t that good if you use it as a cell phone. Most people I know with Nextel like the radio though, was that your experience?

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