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The Patagonia

Cellphones: A Lifeline and Guide

I live and die with the cell phone. I can call my best friend or connect to the world! A cell phone provides local telecom and internet service. Know how to use it and make sure it has a large readable screen, keep it in a safe place, and don’t let it get wet when you go fishing.

I strongly suggest you check out the TMobile plans before leaving the USA as they advertise international coverage for phone and data in Chile, but before you sign up, ask how it works! TMobile was great in Europe 4 years ago, but I doubt it will work well in Patagonia. With T-Mobile, there are no data roaming charges. I am not sure about calls or messages.

As of September 2017, to purchase a prepaid sim card in Chile and use it on your phone, you must first register the telephone you brought with you from the US!

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Registration is done online with a certification company. Here is the web address;

Personas Naturales

Or go in person to Avenue Apoquindo 7935, Office 705B. Las Condes from 10 AM until 12 noon, better to be there before 10!

To register your phone online, you need a few digital pictures: passport jpg, a photograph of your phones IMEI number (you can find this in the settings menu, take a picture of the screen), a photograph of the physical IMEI located somewhere on the body of your phone (an iPhone 8 has the number etched on the SIM card chip holder), and a digital copy of the bill of sale for your phone (Apple sent a digital receipt to my email with the IMEI number in the text body). Use the jpg format for all of the above pictures.

It takes 3 days to process the information and approve, then register your phone IMEI. There is no charge to set up one phone.

This work can be done before leaving the USA. Do it on your home computer screen in the Chrome browser with Spanish translation on.

It’s a real pain in the ass, but I did it, and I am writing and publishing on the phone now.

Entel is supposedly the best provider of cell service in Patagonia. Now go to an Entel store to buy the prepaid sim card chip, the cost is 1990. The store personnel should install the chip and activate it for you, do not forget to write down your Chilean phone number and don’t lose it!

NOW

Insert the card into your phone and restart the phone, save the SIM card from the USA and tape it onto a card and save it in your wallet. When you return to the USA, reinsert it to resume your home service. Next, go to a local Chilean pharmacy to credit the card. Ask for “recarga,” spend 20,000 Chilenos (about $25 US), and show them the local phone number you just got from the SIM card carrier, Entel. The pharmacy will confirm the number with you and then credit your number/account with the purchase. How often you have to recharge the account depends on how much you use the phone and data, 20,000 Chilean Pesos in you should last a week or two.

You will get an instruction card with the cell phone SIM chip that you bought. The instructions are complicated but tell you how to use the service. I will explain to you in detail when I get to Chile on October 22nd.

Be sure to have a Skype account for your phone calls home. It’s inexpensive. The cost for international calls is what Skype charges per minute plus what the local data plan charges you per minute, that’s if you want to phone home.

Then there is WhatsApp, which is free on WIFI or costs you data when on your telecom provider.

WIFI connections can save you money by avoiding using the data you purchased on your Chilean mobile phone account. Hotspots are found in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and public squares. Stay on the lookout for a connection and ask for the WIFI address and password. Always use a VPN when connected to WIFI.

Why have a cell phone with data? Google Maps made my trip, and I am confident that it will make yours. For example here is a screenshot of a Google Maps search for hostels in downtown Coihaique Chile. We find a few listed here and it’s good to start. You now have an idea of what the town looks like and where to stay. One can also do a search for restaurants, campgrounds, auto rentals, garage – mechanics, and fishing stores.  Google Maps is easy to use and it will translate for you. My trip would not have been as successful without Google Maps.

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Update December 2020; please note in Chile, you can now use a cellphone with a local SIM card without registering the phone for three or four weeks before it is locked. After that time, you must register the phone, as described earlier in this post.

By Peter Geoghan

Adventurer with doubts who self-guides his own fly fishing trips to Chile and Argentina. I am from New York City but last lived in the lovely Catskills, the land of bright trout, many reservoirs, rivers, streams, and creeks. Please email me at psg35@cornell.edu

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