Choose a local telco company to cut down on data and roaming charges.
With some 350,000 US citizens hailing from Nicaragua, it’s no surprise it’s a top tourist destination for Americans. Whether you are visiting family or there for the first time, a great way to save money on your trip is to purchase a local SIM card. When you replace your domestic SIM card with a local one, you can cut down on the additional fees for roaming and data usage in a foreign country. You can get a prepaid card with a week’s worth of calls and 700MB of data for NIO110 (£2.75).
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Smartphone network operators in Nicaragua
There are three competitive network operators in Nicaragua. They are:
The coverage is different as you change regions, although Claro and Movistar both have 4G/LTE networks in Managua.
Claro, formerly known as Enitel, has consistent 2G and 3G networks, plus 4G/LTE on 1700 MHz in Matagalpa, Leon, Esteli and Managua. None of the Claro prices we quote below include the 15% sales tax.
Claro’s prepaid SIM cards are sold for NIO12 in many locations, including Claro’s own stores. Top-up cards are sold in both NIO and US$ amounts – NIO10-NIO300 and US$1-US$20 – for an additional 4 to 45 days of validity.
You can check your balance at any time by dialing *812.
Claro data bundles
For data, the following bundles are available.
Text your activation code to 8833 or dial *555# and choose the first option. All of these packages come with free Facebook and WhatsApp usage.
APN: web-emovil; username and password: web.emovil
Website (in Spanish): http://www.claro.com.ni
Movistar splits the market about 50-50 with Claro. Its coverage is not as strong outside the main cities, but it has better data prices, and taxes are built in before the sale. The 4G network began in 2015 in Managua. In 2016, it expanded to include San Juan del Sur, Leon, Chinandega, Granada and Masaya.
The prepaid SIM cards go under the names of Prepago Full or Prepago Libre and can be purchased at Movistar outlet stores. Top-ups range from NIO29 to NIO199 and are sold at outlets nationwide.
Movistar data bundles
Movistar’s data packages range from 1-30 days and from 50MB to 2.5GB. They can be activated by texting the following codes to 7000. Extras include free access to WhatsApp (WA), Facebook (FB) and Snapchat (SC), as designated below.
|NIO50||4 days||300MB||WA, FB, SC||NAV300|
|NIO110||7 days||700MB||WA, FB, SC||NAV700|
|NIO250||15 days||1.5GB||WA, FB, SC||GB|
|NIO500||30 days||2.5GB||WA, FB, SC||GB2|
Website (in Spanish): http://www.movistar.com.ni
CooTel is the brainchild of the Chinese firm Xinwei. It uses its own custom phones that do not employ SIM cards operating on a 3G network in major cities throughout Nicaragua. You must buy a device to use this network. Its data feature packages range from 512MB to unlimited usage over 7 to 30 days for between US$1 and US$20. For more information, visit the CooTel website.
Advice from Lonely Planet about SIM cards in Nicaragua
In addition to being the largest travel guidebook publisher in the world, Lonely Planet has a message board used by more than 600,000 travellers to share experiences and offer suggestions. Here’s some advice from recent visitors to Nicaragua.
“It’s pretty easy to get a SIM card in Nicaragua. There are tons of places offering Movistar and Claro SIMs in all major cities (Managua, Granada, Leon, etc). I bought my SIM card from a kiosk in MetroCentro mall in Managua. I used Movistar and had no problems and decent reception most of the time. The SIM cost around $6 and came with 10 free minutes to call the US. Make sure your phone is unlocked…meaning it will accept a SIM card from a mobile company other than the one you bought the phone from. You can call your mobile provider and they will provide you with the unlock code and instructions for the process.”
“The last SIM card I bought was US$12 with Movistar. Sometimes there won’t be a lot of SIM cards to buy but if so or if your phone is not unlocked you can buy a basic phone from Movistar for US$20 and Enitel for about $15. Note it is more expensive to call a phone in Nicaragua (especially Movistar to Enitel or vice-versa) than to call Canada or the USA from your prepaid Nica phone.”
Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Nicaragua
Well known for its reviews of hotels and attractions, TripAdvisor’s message boards are also a fount of knowledge for the inner working of the telcos and SIM cards. Here’s advice from a few recent travellers.
We chose to have our phone unlocked by Tekus in Canada so that we can use SIM cards in other countries. We don’t speak Spanish so our driver spoke with the agent at the Claro stand (phone stands are everywhere. Claro or Movistar but apparently Claro has better coverage) and she placed the SIM card in our phone and did whatever was necessary to activate. Recharging is easier. You simply keep the card with the phone number that was given when the SIM card was purchased, tell them how much you want to add (we use 1GB and calling for 7 days) and then they send you a text and you pay them. It’s that easy.”
“As a tourist, you have to get a prepaid SIM card. There are two main companies for cell phones, Claro and Movistar. They are no flat rates, so you pay different amounts depending on if you call day/night/weekend, or Claro to Claro vs Claro to Movistar vs Claro to landline, etc. Also the phone companies offer various packets for prepay options which give you various bonuses and amounts, etc.”
Pros and cons of Nicaragua’s top SIM card operators
Nicaragua has two major SIM card providers. Here are some of the positives and negatives about those companies.
- Movistar has taxes built into its prices already.
- Most of the major cities are covered by 4G.
- CooTel does not allow for foreign devices to operate on its network.