Nowadays, everyone seems to need a smart cell phone with camera and tablet capabilities. In Chile, I have found it optimal to add a 500-minute cell phone-enabled landline onto my VTR internet service package at home (about USD$7 extra), and thus minimize the purchase of cell phone minutes. Consequently, I reduce the overall amount I am required to pay for cell and data service. I realize that other people may have different needs and preferences, but this system works for me since I spend so much time at home. I also make use of WhatsApp (and sometimes Signal) now more than voice communications. It is more convenient, less intrusive and far less expensive.
Newcomers can bring their smart phones to Chile. Just be sure to request that they be unlocked prior to coming (or as soon as one arrives). Companies like Apple and Samsung allow one to manage this feature change (or restriction) online. If the old country’s phone cannot be unlocked, then a new one can be purchased from the sales representative. If a new phone will be purchased, Samsung is very popular in Chile. For iPhones, find an Apple store in the bigger malls of Santiago and Viña del Mar.
The day after one arrives in Chile, I suggest taking his phone to any Virgin Mobile stand, located in most department stores, many mall walkways, some strip centers, etc. They will help to remove the old company chip and install the Virgin Mobile one. Be sure to bring the Samsung or Apple key! You will be surprised at how easy it is to change cell phone carriers in less than ten minutes.
I have used Virgin for many years now and am quite satisfied with the service and price. They offer many “antiplans” online. An antiplan is not a contractual plan but its price is similar. You must pay every thirty days or your service will expire, much like a prepaid phone. If you leave the country for a few months, when you get back just add more minutes and you will be back in business. The chip will usually have to be replaced after six months of disuse.
As a newcomer, just buy Virgin’s “hablar más” antiplan for 7,000 pesos (USD$11). It will be sufficient for most people’s first few months in Chile. If you know that you will be on the phone more than that, since you already have people to call or you plan to use a lot of data, then get the 15,000 (USD$23) peso antiplan to start. Choose the “navegar más” antiplan if you want to surf more than talk.
With any Virgin antiplan, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be used for free, except for voice communication features, without discounting one’s data balance. That fact will make one’s cell phone costs much lower.
Your initial installation at the Virgin stand will come with the first month’s plan fully charged. After that, you will have to purchase more minutes at the website via credit card.
If the international card does not work, which is often the case, you will have to go to any supermarket or pharmacy and present the clerk with (1) 7,000 pesos (or credit card), (2) your phone number and (3) a note that says, “Por favor, recarga mi celular con 7,000 pesos. La empresa es Virgin Móvil.” Be sure to cross your sevens in the middle when you write; otherwise the clerk will think you are writing 1,000. (American sevens look very similar to Chilean ones.) The operation will be done in less than two minutes and then you can go back to the website and activate your antiplan.
You can set the account up to automatic activation, too. Thus, if you pa the clerk before the 30 days expires, your antiplan will continue with uninterrupted service.
Getting good, inexpensive cell phone service is easy in Chile. Newcomers will be surprised. However, without having the foregoing information, the level of stress and complication will rise.
Should you decide later that you prefer another company’s contractual plan, such as Claro or Wom that offer much more data and calling time for around US$30 per month, it will be equally easy to change over to them later without any extra cost. But there is little reason for most people to go this route, especially when just arriving in Chile.
For those coming to Chile under our residency program, we handle cell phone setup for you upon arrival. Just make sure to bring your unlocked phone(s) or be prepared to buy a new phone.
Dr. Cobin’s updated and enlarged 2017 book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, Fourth Edition, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service–Chile Consulting–where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $129.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged 2015 book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights (somewhat outdated) found in the larger book. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com: