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Paraguayan Staying Connected Cell Phones

Cell phone usage is becoming increasingly popular especially in remote areas of the country where landlines are still scarce. For travelers, cell phones represent the easiest method of communication.

The Paraguayan cell phone network operates on the GSM system with all phones using SIM cards (a small chip that stores cell phone data). Locally purchased SIM cards will work with foreign GSM phones as long as they are unlocked. Ask your home cell phone provider to unlock your phone before departure, or get your phone unlocked locally at a cell phone store. This usually costs between Gs.

50,000 and Gs. 100,000 depending on the phone model. Phones are easily purchased locally as well.

Tigo, Personal, and Claro are the three largest cell phone providers in Paraguay. Tigo generally has better coverage in rural areas. All cell phone numbers start with 09 and specific providers are indicated by the third digit. Tigo numbers start with 098, Personal with 097, and Claro with 099.

Both pay-as-you-go and monthly plans are available. SIM cards (also known as chips) can be purchased from cell phone carrier representatives (in businesses and street-side stands) and cost between Gs 5,000 to Gs 10,000. In order to get a SIM card you will have to provide official ID. Phone credit, known as “saldo,” is loaded onto the SIM card with phone cards or through vendors selling mini cargas. As Paraguay operates on a “caller pays” system, your credit will only be used up when you make a call or send a text message. Calls range from Gs. 6 to Gs.12 per second and text messages cost between Gs. 80 and Gs. 100. Discounts apply to calls and messages within the same network. Calls from cell phones to landlines and vice versa are more expensive. Most companies also allow for texting internationally.

Because it is cheaper, many people prefer to send text messages rather than talk on the phone. However, text messages can sometimes go undelivered due to weak signals and problems with cell phones on either end. Often messages go unanswered because the recipient has no phone credit. If you need to discuss an urgent matter, it’s best to make a phone call.

It is very common for people to run out of phone credit. There are two popular ways to work around the problem: Dame saldo and Llamada perdida. Dame saldo (give me credit) works by allowing users to request phone credit of another cell phone user in the same network via text message. The recipient of a dame saldo message can then reply with the amount of saldo they wish to transfer. Users without credit may also communicate via llamada perdida (missed call) wherein users call and hang up as soon as the call registers. The recipient is then expected to return the call (and, as a result, pays for the call).

Although the price difference for calling within a network versus outside the network may be irrelevant for those passing through, the cost adds up for locals. If you are developing a network of contacts within Paraguay, you might want to consider having chips from different providers. Most people simply carry multiple cell phones, though dual chip phones are now available. It can be surprising how much of a difference having a Personal phone in an area serviced mostly by Tigo will make in your ability to communicate effectively with friends and contacts.

Phone banks known as cabinas telefonicas are the best option for travelers without cell phones. These businesses operate several phone booths from which local and international calls can be made.

Sidebar: If you are volunteering or living in a community long term, you may receive dame saldo requests on a regular basis – these are best ignored lest you become your community saldo cash cow.

Text Messaging

As text messages are limited to 180 characters a slew of abbreviations are used.

The letters h and e are often dropped from the beginning of a word: aciendo=haciendo and stoy = estoy Any time a letter sounds like a word it is used as a substitute:

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