How to make your smart phone work in Nicaragua

If you're planning on moving down to Nicaragua or just visiting you've probably given some thought to what you are going to do about your phone. Many people like to buy an inexpensive pay as you go phone upon arrival. This is a good option as a phone can cost as little as $15 in Nicaragua and you may spend as little as $4-5 a month depending on how much you use it.



There is however another option, if you would like to continue using your smart phone from your home country. Of course this works regardless of where you are traveling, though prices mentioned may vary accordingly.

As you may know, all phones have a chip or SIM card inside. This is what allows your phone to connect to cell networks and make calls/text messages. In Nicaragua you can buy a new one by itself (no phone included) for around $6. You may find however, that this chip looks a bit different than the one in your smart phone. Smart phones generally have a micro SIM card which is much smaller, and the ones you get in Nicaragua won't fit.


On the left in this picture is the Canadian chip I used in a Galaxy S4. On the right is a Claro chip that came with a $16 phone I bought in Nicaragua. The size difference is obvious. Below are step by step instructions on how to make your phone work in Nicaragua, the following procedures are for a Galaxy S4 but the same principles should apply to any phone. The location of the chip may vary.

Step 1: Ensure that your phone is unlocked. When your service provider is the one who provided your cell phone, chances are it is "locked" meaning that it will not accept a chip from any other provider so that you can't change carriers without buying a new phone. There are many videos online and articles on how to unlock a phone. Usually it involves either buying one that wasn't locked in the first place, or paying your current provider a fee (often around $50). The process is very simple and entirely legal, you just pay a fee to be allowed to do it.

Step 2: Remove the current chip from your phone. Usually located underneath the battery, it should just slide out.

This is the back of my phone with the battery removed. Notice the red chip

Step 3: Grab some scissors... I'm not joking. Use your old chip as a guide and cut your new Nicaraguan chip into the same shape and size. You will notice that the gold panel on both chips is roughly the same size, this is the only important part of the chip. The rest is actually nothing but plastic. So long as the gold panel is not damaged the chip will continue to function no matter how much plastic you cut off. If you're afraid of accidentally cutting the metal, use a file to grind away the plastic with a bit more control.


Canadian chip on the left, Nicaraguan chip on the right, after trimming the fat
Step 4: Put the newly re-shaped Nicaraguan chip back in the phone, put in the battery and start it up. If you're doing this outside Nicaragua like I did it will tell you something about no service and you will be spammed with text messages in Spanish telling you about Claro's wonderful roaming plans and how you can win a truck. You're phone is now ready to use just like any other cheap pay as you go phone in Nicaragua. Reload it at a pulperria like normal and you are good to go. By using this method theoretically you can travel anywhere in the world and use the same phone anywhere you go.

*Note that your phone number is contained in the chip, so when you change chips your phone number will also change.
**I am not responsible if attempting these techniques results in your phone exploding and/or phasing into another dimension or otherwise being damaged.


Comments

  1. An extra note on bringing phones from the States, if you have a plan with Sprint, the phone does NOT have a SIM card or chip and therefore cannot be used, since there is no where to put the new card. Found this out the hard way.
    Again, for the States, I don't know about other countries, if you tell your provider you are going out of the country, they may give you the unlock code for free. Check your contract.
    Also, the store you get the new chip from will cut the SIM to size for you most of the time.

    Hope to meet you at the regional next week!

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