Pre-Paid Phone Chip Folly in the Land of the Incas

In all my travels, this is the first trip that I’ve carried around a workable phone. I have phone chips for Colombia and Ecuador.  In Medellín I had my phone internationalized and then added minutes to a chip and recharged as needed.  All went super smoothly.  In Quito, I bought a chip and ditto, no problems.

I purchased a movistar chip after arriving in my first Peruvian destination, the surfer’s resort of Mancora.  The phone worked twice while I was in the city of Chiclayo.  Then while in Trujillo, I tried to make a call but it didn’t go through.  I sent an email to a friend asking to try to call me.  I got an email back saying that the call didn’t work.

I was bedazzled.  I’d only made one call, the other was received so it was free.  There was no way that I’d used up my minutes.

I asked for help at a movistar store in Trujillo but they had absolutely no clue what to do.  Finally, at another shop in Trujillo, it was mentioned that the plan that came with my chip only included calls to other people that have movistar.  The woman in Mancora who sold me the chip failed to inform me of this:  Duh!  There are two other cell phone carriers in Perú.  When I found out that I couldn’t get through to all the numbers I’d tried because they had plans with either Nextel or Claro, all I could think was: How can a foreigner entering this land possibly find any value in this fuc*ing planWho the hell would possibly want to purchase a package that allows for calling only some phones and not others?

My brain was yearning for a LOGIC police force:  How could this be?

I was told to recharge.  I foolishly dropped 20 soles or $7.58 to do this.  As I’d had flawless success with movistar in Ecuador, I put faith in the Peruvian company that is completely separate from its Ecuadorian counterpart.

After recharging, it was still impossible to make or receive calls.  After dialing a number, I got an automated message stating that I needed to take the phone into a movistar shop.

After visiting a store in Lima, a woman tried to reconfigure the phone and failed to solve the problem.  She referred me to the main office in San Isidro which was closed until Monday.  It was Saturday afternoon.

Monday morning I drifted along a very busy street for about half an hour before coming to a huge sign that said San Borja.  There hopped on a bus that took me close to the huge building that represented the cell phone carrier’s main offices.

After taking a number and waiting for 10 minutes, I talked to someone at a booth.  This person wasn’t sure what to do.  He went to seek help while I waited for 20 minutes.  Through his investigation, he had discovered that the woman in Mancora had forgotten to register my name in the system. Therefore, the chip didn’t work. There was nothing anybody could do.

My money wasn’t refundable.  I was out 35 soles or $13.27.

The rep assured me that if I bought a new chip it would work. Guaranteed.  I decided to stick with movistar because a new chip was 8 soles or $3.03.  Claro and Nextel charge 70 soles or $26.60 for the same chip.  Funny, the rep tried to sell me the same plan the woman in Mancora had sold me.  For 15 soles or $5.69 the chip includes prepaid minutes.  This time I knew to ask:

But will I only be able to call people who use this carrier.”


I wanted to snap.  I kept my calm as I knew that getting upset would only make the situation worse.  I thought:  This guy is trained to up sell me this plan.  Don’t take it personally.  Get the new chip, avoid having to go to Claro, pay $20 less and finish with this crap of getting my phone integrity in order.

I said something along the lines of:

Just give me the chip without the senseless plan.”

After the copy of my passport was analyzed and info was entered into a system, I was instructed to go to another booth with three carbon copies of paperwork.  The rep there explained what was wrong with the paperwork.  I couldn’t understand.  His technical jargon was devoid of translation.  He then said that I’d need to take the paperwork back to the other guy and explain to him that he’d need to fix it.  I was dumbfounded:


He then walked the paperwork over himself.  I followed in one of the greatest states of bewilderment I’d ever felt.

The other rep had vanished.   I was instructed to take a seat until he came back.  In about 45 minutes the original rep returned.  The two had a talk.  A half hour after that the paperwork was straightened out.  I was instructed to pay 8 soles and go to another spot to pick up my chip.  There I asked if I could recharge before being rudely told that I’d have to go to a store for that.

After a 10 minute grocery-store line and 10 soles later, my phone worked.

I’m paying about 40 cents a minute for every call that I make, so shooting the breeze isn’t an option.  But, as mentioned above, when people call me, it’s free.

NOTE: While going through this ordeal, I told various people about what was happening.  All of the responses I got were something along the lines of: Yeah. Movistar sucks!

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Have you ever had to deal with such a cell phone nightmare?  Feel free to leave a comment.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Al on April 29, 2012 at 14:59

    I actually have a Movistar contract for my cell. Before that I had a pay as you go plan, but I never heard of the only same carrier plan… sounds really bad, even for a telco. One thing I have noticed here, though, is that many of the sales employees in these companies are very young and seem to focus on chatting and getting SMSs from their friends, while dealing with a customers as an afterthought.


    • AL: Yes and to give me the plan without telling me that it’s only for calling others that have Moviestar is just ridiculous. Seems like moviestar is in every land in South America. But they’re separate entities in each land. YES! There isn’t always a sense of urgency to help the customer. Funny, not in Peru but in Panama once there was a long line in a grocery store. The cashier was prioritizing writing an SMS over the long line of customers. All I could do was laugh. 🙂


  2. Is it way more expensive to make calls on the cellphone you had here in the states (or do you not have it anymore)? I know nothing about cell phones and international calls, but sounds like a pain in the butt.


    • ADIRONDACKER: It’s usually super easy. All you have to do is buy a prepaid chip and charge it. The chip fits in any phone. The drawback is it’s expensive to make calls. But when I do I try to get the call over with ASAP. It’s very nice to have a phone when I need it. E.g. I’m staying with a friend in Lima. Because my phone didn’t work I wasn’t able to connect with him on the way down, thus I was stuck shelling out money for a hostal my first night in Lima.


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