The search for a good 3G plan in Chile was long and arduous. The prepaid 3G data plans from most providers are either pretty lame or really expensive. Not only that, but service seems be in short supply.
Our search began in Santiago, in one of the Claro shops somewhere near the city center. They didn’t have any prepaid cards in stock. Claro’s top 3g plan on prepaid gets you 400mb for around $20. (CLP 9,900). After going to a number of Claro shops including 2 large vendors, couldn’t find prepaid cards anywhere. So, we decided to check out Movistar. Same story, no prepaid cards available. Movistar’s best 3g plan gets you 5Gb for around $50 (CLP 24,990). You can get a 600MB plan for $20. Entel had some terrible plans, 10MB for $10, and that was the only one. Unfortunately, none of the providers had prepaid cards available and after waiting in a Claro shop for about an hour to meet someone from customer support – we gave up.
One of our friends had mentioned Virgin Mobile. At the time (May 2012) they were doing a soft launch in Chile. This meant that there was no advertising and literally no way of knowing where you could purchase a Virgin Mobile prepaid plan. We finally found out that the rather large Ripley’s chain store sells Virgin Mobile cards. They have a 500MB package for $10 (CLP 5,000).
Now, given the fact that this company was pretty underground (no stores, no marketing, etc.) I expected network coverage to be pretty shoddy. However, I was pleasantly surprised and eventually delighted. We bought the virgin mobile prepaid card for CLP 2,500 and it came with CLP 2,000 of promotional credit. We had to go to a Farmacia Ahumada to recharge the phone as that’s one of the few places that you can get a recharge done (you can recharge online if you have a Chilean bank account or credit card). After topping up with CLP 5,000 it was trivial to activate the 3G service package which gets activated immediately. You have to log onto their site and activate your internet package through their interface.
Funny enough, since this service is so new, when you head into a pharmacy it’s almost impossible to convince them that they can in fact recharge a virgin mobile phone through their system. They have an electronic recharge station and the Virgin Mobile entry has recently appeared as the last item of their menu (they haven’t noticed it since there are never any customers!). Every single time we mentioned that we wanted a ‘recarga para virgin mobile’ they would give us blank looks. But when we asked them to look in the system, they’d always find it right there and be delighted! :P
Virgin Mobile’s 3G coverage was excellent. I’m not sure how they’re doing this with such a low profile but I had full 3G coverage all the way in the far south as well as in the Northern cities (eg. Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Montt, La Serena, Valparaiso, San Pedro de Atacama, and more!). The only place with just edge coverage was Easter Island.
Speed was reasonable with an average of 2MBps down and 0.7MBps up. Nothing stellar but definitely workable. The best 3g speeds by far have been in Europe. I can’t wait to test drive the Japanese networks. :D
So to wrap up, if you’re looking for a reasonable 3G plan in Chile – Virgin Mobile is the way to go, I’m not sure about their availability outside Santiago but I did notice that they had started some marketing by the end of August 2012, so maybe you can buy the prepaid simcards at more places soon.
Hope this post helped you and if you’re looking for more info on 3G performance around the world check out our other articles on the subject.