SIM Cards in Panama: Plans, Providers, Costs, and Where to Buy

SIM Cards in Panama: Plans, Providers, Costs, and Where to Buy

The first thing you should do when you move to Panama is buy a local SIM card.

Having a phone plan through a Panamanian provider is the only way to stay connected 24/7 to your contacts in Panama and back home.

Panamanian phone plans set you up with a local number, which makes it easier to communicate with people and businesses in Panama. You’ll also be able to send and receive text messages and local calls free of charge.

Many Panamanian providers offer plans that include a certain number of minutes to foreign countries like the United States, Colombia, and Venezuela.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring all you need to know about SIM cards in Panama, including where to buy them, SIM card providers (plus their pros and cons), and different kinds of phone plans.

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Key Takeaways

  • Tigo and Más Móvil are the two main SIM card providers in Panama.
  • They offer similar prices, plans, and coverage areas.
  • In very remote areas, Más Móvil has better coverage.
  • On the other hand, Tigo has better customer service.
  • You can buy a SIM card at any convenience store or provider’s shop.
  • If possible, avoid buying a SIM card at the airport since it’s more expensive.
  • There are both pay-as-you-go plans and post-paid plans. Again, prices and plans are similar.

Where to Buy a SIM Card in Panama

There are many places you can buy a SIM card in Panama. Let’s take a look.

Supermarkets and Convenience Stores

Supermarkets, convenience stores, and even corner shops sell SIM cards. They cost less than US$5 and include a Panamanian phone number.

Riba Smith supermarket
You can buy a sim card at many supermarkets and grocery stores.

You can pay with cash or a card, and the only document you might be asked for is your I.D. (a passport works). SIM cards are not pre-loaded with data, which you’ll need to buy separately from the same store (more on that later).

Phone Company’s Store

You can also buy a SIM card from one of the phone company’s stores.

In fact, you will need to visit a branch if you want to set up a monthly phone plan.

Tmovil store
If you want to use a post-paid plan, you need to buy a monthly plan from the phone company’s store.

Each store has customer service agents who will help you through the process of installing your SIM card and choosing the right plan for you. Again, the only document you need to take with you is your passport.

If you sign up for a plan, you won’t be charged for the SIM card, and your first payment for the plan will be due in 30 days.

Airport

If possible, avoid purchasing a SIM card at the airport. Though it may seem convenient, you’ll end up paying a lot more than if you were to buy it elsewhere.

Types of SIM Cards Available

Each carrier offers pre-paid (prepago) and post-paid (pospago) phone plans. The first isn’t technically a plan, but rather a “pay-as-you-go” option.

Pre-paid Plans

If you go the prepago route, you will buy a SIM card and re-load it with data and minutes one of two ways.

The most convenient method is to download the carrier’s app, which can be linked directly to your Panamanian bank account.

tigo store in Panama
tigo tends to have a better customer service than movil.

Inside the app is a list of available plans that can be purchased and activated instantly. The plans vary by time period (often 1 day, 5 days, 7 days, 14 days, 30 days), number of minutes for phone calls, and amount of data.

The second option is to buy data from the cash register at a supermarket or corner store.

You select the number of days you need data for, and you’ll receive a card with a scratch-off code to activate the plan. Each card includes instructions on entering the code.

Post-paid Plans

Post-paid phone plans (pospago) must be set up with the phone company. The only document required to sign up for a plan is a passport.

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Every 30 days, you will be billed the monthly cost of the plan. An email or SMS message will be sent to you a couple of days before payment is due with a link that you can use to easily pay with a debit or credit card.

You can also see when your balance is due and pay through the provider’s mobile app.

Pospago contracts are indefinite, meaning that your plan will remain active until you cancel it.

Pre-paid Plans vs Post-paid Plans

Some people find the pospago option more convenient because as long as they’re paying, the data and minutes never run out, and they don’t have to remember to re-load their SIM card regularly.

On the other hand, many people prefer prepago because it gives them control over how much they spend on data each month. The pay-as-you-go method is often cheaper than a fixed monthly plan because it allows you to pay for phone service only when you need it.

Using the pre-paid option, you could buy data for the exact amount of time you require it, even if that’s just a few days a month.

However, if you want data every day of the month, pre- and post-paid plans cost nearly the same for 30 days of service.

SIM Card Providers In Panama

There are only two cell phone companies in Panama, which are Tigo and Más Móvil.

These providers’ plans are very similar in terms of cost and services offered.

Both have pre-paid and post-paid options, and they feature convenient apps where you can pay for your plan with a card or a transfer from a Panamanian bank account.

Tigo vs Más Móvil

There really isn’t a significant difference between Tigo and Más Móvil.

They offer similar prices with comparable plans and coverage. Let’s take a look at a key comparison between these two providers.

Plans and Prices

Both Tigo and Más Móvil plans cost exactly the same. You also get similar internet data, calls, and free data roaming in the Americas.

A standard post-paid plan from Tigo costs US$27 a month and includes

  • unlimited LTE data
  • unlimited calls to other Tigo numbers
  • 5GB of shareable data
  • 250 calling minutes to out-of-network numbers
  • 100 SMS messages
  • free data roaming in the Americas.

A post-paid plan from Más Móvil also costs US$27 a month and includes:

  • unlimited LTE data
  • 250 calling minutes to out-of-network numbers
  • unlimited calls to other Más Móvil numbers
  • 15GB of shareable data
  • free data roaming on the American continent.

Both plans allow you to make long-distance international calls (up to 250 minutes total).

Coverage

Tigo and Más Móvil both have widespread LTE coverage throughout Panama, including in rural areas.

Tigo

You can view the coverage map for Tigo here and for Más Móvil here. Both providers offer high-speed data in urban areas and in the regions of the interior where expats usually live.

The only areas where you wouldn’t have signal are in remote areas of the country, such as the comarcas (indigenous territories), some uninhabited islands, and in jungle or mountain areas.

Más Móvil

Más Móvil is said to have better service in very rural areas. I do hiking tours often, and at higher elevations, group members who have Más Móvil tend to have signal even at mountain summits, while the rest of us are left with no means of communication.

When I hiked to the top of Volcán Barú, I bought a Más Móvil SIM card and though the signal was pretty spotty – and, to be fair, I was at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level and there were high winds and rain – I was able to send and receive WhatsApp messages from the highest point in Panama.

If you plan to do a lot of hiking or visit rural areas, it would probably be smart to go with Más Móvil.

I currently have a Tigo plan and, while I’ve had service everywhere I’ve travelled, it can be slow at times.

Customer Service

I often hear people say that Tigo has better customer service. So, if smooth customer service is important to you, you might consider using Tigo.

Plan Comparison

I put together a table to help you easily compare and contrast these two plans… 

FeatureTigoMás Móvil
Plan TypesPre-Paid and Post-PaidPre-Paid and Post-Paid
Cost of Standard Post-Paid Plan$27/month$27/month
Unlimited LTE DataYesYes
Calls to In-Network NumbersUnlimited calls to Tigo numbersUnlimited calls to Más Móvil numbers
Shareable Data5GB15GB
Out-of-Network Calling Minutes250 minutes250 minutes
SMS Messages100 SMSNot specified
Free Data RoamingIn the AmericasIn the Americas
Long-Distance International CallsYes; up to 250 minutesYes; up to 250 minutes
LTE CoverageWidespread, including rural areasWidespread, including rural areas
High-Speed DataUrban areas and popular expat destinationsUrban areas and popular expat destinations
Service in Remote AreasGenerally good, can be slowBetter, especially at high elevations
Customer ServiceOften rated betterSometimes considered poor
App ConvenienceYesYes

How To Switch Providers

Changing from one phone company to another is an easy process that costs nothing extra. Let’s say you have a post-paid plan with Tigo and want to switch to a plan with Más Móvil.

Your first step would be to cancel your plan at a Tigo branch. The only requirement is that you’re up to date with your payments and have no debt.

Once your Tigo plan is canceled, you would go to a Más Móvil branch with your passport and the receipt from your last Tigo payment.

A customer service agent would tell you about the different plans available and help you choose the right one for you. You would sign a document and then receive your new Más Móvil SIM card.

You could either keep the same phone number or opt for a new one. Within 24 hours, your Más Móvil plan would be activated and ready to use.

Your first payment would be due 30 days later. If you activate your plan on the 21st, you would be charged on the 21st of every month.

Can I Use an International Plan in Panama?

Yes, you can use an international phone plan without having to buy a local SIM card in Panama.

However, they’re not a smart long-term solution due to their high cost. Why would you spend hundreds of dollars on international service when a phone plan from a Panamanian company offers the same services for a fraction of the price?

Do North American Phone Plans Work in Panama?

Unfortunately, North American phone plans do not work in Panama.

Now, On To You

You can view the complete lists of Tigo and Más Móvil store locations here. These lists will help you find the store closest to you and include each branch’s address and business hours. There are stores in Panama City and throughout the rest of the country in larger cities and towns.

In addition to customer service, Tigo and Más Móvil stores also sell phones and other electronic devices. Popular brands include iPhone, Samsung, and Huawei.

You might be wondering if you really need a monthly phone plan. It’s completely up to you. On one hand, it’s often cheaper to go the prepago route and buy data as needed. On the other hand, a monthly plan is convenient because it updates automatically each month, so you don’t have to remember to recharge your data.

With how easy it is to change phone plans in Panama, you could try both options—and even experiment with both carriers—before settling on one.

Avatar photo
Gabrielle moved to Panama in 2021 after graduating from university in the United States. Shortly after settling in Panama City, she began a career in writing and has since written dozens of articles to help expats fulfill their dream of living abroad. Passionate about travel, Gabrielle enjoys sharing the places she’s visited with others through her writing.

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