Paying for New Cellphone
Cell phones on Roatan.


This article is not written for tourists but they might find the information helpful. Choosing a cell provider used to be a very difficult business on the island. Bringing the wrong type of cell phone or one that did not allow a SIM card to be exchanged and you were down to buying a new phone and a new service. That is not the case now.


With the introduction of 4G and LTE communications standards worldwide pretty much any phone will work anywhere. I have not seen a decent phone in years that does not take SIMs. SIM cards cost about $5-10 and can be bought from a number of places. In West Bay, Captain Van's will set up your phone with a new SIM for you and also sell you the internet and time for your new SIM. 


There are two services on Roatan TIGO and CLARO. Which one you buy really depends on a few factors. Personally, I have always had TIGO and don't plan to change but there are places where TIGO does not work so let me lay out the differences and you can choose for yourself.


There are four major factors to consider when choosing a service.


First, both services offer two different ways of using their system. Prepago and Plans.


Second hardly anyone uses text messages or direct calling anymore. The structure of the pricing is such that everyone uses WhatsApp and the internet to call other people and send messages. There are a few other applications like Telegram but nothing has the same popularity as WhatsApp. If you don't use WhatsApp then you are basically out of the system. Not only can you use it to chat with your friends but also with your bank, pharmacy, and local stores. They will expect you to have it and you may have no other option for contacting them. 


WhatsApp is a useful way of conducting business because you can send questions to companies and banks etc. out of hours and often get replies when their staff comes back online. 


WhatsApp has over 2 billion users and is the only form of communication in some countries. When there was a 6-hour outage on October 4th, 2021. It felt like the world ground to a halt as third-world countries especially with their only communication method being cell towers and cell phones no longer could do business.


Third. The location of cell towers. Though coverage for both is pretty even across Roatan there are still some areas that only have coverage from one network. So you must find out if the place you live has good cell phone coverage for the network you want to use. Otherwise, you will find yourself standing in one corner of the house every time you make a call or worse having to walk to the end of a dock and pointing your phone at the sky in the vain attempt that it will pick up a little internet.


Fourth. Prepago or Postpaid/Planes. Prepago literally means what it says (in Spanish - prepaid) you pre-pay to use the phones. You buy Recarga (recharge) for your phone's Saldo (balance) or purchase Paquetigos/Paquetes (packets) for your internet use. Saldo is your credit for use in making actual calls and text messages and so is hardly ever used. By using your Saldo or just paying money, you buy packets that give you internet for a certain amount of time with an allowed amount of data you can transfer during that time. Whichever ends first. For instance, I use Prepago and usually buy in weekly increments of 9GB because I am often on WiFi and only use the internet when out of the house. I seldom use more than 10% of my weekly allowance before my time runs out. So I buy week to week. If you use your phone differently, say as a hot spot in your house because you cannot get wifi,  this may not be true for you. So my monthly (28 days) phone bill is hardly ever more than 408 Lps about $17.


Here is a sample of the packets you buy but as I said don't worry about them!




























The packets can get very confusing and they deliberately make them that way in my opinion so it is hard to compare the networks. However, honestly, it is very simple and you don't need to make it complex. The optimum to buy is about one week's internet. You can work it out yourself but essentially you can line packets up so as soon as one ends then the next starts automatically and you will be notified as soon as that happens. I often have a few packets lined up just in case I suddenly get an uncontrollable urge to watch Frozen in 4K on my phone which would suck my data dry quickly. In reality, the multiple packets let you know if you are overusing your data such as with a hotspot, and as I said it seems to be about an optimum time/data ratio at about the one-week time period.


So Which is better?

The one area that TIGO beats out CLARO is the applications you can download on your phone to see how much data you have used, see how much Saldo you have and even allow you to buy packets using your credit card so once you have a SIM you never have to search for a TIGO store again.


CLARO does not have all these options but where it beats out TIGO is coverage and in certain areas speed. I have friends who live on the east end with a boat in Calabash Bight. You cannot get any TIGO reception so it does not matter how pretty their interface is if you live there you need Claro. Aso certain areas like Camp Bay you will find both phones have very spotty coverage so if you are going to live somewhere I highly advise you to ask around as to what is better in your area. Even where I live in West Bay there are certain TIGO dead spots but this has not been enough to make me move to CLARO. Why you may ask? Well, I have had the same number for 17 years and I don't want to change it.


When you buy a SIM you should register it with the service in question. This used to involve going to the local TIGO or CLARO shop showing them your ID and registering the number to your name. In the case of a lost or stolen phone, you could get your number back in a matter of hours. As of today July 2022 there is no TIGO representation on the island but calling *811 will get you in touch with the TIGO helpline if you keep saying. " No hablo español ¿En inglés por favor?" you will often end up with a representative that speaks passable English to get any problem solved.

Postpaid and Planes (not airplanes … plans)

So what are the advantages of Postpaid vs Prepago? Why have I never changed mine to a prepaid plan for instance?


Often Plans are with phones provided by a company you work for as it is much easier to track expenses that way. Of course, plans can also help you get the latest smartphone as they often bundle the cost of the phone into the plan so you pay for it over time. A big draw for many people. On CLARO an iPhone 12 will cost you about $160 upfront and $50 a month on an 18-month contract, with 35GB allowed in data.


So with a plan, you get a set amount of data a month, and once you use that you start getting charged for additional data. Which is much more expensive than prepaying. You can't go and buy packets to top it up as you can in Prepago. You just end up paying a lot more money for that extra data. With PrepagoI always know what I am spending and what I have available to me at any time. Postpaid is a bit more open-ended.

Also once you transfer your number from the Prepago system to a plan then you can never transfer back and keep the number and as I have mentioned I am kind of attached to it. 


One Major advantage the TIGO Plan has over all other options is if you have the Nación Tigo service which is usually part of a plan this allows you to use your internet in all the following countries. Canadá, USA, México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica , Panamá, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bolivia and Paraguay. Which is excellent. You won't be able to make calls there but who needs to with WhatsApp etc.


Now I believe CLARO has a somewhat similar plan for roaming abroad and I would love to talk to someone with experience using it. You could go to the CLARO site and try and find out but you tend to end up with a lot of 404 errors when trying to find information. Yet another example of how TIGO seems to be ahead on the internet application and information side. Please contact me if you know anything about their system.


Using a USA/CANADA etc Cell phone in Honduras.


Most phone systems have the ability to use the internet in different countries but the real question is at what cost? You may be lucky and have a business contract that allows for free (to you) international roaming and so you will have no issues. However, you must check with your provider before trying to use the internet here. I hear horror stories of people who did not set up their phones for international roaming, used them either on purpose or even accidentally, and ended up with massive bills. I heard of one person with a bill of over USD 800 for 2 weeks' vacation.


Also when using your home network SIMs they will probably not work at the full speed that the network is capable of here. Just a little way I think the providers use of containing their own costs.


Most providers will charge you a daily fee to use the internet here. $10 is a common number I hear stated. I am not sure if there is a data cap with that or not. Again another reason you must speak to your provider.


I know these networks work and would love to know about others if they do and how much they cost.





Google fi



In my mind, all these methods unless the price is no object or you must have that phone line working are very expensive. When you can pay $5 for a SIM and $8 for 2 weeks of solid internet and WiFi available in most places. It is better to have a second smartphone, one that can take dual SIMs or just swap the SIMs over for a week.


Some extra thoughts on long-term usage of CLARO and TIGO


Keeping your Honduran number long term

If you use a Postpaid account this is not a problem. If you use Prepago your saldo will run out after a predetermined time. CLARO I think lasts about 3-4 weeks and Tigo a couple of months. If you do not deposit extra saldo or buy an internet packet after 2 - 3 months your SIM will be canceled and you will lose your number.

So if you plan to leave for more time than that ask a friend to send you 10 limps of saldo every month or two. It will keep your card and your number active. You can even do it yourself using the Tigo App when on WiFi in another country. It is nice to keep the same phone number unless for some reason you like to change your friends every visit.


Double Authentication for banks etc outside Honduras

If you live here long-term but still have credit cards and bank accounts open in other countries you can run into the problem of not having a local number. For example, your bank in the USA and Wells Fargo see some strange activity on your account and they freeze your account. If you go online they may want to send a code to your USA number to make sure it is you and they may not like the fact you don't have one.

Some people for this reason keep a USA/Canada line open for just such occurrences or for when they travel back to their own country. This can be expensive. It is possible to use some internet-based systems like 2ndLine. This gives you an international number but routes it via the internet so it rings like a normal number but is internet based. The trouble is banks are now wise to this and you may find you can receive a text with a code from one source but not from another as it has identified it as an internet-based number.

2ndLine has worked pretty well for me but not 100% and sometimes it takes a long time to ring at my end from when someone calls. So I am not amazingly happy with it.


Other services

TIGO and CLARO provide other services like TV, residential internet, and even money transfer services. Sometimes there may be a reason to buy a package of stuff together but that is way too complex for a simple analysis.


Please if you find errors in anything I have written or have interesting information that you think others moving to Roatan would be interested in (on any subject) write to me at