Buy TIGO or CLARO SIM at Captain Vans West Bay Roatan
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Cell phones on Roatan


Cell phones TIGO & CLARO

This 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. Buy 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, pretty much any phone will work anywhere and I have not seen a decent phone in years that does not take SIMs. Local SIM cards cost about $5-10 and can be bought from several places. In West Bay, Captain Van's will set up your phone for you if you buy the SIM from them.

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

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

In Honduras WhatsApp is king

First, 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 message. There are a few other applications like Telegram that became popular once Facebook bought WhatsApp. However, if you don't use WhatsApp then you are basically out of the system in Honduras. Not only can you chat with your bank, pharmacy, local stores, or friends with WhatsApp. They will expect you to and 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. It is my preferred method of contact as well and with business accounts, you can have prewritten messages to help out people contacting you.

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 the only communication method being cell towers and cell phones, no longer could do business or even talk to their families.

Where are you going to be living and working?

Second, is the physical 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. The East end of the island is CLARO only and if you go as far as Helene your TIGO phone is basically a brick. So you must find out if the place you live has good cell phone coverage for the network you want to use or 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 whilst pointing your phone at the sky in the vain attempt to pick up a little internet.

Roaming outside of Honduras

Third, do you need coverage outside Honduras? I was happy to find on a recent trip to Guatemala that my internet worked perfectly fine there even happier to find out that they are rolling out internet service in the USA . Though only on the phones that exceed $30 a month to my knowledge at this time. Voice and text roaming can be had in multiple countries with the fees varying depending on the country.  Canadá, Estados Unidos, México, Belice, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panamá, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay.

Get a plan or pay as you go

Fourth how do you want to pay? Prepago or Postpaid/Plans. Prepago literally means what it says (in Spanish - prepaid) you prepay to use the phones. You buy Paquetes (packets) or Saldo (balance) in advance often referred to as recargar or recharge. Saldo is your credit for use in making actual calls and text messages and so is hardly ever used but with the Saldo or money, you buy packets which give you internet. The internet packets last for a certain amount of time with an allowed amount of data you can transfer in 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 it week to week. If you use your phone differently, say as a hotspot in your house because you cannot get internet there then this may not be true for you. So my monthly (28 days) phone bill is hardly ever more than 408 Lempira or about $17.

Here is a sample of the packets you buy but as I said don't worry about how complex they seem. It is all marketing and just if you opted not to get a plan then just buy a week or two at a time

TIGO Packets




























The packets can get very confusing and they deliberately make them confusing in my 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. You will find your optimum time/data ratio and mine is about the one-week time period.


Phone applications for the services

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 left as well as buy packets using your credit card. Once you have your SIM installed you never have to search for a TIGO store again.


The East End of the island

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 lived there you need Claro. Also 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 which has better reception 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.


Keeping your number in your name even if your SIM is stolen

When you buy a SIM you should register it with the service in question. I do not mean set it up I mean letting the cell service note your ID and link your phone with that cell number. 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. 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 your problem solved.


Postpaid vs Prepago 

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


Often, if a cell is provided by a company they buy in bulk and it is much easier to track expenses that way. 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. That is a  big draw for many people. On CLARO an iPhone 12 will cost you about $160 upfront and then for the 35GB/month internet plan, you will get an 18-month contract with a $50 monthly payment.


You get a set amount of data a month and once you use that, the data rate is much more expensive. You can't go and buy packets to top it up for a special occasion, say the release of Frozen II. You just end up paying a lot more money for that extra data. With prepago, I 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 to prepago and keep the number. As I have mentioned I am kind of attached to mine. 


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 you can use your internet packets in all the following countries: Canada, USA, México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bolivia and Paraguay. Which is excellent. So you won't be able to make calls there unless you use an internet phone line or of course WhatsApp.


Now I believe CLARO has somewhat similar plans 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 foreign cell phone in Honduras.


Warning! If you’re not sure about your phone’s international roaming and data plans, keep your iPhone in airplane mode or completely shut off cellular data. This restricts all cellular data to Wi-Fi instead, keeping you from using data unintentionally for things like emails, browsing apps, and app notifications. With cellular data shut off you can still receive text messages and phone calls, which means if your plan charges you for these, you should just turn your phone to Airplane Mode.


Most phone systems can 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 accidentally, and ended up with massive bills. I heard of one person with a bill of over 800 USD for 2 weeks of vacation.


Also when using your home network SIMs on a cell service here they will probably not work at the full speed of the network. Just a little way I think the providers contain their 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 local SIM and $8 for a week of solid internet. WiFi is 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 activated

If you use a Postpaid account this is not a problem. If you use Prepago your Saldo will just disappear 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 Honduras for more time than that, ask a friend to send you 10 lempira 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.


The curse of 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 your 2ndline can receive a text with a code from one source but not from another. The second source 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.

Google phone I often see suggested by people in groups but it has the same problems it does not work for many institutions. 


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.

TIGO internet pricing for Prepargo Paqets Recarga. Cell Internet for WhatsApp Facebook weekly daily monthly
TIGO internet pricing for Prepargo Paqets Recarga. Cell Internet for WhatsApp Facebook weekly daily monthly
Recommended TIGO internet pricing for Prepargo Paqets Recarga. Cell Internet for WhatsApp Facebook weekly daily monthly

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