Info as of December 2015
After some research on Panama mobile data, I decided to go for a Movistar SIM with prepaid data. Fortunately, they have a store right at Colón 2000 or Colón dos mil, where we dock. Very convenient.
Pricing is a bit confusing, but reasonable. I initially went for 7 days with 750MB which, according to their website, was $5 but cost me $7.50. Apparently, the SIM isn’t free.
I picked Movistar because I found out about their sin fronteras promotion where you can use your Panama data while in other Central American countries, including Mexico, at no extra cost. That means I can use up my data while in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the two other countries in our ship’s itinerary this season.
It wasn’t easy communicating with their staff. Now and then we were getting lost in translation. I didn’t get an answer to my question about SIM validity or expiration. I inquired about the sin fronteras data roaming in Costa Rica. The Movistar staff said, no, it can’t be used in Costa Rica. After that I went back to their website and suddenly the site looks different and I couldn’t find the promotion. But dialing *888# on my phone revealed the now-hidden promotion and I activated it from there. 🙂
Every time I topped up I got $20 of local call credit. As of this writing, the Panamanian Balboa is equivalent in value to the US dollar, so B./ 1.00 = US $1.00.
Topping up my Movistar SIM wasn’t so convenient — it depended on which port I was at and where the ship docked. I also had trouble accessing their website’s topup page. And the one time I successfully made a payment, my credit went to limbo and it took a while to get it sorted out through their customer support on Twitter. Again, we were mostly lost in translation.
Then I discovered Recharge.com — a service where you can top up prepaid SIMs, for a little extra fee.
On Recharge.com, you can securely and quickly top up credit to… 70 + other countries worldwide.
Well, I’ve only tried it once, and it worked fine. The credit was applied almost instantly. I chose to topup USD 10 and it charged a total of USD 10.99. Not bad, since I don’t have to use my limited shore leave wandering around port looking for Movistar. Recharge.com accepts credit card payments and, more importantly for me, PayPal.
Info as of January 2016
I later discover that the balance or saldo is valid up to a year. Nice 🙂 That pretty much answers my question about SIM validity.
I also discover that roaming is not available in the Philippines. Not a problem, really.