Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Everyone Has a Cell Phone, but No One Has Minutes

Everyone Has a Cell Phone, but No One Has Minutes

A funny little thing about Colombia is that everyone seems to have a cell phone, some people even have Blackberries, but no one ever seems to have minutes. Now that I’ve lived in Colombia for over 6 months, I have suddenly become one of these people.

llamadas and recargas available here from Tigo, Comcel and Movistar

You can make a call from one of the llamada people on almost every street corner in Barranquilla. They have signs that say llamadas 100, which means you give them the number and it’s 100 pesos a minute to call from their phone. Finding a recarga to recharge your own phone when you’re out of minutes can be a bit more vexing. Recargas are available in many places, but they certainly aren’t as omnipresent as llamadas. Oh, of course you can get a recarga from the magical cashiers at SAO, but what if you’re out and about? Then what do you do?

When I have run out of minutes I found that it’s possible to buy a card to recharge your phone at many little street-side convenient type stores. With the recarga card, you dial the number into your phone then somehow your phone gets recharged with new minutes.

"¿Tiene recargas?"

If it’s so easy, why do people never have minutes? For one, minutes can expire, so people don’t put a lot of money on their phones. Another thing is it seems no one has a monthly plan so everything on your cell phone is prepaid. This is kind of good if you are a person who regularly goes over his/her allotted minutes, but also bad because you can instantly get cut off in the middle of a phone conversation. Then there are the little fees that sometimes get taken out of your saldo or balance. For example I have something called numeros vacanos or the 'cool numbers' of people I call often. Money periodically gets taken out of my saldo for my calls to vacanos to be cheaper. Then the final and most likely possibility is that people just don’t have much money, so they only put little amounts on their phone when they can.

The nice thing is there is no charge for incoming calls unlike the United States cell phones. You also don’t get charged for a call unless there is an answer. Because of this people will call and call and almost no one ever leaves a message. I receive almost no voicemails, but I do have muchas llamadas perdidas.

In the true Colombian fashion I need to recharge my phone right now because I’m out of minutes. Call me. I can’t call you.

With all this talk of cell phones, it wouldn’t be right to end without the song of Carnavales de Barranquilla 2010

Dónde estás?
Que pasó?
Me apagaste el celular,
sólo te llamo


  1. Interesting. I attended a lecture given by a trend spotter for Nokia and he said that there are cultures in Africa using cell phone minutes as their primary currency/means of banking. Since everyone has a phone and it is easy to transfer minutes to someone else, they transact for goods and services that way.

  2. too funny. everyone has smart phones over. i feel like most of the communication goes on via texting/emailing. basically we all have little computers :) hope things are going well!