Your best, cheapest bet for making international calls throughout South America is to head to any Internet cafe with an international calling option. These cafes have connections to Skype, Net2Phone, or some other VoIP service. International calls made this way can range anywhere from 5¢ to $1 per minute -- much cheaper than making direct international calls or using a phone card. If you have your own Skype or similar account, you just need to find an Internet cafe that provides a computer with a headset.
The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout South America. In the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM; and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across most of South America. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high -- typically $1-$3 per minute.
For many, renting a phone is a good idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, we suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to http://intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.
Buying a phone can be economically attractive, as many South American nations have cheap prepaid phone systems. Once you arrive at your destination, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package; you'll probably pay less than $100 for a phone and a starter calling card. Local calls may be as low as 10¢ per minute, and in many countries incoming calls are free.
More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hot spots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Most laptops sold today have built-in wireless capability. To find public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout South America, go to www.jiwire.com; its Wi-Fi Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hot spots.
For dial-up access, most business-class hotels in South America offer dataports for laptop modems, and a growing number offer free high-speed Internet access.
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Where Are You @? -- The @ symbol is hard to find on a Latin American keyboard. You must keep your finger on the "Alt" key and then press "6" and "4" on the number pad to the right. If you're still unsuccessful and at an Internet cafe, ask the assistant to help you type an arroba.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.