By the time we finished our two-year sail around the Mediterranean I finally figured the best Internet carrier for each area. You’d think that in this day in age, a sailor could buy one SIM card and have it operate over multiple countries. Heck, in Greece, you needed Vodafone for one part of the country and WIND for another part. Not one carrier adequately covers the whole country!
From a connectivity perspective, Italy, has the best coverage and the highest amount of gigs for the lowest price. For 30 euros you can get 20 gigs if you’re a sweet-talker and get a residential package. In Greece, you’ll get 2 gigs for the same price. And in Spain, you’re lucky to get any connection.
After crossing the Atlantic I hoped that I’d have an easier time getting a good Internet connection
To my dismay, the Caribbean has thus far proved to be worse for Internet than the Mediterranean.
Not only is the bar and restaurant WIFI abysmal, the ability to get a SIM turns into an adventure at every new country I enter. To obtain a SIM card you usually have to travel to a major city. Although coastal tourist towns have SIM card top-up outlets they usually don’t sell SIM’s and if they do, they’re for mobiles and not data plans.
Upon arrival in St Lucia, I noticed the company Digicel being advertised everywhere. Digicel is on buses, branded across tiny shack bars and various billboards.
The thing that excited me about Digicel was that it claimed to be the largest carrier in the Caribbean covering countries from Grenada on up.
I got excited thinking that I’d be able to buy one SIM and use it in every country
Even when I went to buy my first SIM card in St Lucia I was told that I’d be able to use the SIM all over the Caribbean. There is a bit of truth in that statement but from a sailor’s perspective, it’s a load of crap.
This is what I have discovered thus far on my travels
A SIM card purchased in St Lucia will give you coverage for St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
If you leave the area you can turn on roaming and use your Digicel SIM in countries other than French owned countries. So, a St Lucia SIM will not work in Martinique, Guadaloupe or St Martin but it will work in Dominica, Antigua and Barbados, etc. By turning roaming on, the credit balance on your account gets eaten up quickly. If you’re not going to go back to St Lucia and you have credit on the SIM it’s worth turning roaming on to at least use what you have left.
To get roaming turned on, make sure to go to a Digicel Store or call the customer care line before you go. If you turn roaming on from another country it takes forever for the sales assistant to figure it out.
Essentially, for most of the Caribbean, you have to buy a new SIM card at every new country that you visit. Interestingly, however, Dominica has an amazing Internet connection at most bars so you could avoid having to buy a SIM.
It’s the only island in the Caribbean where I was able to upload videos in hours, not days
To my surprise, Antigua has had the worst WIFI in all of my travels of the Caribbean. There are a few HOT!HOT!HOT!Spots that you can pay X amount of money for but you can’t even get your device to connect to the hotspot. All the bars have WIFI but getting connected is an achievement. And even when you do get a connection it drops often and then fails to ever come back.
Talk about frustrating – I thought Antigua was going to be ‘modern’
On the flip side, however, you can buy a SIM card in Antigua and get a very good connection. Recently I paid 120 EC for an 8gig month long connection and I got 8 gigs free. I jumped for joy when I discovered I could get 16 gigs. It allowed me to upload a few videos!
This was our Internet Path just to give you an idea of what we eventually ended up doing…
– Started our Caribbean cruising life in St Lucia and bought our first SIM
– Used our SIM to travel through St Vincent and the Grenadines
– When we headed north, we bough a new SIM in Martinique. They only have 3G and you can only get 4gigs total. It’s not a good connection at all but will allow you to do emails and basic surfing. In many towns in Martinique there is only one restaurant with WIFI and the connection almost always never works. Even in the capital of Fort de France, the most you could do is read emails and scan Facebook. McDonalds has WIFI and the code will be located on your receipt. Let it be known that it only works for 20 minutes!
– In Dominica, we used up the rest of our St Lucia Internet package on ‘roaming’ but it took a whole day to get roaming turned on. We had to travel to the capital city, spend an hour in the Digicel office to eventually get our SIM to work. That being noted, every bar and restaurant has great WIFI and in some cases, if you have a WIFI bat you can get okay WIFI on the boat. Dominica is the only country I was able to upload 15 minute videos in hours rather than never.
– Guadeloupe is similar to Martinique (both French Islands) but everywhere you go there is WIFI. You will not be able to upload a video on this island, but at least you can get connected. We managed to get a WIFI connection from our boat, using our WIFI bat in Les Saintes and in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.
– Antigua. Not one bar or restaurant in Antigua has good WIFI. You certainly won’t be able to download updates/apps or upload anything larger than a low-res picture. You can, however, get another SIM card. When I first arrived on the island I could only get a 5gig package but a week later they started an 8 gig package with an extra 8 gigs (16 gigs). I was super happy.
If you haven’t heard of a WIFI bat, it’s an antenna that you can hook up to the side of your boat, up on a spreader or along your antenna pole
It scans the whole area for WIFI connections and has a further reach than any typical stand-alone device like a iPhone or computer. A bat is a booster. We have our booster connected to a router and then once the bat picks up a signal, we all dial into the router using the WIFI.
(As I’m typing this I’m in Jolly Harbour Marina and my computer is connected to my router and my router is connected to the Jolly Harbour WIFI through my WIFI Bat. If I didn’t have the bat on the boat I wouldn’t be able to be inside the boat (out of the hot sun) typing this)
What about the device you use?
This is a very big issue. Your best bet is to have an unlocked device that will become a hotspot. You can insert a SIM to a phone or tablet, turn it on as a hotspot and bam, all your other devices can use the hotspot.
But let it be known that your best bet is to use a phone
The reason I say to use a phone is because of top-ups. Imagine that you finally get more than 1 gig and you’re eager to upload a video or a nice blog with some great pictures. You buy a data plan and within a week you use it up. No problem, you think…I’ll just go top it up.
Well…topping up a dataplan is a science. Digicel should offer a degree program to help their users figure it out.
The surefire way to get it to work is to go to a Digicel outlet but if you don’t want to make the trek it is possible to top up your dataplan as long as you can get a temporary WIFI connection from a bar or restaurant.
This is what you have to do to top-up for a Digicel Data Plan:
1. Figure out how much your data plan cost (look at your old receipt).
2. Go to the Digicel Top-Up website and top-up your account by the amount of the plan you have. You have to open a top-up account.
3. Then go to the Digicel My Selfcare area of the country you’re in and open another account – it’s s different account to the top-up account. You have to search all over the website to find the ‘My Selfcare’ link but it’s there for each country. To get this account open you have to have a phone that will receive a text. The text will give you an access code to open the account. If you have a MIFI or router unit, your unit might also receive the SMS in the form of an email to the device.
4. Once you’re in the Customer Selfcare area, you need to go to ‘Subscriptions’ and it will tell you what plan you have with a ‘Buy’ button. Don’t touch that buy button unless you’ve already topped up your account. Notice that your balance is either 0.00 or if your payment went through, it will say so. Wait until the money you paid shows up on this page.
5. As soon as the money goes through (it can take several minutes), dial *141# and then follow the prompts on the screen to get to the data plan that you have set up. When you find the one you need – it takes about three to four screens to get there, then select what you want. Hopefully it will say that your request was a success.
6. Your Selfcare screen will reflect that your balance went down.
If you only have a MIFI or router, you’ll have to borrow someone’s unlocked phone to apply your credit to the plan OR you have to visit a Digicel Store – not a top-up location. What you do is take the SIM out of your MIFI or router, put it into an unlocked phone, turn the phone on and then dial the *141# and follow the prompts. When you get a message that you’ve achieved success, take the MIFI out of the phone and return it to where it came from.
IMPORTANT…when you’re doing all this make sure that you don’t turn your MIFI on before you apply the credit to your data plan. The second you turn it on it will start using your money for a high rate internet connection.
(A MIFI or MYFI is a device that holds a SIM card and allows up to 5 devices to use it for a connection. You can carry it around with you – it’s the size of a credit card. MIFI’s are great but you’ll be in serious trouble if you want to top-up and don’t have access to an unlocked phone.)
Just to make sure you are clear on this point – Do NOT top up your number online if you’re not prepared to immediately apply the money to a plan. If you just top up, the money will be used up in a day as standard high cost Internet charges will apply.
Also, please note the date that I posted this article.
Surely Digicel has got to provide a better service than this sooner or later
As and when I get more information through my travels I’ll update this page.
If you have any questions please leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can 🙂