5 Easy Steps to Get a Cell Phone Number in Brazil

Calling, mobile phone, brazilMisconception: you have to be a resident, have a CPF number and bank account to get a mobile number in Brazil.

Truth: FALSE, anyone can get a cellular number in Brazil – even a tourist!

Today I will lay out 5 easy steps so you can get a prepaid number in no time.

The first reaction you will have when being introduced to prepaid cellular phones in Brazil is “wow, are they really that expensive!?” to which my answer is “yes, they are”.

Calling on your cell phone is generally a very expensive affair costing a bit over $R1.50 per minute (about 75 US cents) for a prepaid phone, but can go all the way down to $R .25 (about 12 US cents) per minute if you and the person you are calling are on the same network.

But the truth is that you need a way to communicate and be communicated while on the go in Brazil, therefore it’s important that you choose a cell phone operator that suites you.

Let me show you how in these next 5 easy steps!

1. Choosing a Cell Phone Handset

I highly recommend bringing your own cell phone with you to Brazil rather then purchasing one after you arrive.  And you will notice a cost difference of 200-300% more than back home, this is unfortunately due to high import duties and taxes on cell phones.

There are some things you need to be aware of before choosing a cell phone that works for you.

The cell network in Brazil operates on the GSM 1800 standards, so make sure your cell phone can operate on the same network before leaving – this is important.

You will also need to make sure that your cell phone has a spot for a SIM card.  In other words, if your cell phone operates on a CDMA network (like Verizon in the USA), then there is no SIM card slot.

This is a standard SIM card

Make sure that you cell phone is unlocked to function on other networks: a cell phone under contract is generally not unlocked, but you can call your telephone service provider if you aren’t sure.

Another option is to just buy a new unlocked cell phone that you are sure will work while down there.

I personally chose the Samsung Galaxy S2 due to the fact that:

  1. It’s very user friendly (Android).
  2. Has a great camera so I don’t have to carry one around.
  3. Has a large screen so I can use it for GPS, maps, internet browsing (leave my laptop at home).
  4. Fits into my pocket.
  5. Comes unlocked.
  6. Functions on all networks at home and in Brazil
  7. I could use it anywhere in the world.

Granted, it’s not the newest model (the $250 more Galaxy S3 is the newest) but the price is right, it’s still lighting fast and has been really reliable.

You can check it out here (Amazon link)

2. Choosing a Cellular Operator in Brazil

TIM, CLARO, VIVO and OI are the major players on the market, and it is worth your time figuring out which to use as it could save you tons of money!

You have a lot of options for choosing an operator but I would start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What operator do my friends use?
  2. What sales are going on?
  3. Do I need Internet?
  4. How much will you be using?

First, you are going to want to comb through some of the major operator’s websites under the various “pre-pago” (prepaid) sections.

But a little warning: it is a MESS trying to figure out all of the small print on the plans.

I have personally had an experience where I forgot to turn the data option off on my phone and it drained my account of about $R50 over night!  This was because I hadn’t chosen a data plan and therefore the cost was absurdly high.

In order to save you the headache I went through, I made a video showing you how to navigate through the different plans on the TIM website:


(Click to see How To Choose a Cell Plan in Brazil on YouTube)

To summarize: I showed you how to:

  • Enter in your area information on the main page
  • Look at coverage
  • Understand the different menu options in English
  • Find the “pre-paid” cell phone options
  • Understand the current “Infinity” deal
  • Know what the different prices mean
  • How to get internet on your phone
  • Use Voip on your phone with TIM
  • Use unlimited text messaging
  • Read the fine print

Make sense?  I hope so!

If you prefer, some of the companies offer English customer service to hear about their products and services:

  • TIM: + 55 11 2847 6144 (or 0 41 11 2847 6144 if dialing from a telephone in Brazil)
  • Claro: + 55 800 036 0707 (or 0800 036 0707 from Brazil)

I personally recommend TIM over most other operators due to the fact that they have the best coverage throughout Brazil and the best pre-paid sales going on.

If you were going for a “pos-pago” (per month) cell plan, then I would have different recommendations – I will save that for another post for another time.

3. Finding a Cell Operator Store

Once you have chosen your operator, you are ready to go down to a local booth or store and sign up!

These operators are found all throughout Brazil, but as a rule of thumb, you will find them in:

  • Shopping malls
  • Downtown
  • Some supermarkets

If you are looking for a specific operator, here are some direct links to their locations:

  • TIM (a PDF list, no interactive map)
  • VIVO (just choose: State-City-Neighborhood)
  • Claro (Couldn’t find a list on their site, just type “Claro” in google.com.br + the “city” you are in to find one)
  • OI* (They separate the list according to region, see below and look for your state)

*Oi Region 1: http://www.oi.com.br/ArquivosEstaticos/oi/docs/pdf/relacao-municipios-R1.pdf

*Oi Region 2: http://www.oi.com.br/ArquivosEstaticos/oi/docs/pdf/relacao-municipios-R2.pdf

*Oi Region 3: http://www.oi.com.br/ArquivosEstaticos/oi/docs/pdf/relacao-municipios-R3.pdf

Once you’ve found a store location, continue onto the next step.

4. Signing up for a Prepaid Cell Plan

When you approach the store, be aware that they usually don’t speak English.  But chances are that someone working there may speak English or one of the customers, so just be prepared to have help ready if you can’t communicate.

When you get there, usually you take a number and wait and once it’s your turn do the following:

  • Tell them or show them the “Pre-pago” plan you want.
  • They will usually ask for contact info and a CPF number.
    • Give them the address of where you are staying (even if it’s a hotel).
    • Tell them “Sou estrangeiro, nao tenho CPF” (I’m a foreigner and don’t have a CPF).
    • Give them the amount of money for a recharge card ($R20, $R50 or $R100) and SIM (usually about $R25)

They should then give you two things:

  1. A SIM card
  2. A recharge card

IF for some reason they insist that you MUST have a CPF number no matter what then you can either:

  • Follow my CPF guide and get one quickly (good idea anyway if you are planning on staying for a while)
  • Try another store

5. How to Activate your Cell Number

There should be some instructions that came with your SIM card and recharge card and since everything will be in Portuguese, find yourself a good trustable Brazilian that can activate it and add credit to the account.

Alternatively, the place that sold you the SIM card and recharge card should be able to do it for you, if your ask nicely.

The other option is to call the company’s English customer service (if they have any) – you can see the contact for them a bit below the video (above).

Now you are good to go!

Just be aware of how much credit you have and when you need to refill you account.  You can usually check up on your balance by texting a number from your phone or checking online, when you get your SIM card, the company should fill you in on those details.

Final Words

I hope this guide has helped you a great deal and that the area of cell phones in Brazil has been demystified.

Make sure and “like” this post if it brought you value so that other’s get benefit from it as well!

Cheers – valeu!

Kevin

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13 Comments

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  • I hadn’t heard about being able to get a phone with no CPF. That’s nice to know!

    I agree that TIM has the best deals, but I think Vivo has the better network — at least in my travels in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Goiás (central Brazil). In these areas TIM usually works in the cities and towns (though not all), but not outside of the cities even on major highways. Vivo often works outside of the towns and cities along the highways. Not everywhere, but in many more places than TIM.

  • I signed up for a number with internet and then got up to 50 (!) tekst messages a day, saying that I was in RS (Porto Alegre) and the net number was 45 and then when I was in Iguaçu same story but different number, then in Rio….well, I got pretty fed up with this. Now I am back in my home country, Holland, and can’t get hold of anybody at Tim to disconnect my number! The service sucks! Plus, it is true that the network is not very good at all. The 3G Internet hardly ever worked. I say: Tim never again.

    • WOW! Yeah, if I’m spending more permanent amounts of time in different locations, I usually just buy a local number – traveling around Brazil is tricky unless you have a national plan for it.

      Is your number pre-pago? if so then it will disconnect itself after 5 months of inactivity.

      • No it wasn’t a pre-pago, hence the “worry”. As it turns out a local TIM employee gave me the number as registered to a Brazilian citizen (he used someone else’s cpf). Which is why I couldn’t cancel the number, because supposedly it wasn’t mine! I spent 45 minutes on the phone yesterday which didn’t do me much good. In the end what helped was me repeatedly tweeting in Portuguese about their poor service. That got their attention and today they confirmed that the number had been canceled. Yeay! Well, I’ll put this down to experience, it doesn’t diminish my love for Brasil!

  • You can get a CPF within a day. As for pre-pago, if you want to talk for 0.25 per minute, get Tim. If you want unlimited 3G with full coverage an sms for 0.05 then get Vivo. I have no experience with the other two, though. This is based on me using both sim on a dual sim-card in the safest city in Brasil: São Paulo.

    • What? The safest city in Brasil is Sao Paulo????? WTF??? U landed from another planet with people (or E.T.´s) that drinks acid for fun?

  • This is all great advice I just read. Brasil is extremely complicated and telecommunications services can be confusing to foreigners. I’ve lived, worked and studied in Brasil in the past, and now visit a few times a year. I recommend purchasing a phone before you travel to Brasil, then using local SIMs. I purchase one from US Transcom (www.ustranscom.com), which was inexpensive and had 2 slots, one for an international SIM and the other for the local SIM (I use TIM). I had my US calls transferred to a US number with the SIM from US Transcom and it worked great. I made and received calls for 1/3 of what Verizon would have charged me.

  • Activating without CPF goes the following way for TIM:

    0) Buy a tim chip
    1) Dial 144
    2) Press 3 for english menu
    3) Press * (asterisk)
    4) You will be directed to a brazilian who speaks “english”. Dictate him/her your passport number, address (not necessary), name and birthday
    5) Parabéns, your sim will be activated in up to 2h. For me it took ~5 mins.

  • great article!!

    Does anyone know if any of the service provider uses NANO Sim Card or the standard size one?

    Thanks!

  • TIM have the best pre-paid plains, and Claro you need contract some data packages for have some speed.

    Vivo it’s like Verizon, very expensive and only use if don’t have another option.

    In Rio de Janeiro, the best carrier its nextel, use new 3G/UMTS/WCDMA network in 2100mhz and in some restricted areas LTE in 1800Mhz (band 3), but nextel don’t have pre-paid plains.

    After use over limit data plain, speed its reduce, but still able to use, and VoIP WORK PERFECT.

    If you need more permanent mobile phone service, go nextel (-;

  • Sounds like great advise but the experience I’ve had is them asking me for the famous CPF or nothing. I’ll try again next time but they would not sell me a SIM card without one.

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