Misconception: 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.
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:
- It’s very user friendly (Android).
- Has a great camera so I don’t have to carry one around.
- Has a large screen so I can use it for GPS, maps, internet browsing (leave my laptop at home).
- Fits into my pocket.
- Comes unlocked.
- Functions on all networks at home and in Brazil
- 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:
- What operator do my friends use?
- What sales are going on?
- Do I need Internet?
- 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
- 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)
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:
- A SIM card
- 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.
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!