Brazil

A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card when traveling to Brazil

Reduce your roaming rates by using a local telco deal.

Visiting the Rio carnival? The Amazon rainforest? Or traveling around South America? Either way, using your home phone in Brazil can be very expensive. A top tip for saving money and reducing roaming rates is to switch to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper deals, tariffs and plans.

Brazil has some of the best SIM card deals in South America and you can get 1GB of data for as little as R$10 (just AUD$4). You can also use their SIM cards in other South American countries which will save you even more money! So cut down on costs this holiday by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.au.

Telco providers in Brazil

There are four main providers in Brazil: Vivo, TIM, Claro and Oi. There are also a few regional providers (including Nextel) and several mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), but we will stick to the four main carriers so you don’t get confused.

According to OpenSignal’s country report, speeds on Brazil’s networks have declined due to the increase in customers using 4G/LTE services. 4G customers on Vivo, Claro and TIM could connect to an LTE signal more than 50% of the time during tests, but Brazil still ranks low among its global and South American peers in terms of coverage.

Vivo is the fastest operator in Brazil with an average LTE download speed of 15.3Mbps. Speeds on Claro have fallen considerably, dropping from 17.8Mbps to 11.4Mbps.

Brazil’s telco operators

Brazil’s market leader is Vivo, followed by TIM, Claro and Oi. All four operators offer prepaid SIM cards and you can buy them from shops, supermarkets, kiosks, pharmacies and official stores as well as at the Rio de Janeiro-Galeão and São Paulo–Guarulhos international airports. 2G, 3G and 4G plans are available on all networks for unlocked GSM phones.

You can buy a SIM card by showing your passport, and your telephone number is already active when you purchase it. To add credit, there are several prepaid card machines around various towns and cities, and vouchers are stocked in shops and supermarkets.

We have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what they can offer you during your stay in Brazil.

Vivo

Vivo is the largest telco operator in Brazil and has a 28.5% market share. Vivo has 73 million subscribers, 57% of which are using prepaid plans. People view the service as the best in the country and as having the most reliable network coverage. This comes at a price, though, since it also has the highest rates of all the providers.

Vivo SIM cards are sold almost anywhere across the country. We advise you to purchase them from branded stores to ensure they are registered properly and to save you from being ripped off. Don’t forget your passport for proof of ID.

You can purchase credit all over the country with rates ranging from R$10 for 30 days to R$60 for 120 days. You can purchase top ups online for R$10-300. To check your balance, you will need to text SALDO to 8000.

Vivo toda hora is their standard prepaid tariff. The starter SIM comes with a R$2 bonus, which is valid for four days. Vivo Dia and Vivo Noite come with reduced rates for day or night calls.

There’s also a prepaid Internet (Internet Pré) service which has the following deals:

  1. There is a daily package at a cost of R$0.99 for 15MB per day until midnight. Data will be blocked once you reach the maximum allowance and the maximum speed is 500Kbit/s.
  2. There are also monthly packages available with a maximum speed of 5Mbit/s. The following is the cost for the various monthly packages:
  • 250MB for R$17.99 - Text 250 to 1515 to activate
  • 400MB for R$23.99 - Text 400 to 1515 to activate
  • 600MB for R$29.99 - Text 600 to 1515 to activate

You must renew your daily package if you want to use it the next day. Monthly packs auto-renew if you have credit, so you will need to text CANCELAR to 1515 to stop.

You can also add the following data packages. They’re valid for seven days or until the original monthly package runs out:

  • 50MB for R$2.99 - Text 50 to 1515 to activate
  • 100MB for R$5.99 - Text 100 to 1515 to activate

Vivo also has several Vivo Turbo combo plans:

  • R$7.99 weekly for 300MB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network. Text TURBO to 9003 and select this plan.
  • R$9.99 weekly for 600MB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network. Text TURBO to 9003 and select this plan.
  • R$14.99 weekly for 1.2GB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network, 25 local minutes. Text TURBO to 9003 and select this plan.
  • R$9.99 monthly for 1.5GB data, unlimited calls to Vivo numbers, unlimited texts. Text TURBO to 9003 and select this plan.

You can get Internet Pré data add-ons to the above-mentioned plans and you can also purchase monthly prepaid data-only (Pré Mensal) SIM cards for tablets and modems at a rate of R$19.90 for 400MB.

TIM

TIM has the best prepaid SIM cards in the country. They have 66 million subscribers, and 79.5% of those are prepaid customers. 2G, 3G and 4G services are available across Brazil. You can purchase top ups in several denominations, and they are valid from 30 to 180 days depending on your purchase. You can dial *241# to top up your data using your credit card and *222# to check your balance.

TIM sells voice and data plans on a daily or weekly basis. The daily packs are only valid until midnight of that day. No monthly prepaid plans are on offer.

TIM’s standard prepaid plan is Infinity Pré and you can purchase it for R$0.99, which includes voice for up to 300 minutes of intra-network calls.

You can also add Infinity Web data packs.

Daily packages (valid until midnight):

  • 50MB for R$0.99 - Text WEB50 to 2000
  • 100MB for R$1.99 - Text WEB100 to 2000
  • 200MB for R$2.99 - Text WEB200 to 2000

Monthly packages (valid for 30 days):

  • 500MB for R$19 - Text 500MB to 4141
  • 1GB for R$29 - Text 1GB to 4141
  • 3GB for R$59 - Text 3GB to 4141
  • 5GB for R$69 - Text 5GB to 4141

Overuse rate is R$0.99 per 50MB.

TIM also offers a Turbo WhatsApp deal. For R$12, you can get 30 days of unlimited WhatsApp usage (excluding VoIP calls) plus 50MB of data. You will need to text ZAPZAP to 5225 to activate this deal.

The Infinity Turbo 7 weekly prepaid add-on is available for all prepaid plans. This deal costs R$9 and gives you 100MB per day for 7 days with unlimited TIM calls and unlimited WhatsApp (excluding VoIP calls). To activate this plan, you will need to text TURBO7 to 5225.

TIM Pré has the following weekly or monthly offers:

BRL77 days100 mins150 MBText PRE150 to 4141
BRL8.997 daysunltd. TIM1 GBText PRE7D to 4141
BRL9.997 days100 mins1 GBText PRE7D100 to 4141
BRL34.9930 days400 mins1.5 GBText PRE30D to 4141

All plans automatically renew and you will need to dial *222 to cancel.

You can also purchase the following data add-ons:

  • 50MB until midnight for R$0.99 - Text WEB50 to 4141
  • 150MB for 7 days for R$5 - Text MAISWEB to 4141

TIM also sells an Infinity Web data-only SIM package for tablets and modems. You can get 100MB and a USB dongle for R$0.99.

Visitor TIM is the best prepaid SIM card to purchase as a tourist. You can dial *144 and then provide your name, your passport number and your temporary address in Brazil to activate this option.

You can purchase it for R$50 and it includes the same amount of credit. For R$25, you can add a 1.5GB pack of data plus TIM Wi-Fi, which is valid for 7 days. Check the TIM website because these offers change from time to time.

Claro

Claro is the third largest operator in Brazil. It has a 25% market share with more than 50 million prepaid customers. Claro has the best coverage on 4G/LTE and is very popular with the younger crowd who are looking for good prepaid deals.

Most retailers will sell SIM cards, but it’s always better to buy them at official stores so they can be registered properly by using your passport.

You can purchase credit from most retailers and you can use your credit card to get it online. To update your credit, you need to enter your voucher code by typing *577*<voucher PIN>#. You can check your credit by typing *544#.

The Claro-Pré weekly combo plans are extremely popular:

  • Claro 250: This plan costs R$7.99 for 250MB data, unlimited SMS, unlimited on-net calls and unlimited WhatsApp use for 7 days. You will need to text CLARO250 to 2006 to activate the plan. To cancel the auto-renewal, you will need to dial *525.
  • Claro 800: This plan costs R$9.99 for 800MB data, unlimited SMS, unlimited on-net calls, Claro video, and unlimited WhatsApp and Claro Musica for 7 days. You need to text CLARO800 to 2006 to activate the plan. To cancel the auto-renewal, you will need to dial *525.

Claro’s prepaid SIMs are called Toda hora. Most calls are charged at around R$1.65 per minute and data must be added to the Toda hora packages. You have the choice of daily or monthly packs, all including zero-rated WhatsApp use (excluding VoIP calls).

Planos Pré daily packages (valid until midnight)

  • 30MB for R$0.99 with unlimited texts
  • 45MB for R$1.29 with unlimited texts
  • 65MB for R$1.99 with unlimited texts

Planos Pré monthly packages

  • 150MB for R$6.90
  • 300MB for R$12.90
  • 600MB for R$19.90
  • 900MB for R$27.90

You will need to dial *1052# to activate your plan. Data will automatically stop when you have reached your limit, so you will need to add a new plan when you’ve reached the limit.

Foreigners can activate Claro’s tourist plan. For more information, call 1052 and speak with the English customer service rep to discuss the latest plans since they change all the time.

Oi

Oi (Brazilians use this for hello) is the smallest of the big four operators and has an 18% market share. Oi has the largest Wi-Fi network with more than 1 million access points across Brazil. You can purchase SIM cards at most places, but it’s better to pick them up from official stores with your passport to avoid any hassle with the initial setup.

You can purchase credit from official Oi stores, from most retailers or online via your credit card. You can dial *805 to check your balance. Pré-pago prepaid plans come in a variety of guises.

Oi Livre:

  • R$10 (valid for 10 days) for 500MB, 300 SMS and either 150 minutes or 3000 minutes to Oi and landlines. The plan auto renews, so dial *880 or *3007 to cancel.
  • R$20 (valid for 20 days) for 1GB, 600 SMS and either 300 minutes or 6000 minutes to Oi and landlines. The plan auto renews, so dial *880 or *3007 to cancel.
  • R$30 (valid for 30 days) for 1.5GB, 900 SMS and either 450 minutes or 9000 minutes to Oi and landlines. The plan auto renews, so dial *880 or *3007 to cancel.
  • R$10 (weekly plan Oi Livre por semana) for 500MB, 300 SMS and 100 minutes to all operators. The plan auto renews, so dial *880 or *3007 to cancel.
  • R$0.99 (daily plan Oi Live por dia) for 60MB, 30 SMS, no calls included. It costs R$0.30 per minute for calls.

Customers can take advantage of unlimited use of the 1 million Oi Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. Data overuse is charged at R$1 per 20MB per day.

You can also purchase data-only packages:

 75 MB1 weekBRL 3.49Text Oi to 6475
 200 MB1 monthBRL 9.99Text Oi to 64200
 400 MB1 monthBRL 19.99Text Oi to 64400
 600 MB1 monthBRL 24.99Text Oi to 64600
 1 GB1 monthBRL 34.99Text Oi to 64950

All monthly packages auto-renew, so you will need to dial *6499 to cancel. When you reach your data quota, the data package will be switched off. You can then use Oi Wi-Fi or add the following data packs:

  • 20MB for R$0.99 - Text Oi to 6420 to activate
  • 50MB for R$1.49 - Text Oi to 6450 to activate
  • 100MB for R$2.49 - Text Oi to 64100 to activate

Oi’s APN is gprs.oi.com.br and you can find their website athttp://www.oi.com.br.

Some top tips from finder.com.au staff:

  • If you don’t know any Portuguese, download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. Although some Brazilians can speak English, many cannot and they like it when foreigners try their language.
  • Brazilians call a SIM card a “sim” or “chip”.
  • Ask retailers to set up the SIM card for you. This will save you a lot of time and trouble, but it is also helpful to cover anything you might not understand.
  • Make sure you get to the store early before the crowds take hold.

TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through which SIM cards have been tried and tested in Brazil.

Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:

  • “You can purchase a SIM but in Brazil you might need to use a social security number (CPF) to activate it. The rules have changed now to only needing a passport but some sellers can still ask for the CPF. Someone may do it for you but we usually advise tourists to reach an actual carrier shop with a passport so that the CPF can be replaced by your passport number.”
  • “You'll probably want to load something like Skype or WhatsApp so you can make free app to app messaging and voice calls using Wi-Fi or your data plan.”
  • “The best SIM card to get (if you can find one) is a TIM Visitor Sim Card. It is pre-activated and allows reasonably cheap calls and 1.5GB of renewable data.”

Pros and cons of Brazil’s top telco providers

All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible international phone. To double check if you have this option, contact your service provider before you set off on your travels.

Pros:

  • Good value for money
  • Prepaid credit when required
  • No in-store contract needed
  • Can be used in other South American countries
  • SIM cards could be compatible with your current phone

Cons:

  • Make sure SIM cards don’t already have existing plans uploaded
  • No new devices offered with the SIM card plans
  • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
  • Poor coverage can be found on all networks

Have more questions about finding the best SIM?

Q: What do I do if I lose my phone in Brazil?

A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when traveling around South America. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you still have no luck then cancel any plans or payment methods associated with the phone, report it missing and make a note of the crime number to make a claim on your insurance.

Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let the new one out of your sight!

Picture: Shutterstock

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