Reduce your roaming rates by using a local telco deal.
Visiting Colombia? Or travelling around South America? Either way, using your regular mobile phone account there can work out to be rather expensive. A top tip for saving money and reducing roaming rates is to switch to a local SIM card for cheaper deals, tariffs and plans. Colombia has some of the best SIM card deals in South America and you can get 1GB of data for as little as COP20,000 (AUD$10.30). You can also use their SIM cards in other South American countries which will save you even more money! So, cut down your holiday costs this by comparing your SIM card options on finder.com.au.
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There are three main telco providers in Colombia: Claro, Movistar and Tigo. All networks have been tried and tested by locals and tourists and can be trusted. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, network coverage is exceptionally good around Bogota as well as in the main towns and cities. Coverage can suffer in the far-flung regions, which is to be expected in some parts of the country and will happen on any network you use there.
All three operators offer prepaid SIM cards and they can be bought from shops, supermarkets, kiosks, pharmacies, official stores and at El Dorado International Airport. There are 2G, 3G and 4G plans available on all networks for unlocked GSM phones.
SIM cards can be bought by showing your passport and providing your hotel address, and your telephone number is already active when purchased. IMEI numbers are also being taken and registered to cut down on phone theft in the country.
To add credit, there are several prepaid SIM card machines around towns and cities, and vouchers are stocked in shops and supermarkets.
New taxation laws came into effect at the beginning of 2017 which means VAT on communications is much more expensive, an increase from 16% to 19%. There will also be a 4% sales tax added to any deal that costs more than COP44,630 per month.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what they can offer you during your stay in Colombia.
Claro is the market leader in Colombia and also has the best coverage. There are 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services available and its prepaid SIM card deals are some of the best in South America.
Its Prepago fácil SIM card can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers. You can also purchase top-up vouchers called tajetas amigo from the same vendors, plus at supermarkets and other retailers bearing the official logo. Be careful of street sellers.
Claro’s welcome pack is called Paquete de bienvenida and can be purchased for COP1,000 (tax incl.) and there are many different plans and offers that can be added to this basic package. Credit can be purchased for any denomination up to COP100,000 and free data bonuses are included depending on the amount added. Dial *103# to check your balance.
The standard default rate is COP169 per MB. The following data packs are available:
|Valid for 1 day||9MB||COP990|
|Valid for 1 day||40MB||COP2,000|
|Valid for 2 days||120MB||COP4,000|
|Valid for 7 days||500MB||COP15,000|
|Valid for 15 days||1GB||COP20,900|
|Valid for 30 days||2GB||COP42,900|
To activate any of the above-mentioned packages, dial *611# and choose option 1 paquetes de datos and select the plan you would like. Packages will auto-renew. Text “SALIR” to 798 to cancel.
The standard default data rate is COP0.39 per KB. The same packs can also be used in tablets and modems. Facebook, VoIP calls and WhatsApp are not included in the packages.
Movistar is the second largest operator in Colombia and provides customers with good coverage and speed. 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services are available throughout the country. SIM cards can be purchased in official stores and approved resellers. The standard prepaid plan is called Plan prepago por segundos. Data packs will have to be added to avoid using the standard default data rate.
Credit can be purchased from most retailers throughout Colombia. Check with the seller to see if there are any deals or promotions running - Movistar often doubles or triples its recharge amounts. Also check online because there are online promos and sometimes offers for credit card purchases.
The “chip” starter pack can be purchased for COP2,000 (tax incl.) but check with the retailer at the time of purchase because there are often discounts or promotions available. Dial *611# to check your balance.
Without any data packs, Movistar’s standard data rate is COP950 for 15MB until midnight; once you use this amount another package will automatically upload. To avoid these charges, the following data packs can be added:
|Valid for 1 hour||50MB||COP1,000|
|Valid for 1 day||100MB||COP1,700|
|Valid for 2 days||220MB||COP3,200|
|Valid for 3 days||330MB||COP4,700|
|Valid for 7 days||900MB||COP14,200|
|Valid for 30 days||2GB||COP42,900|
|Valid for 30 days||3GB||COP52,900|
Dial *611#, select option 2 "Internet prepago" and choose one of the above-mentioned plans.
Tigo is the smallest network provider in Colombia but is still relatively good and offers great deals. Its SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers. Avoid street vendors. Top-ups can be purchased from the same retailers as well as from supermarkets and newsagents. There are several different prepaid plans available but none of them include data packages. As a result, you will have to include data add-ons to take advantage of better roaming rates.
Tigo’s starter SIM cards can be purchased for COP5,000 which includes credit, and there are often promotions available so make sure you keep an eye out for them. The Plan por Segundos is its default plan and it also sells preloaded chips which include credit of COP45,000 to 499,000, valid for a year. Dial *611# to check your credit.
The following data packs are available:
|Valid until midnight||30MB||COP1,900||Text “DIA” to 409|
|40MB||COP999||Text “HORA” to 201|
|200MB||COP1,500||Text “DIA” to 202|
|COP1,800||Text “HOY” to 201|
|unlimited||COP3,200||Text “BASICO” to 730|
|Valid for 2 days||120MB||COP2,500||Text “DIA” to 204|
|200MB||COP3,700||Text “DIA” to 201|
|Valid for 3 days||100MB||COP3,900||Text “3 DIAS” to 409|
|Valid for 7 days||350MB||COP13,900||Text “SEMANA” to 409|
|600MB||COP13,000||Text “SEMANA” to 204|
|1GB||COP 19 800||Text “NAVEGA” to 818|
|COP19,800||Text “SEMANA” to 201|
|unlimited||COP11,000||Text “BASICO7” to 730|
|Valid for 15 days||1GB||COP20,900||Text “STOTAL15” to 409|
|1GB||COP24,900||Text “TOTAL15” to 409|
|Valid for 30 days||100MB||COP15,900||through Tigo App|
|1.5GB||COP34,900||Text “MES” to 700|
|2GB||COP45,000||Text “MES” to 202|
|COP39,000||Text “MES” to 204|
|3GB||COP45,000||Text “MES” to 201|
All packages auto-renew until cancelled. Over use rate is COP12 per KB. All days mentioned are valid until midnight.
- Spanish is spoken in Colombia. If you don’t know the language, you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. Although some Colombians speak English, many cannot and they like it when foreigners try their language.
- Colombians call a SIM card a “SIM” or “chip”.
- Ask the retailer to set up the SIM for you. This will save you a lot of time and trouble and is also helpful to cover anything you might not understand.
- Make sure you get to the stores early before they get too crowded.
TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through the SIM cards that have been tried and tested in Colombia.
Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
- “I bought, loaded and am currently using a Claro SIM card and all I needed was to pay the COP5,000 purchase fee and provide a phone number - I gave my home number.”
- “I've registered 3-4 sims with Claro (previously comcel) these last 2-3 years with my foreign passport, never any problem.”
- “No ID was asked for from the sales staff. They simply added my name and hotel name/address to a list, insisted I provided a telephone number, asked me for COP5,000, put the SIM card in my phone for me, pressed a few buttons and I was up and running.”
- “There is a rather large black market of stolen cell phones in Colombia. To fight this black market, cell network operators are required by law to make sure every phone line user can be identified. IMEI numbers are taken as a precaution.”
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible international phone. To double check you have this option, contact your service provider before you set off on your travels.
- 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.
- 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 in country areas.
- Avoid street sellers.
Q: What about other networks operating in Colombia?
A: There are manyMVNOs operating in Colombia. Uff! Móvil, Móvil Éxito and Virgin Mobile also offer great deals and plans which run through the three telco providers we have mentioned above. Make sure you shop around for the best deals because they can sometimes offer better promotions than the three main providers. All three MVNOs can be trusted.
Q: What do I do if I lose my phone in Colombia?
A: Colombia has a high rate of phone theft so be vigilant. Your phone is your lifeline, especially when travelling around South America. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. If you lose your phone, 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 claim on 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!