Brazil is a world of its own. Very chaotic and not easy to handle for foreigners. Don’t expect anyone to speak or understand English. The state of the service industry and mobile providers in particular are reason for many complaints by locals too. But with a few guidelines, you can make it through the country, though prices for data on prepaid remain high compared to other Latin American countries.
There are 4 national operators, that share 97% of the mobile market in Brazil:
- Vivo (Telefónica Brazil, owned by Spanish Telefónica)
- TIM (owned by Telecom Italia)
- Claro (owned by Mexican América Móvil)
- Oi (Brasil Telecom, incl. Amazônia Celular)
Furthermore, there are some regional providers:
- Nextel (no prepaid)
- Algar Telecom (formerly CTBC) in Minas Gerais state
- Sercomtel in Paraná state
Nextel has an own very limited coverage on 3G and 4G/LTE in some cities on 1800 MHz, but is not mentioned further as they don't offer prepaid plans on the market.
MVNOs have been pretty useless in Brazil. Up to 2015, they cater almost exclusively for M2M companies (for tracking vehicles, portable credit card machines or insurance companies) like the biggest MVNO Porto Seguro Conecta using TIM network. The national regulator ANATEL invented a special scheme in 2014 to facilitate access and in October 2015 the first public MVNO started with Mais AD.
Finally, two companies currently offer 4G/LTE subscriptions only to fixed connections through modems:
- On Telecom
- SKY (acquired by AT&T)
Both companies operate on the 2600 MHz band and don’t show intention of extending their services to mobile devices. Services are available only to select regions like some municipalities of the São Paulo state at On Telecom, while SKY is available in DF and certain states of the North, Northeast and South East regions. As they are not for prepaid, they are not mentioned any further.
Up to 2012, the mobile market was hardly accessible to foreigners. To get a prepaid SIM card in Brazil, a CPF (Cadastro de Pessoa Fisica) number was required, that corresponds to a tax ID or Social Security Number. Every Brazilian resident has one, but the hurdles of getting one for visitors have been steep.
The government changed rules in 2012 for the upcoming Football World Cup: mobile providers are now supposed to accept passport data from foreigners instead of their CPF. This makes it now much easier to get a local SIM card.
It took a while until the shops realized the new rules, and it still can raise eyebrows when you tell them that you want to get you SIM card without having a CPF (“nao tem CPF”). But most of the employees are familiar with it by now (see Registration below) as long as you show your passport.
Besides GSM in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE, other systems are in use too, like iDEN and CDMA/EVDO. But they are slowly phased out and stay incompatible to GSM. The mobile industry in Brazil is organized according to regional zones called DDD. The same provider can be on different frequencies according to their licences in the state you are in.
|Operator||2G (MHz)||3G/HSDPA (MHz)||4G/LTE (MHz) FDD-LTE|
|Vivo||850, 1800, (1900§)||850, 2100||2600 (B7), (700*)|
|TIM||850, 1800||850, 2100||2600 (B7), 1800 (B3)#, (700*)|
|Claro||850, 1800||850, 2100||2600 (B7), (700*)|
|Oi||850, 1800||2100||2600 (B7), (700*)|
(700*) = The 700 MHz frequency for 4G/LTE will be deployed as soon as analog TV has left this band in 2018 or later.
(1900§): Vivo's 1900 MHz frequency has been realigned to 3G (as uplink for 2100 MHz) in most parts of the country and is used for 2G only in the Northeastern region anymore
1800 (B3)# = TIM's LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) is only avaliable in 4 cities in the interior of Rio de Janeiro, other cities use 2600 MHz (B7).
All operators have now opened 4G/LTE for all of their prepaid plans without surcharges.
You have coverage in all states on the 4 major providers Vivo, TIM, Claro and Oi. This is also true to Nextel up to 3G thanks to a roaming agreement. The local providers at the end of the list only have a very limited coverage in their own region and are not recommended for travelling.
The four major players are pretty equal. Vivo is the overall market leader, thanks to a strong post-paid share, TIM and Oi are the pre-paid leaders and Claro leads in the Mobile Broadband section.
As a golden rule: The richer your area is, the better your coverage and speed will be. This applies on a state-wide as well on a local level to all providers. As you know, the gap is huge in Brazil ranging from non-existent to hyper speed. For more infomation, check each provider.
SIM cards are called chips and cost around R$8 to R$10, sometimes discounted a RS$5 in promotions mostly without credit. You can get it a many locations, but better stick to the mobile provider shops, as they can do or may help with registrations without CPF. There you need to show your passport and give a local address (like hotel address). Try to make clear that you need a prepaid which is called pré-pago (pronounced: pray pah go).
Claro, TIM and Oi sell tourist SIM cards which are not available for local residents. Generally, they give good rates, but have been proven to be hard to find sometimes.
You can refill accounts almost everywhere like in operator stores, drugstores, supermarkets, newsstands, convenience stores, post offices or by online agencies like Recarga.com, iCelex and Onepay. Most prepaid SIM cards need to be topped up at least every 60 days to stay alive.
While newsstand and street sellers offer SIM cards too, you'd better go to an official store, if you don’t have a CPF. Otherwise, you need to contact the operators special service for non-Brazilian residents, which require to give passport data, a local address (can be your hotel), and a local phone number in order to activate over the phone.
The regular registration with CPF is shown HERE. During the registration process you can select your telephone region called DDD, which the card number will be assigned to like in the US. It does not make any difference for data, but a huge one for voice rates. Generally, you should select the region where you are going to use it most, if you want to make domestic voice calls (see voice plans).
Some SIM cards come preloaded with credit which can be checked by the user by calling a specific number provided by the operator from which a SMS message is sent showing the total credits available for that card. These numbers are: Vivo: *8000 Claro: *544# TIM: *222# and Oi: *804
Voice Rates Edit
While all data allowances are the same nationwide, voice rates differ enormously. That’s why most Brazilians have more than one SIM card and often dual-SIM phones.
Generally, calls are very cheap as long as you stay within the same network and the same area code called DDD (around R$0.25 per call). Long-distance domestic cellular calls remain cheap if you use the prefix of your provider and stay within the same network (see dialing rules). Local landline calls mostly stay reasonable (at around R$0.70 per call), but get quite expensive outside of your prefix area.
On the other hand all calls between networks, even local, and landline calls to other regions are very expensive (at around R$2 per min). For long distance calls, special dialing rules apply (see below). Furthermore, you will face incoming roaming charges for being called from outside of your DDD area within Brazil.
Update: In an effort to curb multi-SIM use, TIM and Oi have stopped charging differential tariffs for calls to other operators for all its plans in November 2015.
Rates differ from state to state about 10% because of different taxation. Some providers offer special rates for rural areas. Due to the steep price differences between voice tariffs, you should be aware of two basic guidelines for voice calls (except on TIM and Oi):
- get you SIM card (assigned to) the region (DDD), where you are going to use it most
- use the same provider, if you are going to make a lot of calls to one particular mobile number
Dialing rules (long-distance and international) Edit
The Brazilian system for long-distance and international dialing is relatively unusual and somewhat confusing, insofar as the choice of the carrier determines the actual sequence to be dialed.
To dial a long-distance number within Brazil, one needs to use a carrier selection code to choose which long-distance carrier will be used. The carrier selection code is specified before the area code; so, to actually place a call, one should dial 0-xx-aa-nnnn-nnnn, where xx is the two-digit carrier selection code, aa the area (= DDD) code and nnnn-nnnn the local number.
This is true to international calls as well. The sequence is 00-xx-cc-aa-nnnn-nnnn where cc stands for the country code. More info about dialing rules HERE. The carrier selection codes are given in the respective section of each operator.
Technical Details Edit
Tethering is allowed and possible on all plans, as well as VoIP calls. Operators sometimes don’t allow their prepaid voice & data SIM cards to be used in a modem or tablet. But it works anyway and the same rates are charged for Mobile Broadband plans.
There are some areas where service suddenly drops or slows down due to congestion. When you are unsatisfied with the service in your area, there is not much hope in complaining. Better get a new SIM of a competitor instead. When shopping around, always ask about promotions.
Vivo is largest mobile operator in Brazil that is owned by Telefónica from Spain and has 29% of the Brazilian market share. From their total of 79 million subscribers only 67% are using prepaid plans. It was the last operator to allow prepaid customers on 4G/LTE in 2015.
Vivo's network has national coverage and it became the brand for all consumer services provided by Telefónica in Brazil, which include broadband internet, TV subscription and fixed telephone lines.
Traditionally, Vivo operated a CDMA network but changed to GSM from 2007 on. Vivo has the best 3G coverage of the country’s operators covering 88% of the population. It started 4G/LTE in 152 cities so far, covering 52% of population in 2015. Coverage Map
Vivo is known to have the most reliable network at the highest rates in the country. Right now, it’s the only of the major providers, that doesn’t offer a tourist SIM but may come up with one for the Olympics in 2016.
Vivo SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their stores: Store Locator
Recharge vouchers can be found all over the country ranging from RS$10 for 30 days to R$60 for 120 days. Online on their website you can top up RS$10 to RS$300 using credit cards or PayPal. Check balance by texting ‘SALDO’ to 8000 or by USSD code *445.
Planos Pré Edit
Vivo toda hora is their standard tariff. Starter comes with RS$2 bonus valid for 4 days. Variations are Vivo Dia and Vivo Nuite with reduced rates for calls during day or nighttime. All starters come with 4 days internet included from your smartphone. For rural areas, they have special tariffs.
Internet Pré Edit
These are their data options:
- Daily package: This is their default data plan. R$0.99 for 15 MB per calendar day. Max. speed is 500 kbit/s. Beyond 15 MB, data traffic will be blocked.
- Monthly packages with a max. speed of 5 Mbit/s:
- 250 MB: R$ 14.90, activation: text 250 to 1515
- 400 MB: R$ 19.90, activation: text 400 to 1515
- 600 MB: R$ 24.90, activation: text 600 to 1515
Daily packages are only charged, on days you are using data. Monthly packs auto-renew after one month, if you have enough credit. To stop, text ‘CANCELAR’ to 1515 for free. You can add more data on the monthly packages:
- 50 MB for R$2.99, activation: text 50 to 1515
- 100 MB for $5.99, activation: text 100 to 1515
Add-ons are valid for max. 7 days or until the monthly package has run out.
Vivo tudo Edit
This is a weekly rate in 2 denominations.
- R$ 6.90: 200 MB data, unlimited Vivo call minutes (using prefix 15), unlimited Vivo texts – activation: text ‘PRE’ to 9003.
- R$ 9.99: 400 MB data, unlimited Vivo call minutes (using prefix 15), unlimited Vivo texts – activation: text ‘PRE’ to 9006.
Also, you can earn up to 200 MB more per month, if you recharge your phone with 35R$/month or more, following the line:
- First month: 50 MB bonus
- Second month: 100 MB bonus
- Third month: 150 MB bonus
- From the fourth month on: 200 MB bouns
You can add Internet Pré data add-ons for more data.
Pré Mensal Edit
For tablets and modems Vivo sells Pré Mensal. This is a data-only SIM, but not such a good deal as you can only book the monthly packages and add-ons mentioned under Internet Pré shown above.
More info Edit
- Vivo prefix code: 15
- APN: zap.vivo.com.br
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.vivo.com.br
TIM SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their stores: Store Locator
Recharge vouchers of $10, $15, $20, $35, $50 and $100 are sold extending validity 30 to 180 days. You can also top up over the phone by typing *241# and using your credit card. You can check balance by typing *222#.
TIM only sells voice and data on a daily (based on a calendar day 0-24h in the time zone associated to your DDD) or weekly base, no monthly packages. In November 2015 they stopped charging differential tariffs for calls to other operators for all of their plans.
Infinity Pré Edit
This is their standard prepaid product. Tariffs and offers may differ slightly from state to state. Here it is verified for Rio de Janeiro (DDDs 92 and 97). Max. speed is 1 Mbit/s on 3G and 5 Mbit/s on 4G.
The default rate is a separate daily rate for voice and data/SMS, charged only on the days you are using it:
- R$ 0.75 – for voice including up to 300 mins intra-network calls (outside of DDD using prefix 41), other voice rates see: HERE
- R$ 0.75 – for data including 50 MB data and up to 50 MB extra for Whatsapp (VoIP calls not included) plus $0.24 for “torpedos” = SMS to all networks. Whatsapp offer needs to be activated by *223#
For more data, you choose one these daily packages (again based on a calendar day) called Infinity Web which can be added by refills, but only the one refill size associated with it.
|R$ 0.75||50 MB||default||R$ 0.75||15 MB||MAIS15|
|R$ 1.00||50 MB||WEB30||R$ 1.00||30 MB||MAIS30|
|R$ 1.99||100 MB||WEB100||R$ 1.99||100 MB||MAIS100|
|R$ 2.99||200 MB||WEB200||R$ 2.99||200 MB||MAIS200|
Activation by texting code to 2000 or by USSD *223#. All packages also include 50 MB extra to be used on Whatsapp only. Activate this promotional offer by *223#. All kinds of Whatsapp messages are included, but not their VoIP functionality.
For a surcharge of R$0.24 on every package, you can get Infinity Web + Torpedo which has the same data allowances but adds SMS (= torpedos) to all networks. To activate a data & SMS package, simply replace ‘WEB’ by ‘SIM’ in the activation code.
Novo Pré Edit
This is a new weekly offer, that is available in two packages:
- R$ 7: 150 MB data, 100 mins to all providers (outside of own DDD using prefix 41), unlimited SMS to all providers for a week
- R$ 10: 300 MB data, 100 mins to all providers (outside of own DDD using prefix 41), unlimited SMS to all providers for a week
You can upsize data of 50 MB at R$ 0.99 for a day by texting WEBDIA to 4141 or 150 MB at R$ 3 for 7 days by texting MAISWEB to 4141.
Infinity Web Edit
For tablets and laptops, TIM sells their Infinity Web offer with data only, no voice. Starter pack includes 100 MB as SIM-only or for R$99 with an USB dongle. It might be not such a great deal, as only the 100 MB and 200 MB daily packages plus add-ons (shown above at Infinity Pré), can be booked on the SIM for the same prices.
Visitor TIM Edit
Visitor TIM is their tourist SIM and may be hard to find, as it is for foreigners only. If you find it somewhere on the streets, activation process requires calling the code *144 and providing your name, passport number and temporary address in Brazil.
It is sold for R$50 and includes for 7 days 1.5 GB of data plus TIM WI-FI use. All national calls are R$0.50/min and international calls R$1/min using carrier prefix 41. All SMS are R$0.50.
For more data or beyond 7 days, you can text ‘WEB OK’ to 2500 and buy another 1.5 GB data valid for another week for R$25. More info in English: HERE
More info Edit
- TIM carrier code: 41
- APN: timbrasil.br
- Username and password: tim
- Website in Portuguese: www.tim.com.br
Claro's network has national coverage and similar to Vivo, Claro offers additional services, like fixed broadband connection, telephone line and TV subscription.
Claro has the best coverage on 4G/LTE in the country right now. It covers 44% of the population in 142 municipalities. 3G coverage is on 81% of population in 2015: Coverage Map
Claro SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their store for immediate activation without a CPF.
You can add credit online by credit card or using vouchers sold in all Claro stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, lottery stores etc. Values of R$13 to R$100 are available. Enter voucher code like this *577*<voucher PIN>#. Check credit by typing *544#.
Planos Pré Edit
Their standard prepaid plan is called Toda hora. Most calls are charged at around R$2 per min. In some areas special places for rural areas or night plans are offered. Some voice prices may vary according to different taxes.
Data needs to be added by packages. You have the choice of daily or monthly packs:
- daily packages (valid until midnight associated with the time zone of your DDD)
- 15 MB: R$ 0.99
- 30 MB: R$ 1.29
- 50 MB: R$ 1.99
- monthly packages
- 300 MB: R$ 14.90
- 600 MB: R$ 19.90
Packages can be activated on your personal account or by typing *1052#. Data is up to 4G/LTE and 5 Mbit/s. It will be shut off, when having reached the quota. Then all packages (daily or monthly) can be purchased new, even ahead of time.
On all prepaid plans free Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter is added. This doesn't apply to VoIP calls through Facebook or Whatsapp. Activate by *1052#.
Tablet Pré Edit
Aimed at tablets and modems, Claro is the only provider that offers a data-only prepaid SIM card. The only tariff is the daily rate (valid until midnight) of R$ 1.99 for 80 MB. If you have used up all data, you will be offered a new package of the same price on their landing page.
Claro Visitors Edit
This tourist plan can only be activated by foreigners using a valid passport in a Claro store or by typing *552#. The SIM card can be bought for R$ 60 and comes with the following bundle:
- 300 MB data
- 40 national SMS to any operator + 40 international SMS
- 21 minutes for local calls to any phone + 21 minutes for long distance calls to any number, using the Claro prefix code
- unlimited calls to other Claro Visitor numbers
- free Twitter and Facebook (no VoIP calls) data
For more information, check their English website or call English-speaking customer service at 1052.
More info Edit
- Claro carrier code: 21
- APN: claro.com.br
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.claro.com.br (you have to pick an address)
Oi (formerly written oi!) is the fourth largest mobile operator in Brazil that is currently owned by CorpCo, a joint venture with Portugal Telecom, and has 18% of the Brazilian market share. From their total of 51 million subscribers, they have a high prepaid share. 83% are using a prepaid plan making Oi the no.2 on the prepaid phone market.
Oi's network has national coverage and also offers additional services similar to other major operators, like fixed broadband connection, telephone line and TV subscription.
Oi may be the smallest of the big four, but it has the largest WI-FI network in Brazil with more than 1 million access points. Oi has furthermore a national roaming agreement with TIM closing some gaps due to its lower coverage. On its own resources, it covers 72% of the population by 3G and 31% by 4G in 2015: Coverage map. In November 2015 they stopped charging differential voice prices to other operators.
Oi SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their stores: Store locator for RJ (for other regions change state on top left).
Top up online by credit card or by vouchers sold in all Oi stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, banks or lottery shops. Top ups are available R$12 to R$500 giving 30 to 180 days of service.
You can check balance by typing *805.
Their prepaid plans differ according to region (DDD). In areas where they have a low market share, prices may be discounted. For their prepaid SIM you have the basic choice between a weekly and a daily charge:
- Weekly plan: R$ 8: for 250 MB and unlimited local and Oi calls plus unlimited Oi WIFI and 300 SMS to all networks. To add dial *880 or *3007.
- Combined Plans with equal voice and text rates to all operators:
- by day: R$ 0.99 including 60 MB, 30 SMS, no voice time
- by week: R$ 10 including 400 MB, 300 SMS, 75 mins voice
- by month: R$ 40 including 1 GB, 500 SMS, 300 mins voice
The monthly rate auto-renews, the others don't. All times are based on calendar days in the time zone associated to your DDD. To change plan, type *880 or *3007. Change of plans costs R$10. For out of DDD calls or other operators, you need to use Oi carrier code (see below). Unlimited use of more than 1 million Oi WiFis included. Data overuse is charged at R$ 1 per 20 MB per day.
For more mobile data, you can add these data packages, bought online or by texting 'Oi':
|75 MB||1 week||R$ 3.49||Oi to 6475|
|200 MB||1 month||R$ 9.99||Oi to 64200|
|400 MB||1 month||R$ 19.99||Oi to 64400|
|600 MB||1 month||R$ 24.99||Oi to 64600|
|1 GB||1 month||R$ 34.99||Oi to 64950|
All monthly packages auto-renew. To cancel, type *6499. When data quota is used up, data will be shut off. Unlmited Oi WiFi is added. To get more data, you have to wait for renewal or buy one of these add-ons valid for one day only until midnight by typing *880:
- 20 MB: R$ 0.99, for activation, text Oi to 6420
- 50 MB: R$ 1.49, for activation, text Oi to 6450
- 100 MB: R$ 2.49, for activation, text Oi to 64100
Pre Paid Kit Edit
For visitors only, Oi sells their tourist SIM called Pre Paid Kit. For R$ 40 it includes the SIM card and a R$ 30 top-up card valid for 90 days. These SIM cards are available online to be sent to a Brazilian address or in Oi stores. To activate, call their English customer service at 0800 0300 924. To top up with your voucher, dial *801, after the voice message 1 and the printed PIN code of your top-up card. You can top up later with any top-up card of Oi.
Rates: for R$0.99 per day, you get 60 minutes local calls and local to Oi mobiles, 10 MB high speed data, then throttled, 500 SMS to Oi and 30 to other carriers and unlimited Oi WIFI for 30 days. More info in English: HERE
Oi Wi-Fi Edit
Unlimited Oi WIFI with more than 1 million access points is added for free to all plans and packages. WIFI locator There, it’s graphically shown, how to get your access code too.
For WIFI on the tourist SIM, turn on your device’s Wi-Fi and select the Oi WiFi network, open your browser and visit any page. In the authentication window, click on 'Promotional Code' and follow the instructions on screen.
More info Edit
- Oi carrier code: 31
- APN: gprs.oi.com.br
- Username and password: oi
- Website (in Portuguese): http://www.oi.com.br
Algar Telecom (formerly CTBC Celular)Edit
Algar Telecom belongs to the Algar Group and operates a small mobile network (formerly called CTBC Celular) in the central inland of Brazil. The company is based out of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais and has 0.4% of the Brazilian market share. From their total of 1.1 million subscribers 71% are using their pre-paid plan.
While they operate for business customers in some centers, private customers on prepaid are restricted to a small area mostly in the state of Minas Gerais. Without roaming in other places, they are not recommended for travellers.
On their prepaid plans data is only sold at a daily bundle of 50 MB for R$ 0.70. Then data is cut off. To add more, you need to buy new daily packages.
- Algar carrier selection code: 12
- APN: ctbc.br Username: ctbc Password: 1212
- Homepage: www.ctbccelular.com.br
Sercomtel, formerly Sercomtel Celular, is the smallest Brazilian mobile operator. It's a super local mobile operator based in Londrina, Paraná and only provides network coverage in the Londrina area; however, in 2009 Anatel gave Sercomtel license to expand services throughout the entire Paraná state. At the moment, Sercomtel has only 0.02% of the Brazilian market share with only 52,000 subscribers. As it has very limited roaming, it is not recommended for travellers. In their different prepaid plans data is charged at R$ 0.50 for the day. You will only get 10 MB and will be throttled to 128 kbps thereafter.
- Sercomtel carrier selection code: 43
- APN: sercomtel.com.br Username and Password: sercomtel
- Website (in Portuguese): http://www.sercomtel.com.br
Mais AD Edit
Mais AD is Brazil's first real MVNO. It started operations in October 2015 on the Vivo network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (see Vivo above). It is run by the Brazilian arm of the Assembly of God, the country's biggest Pentecostal church with 23 million members.
The operator is recruiting volunteer assembly members to sell the SIM cards door to door and pastors are promoting them during services. In addition there are 45 physical sales points (list). They have national coverage in all states, but have started their marketing in the state of Sao Paulo only. Start-up price is R$ 9.90 without any credit.
Their SIM card will come with exclusive content related to the Assembly of God and the bible as well as religious apps. To top up, you can use any Vivo voucher. To check credit, type *2300.
They sell the exactly same prepaid rates as Vivo (see above). So there is not much advantage, in choosing them instead of their network operator, as it is not clear whether Mais AD can handle registrations without a Brazilian CPF.