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.
- 1 Basics
- 1.1 Operators
- 1.2 Regulations
- 1.3 Frequencies
- 1.4 Coverage and speeds
- 1.5 Availability
- 1.6 Top-ups
- 1.7 Registration
- 1.8 Dialing rules (long-distance and international)
- 1.9 Technical Details
- 1.10 International roaming friendliness and blocking of bootleg or stolen cellphones
- 1.11 Mercosur roaming
- 1.12 Chile roaming
- 2 vivo
- 3 TIM
- 4 Claro
- 5 oi
- 6 Algar Telecom
- 7 Sercomtel
- 8 Correios Celular
There are 4 national network 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 (On process of merging with the other operators)
Furthermore, there are some regional providers:
- Algar Telecom (formerly CTBC) in parts of Minas Gerais state
- Sercomtel in parts of Paraná state (state owned, in privatization process)
MVNOs have been pretty useless in Brazil so far. Up to 2015, they catered almost exclusively for M2M companies for tracking vehicles, portable credit card machines or insurance companies. In 2015 the first public MVNO started with Mais AD. The first viable MVNO Correios Celular has started in 2017 by the Brazilian Post Office (Correios) in the Sao Paulo region to spread nationwide using TIM's network.
Finally, a company currently offer 4G/LTE subscriptions only to fixed connections through modems:
- SKY (acquired by AT&T)
Sky operates on the 2600 MHz TDD-LTE 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, 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 Física) number was often asked for, which corresponds to a tax ID or Social Security Number, which only Brazilian residents have.
The government relaxed rules in 2012 for the Football World Cup: mobile providers were encouraged to accept passport data from foreigners instead of only CPFs. This makes it nowadays much easier for travelers to get a local SIM card.
It took a while until the shops implemented the new rules, and it still can raise eyebrows when you tell them that you want to get your SIM card without having a CPF (“não tenho CPF”). But some of the employees are familiar with it by now (see Registration below) as long as you show your passport.
Although a CPF is not mandatory, you can face problems without one. For example, Vivo's smartphone app doesn't work without a CPF and a lot of public wifi networks, for example in shopping centres, require a CPF to be entered. If you can easily visit a Brazilian consulate in your home country, then a CPF can be obtained free of charge and the process will take up much less of your time than it would in Brazil. A CPF can be beneficial for other purposes; for example some Brazilian car hire websites ask for it.
The mobile industry in Brazil is organized according to area codes called DDD. Mind you the same provider can be on different frequencies according to their licenses in every state (or even by area code in some cases).
|Operator||2G GSM (MHz)||3G/HSDPA (MHz)||4G (MHz and bands) in FDD-LTE|
|Vivo||850, (900, 1800@, 1900§)||850, 2100||700 (B28), 1800 (B3), 2600 (B7)|
|TIM||900, 1800||850, (900*), 2100||700 (B28), 850 (B5)#, 1800 (B3),
2100 (B1)#, 2600 (B7)
|Claro||900, 1800, 1900(=)||850, 2100||700 (B28), 2100 (B1), 2600 (B7), 1800 (B3)|
|Oi||900, 1800||2100||1800 (B3)*, 2600 (B7)|
The 700 MHz (B28) frequency for 4G/LTE is being gradually deployed as soon as analog TV has left this band. As it has been delayed a few times, realistically it's now expected to start in 2018 and to be fully employed by 2020.
(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.
850# and 2100#: 850 MHz (B5) for LTE is only available in the countryside and in remote regions. 2100 MHz (B1) is currently only available in the Sao Paulo Metro Area.
(900, 1800@): Vivo's 900/1800 MHz frequency for 2G is available only in the Minas Gerais state, legacy from the Telemig Celular (former mobile telco acquired by the spanish operator back in 2007)
(900*): TIM's 900 MHz for 3G is only used in the Sao Paulo Metro area to boost coverage and network performance.
1900(=): Claro owns a 1900 MHz block on some states exclusively for WLL usage, legacy from a old company acquired by them. This block used to be a CDMA1x carrier in the past, and went to GSM some time after.
All operators have now opened 4G/LTE for all of their prepaid plans without surcharges, but often throttle max. speed to 5 Mbit/s or similar.
Coverage and speeds
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 giving all of them a 3G coverage of 85-92% and a 4G/LTE coverage of 65-78% of population in 2018 according to OpenSignal. The two local providers Algar Telecom and Sercomtel only have a very limited coverage in their own region and are not recommended for travelling.
The four major players are pretty much on par. Vivo is the overall market leader by customers, thanks to a strong postpaid share, TIM and Oi are the prepaid leaders, TIM has the biggest 4G coverage and Claro leads in the 3G section and for 4G with the highest speeds, usually Claro have the faster 4G LTE, with multiple carrier aggregation support (B28+B3+B7+B7 ~220Mbps on good conditions), but they focus on higher frequency (B7) so beside being the fastest, they not always have the best reception indoors, this may improve with Nextel assimilation since they got bought by Claro.
Vivo have the fame of having the best coverage, what was true on the past and maybe still is on some rural areas, but today on most places Claro and TIM have similar coverage and on Claro example usually faster data speeds on LTE.
TIM may have the biggest LTE coverage, but on several places the speed isn't that great on pre-paid, most of times a 3G connection from Claro or Vivo will be faster speed than TIM LTE.
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.
What speed is concerned OpenSignal and Ookla users measured the highest speeds with Claro at 28 Mbit/s and slowest with Oi at 10-12 Mbit/s in 2018. This is different from 4G coverage led by TIM, followed by Vivo and Claro.
SIM cards are called chips and cost around R$ 5-15, mostly without credit. You can get one at 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 sometimes give a local address (like a hotel address). Try to make clear that you need a prepaid SIM card which is called chip pré-pago (pronounced locally: sheepy preh pah go).
Claro and TIM 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 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 75 days to stay alive.
Sometimes they’ll hand you a little card with a scratchable code that you’ll have to call a number and add the code or, most often, they’ll ask your 11-digit phone number and just top up like most places.
If you don't topup your number under the deadline, your line might be cancelled after that (it can take a little more time to cancel, depending on the operator)
While newsstand and street sellers offer SIM cards too, you'd better go to an official store with your passport (or South American ID card), 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 (like your hotel's), and a local phone number in order to activate over the phone.
The regular registration with CPF is shown HERE. During registration you can select your area code - called DDD, like in the US. 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). In some cases the carrier automatically selects the area code of where you are.
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 text message is sent showing the total credits available for that card. These numbers are: Vivo: *8000 Claro: *544# TIM: *222# and Oi: *804
Dialing rules (long-distance and international)
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 at the bottom of each operator.
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.
International roaming friendliness and blocking of bootleg or stolen cellphones
Brazil has no limitations regarding mobile phone importing, usage of foreign devices in their networks or either "permanent" roaming by individual persons. So, as long as you use a certified cellphone (which passed by ANATEL, FCC, CE or equivalent certifications) and it's registered in the international GSMA database as any cellphone, you won't face any issues using your phone there.
However, bootleg phones produced by shady manufacturers, mobiles that were stolen in another country and others might be blocked when roaming or being used in a Brazilian operator, since ANATEL got a law approved to block these kind of cellphone in Brazilian network since 2019. Usually, before the lockdown, you got a message from the operator informing you that your cellphone is irregular and will be blocked for use in Brazil on 75 days.
If you stay for a short time in Brazil, that wouldn't be a problem. But if you plan to stay for a longer time, it's better to look for any operator store or call ANATEL to try to fix the situation, or even buy an Brazilian cellphone.
This blocking was very controversial at the time, and since then, it might act in your line or not. However, again, as long as your cellphone is from a "good" brand, you're good.
The countries of the Mercosur Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have agreed in 2019 to implement a "roam like at home" scheme similar to the EU. After this deal is approved by all local parliaments operators must not charge additional fees for roaming between the bloc’s member states, and must apply the same tariff conditions that apply in the user’s home state for local outgoing calls, SMS and data.
In 2021, the Brazilian government is voting an international roaming agreement with Chile and its in a final phase of the process to become a law. The international roaming between Brazil and Chile will be "like home" when this law starts to be efective. Chile already approved their side of the agreement in 2019 and now is waiting for the Brazilian government.
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 92% of the population and is on par with Tim for 4G/LTE with 77% in 2017: coverage Map
Vivo SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them in their own branded stores, if you come from abroad: Store Locator
Recharge vouchers can be found all over the country ranging from R$ 12 for 30 days to R$ 50 for 120 days (some states / provinces may have exclusive options, like R$ 5, R$ 7 or R$ 60). Online on their website you can top up R$ 12-300 using credit cards or PayPal. Check balance by texting ‘SALDO’ to 8000 or by code *8000.
You may also use 3rd party agencies like recharge.com, ding.com or others. Note using a 3rd party usually incurs a processing fee, and there are some scam sites out there.
If you fail to recharge, your line will be cancelled and you will not be able to use it at all, even to receive SMS. Within 180 days of cancellation, recharging will immediately reactivate your line. Recharging on the Vivo web site usually requires receiving a validation SMS, which you cannot do if your line is cancelled. Bear in mind that if you have any recurring services on your line such as Vivo Turbo that you did not cancel, then any credit that you add will immediately cause a renewal of those services. Therefore be sure to cancel any recurring services before your line becomes disconnected in case you decide to reactivate the line with a recharge.
Combo plans (Vivo Turbo)
Combo plans are called Vivo Turbo (for activation text ‘TURBO’ to 9003). There are options with different validity (considering DDD 011 - São Paulo):
|Price||Validity||Data||Calls & Texts & WhatsApp & more|
|R$ 11.99||7 days||2 GB||National unlimited, free WhatsApp, GoRead, NBA, Vivo Avisa (Notifies missed calls)|
|R$ 14.99||7 days||3 GB||National unlimited, free WhatsApp, NBA, GoRead Super Comics|
|R$ 14.99||15 days||3 GB||National unlimited, free WhatsApp, GoRead, NBA, Vivo Avisa (Notifies missed calls)|
|R$ 19.99||15 days||4 GB||National unlimited, free WhatsApp, NBA, GoRead Vivo Recado (VoiceMail)|
Free WhatsApp is to send messages, photos and videos (not for VoIP calls).
In some provinces of Brazil (where Vivo is not the first in market share) you will get slightly more data or more voice minutes for other operators. You can add daily data add-ons for more data or renew the Turbo plan by texting "ANTECIPE" to 9003.
If you fail to top up with the value of the plan (or more), you'll have an "partial" renewal of the plan, proportional to the balance that you got at that moment in your line. You can check all the values and data packages here https://www.vivo.com.br/para-voce/produtos-e-servicos/para-o-celular/pre-pago/renovacao-parcial
Activation is through *9003.
Vivo Easy (Digital Plan):
There's an additional plan which is activated using the special Vivo's Easy app, available for iPhone and Android devices. This plan has no validity or due date, and you can assemble your own line by buying spare packages for everything (from calls to facebook or international calls and roaming packages).
Since this plan is intended to be signed up only using a CPF number and a credit card, this is a hard one to get for foreigners, and won't be shown any further.
- Vivo prefix code: 15
- APN: zap.vivo.com.br
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.vivo.com.br
SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their branded stores (store locator) for registration.
Recharge vouchers of R$ 10, R$ 15, R$ 20, R$ 30, R$ 40, R$ 50 and R$ 100 are sold extending with a validity 30 to 180 days in banks, lottery agencies, pharmacies, supermarkets and other places. You can also top up using your credit card online (site TIM - "recarga express"), app "Meu TIM" or over the phone by typing *244 or *244#. You can check balance by typing *222#. There is an option to program auto-recharge when balance is low or by chosen a specific day.
TIM Pre Top:
Pre top is now the standard plan nationally. All plans give unlimited national calls to any operator and an extra internet quota to be used during evenings (from 00:00 to 06:00) which lasts for the duration of the package:
|R$ 15||8 GB||15 days||Whatsapp + 30 Gb overnight + 2Gb for 15 days when topping up more than R$ 30|
To change to this plan, text 'TOPMAIS' to 4141.
TIM has the most advantageous tariffs for calling abroad, depending on the destination country (excluding TIM Visitor, that has special tariffs). To take advantage of these prices you must make a call using the prefix 41 when calling abroad.
- TIM carrier code: 41
- APN: timbrasil.br or tim.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.
3G coverage is on 91% of population and 4G/LTE 73% in 2017: 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 (store locator).
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#.</voucher>
Their standard prepaid plan is called Prezão Diário, which gives you unlimited on-net calls, 10 min off-net calls, unlimited SMS on-net, 15 SMS off-net and 100 MB of internet (WhatsApp messages without discounting from quota), costing R$1.99 (billed after the first use), valid for the rest of the day (until 23:59:59)
This and other plans follows in the table below
|R$ 1.99||100 MB||24 hours||Whatsapp + unlimited intranet calls + 10 minutes to any operators|
|R$ 9.99||2 GB||7 days||Whatsapp + unlimited national calls|
|R$ 29.99||6 GB||30 days||Whatsapp + unlimited national calls|
There's an additional plan which is activated using the special Claro Flex app, available for iPhone and Android devices. This plan have some packages as below. Since this plan is intended to be signed up only using a CPF number and a credit card, this is a hard one to get for foreigners.
Again, keep on mind that this plan might be hard to sign up for foreigners without a CPF.
|R$ 39.99||12 GB||30 days||Unlimited Whatsapp + Instagram + Facebook + Twitter + Waze + Cabify + Claro Musica|
|R$ 49.99||14 GB||30 days||Unlimited Whatsapp + Instagram + Facebook + Twitter + Waze + Cabify + Claro Musica|
|R$ 69.99||20 GB||30 days||Unlimited Whatsapp + Instagram + Facebook + Twitter + Waze + Cabify + Claro Musica|
- Claro carrier code: 21
- APN: claro.com.br
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.claro.com.br (you have to pick an address)
Oi 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 55% by 4G in 2017: Coverage map. In November 2015 they stopped charging differential voice prices to other operators.
In 2019 Oi seems to be once again in financial difficulties, so that a shake up of the Brazilian market is expected.
Oi SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their stores: store locator (select state, then city).
Top-up online by credit card or by vouchers sold at all Oi stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, banks or lottery shops. Top-ups are available from R$ 10 to R$ 200 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.
Pré da Oi
This plan can be customized and is auto-renewed, according to its balance or top-up. It comes in three tariff lines and here are the basic rules:
|Pre da Oi Standard Plan|
|R$ 10||10 GB||300||Unlimited||7 days|
|R$ 15||15 GB||450||Unlimited||7 days|
|R$ 20||20 GB||600||Unlimited||14 days|
|R$ 25||25 GB||750||Unlimited||31 days|
|R$ 30||30 GB||900||Unlimited||31 days|
By accessing "Minha Oi" app, minutes can be changed to data and vice versa: 1 min = 2 MB in the stardard plan, 10 mins = 1 MB in Ilimitado Plan and 7 mins = 1 MB in Mais Internet plan. Unused data rolls over to the next period, if the plan is renewed. Change of plans costs R$10. For out of DDD calls or other operators, you need to use Oi carrier code (see below). Unlimited use of more than one million Oi WiFis is included.
All times are based on calendar days in the time zone associated to your DDD. To add, change or teminate plan, type *880 or *3007.
Oi WiFi FonUnlimited Oi WIFI Fon with more than 1 million access points is added for free to all Oi plans and packages. WIFI locator There, it’s graphically shown, how to get your access code too. If you have an regular Oi account that gives you Wi-Fi access, you can use the 'Oi WiFi' app (available for iOS and Android) and enjoy auto-connect.
In 2016 Oi has launched a pilot project to permit access to 2 million hotspots of its WiFi network, free of charge, for users of any operator. This service is part of Oi's strategy, which includes sponsored internet access. All those interested will have to download the Oi WiFi app, opt in to receive advertising and when accessing the internet will see an advertising banner. For the start, access is only possible on Android smartphones. Those who want to access the internet without advertising can buy passes using a credit card:
- R$ 5.79 for 1 hour
- R$ 8.90 for 24 hours
- R$ 19.90 for 30 days
- Oi carrier codes: 31 (for area codes starting with 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 or 9), 14 (for area codes starting with 4, 5 or 6)
- APN: gprs.oi.com.br
- Username and password: oi
- Website (in Portuguese): http://www.oi.com.br
- Website for Oi WiFi in English: https://www6.wifioi.com.br/
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. In 2016 they switched on 4G/LTE on 700 MHz (band 28), in 2017 1800 MHz (B3) is refarmed for 4G/LTE. It only covers around 1-2% of the national population in these areas in 2017.
There's only one monthly plan:
- Pré 30 dias: 4 GB valid for 30 days with unlimited local calls. You can score + 2 GB for 1 month by topping up more than R$ 30
In a short, as Algar is just a regional carrier (operating in a bunch of cities in the Triangulo Mineiro region and some little near cities around), this operator is not suitable for a traveler, and we recommend another operator above while roaming here, due to its very limited coverage.
- Algar carrier selection code: 12
- APN: ctbc.br Username: ctbc Password: 1212
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.algartelecom.com.br/
Sercomtel has been privatized in Feb/2021 and sold out to an investiment fund, which is working to change the company. During this process, and considering its size and uncertain, those plans won't be shown any further and its here only for historical reasons and because it was an revelant company, although it's size.
- Sercomtel carrier selection code: 43
- APN: sercomtel.com.br Username and Password: sercomtel
- Website (in Portuguese): http://www.sercomtel.com.br
The first viable MVNO in the country has started in March 2017 by the Brazilian Postal Offices (Correios). Correios Celular is a joint venture between the Post Office and EUTV, using the mobile network of TIM in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE, but no international calls can be made and no international roaming is offered so far.
SIM cards by the state-owned company are available in mostly of post offices throughout major parts of Brazil (store locator) .
The SIM card is sold for R$ 10. You can top-up in post offices from R$ 20 to 180 valid for the same number of days. Check balance by *222# and check number by *221#.
The operator offers 4 monthly prepaid plans valid for 30 days:
|Alô 25||Unlimited||1.5 GB||R$ 25|
|Alô 30||Unlimited||3 GB||R$ 30|
|Alô 40||Unlimited||5 GB||R$ 40|
|Alô 50||Unlimited||9 GB||R$ 50|
|Alô 75||Unlimited||15 GB||R$ 75|
Voice calls are to all operators and DDDs. For overuse data is throttled to 32 kbps. Default data is R$ 0.10 per MB. WhatsApp use is not debited from the data allowance as long a plan is active and this includes VoIP calls too, but no video exchange. Unused data rolls over to the next month, if a new plan is bought.
For more data you need to top-up R$ 15 which is only available in post offices. By *223*1051# you can activate 750 MB for R$ 15. To check data balance, enter *225#.
- it's still very much unknown, how and if this operator will be accessible to foreigners without CPF
- APN: internet.br
- Website in Portuguese: http://www.correioscelular.com.br/