Ipanema Beach at sunset

Buying a SIM Card in Brazil

By Emily Gould Get Connected9 Comments

Covering nearly half of South America, Brazil is an amazing country to visit. Home to 70% of the Amazon basin, it’s full of dense rainforests, world-class beaches, and some of the biggest metropolises on the planet. Whether you’re there for a few days or a few months, you’ll leave feeling as though there’s still so much more to see.

Brazil is one of the most developed countries in the region, but Wi-Fi is still generally slow and unreliable. If you need decent internet, a local SIM card is the way to go. Fortunately, the process is straightforward, and most packages available to travelers offer good value for money.

It’s worth mentioning that WhatsApp is the go-to form of communication in Brazil. If you don’t already use it, you may wish to install it for your visit. I used it for booking accommodation, transport, and tours on numerous occasions.

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Companies


  • We recommend TIM or Claro for most travelers

A CPF, Brazil’s national ID number, is used for many things including mobile phone contracts. As a non-Brazilian traveler without a CPF, many networks and SIM packages will therefore be unavailable to you.

There are four leading mobile phone networks in the country: Vivo, Claro, TIM, and Oi, but Claro & TIM were the only two I found willing to sell me a SIM card without a CPF. I ultimately chose to go with Claro, since at the time it offered a package that was better value for money and suited my needs.

LTE is available in Brazil across all states. While Vivo is the leader by market share, TIM has the largest 4G/LTE coverage in the country and Claro offers the most 3G coverage.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Brazil


Purchasing a SIM card with Claro is straightforward: all you need is your passport. It took about 20 minutes, the staff set it up on my phone for me in-store, and it worked straight away.

Claro has a visible retail presence throughout the country, with a high street store in every city and town I visited. Official TIM stores were easy to find in large cities, but not so elsewhere: I don’t recall seeing any outside the main cities. None of the four airports I flew into in Brazil had an option to purchase a SIM card there.

A smaller TIM store in São Paulo said it wasn’t possible to purchase a SIM at that particular outlet without a CPF. This could cause problems if you’re buying away from the main cities or tourist areas.

My SIM stopped working a week after I bought it, because it hadn’t been registered at time of purchase. That should have been done by the store which sold it to me. The staff in the second store I visited were able to resolve this easily for me, though I needed to provide my passport again.

With Claro, if you speak Portuguese, you can call 1052 for customer service, check if the SIM has been registered, and do so yourself if required.

SIM cards are available from many corner stores, so you don’t need to buy at an official store if you don’t want to, but don’t expect much in the way of assistance if you buy elsewhere.

If you go for TIM, check out the comments below — a helpful reader has outlined the process for registering the SIM yourself (in English) via calling the company’s help line. Thanks Ravi!

Can't be bothered with the hassle of buying a local SIM in Brazil? OneSIM topped our international SIM card comparison.

It offers phones and SIM cards that work in 200 countries, have free incoming calls, save up to 85% on roaming fees, and can be sent out ahead of time to let you hit the ground running. Find out more here.

If you have a recent iPhone or other supported device, a prepaid eSIM is also a good alternative, often at surprisingly cheap rates.

Prepaid SIM Costs


Packages are offered as weekly bundles. You select the package you’d like, and then pay upfront for the number of weeks you need. It then automatically renews each week until the prepaid value has been used up.

There are a number of different packages on offer, and the latest offers can be found here (link in Portuguese). I ultimately found it simpler to speak to someone in-store, as they were able to offer a package that met my needs more closely.

I paid R$10/week (approximately $2 USD) for 1GB of data, unlimited calls to all networks, unlimited texts to other Claro numbers, and unlimited WhatsApp. Since I was using the auto-renewal, I received an extra 1GB of data per week as a bonus.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, WhatsApp is the go-to communication tool in Brazil. Because of this, most packages don’t count its usage against your data allowance. This includes WhatsApp voice and video calls, making it a really cost-effective way to call foreign numbers.

There is also a one-off R$10 cost for the SIM card, a standard amount for each provider.

Claro and TIM also offer tourist-specific packages. These were similar to those available to everyone, but with fewer options, it’s harder to find something that fits your specific needs. If you enter a store in a tourist area and don’t speak Portuguese, you’ll likely be offered these packages.

Topping Up


Once your prepaid period is over, or if you use up your allowances, you’ll need to top up your balance.

A CPF is needed to top up your Claro balance directly via your phone or online. As a result, foreign travelers will need to visit a store to pay with cash or credit card in person, or buy top-up cards from street vendors, supermarkets, etc to load onto the phone themselves.

Phone Numbers


As we’ve mentioned in the past, Brazil’s telephone number convention can be confusing at first. Numbers take the following format: +55 (AA) 9 xxxx-xxxx

  • +55 is Brazil’s country code.
  • (AA) is the area code, including for mobile numbers.
  • 9 represents a mobile number.
  • xxxx-xxxx is the actual phone number.

The 9 is a recent addition to mobile numbers, and it seems some Brazilian numbers can get away without using it. Even so, if you’re calling or texting a mobile, check the 9 is there before the phone number if you want to be sure.

If you’ve not been given a number’s area code,  you can Google the town you are contacting followed by “DDD”, e.g. São Paulo DDD”, to find it out.

Coverage and Data Speeds


As expected in a country the size of Brazil, coverage and speeds varied across the country.

I had coverage nearly everywhere I went during my trip. The only places I had no service at all were the Pantanal wetlands, Chapada Diamantina National Park, and the Amazon basin.  None of those were a surprise, given their remoteness.

Similarly, the places where I had noticeably slower data speeds were also quite predictable: beaches away from towns, rural locations, and so on.

Other than that, I had strong coverage for my full two months. Data speeds were comparable with (and at times, felt like they exceeded) those back home in the UK.

Claro data speeds in Brazil

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

Main image via eacuna

About the Author
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Emily Gould

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As a lover of maths, adventure and photography, Emily has spent several years working in finance and travelling as much as her holiday allowance lets her. Recently though, she has left this life in search of snow, mountains and poutine in Canada. You can follow her adventures at In Emily’s Eyes.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    I’m Brazilian and was curious how someone visiting Brazil would buy sim cards, and found your article, that is very detailed and easy, good work!

  2. Avatar

    TIM cards and refills are available in may Drug stores and Gas stations. No need to find a “TIM store”! They have very cheap “pre top” plans starting at 10brl per week or R$40/month with unlimited whatsapp. Worked fine for me. Initial registration can be done from your cell phone in Portuguese or ask for an operator that speaks English. Just give a passport number. They don’t check any of the info you give them unless you are using a real Brazilian CPF – in which case the name and so forth must match up with the official government info.

  3. Avatar

    Im confused. You do or do not need a CPF/Brazilian ID to get a Claro & TIM, SIM to be activated and working?

    1. Dave Dean

      “Claro & TIM were the only two I found willing to sell me a SIM card without a CPF.”

      It’s not a legal requirement to have a CPF to buy a SIM card, but because everyone who lives in Brazil has one, if the store employee isn’t used to dealing with tourists they may not know how to activate the SIM without it. As long as you’re in a tourist area and use an official store from one of the two providers mentioned above, you should be ok.

  4. Avatar

    Hello!

    I am a Canadian travelling in Rio de Janeiro and I just got a sim card for my phone on January 20th 2022 so I wanted to update you on how I was able to get one. I went to 8 different mobile stores around the city(claro, vivo, tim) and they all sent me elsewhere or told me it was impossible for foreigners to get a sim without a CPF. Eventually I went to the Claro store in Rio Sur shopping mall and the guy there told me I had to buy a prepaid sim card(“chip pré pago”) at the newsstand(banca de jornal) outside of the store(beside the restaurant Camarada Camarão), and then bring it back to the Claro store where they activated it within 10 minutes with my passport. So to be clear, the store couldn’t sell me a sim card, I had to buy a prepaid one at the newsstand, and then I had to get it activated(for free) in the store with my passport. I believe the Claro store in Rio Sur Shopping is an official store, so I’m unsure if they are able to activate them at just any random Claro store in Brazil. I paid 24 réais total for 12GB of data for 1 month, with unlimited whatsapp text/video/picture messaging. It also includes phone minutes, sms and Claro apps but I don’t remember how much because I’m only interested in using data and whatsapp. They told me to keep the packaging the sim came with because if I want to recharge the sim after the month is over I can do so online with the pin and info on the packaging. I barely speak any Portuguese at all, but once I got the right information the process was very easy. Hope this helps someone! 

  5. Avatar

    I love this website. I have an update from this month that may be helpful for people and would appreciate if you could update the post to reflect it.

    For TIM you can actually register it yourself. All you have to do is buy a TIM card from any random shop, typically you can find random mobile phone shops in the mall. I suggest you have it installed when at the shop because I don’t carry the little tool around. Call *144 and sit through the portuguese audio. In the end it will say for English press 3. Once you press 3 it will say have your passport and address in Brazil ready and press *. It will then say to hold for an agent(In portuguese which is really frustrating and nonsensical since this is supposed to be an English line). In a minute you should be connected to an agent who speaks English and will ask for your nationality, passport number, name and current city in Brazil(to determine area code). The agent will then activate your phone and you should be good to go in the next 5 minutes. Big props to TIM for making it so easy. I really hope this helps everyone who struggles with this. I know I did.

    Side note: I have received a lot of hate from Brazillians (in mobile shops and even on other sites when I share this method) about discovering this method. It seems that they refuse to acknowledge that foreigners can use Brazillian sim cards, I think it is some sort of pride thing.

  6. Avatar

    Just got my Claro sim card today. I wish I had read the comments about self registering a TIM sim card beforehand. My experience getting the Claro was not good. I was redirected in to the Rio Sur shopping mall as a previous commenter said. I had to buy the Claro sim card at the Americana shop on the 4th floor for 10R. Then I went to the main Claro shop on the first floor and the wait for over 2 hours as the staff were very slow with only a moderate amount of customers. There is something wrong with their internal systems if it takes this long to solve customer issues. When it was finally my turn, I was told the minimum to activate the simcard was an initial topup of 100R. I am only here for 3 weeks so I had only planned to topup 30R. Having lined up for so long and already paid for the simcard, I had to just go along with it wasting 70R. Assuming TIM doesn’t have this requirement, I would recommend all future readers to go for that instead. Avoiding the pain of registering in person, and avoiding over topping up.

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