Buying a SIM Card in Colombia

By Patricia Rey Mallén Get Connected6 Comments

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Colombia is a treat for travelers. After decades of unrest, the country is now becoming one of South America’s favorite destinations.

Wedged between the Caribbean, the Andes, and the Amazon jungle, Colombia has a varied landscape, with something to offer every visitor.

With such diverse geography, I feared keeping in touch could be tricky. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded: Colombia has a robust mobile network, and more than decent data speeds.

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Companies


  • We recommend Claro for most travelers

Claro has the largest network in the country, with the widest LTE coverage and nearly 50% market share. It’s the most reliable option.

The other main companies are Tigo and Movistar, which also have good coverage, albeit not quite as extensive as Claro. ETB and Avantel have a smaller presence, and resellers like Virgin Mobile and Móvil Éxito round out the picture.

Claro, however, will likely be the first carrier you come across, since it has the most customers and vendors selling its services.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Colombia


I didn’t see any official store or kiosk to buy SIM cards at Bogotá’s international airport, although as I discovered later, you can apparently do so at one of the gift shops in the arrival hall. In the end, though, it didn’t cause much of a problem.

The most reliable place to get one is in the carrier’s official retail stores. In the case of Claro, though, you can also drop into an Oxxo (the Mexican convenience store chain, which is also present in Colombia). Many Oxxos will have a little booth selling Claro SIM cards — I didn’t see any for other networks.

I chose to go this route, in the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria, and it was extremely simple. The sales attendant explained my options, and helped me set up the SIM card. I showed my passport and gave my hostel address to register the account.

The whole exchange was done in Spanish (since that was both our native languages), but while I was paying, I heard another traveler start his own SIM card purchase in English with no problems.

Claro Colombia

A note of caution. You may run into informal kiosks offering SIM cards for a discounted price. When I asked at my hostel where to get a SIM card, they specifically warned me against them, saying the cards have often been stolen and blocked by the owner. It’s not worth the risk.

Can't be bothered with the hassle of buying a local SIM in Colombia? 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.

Prepaid SIM Costs


My starter pack set me back 18,000 COP ($6.25). The SIM card cost 3,000 COP, plus 15,000 COP in credit. I chose a plan which included 500MB to use within a week, plus free use of WhatsApp (including WhatsApp calls), Facebook, and Twitter.

There’s an upgraded version of this plan, costing 20,000 COP for 2GB to use within 15 days. These plans have no airtime or text messages included, but I didn’t miss them at all.

In fact, apparently even locals don’t miss airtime. Many Colombians don’t make calls from their phones at all, using them mostly for data, or for people to ring them.

Around the country, many people set up informal call centers, in which they sell calls by the minute. They usually have three phones, one for each network. Whenever locals need to call, they just go to these “call centers” – and so can you, should you need to!

However, if you do want your own airtime, Claro offers a vast number of other packages to choose from.

Topping Up


You can add credit to your account in any Oxxo (for all carriers, not just Claro), convenience store, or supermarket. Just go in and ask.

Coverage and Data Speeds


Claro boasts LTE coverage throughout much of the country. Even when I found myself on HSPA+, though, it was so reliable that I didn’t get a chance to miss LTE.

Coverage and speeds were good in Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena de Indias. The only problems I had were during the occasional thunderstorm in Cartagena, where service was disrupted for a while. I expected it though, since I knew I was cutting it close to the start of rainy season (which I’ve had problems with in the past.)

Claro 3G/HSPA+ speed in Bogota
Claro 3G/HSPA+ speed in Bogotá
Claro 3G/HSPA+ speed in Cartagena
Claro 3G/HSPA+ speed in Cartagena de Indias

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

Main image via juniorlink (Cartagena)

About the Author
Patricia Rey Mallén

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City. She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    My own experience is that Movistar has at least as good coverage (maybe better) than Claro in Bogota.

  2. Avatar

    Claro also has the best coverage in smaller towns and along the highways.

    Depending on the length of your stay, Tigo has a monthly plan that allows you to use your minutes to call to the USA (and a few other countries) just like domestic calls. I went years using on VOIP but it’s been really nice to call home when out and about.

  3. Avatar

    Does Claro have data roaming in Mexico? We have one day layover in Mexico City and would like to continue to use the Claro SIM which we are buying in Colombia.

  4. Avatar

    Based on your article, I instructed my wife to visit a Claro store when she arrived there on a business trip. She doesn’t speak spanish and understands very little but had hopes that someone in the Claro store that she visited in Bogata last Thursday would be able to help her set up her unlocked GSM phone with a Claro SIM.

    I am unhappy to report that the clerk at the store was not at all helpful.

    She pointed to the sign with the “Datos Plan” and showed him the phone and said she wanted to buy a SIM (in English). The clerk said some something to her in Spanish (which she couldn’t understand), then turned and walked away.

    That was her experience with Claro.

    Fortunately her hotel has wifi so she is able to call me on “WhatsApp” but so much for getting a SIM.

  5. Avatar

    Can buy a ThreeUK SIM from Amazon that works in Colombia too, as well as 70 other countries. Saves from all the hassle of getting a SIM there and I think works out cheaper per GB.

    1. Dave Dean

      It’s rarely cheaper per GB unless you buy a bundle with a lot of data and use all of it, but as long as you don’t want a local number for people in the country to call/text you on, it’s certainly an option if you don’t want to buy a SIM when you arrive.

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