As a travel destination, Portugal has a lot going for it. Blessed with great weather, beautiful architecture, relatively low cost of living and a long coastline that provides high-quality beaches and even higher-quality seafood, it’s surprising that areas outside the Algarve aren’t even more popular with international visitors
While public Wi-fi is available, it’s not especially widespread. The good news that if you want to stay connected during your time in the country, picking up a local SIM card is reasonably inexpensive and extremely straightforward.
Here’s what you need to know.
Note: Portugal is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.
There are some exceptions and limits, however, so be sure to double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.
There are three cell networks in Portugal, operated by MEO, Vodafone and NOS. The best coverage is with MEO, closely followed by Vodafone. NOS has the smallest network.
All three networks offer LTE to prepaid customers on the 800,1800 and 2600 bands, as well as 3G on the standard 2100 band used throughout Europe.
Purchasing was incredibly simple — in fact, it’s possibly the easiest SIM card purchase I’ve ever made.
Flying into Porto airport, there was a small Vodafone store in the arrivals hall. The woman behind the counter spoke excellent English, and offered various options depending on whether I wanted calls, texts and data, or just data.
Within about two minutes, I had purchased a micro SIM card, installed it in my phone and had a working connection. There was no need to show my passport or other identification.
Lisbon airport also has a Vodafone kiosk in the arrivals area, and stores are readily available in the downtown areas of Lisbon, Porto and other major centres.
The APN settings were pre-filled, and I didn’t need to touch them. If you do need to enter them, they’re as follows:
Name: Vodafone Net2
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If you want calls, texts and data, a package with 500 SMS or national call minutes, plus 1GB* of data, costs €13.99 on the ‘Up’ package. If you need more data, you’ll pay €17.49 to get 3GB* instead.
If you only need data, and will be in the country for a couple of weeks or less, the best deal is a ‘Go’ data-only SIM. With that, you get 15GB of data, lasting 15 days, for €15. If you’re there for longer, you can top up to get another 30GB of data, valid for a certain period. Need another five days? It’s €10. Want 15 days extra? It’s €15, and so on.
Check the latest packages and pricing here (Portuguese).
*An important note: Vodafone Portugal aggressively rounds up per-session data usage to the nearest MB. Over time, this makes a big difference — I received an SMS saying my “1GB” of data had run out when my phone told me I’d only used 613MB!
You can buy top-ups at any Vodafone store, which you’ll find one or more of in major towns and cities (there’s a store locator here). Payshop locations, of which there are approximately 4000 in Portugal, can also help you out.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
I was very impressed with Vodafone’s 3G network anywhere I tried it — the download speed was similar to that shown in the screenshot below no matter where I tested it, and I rarely had less than full signal outside.
Inside stone buildings the data network would occasionally drop to EDGE, but I always had signal of some sort.