Last updated: 15 June 2016.
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.
There are three cell networks in Portugal, operated by MEO, Vodafone and NOS. The best coverage is with MEO, 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 data connection. The card came with 100MB of data included, and I received an SMS within fifteen minutes informing me the main data package had been added. 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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Back in June 2015, I paid €2.50 for the data-only SIM card, and €12.50 for 1GB* of data, valid for 30 days.
If I’d wanted calls and texts as well, the SIM card would have cost 10 euros (including the same amount of call and text credit), and a 1GB data package would have set me back another €10.49.
A couple of other data-only packages were available for those on short trips — 10 euros bought 2GB of data over three days, €12.50 got you 4GB over seven days.
A year later, in June 2016, the deals have improved. You can now get 500 SMS or national call minutes, plus 1GB of data, for €13.49 with the ‘Up’ package. If you need more data, you’ll pay an extra four euros to get 3GB instead.
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.