Updated 6 months ago

It's much easier these days to get a cell phone in Brazil, and phones and calling plans are inexpensive. Landlines are fast disappearing, as they are elsewhere around the world, but are also inexpensive should you want one. VOIP technology makes staying in touch with those back home much easier and cheaper than it was just a few years ago.

Basics

The logical first question is, “Will my cell phone even work in Brazil?” Unless you have a very old phone, it almost certainly will. However, to avoid high international calling charges, you'll want to pick up a local SIM card and get a local calling plan, which is further explained in this article.

Phone companies in Brazil are termed operadoras. While there are many operadoras, four dominate the market: Oi, TIM, Vivo, and Claro. Each offers cell and landline service; some also offer cable television service. The quality of service will vary but is generally good in metropolitan areas.

 Useful links:

Oi
TIM/Intelig
Vivo/GVT
Claro
CTBC
Telefónica
Embratel

Landline phone numbers (fone fixo or fixed phone) in Brazil are eight-digit-long and can begin with 2, 3, 4, or 5. Cell numbers are now nine-digit-long and begin with  6, 7, 8, or 9. These numbers are preceded by a two-digit “city” code which is an area code, including smaller surrounding municipalities as well. Toll-free numbers have the format 0800-nnn-nnnn.

 Important:

Emergency numbers in Brazil are:

  • Medical Emergency (ambulance): 192

  • Fire Service: 193

  • Federal Police: 194

  • Federal Highway Police: 191

  • State Highway Police: 198

 Good to know: If you are staying in a hotel, be aware that call charges for outgoing calls can be high.

Mobile phones

While your newer-model cell phone (whether an iPhone or an Android) should function in Brazil, you'll need to have it unlocked to accept a Brazilian SIM card. While this can be done in Brazil, you'll probably find it easier to do before leaving home.

Once here in Brazil, you’ll need to buy a SIM card with a local number. You can buy these at street-corner kiosks (called bancas) and some supermarkets for as little as ten reais. However, as you will probably be visiting an operadora to discuss calling plans, you may find it easier to select a plan and then buy the SIM card from the operadora, who can also change out the card for you.

The simplest game plan is to go to the nearest large shopping mall, where you will likely find shops for Oi, TIM, Claro, and Vivo, making it easy to compare calling plans. If you are a new arrival, you’ll find it easier to get a prepaid calling plan. To get a postpaid plan, you'll need first to obtain a CPF (government ID number) and to produce proof of address. Without these two pieces of information, no phone company will sign you up for postpaid service.

Which operadora should I choose?

None is clearly better than the others. It depends on whom you ask and also in which city you'll be based. Since many operadoras do not charge for calls made to their other subscribers, before selecting your operadora, ask around among the people you expect to call the most. If many of them use one operadora, you may opt to go with that company as well so you may place many calls for free.

In general, packages are inexpensive, with basic cell phone packages beginning at around 35 reais per month. Be sure that whichever plan you select includes free or generous texting, which you'll use frequently. Texts (torpedos) are inexpensive, and when on a busy street and still learning Portuguese, it is much easier to read a text than to understand spoken Portuguese.

With a prepaid plan, you'll need to recharge your credits periodically. This can be done at most street-corner kiosks and supermarkets. Simply provide your cell number and pay for the credits you want. Within a couple of minutes, you'll receive a text message indicating that your account has been credited.

 Good to know: Be sure that you provide the correct phone number, as refunds are unlikely to be given in the case of errors. Writing your number down in advance to provide the cashier might make the process easier and reduce the chance of mistakes.

Get a landline

Major operadoras also offer landlines — so do many internet companies such as NET.com. Bundled services (pacotes) typically include cable television, a fixed phone line, and internet service. In addition, your service provider may offer attractive packages for certain periods, especially for overseas calls at reduced rates. Packages can begin at around 200 reais per month.

To start the process of getting a landline, you can visit any branch of the service provider of your choice with your identification documents and proof of address. You may need to pay an installation fee, but it might be free with a contract of a year or more.

 Good to know: There are often penalties for not fulfilling a contract period.

 Useful links:

OI
TIM
Telefonica Brasil
Telebras
Net

Making phone calls

Local calling is easy — enter the number or select the contact and press ENTER. But placing intercity/interstate calls (DDD) can be a bit confusing. In Brazil, you typically place such calls by entering the following: a two-digit operadora code (that’s the ID of the carrier who issued your SIM card) plus a two-digit city code plus an eight-digit or nine-digit phone number.

The more common operadora codes  are:

  • Oi – 31

  • TIM – 41

  • Vivo/GVT – 15

  • Claro – 21

  • CTBC – 12

  • Telefónica – 15

  • Embratel – 21

  • Oi – 31

  • TIM – 41

The most common city codes are 11 for Sao Paulo and 21 for Rio. You can look up the code for any particular city by visiting this site and entering the state and the city.

 Good to know: Note that calling a cell phone is often more expensive than calling a landline.

International calling

To make calls abroad, you must dial the following codes:

  • US: 00 number of your operator 1 area code phone number

  • UK: 00 number of your operator 44 phone number

  • Switzerland: 00 number of your operator 41 phone number

  • Italy: 00 number of your operator 39 phone number

  • Australia: 00 number of your operator 61 phone number

  • Canada: 00 number of your operator 1 area code phone number

Depending on your particular calling plan, you may find international calls to be quite expensive. A much cheaper way to call internationally is to use Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, or another VOIP (voice-over-internet-protocol) service.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.