Millions of foreign tourists visit Brazil every year. A large percentage come to celebrate Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Others take to the streets of Sao Paulo for the world’s largest gay pride parade.
As a tourist, staying connected to essential travel apps like Google Maps, WhatsApp messenger, and (let’s confess … Grindr) can be difficult, because unlike most countries, Brazil remains a difficult place for foreigners to acquire a SIM card with a mobile data plan. In preparation for World Cup 2014, Brazil’s mobile companies released special packages targeting international visitors. However, after the World Cup games, these are now almost impossible to find.
To help foreign visitors (gay and straight) find the best options, VamosGay researched all of the pre-paid options (also known as pre-pago) available in Brazil via the nation’s four biggest operators: Claro, Oi, TIM, and Vivo.
Factors for deciding the best option for foreigners included:
- ability to acquire without a Brazilian national ID number (CPF)
- availability of short-term plans (daily and weekly, not monthly)
- ease of recharging credits
- stores with English-language staff
- bonus wi-fi hot spots
Details for each operator is listed below, but the clear winner and the provider that we recommend is Claro. Read more about all four below and please leave a comment if you have updated information.
Our first, and most important criterion was the ease of purchasing a SIM card without a CPF (the Brazilian national ID number.) To acquire a Claro SIM card and mobile data plan, just take your passport to any Claro store. You will find one at most airports and shopping centers. Unfortunately, it’s rare to find English-speaking attendants in any of Brazil’s mobile stores. However, Claro and TIM stores located in the tourist centers of the country’s biggest cities are the most likely to have helpful associates who fala inglês.
The Claro team is the friendliest and will most likely direct you to their “Internet Turbinada” plan which delivers 50MB per day for the low price of R$0.99. The deal gets event better with data used by WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter being thrown in for free.
Heavy data users can upgrade to daily packages of 65MB for R$1.29 or 85MB for R$1.99. The SIM card itself from Claro will cost you R$10, but its a powerful 4GMax chip that includes automatic connections to wi-fi hotspots throughout the city.
One downside for tourists: Claro like all Brazilian operators offers no English-language customer support. With that said … go get a Claro SIM card and get online! (And remember, newsstands and grocery stores can sell SIM cards and are convenient places to buy credits, but you should make your initial SIM card purchase at a Claro store since only they can activate your line with your passport.
Beware of the pre-paid plan which does not require a Brazilian national ID … but does require a Brazilian credit card. That’s a nasty surprise for tourists who sit down at an Oi store and start the paperwork with their passports in hand.
There is such a thing as the “Oi Visitor” package. For R$40, the user gets a SIM card and R$30 in free credits. It was a popular option when the World Cup games brought millions of foreigners to Brazil … but now, good luck finding an Oi location which carries it.
Currently, rates for Oi are nearly identical to Claro (R$0.99 per day) but without the perks. For this reason, Claro remains a better option for foreigners.
The only mobile company that didn’t bother targeting World Cup tourists plans to ignore their needs for the Summer Olympics too (as far as we know.) It’s a shame since Vivo offers great service, and used to be available for foreigners without a CPF number ten years ago. However, as of today, Vivo is not an option for international visitors.
Spotty service and shady billing are the hallmarks of one of Brazil’s most popular cellular service companies. TIM mobile gained a huge market share thanks to advertising and its early success offering unlimited calls and messages between TIM customers.
For foreigners, the company offers TIM Visitor, a special SIM card with 1.5GB of download data. The package lasts for 7 days and cost R$24. Like all of the operators listed, add-ons such as international calling and SMS can be added for additional fees. In the case of TIM, international calls are R$1.00 per minute and SMS is $0.50 per message. Despite being a partially European company, contacting Europe via TIM does not deliver any special discount.
In conclusion, Claro wins.
Load up your phone with our best apps for gay travel in Latin America, get a cheap Claro SIM card, and have a fun (and safe) time in Brazil. And, don’t forget to make sure your apps are not draining your battery and mobile data. Here are a couple of articles with useful tips … Android and iPhone