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A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM cards in Portugal
Three telco operators provide strong options for tourists.
Portugal set a national record for overseas visitors in 2015 with more than 10 million tourists. If you’re planning a vacation to Portugal, a great way to save money abroad is to invest in a prepaid SIM card to handle your local texts and calls, along with securing an economic data bundle.
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Cell phone carriers in Portugal
There are three major providers in Portugal:
MEO is the current market leader. Its 4G/LTE network was launched in 2012 for all networks on 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600 MHz. You can get a starter card plus 1GB of data for EUR19.99 (US$23.87).
MEO is owned by the Dutch company Altice Group and is an ideal fit for prepaid customers because it gives them 4G/LTE coverage without a surcharge. You can buy a SIM card at any MEO store or at the national chain Phone House. The MEO starter pack costs EUR9.99 and comes with EUR5 of credit. If you have the physical address of the place you’ll be staying in Portugal, such as a hotel or relative’s house, you can buy the card online and have it shipped to your location. Top-ups are available at many shops such as Payshop, The Phone Shop and more.
There are two available combo plans that combine voice, texts and data on a weekly rate. They are:
- TOP 96: 100 minutes/SMS to other networks each week plus unlimited domestic calls to other MEO users and landlines.
- TOP TOTAL: 500 minutes/SMS each week to all networks.
There are three data bundles that can be added to the new combo plans.
If you don’t get the combo packages, data is also available in monthly bundles for 4G/LTE at the following rates.
You can subscribe by texting the name of package you want to 12399. To check on your current credit, dial #123*. If a pack runs out, it defaults to the standard rate of EUR1.99 per 250MB per day.
- Messaging pack: WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, iMessage, Facetime, Hangouts
- Social pack: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest
- Video pack: YouTube, Netflix, Periscope, Twitch
- Music pack: Spotify, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, TuneIn
- Email and cloud: Gmail, Yahoo Mail, SapoMail, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon Drive, iCloud
You can check your balance on these plans by dialing #124#.
Website (in Portuguese): http://www.meo.pt/
According to a network testing, Vodafone has the best coverage and speeds in Portugal on both 3G and 4G. Prepaid customers are allowed on the 4G network. Its SIM cards are purchased at Vodafone stores, with reloads available at Payshop and similar outlets.
There are five prepaid cards: Easy, Up, World, Directo and Yorn. Yorn is for people 25 years and younger who are students. Easy and Directo do not have any data on them. So the best package for tourists is Up, which is available in the following four call, text and data bundles:
|EUR11.99||200MB||Free domestic||Free domestic||n/a|
|EUR13.99||1GB||Free domestic||Free domestic||n/a|
|EUR17.49||3GB||Free domestic||Free domestic||n/a|
|EUR20.49||3GB||Free domestic||Free domestic||20GB for social media|
and messenger apps
The World plan lowers your fees for international calls and gives you 500MB of data a month for EUR12.99.
Vodafone’s data bundles are called Aditivos and can be added to any prepaid voice/data line on 4G/LTE up to 300Mbps. Subscribe by texting INTERNET <size of package not including MB or GB> to 1277. For example, for a package of 500MB you would text INTERNET 500 to 1277.
The bundles are:
(includes Spotify Premium)
APN: internet.vodafone.pt or net2.vodfaone.pt or vas.vodafone.pt
Website (Portugese only): http://www.vodafone.pt
NOS is the smallest network, but it still runs on 4G/LTE. Its SIMs are available at its stores and can be topped up at outlets like Payshop.
Its basic plan is called Livre and its starter package is available for EUR2.50. The first three top-ups earn you a bonus of EUR5 apiece.
There are three monthly Internet bundles available:
To activate a plan, dial 12300. The packages will renew after 30 days, so make sure to cancel your plan when you leave Portugal. If you want to check your data volume, dial *111#.
NOS sells data-only SIM cards called Kanguru Livre that cost EUR2.50 and include a 24-hour period with unlimited Internet. After that first 24 hours, there are two available plans:
- Livre S: 3GB for 60 days, EUR15
- Livre XL: “Unlimited” data for 15 days, EUR15
The unlimited data plan comes with the catch that NOS reserves the right to throttle the amount of data you use, but it does not have a set limit. There are top-ups available for both Livre S and Livre XL from EUR5 to EUR30 as seen below.
APN: umts or internet
Website (in Portuguese): http://www.nos.pt
Other SIM card options in Portugal
In addition to the traditional physical operators, there are two other options to secure a SIM card while you are visiting Portugal.
- The first is Lycamobile Portugal, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that offers 2G and 3G speeds. The SIM cards cost EUR5 and come with a prepaid EUR5 top-up. Data is EUR0.9 per MB but there are four data packs available. Note that these are only valid for 30 days and only in Portugal.
- 300MB for EUR5, activation code: *139*2005#
- 1GB for EUR6, activation code: *139*2010#
- 3GB (+1GB bonus) for EUR15, activation code: *139*2025#
- 8GB for EUR30, activation code: *139*2035#
For these plans, you can check your balance by dialing *137#.
- The second option is Portugal Internet, which rents SIM cards and mobile Wi-Fi routers to visitors in Portugal. You have to book a device at least two days in advance, but shipping and delivery are free. The data SIMs have unlimited traffic on 4G/LTE with a download speed up to 50Mbps. Portugal Internet uses the Vodafone and NOS networks. Its 4G/LTE network is available to 80% of the country.
Additional information from TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor has a community bulletin board that specializes in Portugal travel. Here are a few tips on Portugal SIM cards from visitors to the country.
“There are three mobile operators in Portugal, and they charge more or less the same for a prepaid SIM unless there is some special promotion. It’s really not worth wearing out shoe leather to save perhaps a few cents, so go to the first shop you see and ask.”
Portugal has multiple providers on the 4G/LTE network, as well as alternate options for getting the data bundles you need. Here’s a look at some of the highs and lows of those plans.
- MEO has special data plans for things like messaging, social media and video streaming.
- NOS does not inform customers what its throttle limit is on “unlimited” data for its Livre XL package.
Additional question about SIM cards in Portugal
Q: What is the difference between a SIM card and an MNVO?
A: MNVOs utilize pre-existing wireless networks to offer lower prices on data-only plans. SIM cards generally offer a combination of texts, calls and data.
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