Rio Olympics: should you get a local SIM card or roam in Brazil?

By Chris C., July 29 2016
Rio Olympics: should you get a local SIM card or roam in Brazil?

As Australians flock to Brazil for the Rio 2016 Olympics, keeping in touch with loved ones back home can be both difficult and expensive: but are you better off slipping a local SIM card into your phone or paying global roaming fees to your usual telco?

Australian Business Traveller reviews both options including what you'll pay and what you'll get in return.

Roaming in Brazil with your Australian SIM

Using your Aussie SIM in Brazil has many time-saving advantages and allows you to remain reachable on your regular mobile number.

For that privilege, Telstra customers can buy a Zone 3Travel Pass’ which provides unlimited local and international calls and SMS plus 75MB of data per day, which is pooled and can be used at any time throughout the duration of your pass.

Three days sets you back $45 and seven days costs $105, while a fortnight of connectivity can be bought for $210 and 30 days for a whopping $450.

(Buy a seven day pass and you’ll get a total data allowance of 525MB, which you can use at any time during that same period.)

Optus users are normally slugged $2/minute to make calls in Brazil, $1 per SMS and $1 per MB, but between August 1 and September 28 2016, Optus’ $10/day ‘Travel Pack’ will cover the Olympic host country, too.

That means you’ll get unlimited local and international calls and unlimited SMS during your visit for $10/day, plus a daily data allowance of 50MB which you can again pool and use at your leisure across multiple days.

Vodafone regulars will be pleased that the telco’s $5/day roaming deal works in Brazil – and year-round, not just during the Olympics.

That means all of your normal Australian plan inclusions follow you to Rio for just $5 per day: so if you’d normally enjoy unlimited calls, unlimited SMS and 6GB of monthly data at home, you’ll get the same in Brazil as well.

Buying a Brazilian SIM card (‘chip’) instead

Until recently, only people with a Brazilian ‘CPF’ (the country’s version of a tax file number) could buy and register local SIM cards.

That’s no longer the case, but it’s not uncommon to encounter retailers who haven’t been brought up to speed – which is why we’d suggest the TIM Visitor Prepaid SIM card, or ‘chip’, a product designed entirely with international visitors in mind and (usually) with staff training to match.

In exchange for a modest R$50 (A$20), you’ll get R$50 of credit to use as you wish, such as to buy a 1.5GB data pack for R$25 (A$10) which lasts seven days.

Calls home to Australia and to other countries cost R$1 (A$0.41) per minute, calls within Brazil are billed at R$0.50 (A$0.20) per minute and text messages to any country are also charged at R$0.50.

Whether this proves more cost-effective than roaming will depend on the length of your visit and what you’ll use most, with local ‘chips’ showing benefits for most data-hungry travellers and the roaming options better value for those making lengthy or frequent voice calls.

Heading to Rio 2016? Also read:

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 377

I think a better idea would be to lock your phone and any other valuables into a safe and only take them out when you leave.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Jul 2015

Total posts 40

On my last Brazil trip (October 2015) I went to three TIM stores and they all said that the Vistor Pre-Paid SIM was no longer available and was a temporary offer for the World Cup. The consultants at the store were adamant this was the case, despite showing them the offer on the TIM website.

If this offer is now back (or perhaps it never left?) I hope the staff have been trained to assist with the flood of tourista enquiries.

10 Aug 2015

Total posts 117

Agree with the other post here. Whilst Brazil is a wonderful country, and Rio is the marvel of a city one needs to appreciate the desperation of millions of people in that city and the level of crime. Small thefts can easiy become violent.

It is indeed best to limit leaving your hotel with valuables such as mobile phones. If one must be very subtle with their use in public. Ideally only use inside a cafe, restaurant, shop.

16 Jan 2013

Total posts 1

An alternative to these two options - especially if you're planning on visiting any other parts of the country - is an international SIM card. What works fine in Rio, for example, doesn't necessarily work in the rest of the country, as different operators cover different regions. I got a GO-SIM international SIM last time I was there, because it offered me a choice of operators. When one didn't provide the range I needed, I simply switched to another.

10 Sep 2015

Total posts 5

I've just come back from brazil. I bought a claro sim card, and it cost me R$40, for one month of unlimited txts, 100 min of calling and 800mb of 4G data every week for the month. Very reliable service, 4G not as fast as NZ and Aus though.

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