Hacking Colombia: Cell Phones

Paying roaming fees on your cell phone provider from back home may be very costly. Fortunately, Colombia does have inexpensive options you should consider. If you’re moving here, there’s plenty of other options.

A List of Wireless Providers in Colombia
  • Etb – not available in all areas
  • Claro – largest provider in Colombia. Owned by Mexico’s Telmex. Country wide network.
  • Tigo – 2nd biggest operator. Used to be Une. Country wide network.
  • Movistar – the same as in Spain. Country wide network.
  • Wom – A recent discount arrival. Does not have its own network: uses Claro’s and Etb’s

There are other smaller providers not listed above.

Terms you should Know
  • Móvil – (mOH-beel) Mobile
  • Celular – (seh-loo-lahr) Cell phone
  • Prepago – (preh-pah-go) Prepaid, meaning you’ll buy airtime in advance
  • Postpago – (poss-pah-go) Post paid, meaning pay monthly via a contract
  • Minutos – (me-noo-tauss) Minutes as in “comprar minutos”, buying minutes of airtime
  • Contrato – (con-trah-toe) Contract

A Short Term Solution

If you’re just visiting Colombia, your best option is to head to an exito supermarket or any of its affiliates like Carulla, Surtimax, Super Inter or SuperMayorista. Get a Móvil Éxito SIM for next to nothing plus one of their prepago (prepaid) 30 day plans. For less than 20K pesos (less than $5 US ) you can get 7.5 Gbs of data and unlimited national calls. Other, slightly more expensive plans add more data if you need it. Many people don’t bother with getting a plan with a major provider and just buy a prepago plan each month.

Móvil Éxito prepago 30 day plans (in Spanish): https://www.movilexito.com/productos/paquetes

Móvil Éxito Prepago

You can buy the Móvil Éxito prepago plans right at the checkout. Get the SIMs at the mobile sales desk if there is one, or right off the rack. You don’t need an ID. Just put your SIM in your (unblocked) phone, add minutes, and away you go. Besides prepago cards, you can buy minutes. If you have exito’s Puntos Colombia loyalty plan (you need a cedula) you get free minutes when you make a purchase at their stores. Minutes obtained this way expire rather fast, so to avoid running out of air time we strongly recommend you buy the prepago 30 day plans.

Móvil Éxito actually uses the Tigo/Une network, one of the biggest providers in the country, so coverage is good. But as you can imagine the carrier will give priority to its own customers, and this probably explains why we lost a bunch of incoming calls using Móvil Éxito even in major urban areas.

You can also buy a SIM and short term no contract plans at virtually any other wireless Colombian provider with no need for ID, though policies can vary from one to the next. The main difference is the time you’ll have to spend to obtain the service. You may have to take a number and wait to speak to an adviser whereas with Móvil Éxito you could be all set within minutes.

Long Term Plans

Long term plans at any provider will require a contract and most likely a cedula though your passport might do (we cannot ascertain this as of yet). This process will take up more of your time and there may be monetary penalties if you end your plan prematurely. Any plan will be at least one year long. Some plans have a deep discount for a few months only before going up. Plans can include a phone or just a SIM (bring your own phone). If you choose the former, the paperwork and monthly cost will be higher. Overall plans here are much more economical than in say the USA and especially Canada, and offer more generous amounts of data.

Buying a Phone

Smartphones tend to be a bit more expensive here than in the USA, and a lot more expensive if they’re iPhones. You’ll find a lot of older but unused Samsung models on sale which are more than perfectly good and inexpensive, however.

As in the USA, you can either buy your phone outright or pay for it as part of your plan. If you don’t have a Colombian cedula, you may have difficulty getting a contract with any provider here. As we will be updating this guide from time to time, we will inform of any that will accept a passport as ID, but while this was common years ago, it’s not now, therefore if you need to buy a phone, buying it outright is the best option.

Some blogs suggest going to independent shops rather than the service providers themselves or chain stores in order to save a bit of money, but we recommend the opposite because of the risk that you’ll be handed a stolen or refurbished phone as if new. This will not happen at a Tigo or Claro location or chain stores like Panamericana, Alkosto/Alkomprar, Éxito, Jumbo, Falabella, Flamingo and others, and some of the aforementioned will actually have better deals without the worries.

Phones bought with a contract in Colombia can be unlocked on request at your provider.

Transferring a Number

By law, any Colombian phone number can be summarily transferred from one operator to another.

This guide will be updated as necessary. The information it contains is to the best of our knowledge and may have changed or may change.
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