If you’re planning to use your cell phone in Portugal and are trying to decide whether to buy a Portugal SIM card, read this guide! INCLUDES NEW EU ROAMING RULES IMPLEMENTED JUNE 2017.
A SIM card is a small chip that allows your cell phone to tap into a specific mobile network. You can remove the SIM card provided by your U.S. wireless service carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and replace it with a SIM card from a Portuguese provider. Portuguese providers used to charge high roaming fees for using a Portugal SIM card in another country. Under the “roam like at home” rule implemented in June 2017, if you buy a SIM card in Portugal and travel to another EU country, you cannot be charged a roaming fee.
The local providers can, however, stop offering international roaming all together. So if you plan to travel outside of Portugal with the SIM card, make sure it will still work. Also, remember that the rule doesn’t apply to non-EU countries, like Iceland and Switzerland. If you still need the basics on what a SIM card even is, click here to learn more.
Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Buy a Portugal SIM Card
Can you unlock your cell phone?
Your phone must be unlocked to change your SIM card. Whether you can unlock depends on your U.S. cell phone provider. Read more to here to find out if your carrier will allow you to use a Portugal SIM card.
Are you OK not being able to call or text from your U.S. number?
When you replace your U.S. SIM card with a Portugal SIM card, you’ll get a Portuguese number, and you’ll be unable to call or text with your U.S. number. You can still call your voicemail to hear your audio messages, but you will not be alerted you have a voicemail. You will no longer receive text messages that are not sent over wifi. So if you have iPhone (and you’ve configured your settings correctly), you’ll be able to receive text messages from other iPhones, because those messages can be sent over wifi. You can also use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other apps for wifi texts and calling (read an in-depth comparison on the best international calling app). But if someone needs to reach you by text on your U.S. number, or you need to be able to get calls even if you don’t have cellular or wifi service, then a Portugal SIM card is not for you.
How much data do you use a day?
You should get a rough idea about how much data you use in your day-to-day life when you’re not traveling and how that may change when you visit Portugal. Most nicer hotels in Portugal have free wifi, but it’s often slow. Some restaurants have it, but free wifi is not super widespread, especially when you leave the more populated cities. If you plan to use step-by-step directions on your phone in Portugal (read more on whether to get GPS or rely on offline maps ) more often than you usually do at home or plan to post more on social media, you should expect to use more data. For how to find out how much data you normally use and how much data you’ll use on your trip to Portugal (and tips for reducing data!), read more here.
How many days will you be traveling?
If you’re only going to Portugal for a few days, it may make more sense to use your U.S. provider if you have Verizon or AT&T. Some of the SIM cards expire after a certain number of days, so you want to make sure you can use your Portugal SIM card for your whole trip.
What are my Options Besides Portugal SIM Cards?
Just rely on Wifi.
When heading to Portugal, you can always just keep your U.S. wireless carrier but turn your phone to airplane mode and rely on wifi and international calling apps to call home. But many of us want to in real time: get directions, text home and obviously let the world know about our cool trip on social media. For those who are more willing to unplug, know that if you need to use your phone in a pinch, a two-minute call will run you $40 on AT&T and $35.80 on Verizon if you don’t change to an international plan ahead of time. Also, before landing in Portugal, make sure you turn cellular data and roaming off or put your phone to airplane mode so you are not charged roaming fees.
Use the international plan from your U.S. provider.
If there’s no wifi, your smartphone uses cellular data to connect to the internet. If you don’t use an online service like Skype or WhatsApp, your smartphone uses a voice network to call home. If you keep your U.S. wireless plan without changing to an international plan, you may be exhorbitant roaming fees. U.S. wireless carriers, however, have begun offering more competitive international plans and some even provide free international roaming. It’s more convenient to just keep your existing plan, because you don’t have to change to a Portuguese number. So start by reviewing the international plan offered by your existing U.S. wireless carrier. In short, Sprint, T-Mobile and Project Fi offer some type of free international service and AT&T and Verizon offer a $10/day option.
When Should you NOT Buy a Portugal SIM Card?
- If you have T-Mobile, Project Fi or Sprint, stick with your carrier and pay the extra fee if you can to get faster speeds.
- If you have Verizon or AT&T, use their international $10/day plan if money isn’t an object or you’re only going for a couple days.
- If you really don’t plan to use the internet outside a hotel or restaurant, stick to wifi.
- If you can’t unlock your cell phone or if someone needs to reach you on your U.S. number (i.e., they can’t call you on a wifi calling app like WhatsApp or Skype).
Portugal SIM Card Options
Portugal’ s top two major operators are Vodafone and MEO. 4G coverage in Portugal is good under both providers but check here if you’re going to more unpopulated areas. We’ve listed the SIM cards offered by by both Vodafone and MEO. But if you’re only visiting for vacation, the holiday SIM card is usually the best option unless you plan to use very little data or visit for a short time.
Vodafone has a 30-day holiday SIM with 5GB of data, 500 min. local calls/texts and 30 min. calls/texts to the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand for 20 Euros. There’s also no roaming if you then use the SIM card in other EU countries. There’s also a 1GB option for 10 Euros that only includes local calls/texts. Vodafone also has non-holiday SIM card options, but they are more expensive and only make sense if you’re staying in Portugal more than 30 days.
Vodafone also has more stores in Portugal and is the only provider with stores in all the major Portugal airports. If you’ll need to contact your accommodation or you want to take Uber from the airport, it’s helpful to get your SIM card at the airport. Also, having more store locations is helpful when initially finding a store to buy a SIM card, if you need to buy more credit, or if there’s an issue with the SIM card.
An MEO Portugal SIM card is 10 Euros then you have to add data and minutes. You can buy a week-long combo voice and data package called TOP. The options are 200MB (2.80 Euros), 1GB (3.30 Euros) or 3GB (4 Euros), which includes 500 min calling or texts. There’s no option to top-off after the week. MEO also offers a 15-day holiday plan for 15 Euros, which includes 60 minutes and 500 SMS national and international calls to the EU, USA, Canada, Angola, Brazil and Israel and 2 GB of data. You can top-off, but you have you have to pay another 15 Euros.
What type of Portugal SIM Card to Buy?
If you decide a Portugal SIM card is the way to go, this is our advice on which SIM card provider to choose and what type of SIM card to get.
When do you need cellular service? If you need cellular service as soon as you land, and you land when the Vodafone store is open, then choose Vodafone, because you’ll be able to get your SIM card at the airport. Choose either the 10 or 20 Euro holiday SIM card, depending on how much data you plan to use.
How long will you been Portugal and how much data will you use? If you don’t need to buy your SIM card at the airport, and you’re visiting Portugal for 1-2 weeks and will use 1-2 GB of data, consider getting the MEO Tourist SIM card, which will save you 5 Euros off the Vodafone Holiday SIM card price. If you’re only for a week but but plan to use lots of data, consider getting the MEO Combo plan with 3GB of data, which again, should save you about 5 Euros off the Vodafone Holiday SIM card.
Consider coverage. Coverage on MEO and Vodafone is generally good in the bigger cities of Portugal, like Lisbon, Porto and Faros, but if you plan to travel more remotely, check coverage here where you’re specifically going.
Consider getting a data only SIM card. If you’re not traveling alone, you could buy one SIM card with more data (data only cards are usually cheaper), and use the phone as a mobile hotspot for the other travelers. A hotspot is a wireless access point, so your phone becomes the wifi provider to whoever you give access. We also suggest that at least one person in the party gets a package that includes minutes on a voice network. Although you can use Skype credits to call a local number to call a cab or make a dinner reservation, service may be different for cellular data and network voice calls/texts, so having both ensures that you’ll have access to the best service and that someone from home can always reach you in an emergency.
Where to Buy a Portugal SIM Card?
Unless your familiar with how to change out your SIM card and set up your account, it’s best to buy your Portugal SIM card at the store of the actual provider. They will replace the SIM card, set up your account, make sure it actually works, and answer any questions. If you decide not to buy your Portugal SIM card in the provider’s store, you can purchase one in most grocery or tobacco type stores.
In the Airport
If the store is open, we suggest buying the SIM card at the airport, so you’ll be able use directions and make calls before you get to your accommodation. We’ve listed the hours for the major Portugal airports below.
- Lisbon – 8am to 10pm every day
- Porto – 7:30am to 9pm every day
- Faro – Sept-May 8am every day; Jun-Aug 9am-7pm every day
- Sao Miguel – 8am to 1pm; 2-7pm every day
When you arrive to your destination
If the Vodafone store is closed, you can also visit one of the many Vodafone or MEO stores in Portugal. Just remember to mark on your map the location of your destination before leaving the airport (the major Portugal airports provide free wifi). Even if you don’t have cellular service, your GPS will still work (i.e., you’ll still see your location with the blue dot and can use it to find your hotel). You can also download the map offline and use offline directions (more on that here). Travel Honey includes Vodafone locations in the Travel Map provided with each itinerary, so they should be easy to find!
We hope this guide has made it easy to decide whether to get a Portugal SIM card. If you need more helpful tips on traveling to Portugal generally, check out our Portugal destination page. Or save loads of time with our awesome, super detailed Portugal itineraries from actual travelers. You’ll get detailed reviews of restaurants, hotels, activities and all the hard-to-find logistics info.