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SIM cards in Bogotá: all you need to know about

Woman using her cellphone on table
María Montes

María Montes

I'm a social anthropologist working in marketing and I'm passionate about food, traveling to big cities and dogs. I like being that person everyone comes for recommendations especially if it is in Bogotá, a city I love dearly and where I been living intermittently for over 12 years. Instagram: @mariaisaturtle

From ordering groceries or getting an Uber anywhere, moving through Bogotá is way easier when you have your own Colombian phone number and 4G bandwidth. Here are some tips and basic information you need to know about getting a SIM Card in Bogotá.

Colombia’s mobile market is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country with more mobile phones than people, and the telecommunications industry has grown exponentially since it was consolidated back in 1991. Before getting a SIM Card in Bogotá there is some basic information you need to understand about government legislation and especially how mobile phone companies work in Colombia:

Main companies:

Colombia has 3 main competitors and many other small virtual network operators. Among the top three companies you can find Tigo, Movistar and Claro in pretty much every corner or advert across the city. Some other popular companies are Virgin Mobile, Avantel and etb.

Choosing between companies is a matter of preference and rates. All these companies are regulated by the Colombian Government and offer very similar data packages to their users. Although many locals will probably tell you that Claro and Tigo have the best wireless network coverage throughout the country, which allow them to reach out to remote areas, Movistar offers really good roaming, ETB customer service is spot on and Avantel has the best 4G service in the city. So really the decision is entirely up to you and your daily needs to choose the company that better suits you.

To keep in mind:

Every Phone number in Colombia has 10 digits and a landline has 7. If you want to call a landline from your phone you have to dial the County Code, Bogotá is the only city with its own code which is “031”, but if you want to call a landline in Medellín you need to dial “034” before the number. If you want to call a phone number from a landline you need to dial “03” before the number.

Postpago vs Prepago:

Postpago

Is a Post-paid plan which basically means you can have a fixed rate for an X amount of services you acquire and pay a monthly bill. These plans tend to be cheaper as you have to sign a contract with the service provider, although most of these services require you to have a valid Colombian ID (Cédula de Ciudadanía/Extranjería).

Prepago Plan

(Prepaid Plan) can be a bit more expensive, but it doesn’t require you to sign a contract. It is hassle free if you are backpacking or if you are planning to have your SIM Card for a short period of time as you can pay it as you go. These two type of phone plans can be paid online or at any supermarket or corner shop in the city and setting them up is very straightforward.

When getting a prepaid plan, I advise you to ask the salesperson for different plans and values, it is better if you select a plan and top up the exact money it costs, but you need to keep in mind that for the first time you do it you need to dial a number and convert your money into the plan, otherwise your top up won’t last long.

For instance, if you have Movistar you need to dial *611# and follow the prompts to choose the plan that better suit your needs, I advise you that if you are doing this for the first time, ask the salesperson or a friend for help so you know everything works out smoothly.

Quick Tip:

Prepaid plans can go from daily plans to monthly plans. Once the time is up it doesn’t matter how much data you didn’t used, you will lose it. I strongly recommend you to get a monthly plan, even if you are planning on staying 2 weeks, it will save you the hassle of having to top up every three days and you will have enough bandwidth to stream music or use google maps as much as you want.

Mobile companies are very competitive so it’s very likely to find very similar options for prepaid plans in all of them. On average, a daily plan can cost USD $1.40/COP $4.000 for 220 MB and a monthly plan can cost you around USD $15/ COP $42.000 for 2 GB.

© Photograph Warren Rohner

Where can I get a SIM Card?

Normally you can find people wearing a branded shirt with the company’s logo in the streets (especially in touristic parts of the city) selling SIM Cards. They are very reliable and will help you to set up your Colombian number correctly. Another common place to find SIM cards is in corner shops and drugstores, and even though these scenarios are great, they are no guarantee.

If you want to play it safe you can go to any service provider shop and get it directly through them, just visit their website or check in google maps for the nearest store, they are literally everywhere. A SIM Card costs around USD $1.70 / COP $5.000 they tend to come with no packages so you need to top up in order to get data and minutes.

After getting the SIM Card:

A good way of saving your data for emergencies is to use the WiFi in every café or restaurant in the city, in Bogotá most places have their own WiFi and it is quite common for people to use it. Remember that as a customer you are entitled to ask for the WiFi password in every commercial place you go to.

If you are staying in Colombia for more than 20 days and you plan to use your SIM Card you need to register your phone IMEI through the service provider you chose.

An IMEI is a 15-digit number that is unique for every single phone in the world and the reason why it needs to be registered is to prevent someone from using or selling it in case it gets lost or stolen. You can check the IMEI by dialling *#06# in your phone then you can go to your service provider website and follow the easy steps to get your phone registered. In case you lose your phone or it get stolen you need to contact your service provider and make a statement through the police website. If this happens to you, click here and follow the easy steps.

Now that you have a Colombian phone number and unlimited data you can get ready to discover this fantastic city! To make the most out of your experience I suggest you to read about the apps that will help you move around Bogotá, the 5 apps you must download once you step a foot in this city and how Uber works.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I already have a simcard from Claro, but want to buy a new prepaid package (with data and minutes) online. Tried it on the Claro website, using my credit card, but somehow the transaction failed. Any ideas where it can be online, but off the Claro website?

  2. Hi and thanks for sharing your issue with me!

    You can try by going to this link and select the prepaid plan that better suits your needs: https://www.claro.com.co/personas/servicios/servicios-moviles/prepago/

    If your card gets declined it might be because some international cards don’t go through some purchases in Colombia. Perhaps you have a Colombian debit card you can use by selecting the PSE option payment or a friend with a Colombian credit card who can do the purchase for you and you can pay cash? another solution is going to any grocery store and ask for a “recarga” and pay the amount that your plan costs, right after you pay you to call this number: *611# and follow the instructons in order to convert the money into an active prepaid plan.

    I’m really sorry this answer don’t fix your credit card issue but I hope it can at least help you get a few more options.

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