Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Colombia Guide

Colombia is the world's largest Emerald producer in the world. It also has a lot of mines.

If that does not interest you, the Rosario Islands have beautiful beaches that are great for snorkeling. Moreover, you can see the coral reef there too.

The Lost City is an archaeological site in a ruined city. Quite interesting to see. You can also go to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, which is a protected coastline with mountains behind it – very cool!

What will lose your cool is receiving an expensive roaming bill from your provider because you decided to roam. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy a Colombian SIM card.

In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Colombia. Let's get started.

Telecom Providers in Colombia

Colombia has 3 telecom operators; Claro Colombia, Movistar Colombia, and Tigo Une. These 3 operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

You also have 2 operators that are 4G/LTE-only providers, which are Avantel and ETB. These operators have roaming agreements, which allow their customers to use the 2G and 3G networks of the main operators. I would not recommend going with these operators unless you are staying in the capital area.

Finally, you have 2 Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which are Virgin Mobile Colombia and Móvil Éxito.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting Colombia? If you want to buy a SIM card in Colombia, I would recommend going with Claro because they have coverage in Colombia.

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Even though Claro has the best network, Movistar and Tigo Une have good coverage as well.

Colombians call SIM cards chips, so say chip (prepago) if trying to buying a SIM card and the salesperson has no idea what you are on about.

Like most countries in South America, you have to show your passport when buying a Colombian SIM card. Additionally, the operators will ask for proof of address. If you are staying in a ho(s)tel or Airbnb, that address will be accepted.

For some reason, it is expensive to make calls to other networks. For example, making calls with a Carlo SIM card to a Movistar number will cost you a lot. To work around this issue, many Colombians have multiple SIM cards to deal with this issue. If you are not planning on calling while In Colombia, this is not something you have to worry about.

As of 2016, Colombia introduced an IMEI registration policy, which requires everyone using a Colombian SIM card for more than 30 days to register their phones with the Colombian telecommunications regulator CRC.

Most operators allow you to register your phone when purchasing a SIM card, but some require you to do this online. I will mention the registration procedure of each operator in the respective sections. Do bring proof of purchase with you if you have to register your phone.

If you are staying in Colombia for less than 30 days, then you are not required to register your phone. Your phone will only be blocked if you use a Colombian SIM card for more than 30 days. If you leave earlier, you will be fine. Those who decide to roam with their providers or use an international SIM card also do not have to register their phones.

With that being said, let’s see what Colombia has to offer to us.

Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!

Claro Colombia

Claro Logo

Claro Colombia, just Claro, is the largest operator in Colombia. With almost a market share of 50%, they are popular among the Colombians.

Claro SIM cards, called Prepago fácil or Paquete de Bienvenida, can be bought for 5000 COP ($1.45) (sometimes for less) in Claro stores and other retailers. Recharge cards are sold from 1000 COP to 100 000 COP. You can check your balance by dialing *611#, selecting option 4, then option 1.

You can register your phone at a Claro store, upon purchasing your SIM card, or online on Mi Claro.

The following Claro data packs are available:

  • 990 COP: 9 MB for 1 day
  • 1000 COP: 40 MB for 1 day
  • 2000 COP: 50 MB and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp (no VoIP), and Twitter for 1 day
  • 2000 COP: 100 MB for 1 day
  • 4000 COP: 220 MB for 1 day
  • 4000 COP: 120 MB and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp (no VoIP), and Twitter for 3 days
  • 10 000 COP: 1 GB for 7 days
  • 15 000 COP: 500 MB and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp (no VoIP), and Twitter for 7 days
  • 20 000 COP: 2 GB for 15 days
  • 21 000 COP: 1 GB and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp (no VoIP), and Twitter for 15 days
  • 43 000 COP: 2 GB for 30 days

You can activate a Claro data pack by dialing *611#, selecting option 1, and choosing your pack of choice.

All data packs will auto-renew unless you text SALIR to 798

Movistar Colombia

Movistar Logo

Movistar Colombia, just Movistar, is another good operator in Colombia. It used to be a state-owned company until Telefónica, the company that owns the Movistar brand, bought it in 2006.

You can buy a Movistar SIM card, called Plan prepago por segundos, for 2000 COP in Movistar stores and other retailers. You can buy top-up cards in many stores. However, it is recommended to buy your reload card online because Movistar often has promotions where they double or triple your reload. The site accepts international credit cards, so it is a viable option.

You can register your phone upon purchase. You can also use this website if you understand Spanish or want to use Google Translate.

You can check your Movistar credit balance by dialing *611#, and selecting the following options: option 7, 1, and 1. You can see your Movistar data balance by dialing *611#, and selecting options 7, 1, and 2

You can buy one of the following Claro data packs:

  • 1000 COP: 50 MB for 1 hour
  • 1700 COP: 100 MB for 1 day
  • 3200 COP: 210 MB for 1 day
  • 5000 COP: 500 MB and 70 MB for WhatsApp for 3 days
  • 14 000 COP: 1.4 GB and 150 MB for WhatsApp for 7 days
  • 25 000 COP: 2.5 GB and 200 MB for WhatsApp 15 days
  • 43 000 COP: 2 GB and 500 MB for WhatsApp for 30 days
  • 53 000 COP: 3 GB and 500 MB for WhatsApp for 30 days

You can still use WhatsApp with the data packs that do not come with dedicated WhatsApp data. Instead, WhatsApp use will count towards your data allowance, while the packs with WhatsApp data will be drained from that allowance pool.

Movistar data packs can be activated by dialing *611#, selection option 1, then option 1. From there, you can choose your preferred plan from the menu. You can also activate a plan online.

Tigo Une

Tigo Une Logo

Tigo Une is a merger between Tigo and Colombia Une. They are the smallest full operator, but their coverage is good, just slightly worse than Claro and Movistar.

You can buy a Tigo Une SIM card, Plan por Segundos, for 5000 COP in Tigo Une stores or from other retailers. You can check your Tigo Une credit balance by dialing *611#.

You can register your phone at a Tigo Une store or online (in Spanish).

Tigo Une offers these combo packs:

  • 3000 COP: 50 MB, unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook, 20 minutes, and 10 SMS for 3 days
  • 5000 COP: 500 MB, 30 minutes, and 5 SMS for 3 days
  • 6000 COP: 120 MB, unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook, 30 minutes, and 10 SMS for 6 days
  • 10 000 COP: 1 GB, 50 minutes, and 10 SMS for 7 days
  • 10 000 COP: 250 MB, unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook, 70 minutes, and 15 SMS for 10 days
  • 20 000 COP: 2 GB, 100 minutes, and 15 SMS for 15 days
  • 20 000 COP: 750 MB, unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook, 150 minutes, and 30 SMS for 20 days

You can activate a Tigo Une combo pack by dialing *111#. These packs auto-renew unless you cancel it or do not have enough credit.

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Avantel

Avantel Logo

Avantel is a 4G/LTE-only operator in Colombia. Avantel has roaming agreements with all 3 operators, which allow Avantel customers to roam on their networks if Avantel has no coverage (on 2G and 3G only). You have to enable data roaming for this feature.

You can buy an Avantel SIM card for 5000 COP in Avantel stores or online. The SIM card comes with 1000 COP in credit. Recharge cards are sold in many kiosks, convenience stores, and supermarkets. You can check your Avantel balance by dialing *901.

You can register your phone online.

Avantel has several data packages you can choose from. Their 4G/LTE network can be found in Bogota. They also give you a dedicated 2G/3G roaming allowance when you are using a different network. Therefore, you have to keep track of 2 separate data allowances:

  • 2000 COP: 50 MB 4G data and 50 MB 2G/3G data for 1 day. Activation: text DATOS01
  • 3000 COP: 150 MB 4G data and 150 MB 2G/3G data for 3 days. Activation: text DATOS02
  • 10 000 COP: 1 GB 4G data and 500 MB 2G/3G data for 10 days. Activation: online only
  • 20 000 COP: 1.7 GB 4G data and 1 GB 2G/3G data for 30 days. Activation: online only
  • 30 000 COP: 4 GB 4G data and 1 GB 2G/3G data for 30 days. Activation: online only

The first 2 Avantel data packages can also be activated by dialing *990. The others can only be activated online with an (international) credit card. All packages come with unlimited Facebook and WhatsApp (no VoIP).

ETB

ETB Logo

ETB is another 4G/LTE-only operator. They use the Tigo Une network for 2G and 3G.

ETB SIM cards are sold for 5000 COP in ETB stores, and they come with 5000 COP in credit. Topping up can only be done online with cards.

You can register your phone in an ETB store or online.

ETB combo packs do not have to be activated. Instead, a certain reload will automatically activate a combo pack. The following ETB combo packs are available:

  • 5000 COP: 350 MB 4G data, 50 MB 2G/3G data, 50 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 40 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 20 minutes, and 100 SMS for 5 days
  • 10 000 COP: 650 MB 4G data, 150 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 70 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 35 minutes, and 100 SMS for 10 days
  • 15 000 COP: 1.2 GB 4G data, 250 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 120 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 15 days
  • 20 000 COP: 1.6 GB 4G data, 400 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 170 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 20 days
  • 25 000 COP: 2 GB 4G data, 500 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 220 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 25 days
  • 35 000 COP: 1 GB 4G data, 400 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 260 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 30 days
  • 45 000 COP: 1.9 GB 4G data, 700 MB 2G/3G data, 200 MB for Facebook and WhatsApp separately, 400 minutes for WhatsApp calls, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 30 days

Virgin Mobile Colombia

Virgin Mobile Logo

Virgin Mobile Colombia, just Virgin Mobile, is an MVNO using the Movistar network. It has a market share of more than 5%, which is quite big for an MVNO.

Virgin Mobile SIM cards can be bought at Virgin Mobile stores for 10 000 COP, which is expensive, but you will get 10 000 COP in credit. Virgin Mobile SIM cards have to be activated online.

You can register your phone by texting EQUIPO to 456 or dialing *111, selecting option 1, then option 2.

The following Virgin Mobile data packs, called Bolsa de datos, can be activated:

  • 600 COP: 20 MB for 24 hours
  • 1000 COP: 40 MB for 2 days
  • 2000 COP: 65 MB for 24 hours
  • 4000 COP: 140 MB for 24 hours
  • 12 000 COP: 500 MB for 7 days
  • 22 000 COP: 1 GB and unlimited WhatsApp for 30 days
  • 40 000 COP: 2.5 GB, unlimited WhatsApp, and 15 minutes for 30 days

Virgin Mobile data packs can be activated by dialing *111# or online.

Do note that if you plan on buying multiple data packages while in Colombia, your total allowance cannot go over 10 GB per month, as per Virgin Mobile’s Fair-use Policy.

Móvil Éxito

Móvil Éxito Logo

Móvil Éxito is an MVNO using the Tigo by Éxito, a retail group in Colombia. You can buy Móvil Éxito SIN cards in Éxito stores, Surtimax, and Carullo. The SIM card can be bought for 5000 COP.

You can register your phone on this website.  

These Móvil Éxito data packs can be bought:

  • 500 COP: 10 MB for 1 day
  • 2500 COP: 150 MB for 24 hours
  • 10 000 COP: 400 MB for 7 days
  • 20 000 COP: 1 GB for 30 days
  • 25 000 COP: 2 GB for 30 days
  • 38 000 COP: 3 GB for 30 days

You can activate any Móvil Éxito data pack by dialing *999.

Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Colombia

I have discussed the relevant providers in Colombia in this article because using a Colombian SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Colombia. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Colombia.

Roaming in Colombia with Your Provider

Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is Bitel from Peru, then you would be roaming with Bitel in Ecuador.

The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.

Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Colombia, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.

As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Colombia and can roam for free there.

No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!

One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Colombia.

Using an International SIM Card in Colombia

International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.

The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner.

They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.

Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Colombia. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.

On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Most countries in South America require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.

My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.

Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Colombia

Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.

Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.

The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!

I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.

That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.

I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.

Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Colombia

Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Colombia which is using free WIFI networks.

Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.

First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.

In the case of Colombia, you can find quite some hotspots throughout the country – Many of them can be slow, however.

Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.

The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Colombia

Getting a SIM card from Claro would do you well when considering a Colombian SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.

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You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.

Visiting other countries in South America? Check out my South America SIM card buying guide, covering other South American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.

What is next?

Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!

Book Your Flight for Colombia

It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Colombia. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Colombia drop.

Book Your Accommodation for Colombia

I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Colombia. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Colombian hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for Colombia

You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Colombia, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.

Get a Travel Debit Card

Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the local currency for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.

Enjoy your trip!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan, and plans on exploring Oceania and more of East and Southeast Asia.

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