A Guide to Phone Plans in Portugal

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 10 minutes

If you’re living in Portugal, you should get a Portuguese phone number. While a number of people keep their phone numbers, particularly those from other EU countries who can take advantage of roaming, it’s definitely a good idea to have a Portuguese number.

Here’s why:

  • Internet Access: You’ll want some form of mobile data, whether that’s 10 gb per month or unlimited data. Those from other EU countries may be able to take advantage of roaming for a number of months (and potentially forever) however, those coming from countries like the US will find roaming here very expensive unless they get a local phone number.
  • Receiving Login Codes You’ll probably need it to get access codes for your Portuguese bank account. While some banks will text them to a non-Portuguese phone number, others won’t. With banks and anything government-related it’s normally easier just to have a Portuguese number.
  • Appointments: When you make an appointment at the dentist, doctor, or hairdresser, they’ll be expecting you to provide a Portuguese number. Some won’t be willing to phone you on an international number as it’ll cost them more.
  • Receiving Deliveries: When the Amazon courier calls because he can’t get find your house, he’s only going to call if it’s a Portuguese phone number as international calls cost more.

Basically, if you move to Portugal, you need a phone number so people can contact you and you’ll want mobile data.

How Much Does A Phone Plan Cost?

As an example, here’s a real quote from September 2023. The actual cost varies depending on whether you add other people to the plan, bundle it with home internet, or add other services.

Calls & TextsDataMonthly CostLength
1000mins/texts to Portuguese numbers 5GB data16€/month2 Years
1000mins/texts to Portuguese numbers 10GB data19€/month2 Years
Unlimited calls/texts to Portuguese numbersunlimited data33€/month2 Years
Generally speaking, it usually makes sense to get your home internet and mobile phone plan as part of the same package as there are reduced costs. In fact, it makes sense to get as many people in the same family as possible.

The following is a sample cost for one person:

Calls & TextsMobile DataHome InternetMonthly CostLength
Unlimited calls/texts to Portuguese numbersunlimited data500 gbps€81.992 Years

It also makes sense to put everyone in the same family on the same plan. Let’s suppose you get home internet and a sim card with 10 gb of data and you request sim cards for four members of your family. Instead of everyone getting 10 gb of data each, the operators normally multiply the requested data by the number of people on the plan. So in this case, everybody would get 40 gb of internet but would pay as if they were paying for 10 gb. 

How much data do I need?

The answer to this varies from person to person. Fernando recommends unlimited, particularly if you are likely to stream videos a lot and have kids (who will want to stream videos).

Often it makes a lot of sense to have unlimited data. For example, when you’re staying at a hotel, it’s often faster to connect to a wifi hotspot through your mobile phone than it is to use the hotel’s website. It’s not completely essential, but if you can afford it, unlimited is the best way to go. 

The minimum you can get is 10 gb. This can be more than enough, especially if two people have a 10 gb data sim card each and aren’t streaming videos through places like YouTube or Netflix, which tends to be quite data-heavy. 

If your children are using your phone, or their own phone on a shared plan, this can really use a lot of data as children typically like to watch videos and play games.

Can I use my phone in the rest of Europe?

Yes. If you roam within the EU (and, in some cases, other countries like the UK) you will be able to use your phone abroad without any additional charges. Data isn’t unlimited, but the cap is typically around 60gb per month, which is extremely high.

Can I still keep my current number?

Absolutely. There are several ways to do this.

  1. If your sim is dual-sim, you can have both your new Portuguese sim and your current sim in the phone together (assuming your phone is unlocked and works in Europe).
  2. If your sim supports eSIMs, you could have one physical sim (e.g. your current number) and get a eSIM for your new Portuguese mobile number.
  3. You could get a second phone to support the other sim.

Can I bring my phone to Portugal?

Yes, however there are a few things to consider.

The biggest deterrent is that your phone might be locked to a network. You will need to contact your current network to

  1. Check whether it’s locked or unlocked.
  2. Check the cost of unlocking it (which will allow you to put any sim in it).

Generally, most cell phones these days work in Europe, but it’s always wise to check.

Can I transfer my current cell phone number to a Portuguese network?

According to Fernando Mendes:

You will be able to continue using your American number in Portugal, however, you cannot transfer your American cell phone number to a Portuguese cell phone network. Instead, you will be assigned a Portuguese cell phone number. 

Note: if you already have a Portuguese mobile phone number, it’s possible to port this to another network (e.g. from MEO to NOS).

Can I Use My Phone in Portugal & Just Switch on Roaming?

Absolutely.

However, it’s important to understand any costs involved. If your carrier is in another EU country (e.g. France or Germany) you can roam in Portugal without incurring any crazy data costs. There will probably be a monthly data limit that would be lower than if you were at home and it’s likely there will be a time limit on how long you can roam. Some people manage to roam in Portugal for years while others get cut-off after a few months of being outside of their home country.

If you’re coming from North America, data roaming costs are often higher. It can be a short-term solution, but long-term it makes sense to get a Portuguese sim card, whether that’s a prepaid sim card or a phone plan on a contract.

What’s the best option if I’m just visiting?

If you’re visiting from another EU country, most likely you’ll be able to continue using your current data plan. There may be a cap on how much data you can use but in general, you should expect roughly the same service as if you were at home.

If you’re coming from outside the EU, using data here could be very expensive. Following Brexit, this now includes the UK, although the costs aren’t as astronomical as they can be for people from other countries.

If you’re just visiting Portugal, you have a few options:

  • Get a tourist esim card, such as the one offered by MEO (15 days unlimited data for €15). Physical sims are also available.
  • Get a portable mobile hotspot from a company like PortugalInternet.com

If you’re staying for a few months, Vodafone offers a mobile hotspot with unlimited data for around €30 per month with no contract.

Can I just get a Portuguese Phone Number?

If you don’t plan to use the internet on your phone, or you have a dual sim phone, and you really just want the Portuguese phone number to receive and maybe make the odd phone call, and receive texts from your Portuguese bank, there isn’t a lot in it.

The main thing you want to think about is whether the network will charge you an inactivity charge. Essentially, if you don’t make a phone call or send a text, many Portuguese networks will charge you a taxa de manutenção or maintenance fee. MEO, for example, will take €1 per month from your credit every month that you’re inactive.

  • Lycamobile – Don’t charge a maintenance fee but will deactivate your sim if you don’t make a call or send a text for more than 67 days.
  • Uzo – The notes are confusing, but it seems you either have to make a paid call every 60 days or 120 days.

Will I get a Physical or an esim?

Most networks offer both. However, it may be a good idea to get a physical sim instead, assuming your phone supports it.

The reason for this is that, currently, if you change your phone, you have to go into the shop to get a new QR-code in order to download the e-Sim. In comparison, you can normally just put your physical sim card into your new phone.

Should I get a Prepaid Sim or Contract?

If you’re only staying a few months, prepaid (payg) makes the most sense. If you’re planning on living in Portugal for at least two years, a contract will be better value for money. You’re also more likely to get unlimited internet, as Fernando Mendes points out.

There are pay-as-you-go plans being sold as unlimited, but some of them limit the speed after you’ve used 100 gb or 200 gb of data. If you’re looking for unlimited speed and data, a contract is the best way forward. 

Prepaid With Data is a very detailed Wiki that covers everything you need to know about prepaid data around the world. If you go the prepaid route, this is helpful for choosing the best network and package.

There are a number of low-cost operators in Portugal who are typically more affordable than the main providers (e.g. MEO, NOS, and Vodafone). However, it’s worth noting that these companies often don’t have their own towers and instead use the secondary towers of the main mobile operators. This means that while they’re cheaper, the speed they offer for mobile internet may be slower.

App add-ons

One thing you’ll notice is that many networks charge a basic rate for data (e.g. €10 for 1 GB) but you can also buy a data add-on for messenger apps, video apps, or social media apps.

So, for example, you might pay for 1 GB of data per month but also get a 3 GB data bundle that gives you 3 GB worth of data to use on apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, and Skype. That means that you can use up to 3 GB of data in certain apps like WhatsApp and it won’t affect your main 1 GB of data which you might use for things like Google Maps or your main browser. Note, however, that social apps like Facebook and Instagram are normally in a different package to messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Confusing time periods

Another thing to watch out for is that some bundles or tariffs are per week or for 14/15 days (or even 28 days) rather than a simple 30 days.

Youth Tariffs

Most networks have special tariffs that are for young people (usually under 25). If you’re over 25, you obviously won’t be eligible.

ID Required

If you’re buying a sim card, you may be asked to show ID (a passport or residency card, for example). Some places don’t ask for it, but it’s a good idea to have it on you just in case.

What About Other Networks like Lycamobile and UZO?

Vodafone, MEO, and NOS aren’t the only networks in Portugal, but all of the others (e.g. Lycamobile) “piggyback” on the back of these three networks which means they use their masts for coverage. UZO and NOWO use MEO’s network and Lycamobile uses Vodafone’s network, for example.

One thing to be wary of with all networks, but particularly secondary networks, is that the deals they advertise on their website are often introductory deals. You might see 5GB for €10, but only later realise that’s for the first month or first 3 months.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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There are 19 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Comments

  1. “You may be tempted to go with Lycamobile rather than Vodafone, but be aware that Lycamobile only offers 2G and 3G whereas Vodafone offers 4G and even 5G. Going with Lycamobile doesn’t mean you get the same quality internet as you would if you went with Vodafone. The same applies for the other mobile virtual network operators like UZO and NOWO.”

    I don’t think this is true regarding NOWO which offers 4G
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nowo

    Reply
    • You’ll sometimes find Portuguese sim cards for sale on eBay, but it’s rare. Otherwise, I think you would need to get someone to buy a sim card and post it to you.

      Reply
    • You’ll sometimes find Portuguese sim cards for sale on eBay, but it’s rare. Otherwise, I think you would need to get someone to buy a sim card and post it to you.

      Reply
  2. My experience: went to a MEO store, waited FOR EVER (40 mins) in line (just standing there, with other customers —older people— and nowhere to seat for anyone) to talk to someone. I then got a prepaid SIM card for 10 eur that includes 5gb of internet and 1000 min/sms. Didn’t even need any ID. I think I’ll just toss the card after 30 days because it looks like the package will then cost me 5.50 eur/month and I’ll just buy a new SIM card for 10 eur. I don’t really care about the phone number.

    So yeah, the offer seems decent but the service at the store not so great. Although the employee (once it was my turn) was nice.

    Reply
  3. Top lad in the MEO store in Maia gave me a 15 days 30GB data sim for FREE! No questions asked! Just felt like doing us a favour I suppose, lovely bloke. Certainly wouldn’t happen in England!

    Reply
  4. One question: I’m with Vodafone at the moment (British SIM) and in my experience in both aldeias I’ve stayed in (Vinhos in Peso da Regua and Mega Fundeira near Pedrogao Grande) I’ve not got an ounce of signal, though my wife who has a NOS sim, and my dad who bought himself a MEO sim have had fine connection. Do NOS and MEO tend to have better signal in the countryside and Vodafone in the cities? Or should I even still stick with Vodafone, and just treat my prior experiences as bad luck?

    Reply
  5. Hi Edward,

    That does sound unusual, especially as it’s happened into two aldeias. I’ve used a Portuguese Vodafone sim card in the countryside and it’s been fine. Obviously Vodafone will have better coverage in some places compared to others, but you shouldn’t get this all the time.

    Does it work okay when you visit larger towns and cities in Portugal?

    P.S. Vodafone (and most UK operators) are bringing back roaming charges, so I don’t think there’s much point in staying with a British sim – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-58146039

    Reply
  6. Yeah usually it’s fine, wherever I’ve been in the countryside however the locals all say MEO is good. Both Vinhós and Mega Fundeira are fairly remote, I’ll get a Vodafone P sim all the same and just see how it goes comparatively with my dad’s MEO sim

    Reply
  7. Hello
    At the moment am Lisbon for one week and I have bought for myself a vodafone travellers simcard,can I continue using it for WhatsApp messages after 30 days when am outside Portugal

    Reply
  8. I’m currently in Portugal and have an ongoing complaint with Meo. They want yo discuss with me on a Portuguese sim, which is fine but i return to UK soon, certainly before the complaint is resolved. If I use the Portuguese sim in UK how much will I pay?

    Reply
  9. Hi James, in South Africa we are able to do to keep our numbers when we change from MTN to Vodacom. Are we able to do a sim swop with Vodafone in PT?

    Reply
  10. Excellent advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the puzzle of Portuguese SIM cards. I need to buy a Portuguese SIM card, and thanks to you… I know how to go about it!

    Reply

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