Will My Phone Work in Portugal? Should I Buy a New One Before Moving?

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 13 minutes

If you’re planning a move to Portugal one thing you might be wondering is, “Will my mobile phone (or cell phone) work over there?”

Your phone is such an important part of daily life nowadays. Whether it’s keeping in touch with family and friends, getting directions with maps, or quickly looking something up – your phone is likely always by your side. So of course you’ll want to be able to take it along during this big move.

The good news is, with some easy preparation, you should be able to use your current phone in Portugal without much fuss at all. There are a few things to keep in mind, but I’ll walk you through everything step-by-step. 

Will My Phone Work in Portugal?

This is a common question, especially for those moving from outside Europe like the United States or Canada. The good news is, most likely yes – your mobile phone should work just fine in Portugal!

It really comes down to the specific phone model and how new it is. If you have a relatively recent phone made within the last five years or so, chances are it’s compatible with the cellular networks used across Europe. Most modern smartphones are designed to work in multiple countries and regions these days.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but in general you should be able to use your existing phone from home once you arrive in Portugal (however: be sure to read the section on roaming).  

Just something to check off the moving to Portugal checklist!

Should I Buy a New Phone Before Moving to Portugal?

While your phone will likely work, you might be wondering if you should get a brand new one specifically for your move to Portugal. For most people, the answer is probably not. 

Here’s why:

If you buy a phone in your home country, the manufacturer’s warranty will be valid there. But if something goes wrong after moving to Portugal, you won’t be able to just stroll into a local store for repairs or service. So, even though mobile phones are typically more expensive in Portugal, it’s better to buy a new phone here in Portugal. Some of the main shops for buying mobile phones are Fnac, Worten, and Radio Popular.

The wise move is often to stick with a phone you already own and know works well, at least for the first little while after relocating. 

That’s one less thing to stress over during the transition!

Top Tip: Make Sure It’s Unlocked

This is an important step that a lot of people miss! 

In order to use your existing phone with a new carrier in Portugal, you’ll need to make sure the device is unlocked.

US

In the US, phones purchased on a contract are typically locked to that specific mobile network at first. But the good news is, carriers must unlock your phone for free after you’ve fully paid it off or covered any early termination fees. This is required by the Federal Communications Commission.

UK

For those moving from the UK, things are a bit simpler. As of 2021, mobile companies have been banned from selling locked phones tied to their network. So if you bought your phone after that date, it should already be unlocked and ready to go. 

If you’ve had your phone longer, it’s worth double checking by trying to insert another carrier’s SIM card. If it doesn’t work, contact your provider about getting an unlock.

An unlocked phone gives you the flexibility to simply swap in a new Portuguese SIM card and mobile plan when you arrive. It’s a crucial first step!

Do I Need a Portuguese Number?

You may be wondering if you can just keep using your US or UK phone number. The answer is: 100% yes, at least eventually. 

There are a lot of people living in Portugal that don’t have a Portuguese phone number, and it’s perfectly possible to do this if you never really put down proper roots here. Most people communicate through WhatsApp, which allows you to call and text using mobile data or wifi, so it doesn’t require you to change a phone number.

However, while you may use WhatsApp to communicate with other expats, your new estate agent who’s helping you find that dream home, or your new Portuguese friends, you will still need a Portuguese phone number. 

Here’s why a local number is so important:

  • When your Portuguese bank wants to send you a login code, you’ll need a Portuguese mobile number. 
  • When the dentist wants a phone number to confirm your appointment, you’ll need a Portuguese mobile number. 
  • When the Amazon delivery driver wants to phone up to ask where your property is (this happens a lot in the countryside), he or she will only call it if it’s a Portuguese number (otherwise he’ll get hit with international call costs). 

Another key reason to get a Portuguese number? Avoiding expensive roaming fees. Using your home mobile plan in Portugal can quickly get pricey. A local SIM card and data plan will be much more affordable for regular use.

Choosing a Portuguese Network

Choosing a Portuguese network is probably an article in itself. If you live in the cities, it’s mainly a matter of cost and finding the best plan, but if you’re planning on living in certain parts of rural Portugal, it’s a matter of choosing the one that has the best coverage there.

If you’re signing up for a contract, it’s a good idea to also bundle in your home internet as this typically reduces costs. It’s also cheaper to put multiple family members on the same plan.

By the way: the main mobile networks in Portugal are MEO, Vodafone, and NOS.

Roaming

This is an extremely important point, especially for those moving from the United States or other non-European countries. 

Moving from the US

Many Americans mistakenly try to use their existing mobile plan while in Portugal, only to get slammed with astronomical roaming charges. It’s not at all uncommon for people to receive bills in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars due to international roaming fees. Unless your plan specifically covers roaming in Europe and you’re aware of all the charges, avoid using your phone’s internet data in Portugal (wifi is fine). 

Thankfully, it is often possible to send and receive messages and calls over Wifi for free. Just don’t do it using mobile data. (Don’t worry: you can switch this off).

Moving from the EU

For those coming from within the EU, the situation is much simpler. EU residents can roam freely between member countries with little to no extra charges thanks to the elimination of roaming fees (though there are still some fair use limitations to be aware of). Part of this fair use limitation is a time-period: eventually your network may stop allowing you to ‘roam’ in Portugal if they suspect you’re living there rather than your home country.

For EU residents, your existing SIM may work initially in Portugal without huge fees, but getting a local Portuguese number is still recommended. It simplifies things like receiving verification texts from banks or other accounts you set up locally.

Moving from the UK

The UK is somewhere in-between post-Brexit.

Some UK mobile carriers have reinstated roaming charges for using your British number and data plan elsewhere in Europe. Others offer limited free roaming or “roam like home” options, but often not as generous as the EU policies. It really varies carrier by carrier and plan by plan, so you will need to check. 

The bottom line

If you’re relocating to Portugal from the US or another non-EU nation, getting a Portuguese SIM card is strongly advised to avoid insane roaming costs.

Many airports offer affordable tourist or short-term SIM packages for visitors (e.g. this option from MEO).

These provide a set data allotment to use during your first few weeks or months in-country. That’ll give you enough time to get your feet on the ground and decide what you want to do with regards to a mobile phone plan. 

Having Two Phone Numbers

You’ll likely want to keep your existing number for at least the first year or so after moving to Portugal, in addition to getting a new Portuguese number

Let’s discuss why having both is important, and how to practically manage two phone numbers.

Your Existing Number

  • It’s crucial to retain this number initially, as it’s probably linked to your bank accounts in your home country and perhaps government services, allowing them to send verification texts. Also, if you’ve had the number for a while, you probably don’t want to give it up.

Note: you don’t need your old number to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Yes, it’s a small pain for them having to update your contact details, but it really only takes a few minutes. 

If they have WhatsApp, they can text and call you for free on your Portuguese number. Some Portuguese mobile plans (and home phone plans) offer international calls too – you just have to be the one to call them. 

Here are some tips: 

  • Instead of an expensive full plan, switch to a pay-as-you-go or ultra-cheap monthly option just to keep the number active. 
  • Remember to use it occasionally or whatever is needed in order to keep the number active. 
  • Only use this original number over wifi to avoid international roaming fees while in Portugal.

Your New Portuguese Number

  • As mentioned, you’ll need to obtain a local Portuguese mobile number for things like bank logins, appointment reminders, delivery notifications, and more.
  • This new number will eventually become your primary contact once fully transitioned to living in Portugal.

Managing Two Numbers 

There are a few common approaches for having both numbers simultaneously:

  • Use a phone with dual SIM slots or eSIM support to have both numbers actively configured.
  • Carry two separate physical phones – one for each number.
  • Use a service like Google Voice to park your original number and ring it through to your new Portuguese phone over data/wifi.

Let’s take a look at each of these options. 

Option #1: Dual Sim vs E-Sim 

Some modern phones have dual sim and some phones support e-sim. What does all this mean?

  • Dual Sim: This means there are two physical slots for two sim cards. You can have two sim cards in the phone at once. 
  • E-Sim: This means the phone also allows for an additional virtual sim card. You can have a physical sim card (let’s say your US cell number) and a virtual sim card or e-sim (let’s say your Portuguese number) or vice versa. 

Just remember to allow mobile data on your Portuguese number and switch off mobile data and roaming on your non-Portuguese number. 

Which is better: e-sim or dual sim? 

As great as e-sim is, it has its downsides. 

One downside is that if you lose your phone or get a new one, it isn’t very easy to switch your e-sim to your new phone. Often you will need to go into the shop or request an e-sim QR code to be sent to your house. 

In comparison, with a physical sim, it’s just a case of putting it into the new phone. Also putting a physical sim into a phone is just a lot more straightforward, particularly if you’re not the most tech-savvy. 

For this reason, a dual sim phone is slightly better than a phone that supports e-sim. 

Option #2: Have Two Phones

You could have two phones – one that has your Portuguese sim card and one that has your non-US sim card. 

This works fine in theory, but there are a few downsides. 

  • Carrying two phones can be a bit cumbersome, especially if you’re keeping both in your pockets. 
  • If you only use your Portuguese phone number for the basic essentials (bank login codes, dentist reminders, etc) you will probably forget to charge it every night. 
  • Many people buy a cheap phone for their Portuguese number, but that’s the one that you’re going to be able to use for mobile data and the one you’re going to use for Google Maps, translating things, etc. You will want the phone with mobile data to be the good phone.  

Option #3: Google Voice/iPlum

For those moving from the US, it’s possible to port your cell phone number to Google Voice (typically for a one-time $20 fee). Unfortunately, this service isn’t available outside the US currently. 

Another popular service is iPlum and this supports both US and Canadian numbers. 

Here’s a video on how to port your US cell phone number to Google Voice. 

It’s important to note that this is an option that has worked perfectly for many US expats moving to Portugal. However, some have had problems receiving 2FA codes (bank login codes, for example) while others have had their number randomly banned for no reason and without warning.

For this reason, having two physical sims (or one physical and one e-sim) is a slightly better option for most people, even though most people haven’t had problems with Google Voice. 

Affordable Alternatives for International Calling from Portugal

What happens if you want to call a non-Portuguese number and you don’t have Google Voice. If the other person has WhatsApp (or another social media app like Facebook), that may be the easiest option. However, what happens if you need to call your bank or another business abroad? 

Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Wifi Calling: Many modern smartphones support wifi calling, allowing you to make calls over a wifi network without incurring additional charges. This feature can be particularly useful when you have access to a reliable wifi connection.
  • Skype: Skype is a popular and cost-effective option for international calling. By downloading the Skype app on your phone or laptop and topping up your account with a small amount (e.g., €10 or €20), you can make calls to international numbers at a fraction of the cost of traditional international calling rates.
  • Landline: When you get home internet in Portugal, you’ll most likely get a landline as well. You may be tempted to not use it, but many of these plans actually come with free international minutes. It’s simpler to use and the call quality may be better than WhatApp. It’s also worth noting that some mobile phone plans in Portugal also include international minutes too. 
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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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