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Mobile operators in Portugal: how to get a SIM card or phone contract

Keep in touch with your loved ones in Portugal and beyond with our guide to Portuguese SIM cards, phone contracts, mobile operators, and more.

Portugal mobile operators

Updated 16-5-2024

If you have just arrived in Portugal, one of the first things you will want to cross off your checklist is getting a brand new Portuguese phone number. This is an important step in setting up your new life in the Iberian sun. After all, it will help you stay in touch with friends and family, set up mobile banking, and download handy apps to help you navigate to Portuguese life.

Fortunately, Portugal has a well-developed mobile network and an ever-growing list of operators to choose from. However, as a new arrival, knowing how to get a SIM card in Portugal, or which mobile operator is right for you, can be a challenge.

So to help you out, this guide includes the following information:

The Portuguese mobile network

If you have just arrived in Portugal, then you’ll be pleased to discover that this enchanting country has an excellent mobile network. Like other European countries, Portugal uses the GSM network for its mobile communications. This means that most expats and visitors will be able to connect on arrival with their existing phones. However, even if you are coming from a country or region that uses the CDMA network, your smartphone should still work in Portugal.

Man calls near Lisbon bridge

Portugal has a well-developed 4G network, with much of the country having access to 4G and 4G+ connectivity. This includes the island communities of Madeira and the Azores. Furthermore, 5G is increasingly available in Portugal, although for now, this is limited to the largest cities. That said, when compared to other European countries, you may find that connectivity is a little slow in Portugal. It is also important to understand that connectivity can vary significantly across Portugal. So check your mobile network options ahead of time to avoid being left without a signal.

Wi-Fi connectivity in Portugal

If you’re looking for public Wi-Fi, then you will find plenty of free internet hotspots across Portugal. These areas are called Espaço Internet, and are typically in municipal buildings, such as libraries. You will also find Wi-Fi in some public buildings, such as museums and public transport hubs. However, although these places do offer free Wi-Fi, you may need to complete a brief registration process before you can get online. And if you’re looking to set up Wi-Fi at home, then make sure to read our guide on setting up the internet, home phone, and TV in Portugal.

Can I use my mobile phone in Portugal?

If you are relocating from a country that uses the GSM network, you will be able to use your mobile phone in Portugal without any problems. However, even if you are coming from somewhere that uses the alternative CDMA network; such as Japan, Canada, and certain networks in India and the US, then your smartphone may still be able to connect to the local Portuguese network. That said, you should always check your options before you travel to avoid any unforeseen connection issues when you arrive in Portugal.

woman walking on phone

Thanks to an EU-wide agreement on international roaming fees, you can enjoy free roaming in Portugal if you are arriving from an EU country; this is in line with your data package back home. As of 2021, this is also the case for arrivals from the UK. However, this could be subject to change following the UK’s exit from the European Union. If you are unsure, then it’s a good idea to check with your home operator before traveling to avoid being left with any unwanted bills.

If you are moving to Portugal – even for a short-term stay – then you will probably want to buy a Portuguese SIM card or sign up with a local mobile operator. Getting a SIM card will probably be the cheapest option in terms of up-front costs. However, whether you opt for a SIM card or a contract, you will find that you have several mobile operators in Portugal to choose from. Some of these operators also offer home internet and TV packages, so it’s a good idea to check if any bundle discounts are available.

Mobile operators in Portugal

Despite its relatively small size, the Portuguese mobile phone market is an increasingly competitive place. There are three network operators to choose from: MEO, Vodafone, and NOS. However, in addition to these, there are a number of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that use one of these three networks. This means that you have an ever-increasing number of choices, so it pays to shop around. This is particularly true if you are looking for home internet and TV in Portugal. In that case, many operators offer discounts if you take out more than one service with them.

Mobile operators in Portugal include:

  • MEO
  • Vodafone
  • NOS
  • WTF
  • Yorn
  • NOWO

When it comes to subscribers, MEO leads the way with around 42% of the market share. Operated by the former state-controlled Altice Portugal, MEO has historically been dominant in the Portuguese market. However, other operators, such as Vodafone (30%) and NOS (24%), are closing the gap.

Vodafone shop Portugal

This is followed by the many MVNOs in Portugal. Although some MVNOs struggle to match the coverage of the larger networks in rural regions, there is often very little difference in large towns, cities, and resort areas.

Comparing mobile operators in Portugal

If you are unsure which mobile operator to choose, then don’t worry because nowadays, it’s easier than ever to compare the market in Portugal. Comparison websites like Compara+ can give you a better idea of what’s out there in terms of tariffs and operators. You may also be able to find certain deals on other services, such as internet or TV subscriptions.

Mobile phone coverage in Portugal

Despite being a relatively small country, mobile phone coverage in Portugal can vary significantly from region to region. For instance, in the large towns and cities; as well as in more populated coastal regions such as the Algarve, coverage is typically good. Depending on your mobile plan, you will find that 4G and even 5G are accessible in these areas. Coverage on the island regions of Madeira and the Azores is also generally good. However, in more mountainous and remote parts of the mainland, coverage can be temperamental. Typically, MEO offers the best coverage nationwide, but you should always check the local network coverage before signing up with any provider.

Prepaid vs mobile contracts

If you want to get connected in Portugal, you have two main cell phone options: you can either buy a prepaid SIM card (pré-pago) or sign a mobile phone contract (pós-pago). If you are looking for the quickest and easier way to get a local phone number and some data, then a SIM card is generally the best option. This also comes without any long-term commitment. Prepaid SIM cards in Portugal typically come with a certain amount of calls, texts, and data included. The amount you get will depend on what you are willing to pay. However, it’s relatively easy to boost your allowance should you wish, giving you plenty of flexibility.

However, if you are planning a longer stay in Portugal, then signing up for a local cell phone contract (tarifário de telemóvel pós-pago) might be a good option. This is typically much cheaper than a prepaid SIM card; especially if you plan to use a lot of data or travel abroad. A contract is also a good option if you are looking for a brand new smartphone. However, just bear in mind that mobile contracts in Portugal typically run for a 24-month loyalty period (período de fidelização). And although you are able to sign up for a contract without commitment (sem período de fidelização), these are more expensive.

Mobile contracts in Portugal

Portuguese mobile subscriptions are typically cheaper in terms of calls, texts, and data usage than prepaid SIMs, making them a good option for many arrivals in Portugal. Contracts include an allowance of call minutes, texts, and mobile data. They might also include other allowances, and the amount you pay will depend on which tariff you end up choosing. If you’re also looking for home internet and TV, then you might be able to get a discount if you buy a package from a single provider. You can read more about this in our guide to setting up home phone, TV, and internet in Portugal.

Man on phone in Portugal

Mobile contracts in Portugal are either SIM-only or include a handset, the cost of which you pay off during the length of your contract. Contracts are typically for 24 months, although some providers offer contracts without commitment (sem período de fidelização). These are more expensive but could work out better for you, depending on your individual circumstances. When comparing contracts from various operators, watch out for any confusing pricing methods. For example, some tariffs are listed with their price per week, instead of per month, so be sure you know what you are getting before you sign up.

How to get a mobile phone contract in Portugal

Signing up for a mobile phone contract in Portugal is fairly straightforward. The major networks have retail outlets in many towns and cities across the country so you can either arrange this online or at your local telecoms shop. That said, should you wish to do it in person, it is likely that sales assistants won’t be able to speak English. Therefore, you may need to brush up on your Portuguese language skills. Because of this, many expats prefer to sign up online. To set up your mobile phone contract, you will need to provide the following:

  • Valid ID
  • Proof of address
  • NIF (numero de identificação fiscal)
  • Bank account details

You won’t be able to sign up for a Portuguese mobile contract without your NIF, so be sure to sort that out during your first week in Portugal. Depending on your provider, you may be able to use a foreign bank account for payments, which are typically done via automatic collection or direct debit. However, the process will be significantly easier if you already have a Portuguese bank account. For more information on your options, read our guide to opening a bank account in Portugal.

Portuguese SIM cards

Prepaid SIM cards offer more freedom than most Portuguese mobile plans, as you aren’t tied into a lengthy contract. However, all that freedom comes at a price. Indeed, prepaid SIMs are typically more expensive for calls, texts, and data usage. That said, they can be a great option for those first few weeks in the country, while you wait for your NIF which you will need to sign up for a contract. They can also be a better option if you don’t use your phone much, or if you are only staying in Portugal for a short period of time. All major mobile operators in Portugal offer prepaid SIM cards, so you will need to shop around for the best deal for you.

Portugal mobile operators

Luckily, you can pick up a SIM card at a number of places. The major mobile operators in Portugal have retail outlets that sell them. You can also typically buy a prepaid SIM card at a convenience store or Portuguese supermarket; although your options there will be limited. Alternatively, you can buy one online, which might be a better option if your Portuguese language skills are still in their infancy. To sign up for a Portuguese SIM card, you’ll typically need to provide the following:

  • Your name
  • Valid ID

In Portugal, prepaid SIM cards usually come with credit already loaded onto them (€5, €10, €15, etc.). This means that you can choose the right amount of credit for your immediate usage. Depending on your service provider, you will have plenty of ways to add credit, including online, in-app, at an ATM, in selected stores and outlets, and more. However, just bear in mind that this process may require you to have a Portuguese bank account.

Portuguese phone numbers

All mobile phone numbers in Portugal have nine digits. Numbers start with a 9, followed by eight other numbers. The second number in this sequence typically denotes the operator. However, this is not necessarily the case as many mobile operators in Portugal allow users to keep their existing number when they sign up.

woman calling in Portugal

If you wish to call a Portuguese mobile number from abroad, then you’ll need to include the country code. Portugal’s country code is 351, so you will need to dial 00351 (or +351) followed by the nine-digit number, for example, 00351 9xx xxx xxx.

If you need to make an emergency call, for example to the pan-European emergency number 112, then you’ll be able to make the call from your mobile phone. This is regardless of whether you have a functioning Portuguese SIM or coverage. It’s also a good idea to save this list of emergency numbers in Portugal.

Repairing a mobile phone in Portugal

Have you lost your phone during a particularly vigorous round of golf on the Algarve? Or maybe you’ve dropped it in the water while paddling along the beautiful Portuguese coast? Whatever happened to your phone, you’ll probably need to get it repaired pretty quickly. Luckily, there are plenty of repair options in Portugal. Some operators and manufacturers offer repair services at their stores, and you can check online to see if your local store does this. Alternatively, most independently owned mobile phone stores will offer repairs.

Making a complaint about a mobile operator in Portugal

All mobile operators in Portugal have their own complaints process should you encounter any difficulties with the service. You should use this if you have problems or feel that the service has not been acceptable. You will be able to find information about their complaints process via their website. However, you may need to brush up on your Portuguese ahead of time. Should you want to complain about the operator itself, you can do so by contacting ANACOM, Portugal’s telecoms regulator. Through the agency, you’ll be able to find out how you can submit your complaint. You’ll also find information on the documents you will need to file.