Buying a SIM card in Colombia isn’t as difficult as you might think.
As soon as you arrive in a new country, the last thing you want is to walk down a street, open up your phone and realize you don’t have any data to get home.
We’ve been living the digital nomad lifestyle since 2018 and it’s always the first thing we do no matter what country we find ourselves in.
If you’re planning on staying in Colombia for a few days, weeks or months – you’re going to need to get a local prepaid SIM card. This allows you to have data all over the country for a very affordable price!
Whether you’re traveling as a traveler, digital nomad, expat or remote worker – you need to get the best sim card in Colombia to stay connected no matter where you end up.
Here’s the detailed guide to buying a SIM card in Colombia.
The Easy Guide To Buying A SIM Card In Colombia In 2023
Here’s the truth:
Colombia is not the same as it was back in the ’90s. This beautiful country has significantly changed over the last couple of years and it’s all for the better. It has become one of the top destinations in all of Latin America!
After traveling to so many countries, we are so used to buying local SIM cards everywhere we go – whether that’s buying it in Playa del Carmen or buying SIM cards in Guatemala, for example. It still gets me – landing in a new country without access to the internet world can be a little worrying, at least for me. If anything happens, I always want to be able to search for things, get directions or message some friends or family.
But maybe that’s me overreacting! Still…it doesn’t hurt to do your research and figure out the process beforehand.
In this blog post, we are going to answer any questions you could have about buying a sim card in Colombia including:
- Which is the best SIM card provider in Colombia?
- How to buy a SIM card in Colombia?
- What’s the cost of a monthly data plan?
- Do I need a passport?
Here’s the thing – in general, the SIM card Colombia situation is easy (for the most part). There’s just one thing that complicates the whole process but by the end of the blog – you’ll know exactly what to do.
SIM Card Providers in Colombia – 2 Companies
When buying a local SIM card in Colombia, it’s easy to choose between the best companies to pick from them. There are only a few things that can differentiate SIM card companies such as: coverage, speed and data plans.
There are really only two (good) choices:
We highly recommend buying a Tigo SIM card in Colombia! You can’t go wrong with either but in our personal experience, we found Tigo performed better in every aspect you look for in a SIM card provider.
After spending nearly 4 months as Medellin digital nomads, we realized that Tigo was the best SIM card provider in Colombia. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that when we arrived and instead got Claro. While it wasn’t bad, we could tell that Tigo’s service and coverage were way better when we compared it with our friends.
When we checked our phones, we would only ever get 4G service around Medellin. Our friend who had a Tigo SIM card could get LTE service all across Medellin. He also seemed to have better coverage! For example, we would go to another neighborhood and lose signal for a bit while our friend always had a signal.
There are other SIM cards in Colombia such as Movistar but you don’t need to waste your time on any of these. Simply get a Tigo or Claro SIM card in Colombia and you won’t have any problems!
Where To Buy A SIM Card in Colombia?
There are several places to buy a SIM card in Colombia but not every option is a good one. You need to make sure you go to the right places because we have heard some nightmare stories (read more below).
If you want to buy a SIM card in Colombia, you have 3 options:
1. Buying a SIM Card at the airport
When we landed in Medellin, getting a SIM card was first on our list. We needed to have data so we could order an Uber and be connected while driving to our Airbnb. It’s a new and foreign country we had never been to before and we wanted to stay on the safe side.
During our research, we read that you could buy SIM cards at the Jose Maria Cordova Airport in Medellin.
Well…we couldn’t find any stores or kiosks to buy SIM cards anywhere in the airport! This was really disappointing but at least the Medellin Airport has wifi so we were still able to order an Uber to get to the city which was around a 40-minute drive. It worked out all fine for us but now we had to figure out where to go next to buy a SIM card.
2. Buying a SIM card at an official store
The best place to buy a SIM card in Colombia is at the official stores. We highly recommend you do this to avoid any problems in the future.
If you buy it at the official stores, here are some of the benefits:
- sales rep likely to speak a little English (which helps a lot)
- they register your phone and passport, correctly
- easy to add a data plan right away
We went to a Claro store in the Santafe Mall and the sales representative knew exactly what to do! We barely had to do anything, she facilitated the entire process and she also registered it correctly because we had no problems.
Here are some official store locations you can visit in Medellin to buy a SIM Card:
- Santafe Mall – Claro
- Centro Commercial Oviedo – Tigo & Claro
3. Buying a SIM card at tiendas, informal kiosks or street vendors.
This is the most convenient option to buy a SIM card in Colombia. But we can’t recommend this method.
You might think…“oh he’s just there, let me walk over and quickly get data then I can avoid going to the mall to buy one”. Don’t fall into this trap! While you aren’t likely to get ripped off – the problem is that they don’t register your phone or passport. This causes problems down the road that you don’t want to face!
Don’t get locked out of your phone! (Registration Process)
If you get one thing out of this blog – let it be that you ONLY go to official stores to buy them. A little caution – you might think it’s easier to just buy a SIM card at a tienda or informal kiosk. DON’T! Always go to the official stores and you won’t have any problems otherwise…
…once you’re locked out – you’re going to have to call the phone company or visit their official store to get it unlocked which has taken people hours, days and weeks. This means you can’t put any other SIM card in your phone until the phone company (Tigo or Claro) unlocks it for you. We have seen many Facebook posts of people being locked out once they’ve already left Colombia and stuck trying to sort it out via the phone. Our friend had this problem and thankfully, he had a Colombian friend that could help him out right there at the Tigo store.
How to Buy a SIM Card In Colombia
There are a couple of things to know before buying a Colombian SIM card.
The first step is choosing the company you want to go with. Is it Tigo or Claro? Maybe it’s a completely different provider like Movistar Colombia or Movil Exito. But as we’ve already said, Tigo is the best option for travelers or digital nomads if you want fast and wide coverage across Colombia.
The second step is deciding where to buy your SIM card. If you have any luck finding the kiosk at the airport (as we didn’t), you might still consider against buying because they tend to be more expensive there. The most reliable place to buy a Colombian SIM card is at the official stores which are generally located inside malls across the city. This way, you can have peace of mind that they have registered your phone and passport correctly.
The third step is to choose a data plan. There are several options depending on what you need the most. As digital nomads, we generally don’t need voice, text or calls in our plans. This means we just get a data package and that works well for us!
That’s it! Once you do those 3 things – you’ll have a Colombian SIM card that works and have enough data for the month.
Data Plans & Price of a SIM Card in Colombia
There’s no official tourist SIM card in Colombia – you can simply buy their local SIM cards, get data easily and have nationwide coverage. The data plans are pretty generous in terms of gigabytes and they are very affordable plans!
For most SIM card companies, you’ll need to buy the SIM chip first and then add on a data plan. Here’s what it costs for both the 2 best companies in Colombia:
Tigo Prepaid Plan Costs
If you choose to go with Tigo, the SIM card chip is actually free. For digital nomads or tourists, there is one prepaid SIM card option and here are the costs you can get depending on the number of days you select.
For unlimited calls, text and select social media platforms, you’ll get:
- 10 days: 2.5 GB for $10,000 COP ($3 USD)
- 20 days: 7.5 GB for $20,000 COP ($5 USD)
- 30 days: 10 GB for $30,000 COP ($8 USD)
If you’re living in Medellin as a digital nomad, we highly recommend getting the 30-day plan! It’s the most cost-effective and you won’t have to recharge as often. We found it was enough data for us because we had unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp and other socials.
Claro Prepaid Plan Costs
If you choose to go with Claro, they charge a small amount for the SIM card – $3,000 COP ($1 USD). You’ll only need to pay this the first time you buy your Colombian SIM Card. Here are the costs and data plans you can buy depending on the amount of time you select.
For unlimited calls, text and select social media platforms, you’ll get:
- 7 days: 1.3 GB for $7,000 COP ($2 USD)
- 10 days: 2 GB for $10,000 COP ($3 USD)
- 20 days: 4.5 GB for $20,000 COP ($5 USD)
- 30 days: 9 GB for $30,000 COP ($8 USD)
- 30 days: 12 GB for $40,000 COP ($11 USD)
- 30 days: 80 GB for $100,000 COP ($27 USD) *limited hotspot usage
With Claro, you get more data plan options than Tigo. If this is important for you, Claro might be better for you. We took the 30-day prepaid plan with 12GB of data and worked for the 3+ months we were Medellin digital nomads.
How to Top-Up/Recharge Your Colombian SIM Card
Recharging your Colombian SIM card is fairly easy!
You can get it done at any tienda or kiosk that has a sign that says ‘Claro’ or ‘Tigo’. We always went to a tienda and never had any problems. There’s also a store called ‘Gana’ that is everywhere in El Poblado, Laureles and almost every neighborhood in Medellin has at least one of these stores. You can also recharge your phone here!
You may need to know some basic Spanish to do it this way. Otherwise, it might require a little more work with the help of Google Translate but it’s not impossible!
Simply say ‘recarga’ and they will know what you mean. Ask them to show you the paper with all the data plans and simply pick one. You can also write down your number before getting to the store so they can easily (and accurately) recharge the right phone number. This should be easy enough!
Note: You don’t need to go to an official store to top up or recharge your data plan. You only need to go to buy the SIM and do the registration process.
Do I Need a Passport to Buy a SIM Card in Colombia?
If you want to get the SIM card the right way, you will need a passport to register yourself. You also need the IMEI number which you can find in your iPhone Settings > General > About > IMEI.
If you want to do it via a street vendor or tienda, you don’t technically need your passport to buy it. However, you will get locked out of your phone after a couple of weeks because these tiendas do not register you or your phone properly.
We highly recommend just going to the official store with your passport on hand and you won’t face any problems while in Colombia. We have heard nightmare stories where people have already left and their phone gets locked out overseas. You’ll have to deal with the customer service on the phone and it’s an utter nightmare!
Don’t Want To Buy A Local SIM? Try An eSIM Instead.
Don’t want to bother with a local SIM? Or maybe you just need to get a SIM immediately as your arrive?
When we arrived, we read on other blogs that there were kiosks for SIM cards but we couldn’t find any at the Arrival Hall. We were stuck trying to figure out how we were going to order an Uber. The Medellin Airport does have free wifi but we wanted to stay connected just in case anything happens. So what did we do?
We bought a data package from our eSIM provider, Nomad SIM. We tested them out in several countries now – the USA, Colombia, Belgium/Europe and more. For Colombia, it was pretty pricey but we thought it was worth it to give us some peace of mind! An eSIM is basically like a virtual SIM card that is activated via an app. You simply connect to the airport wifi like we did and buy the data plan you want. We use and trust Nomad eSIM!
Want to learn more about eSIMs? Check out our complete guide on the best eSIM providers to use while traveling.
Which Is The Best SIM Card in Colombia In 2023?
The best SIM card in Colombia is Tigo. For only $30,000 COP ($8 USD), you’ll get 10 GB of data with unlimited calls/texts and unlimited usage for select social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp for 30 days. This is the perfect plan for digital nomads, remote workers and travelers!
Above all, make sure you get your Colombian SIM card done the right way or you might regret it later. It’s easy enough to go to an official store after you arrive to buy your SIM card.
Don’t forget: You need to have your passport with you!
We hope this SIM card Colombia guide helped you out and hopefully it has prevented you from running into any troubles! Feel free to message us on Instagram if you have any questions. Comment below which SIM card company you went with and your thoughts on the SIM card process in Colombia.