Updated January 2018
One of the first things on our list of things to do when we move to a new country is to get a local SIM card. The main mobile phone networks in Colombia are Tigo, Movistar, Claro and Virgin.
After its somewhat shambolic reputation as a mobile phone network in the UK (hence why it no longer exists there) something I never thought I’d say is “I’m with Virgin”. However, now I AM with Virgin because it has the best value package for my needs here in Colombia. For $40,000 pesos a month (in January 2018), I get 24,000 seconds of talk time, unlimited Virgin to Virgin calls, 50 text messages, 2GB of data and unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook. I like that Virgin deducts seconds and not minutes from your plan when you make a call; so when you call a friend only to go straight through to voicemail for a second before you hang up, you’ll only lose a second, not a whole minute (as was the case for me before in the UK).
Daily, weekly and monthly packs and add-ons
Follow the link to find a summary of Virgin’s ‘antiplanes’ (packs) which are renewable monthly, meaning you don’t have to commit to a 12-month contract or anything like that – just top up the cost of your plan each month. Alternatively, you can buy add-ons (called ‘Bolsas’ of minutes, data or Whatsapp which last for a day, a few days, a couple of weeks or a month. Check out their bolsas here. To give you an idea, if you’ll only need to use Whatsapp, for example, you can buy a 400MB add-on which lasts 2 weeks and costs 5,000 pesos (less than £1.50/$2). If you want data for Whatsapp and internet, you can get a 30-day add-on of 500MB for 12,000 pesos (around £3/$4).
I checked what was on offer at other networks when I first arrived in 2013, so I can’t guarantee that Virgin is still the cheapest, but I do think its prices are reasonable, and I haven’t had any problems with the service.
Where can I buy a Virgin SIM card?
You can buy SIM cards from Éxito and other supermarkets and in some pharmacies and shopping malls. Here is a list of Virgin sales points in and around Bogotá.
How do I add credit to my phone?
You may be able to do this in some supermarkets, and you should be able to do it anywhere that has a ‘Baloto’ point. Baloto is actually the national lottery, but they also offer other bill-paying and top-up services. Look for this sign outside a store:
How do I buy a bolsa or antiplan for my phone?
Easy! Once you’ve added credit to your phone, dial *111# and a menu will appear. Select the options according to which add-on or pack you want (think about whether you want minutes and internet, or just one or the other), and then confirm the purchase at the end. The cost will automatically be deducted from your credit and you’ll be able to use the services immediately.
Is it worth getting a phone contract in Colombia?
If you’re going to be in Colombia for less than a year, then definitely not. If you’re planning to stay for longer and you also need a phone then you might consider getting a contract. However, there are no mobile phone contracts in Colombia which give away free phones, as in the UK. You will still end up paying the standard price for the phone (possibly with a discount depending on the contract), and at least $50,000 pesos/month for the contract. In 2014, I bought an average phone (Samsung Galaxy Grand 2) from a shop in the centre of Bogota for $700,000 pesos (around £180/$250) and just bought the add-ons and packs whenever I needed them. As I work from home mostly now and always have WiFi, I only buy a one-day data add-on for $1,000 pesos (£0.25/$0.30) when I go out, and am probably only spending about $10,000-20,000/month.
If you already have a phone then I’d definitely recommend just getting a pre-paid SIM card.