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Guide to Buying and Using Cell Phones in Colombia - Medellin Guru
Colombian cell phone services are easy to establish for foreigners but there are regulations. We provide a 2023 guide to buying and using cell phones in Colombia.

Comprehensive Guide to Buying and Using Cell Phones in Colombia – Update 2023

Cell phone services are relatively easy to establish in Colombia for foreigners but there are a number of regulations. So, we provide a comprehensive guide to buying and using cell phones in Colombia, updated for 2023.

Colombia has a relatively modern telecommunications infrastructure with several Colombian competitors offering mobile phone services. This is due to Colombia opening up its telecommunications industry in 1991.

Over the past decade, the mobile market has been one of the fastest growing industries in Colombia. And Colombia now has more cell phones than people.

Cell phone operators in Colombia have been rolling out 4G networks over the past several years. So, most Colombian cellphone users now use 4G networks instead of the older generation and much slower 3G networks.

We also looked at 22 of the best mobile apps to use in Medellín and Colombia. And we have a guide to making international phone calls in Colombia.

Cell Phone Providers in Colombia

The three largest cell phone providers in Colombia are Claro, Movistar and Tigo-UNE. These three providers had a combined mobile market share of about 89 percent in Colombia at the end of 2022 according to Ministerio de Technogía (MINTIC).

Since a call to a cell phone with the same provider in Colombia can be cheaper than calling a cellphone with another provider, you should find out which provider most of your friends and contacts use before deciding on a mobile provider.

All of the mobile providers offer prepaid plans (prepago) where you pay for minutes and data up front and postpaid plans (postpago), which are monthly plans.

The Claro store on the third floor in Los Molinos mall

The Claro store on the third floor in Los Molinos mall

1. Claro

Claro is the brand used by Mexico-based América Móvil in Colombia and many other countries in Latin America. In addition, Claro is the largest telecommunications provider in Colombia.

According to reported figures, by 2023 Claro has 1.38 million Colombians who have switched to its mobile network. In addition, Claro has the largest wireless network in Colombia. So, it typically has the best wireless network coverage throughout the country, including the smaller cities and pueblos.

Since Claro has over double the market share of the next largest mobile provider in Colombia and has the biggest network, it’s typically the choice for many foreigners.

I have used Claro for over seven years in Colombia and have experienced good service without any problems. First, I had a prepaid (prepago) plan where I paid for minutes in advance. And I now have a postpaid (postpago) plan that is a monthly plan.

Claro has a number of postpaid plans that include data, including:

  • 60 GB plan – get 60 GB of data for 55,900 pesos/month
  • 70 GB plan – get 70 GB of data for 59,900 pesos/month
  • 80 GB plan – get 80 GB of data for 69,900 pesos/month
  • 100 GB plan – get 100 GB of data for 75,900 pesos/month
  • Unlimited GB plan – get unlimited GB of data plus unlimited minutes in Colombia for 99,900 pesos/month

To sign up for a postpaid plan with Claro or other providers in Colombia you will need a cedula and will need to fill out some paperwork and sign a contract.

To sign up for a prepaid plan they just will need to see your ID (cedula or passport) and some personal information and then just pay for the SIM that they will install.

When I signed up for a postpaid plan with Claro they initially wanted to see my statement from a local bank account but then said it wasn’t needed. I just needed my cedula and local address for them to send the monthly bill and I signed the contract.

Claro also has prepaid (prepago) plans. For example it has: Options ranging from 7 days with everything included for 11,000 pesos to more expensive planes that have everything included for 30 days for 41,000 pesos.

Movistar store in Premium Plaza Mall

Movistar store in Premium Plaza Mall

2. Movistar

Movistar is the brand used by Spain-based Telefónica in Colombia and many other countries in Latin America. Movistar is the second largest mobile provider in Colombia. And it has a mobile market share of about 23 percent in Colombia, or less than half the market share of Claro.

Movistar has a number of postpaid plans available, including:

  • 40 GB plan – get 40 GB of data for 18.995 pesos/month
  • 60 GB plan – get 60 GB of data for 23.995 pesos/month
  • 70 GB plan – get 70 GB of data for 28.995 pesos/month
  • Unlimited GB plan – get unlimited GB of data plus unlimited calls to any operator in Colombia for 52. 493,000 pesos/month

Movistar’s postpaid plans also include some international long distance minutes to the U.S. and Canada.

Movistar also has prepaid plans available, including:

  • 30 days with unlimited calls and 32 GB of data for 21,000 pesos
  • 90 days with unlimited calls and 60 GB of data for 63,000 pesos
Tigo-UNE store in Puerta del Norte Mall

Tigo-UNE store in Puerta del Norte Mall

3. Tigo-UNE

Tigo is the local brand of Sweden-based Millicom and merged with UNE in 2014. So, the company now uses the Tigo-UNE brand. Tigo-UNE has a mobile market share in Colombia of about 18 percent.

Tigo-UNE has a number of postpaid plans available, including:

  • 20 GB plan – get 20 GB of data plus unlimited calls to any operator in Colombia for 38,500 pesos/month
  • 35 GB plan – get 35 GB of data plus unlimited calls to any operator in Colombia for 48.500 pesos/month
  • 55 GB plan – get 55 GB of data plus unlimited calls to any operator in Colombia for 59.500 pesos/month
  • Unlimited GB plan – get unlimited GB of data plus unlimited calls to any operator in Colombia for 100.000 pesos/month

Tigo-UNE also has prepaid plans available, including:

  • 7 days with unlimited calls and 5 GB of data for 10,000 pesos
  • 15 days with unlimited calls and 10 GB of data for 20,000 pesos

What is Better – Prepaid or Postpaid in Colombia

Basically, with cell phones in Colombia you have two options: a prepaid (prepago) plan where you pay for minutes in advance and a postpaid (postpago) plan that is a monthly plan.

In general, a prepaid plan is typically cheaper unless you make a lot of calls or need a lot of data. My Colombian wife has a prepaid plan and she normally spends less than 20,000 pesos per month, as she primarily uses WhatsApp for calling and sending message when she is in places with free Wi-Fi or is at home.

Also, it’s very easy to get prepaid (prepago) mobile services established in Colombia. And you can recharge cell phones in so many places. Postpaid plans require a cedula. So, unless you have a visa, you can’t get a postpaid plan.

The Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in Colombia

Colombia has several smaller Mobile Network Operators (MVNOs).  These MVNOs don’t have their own mobile network. So, they use the network of one of the top three providers in Colombia.

Virgin Mobile is the largest MVNO in Colombia and has about 4.5 percent of the mobile market in Colombia. Virgin Mobile reportedly uses Movistar’s network.

Furthermore, Virgin Mobile has plans what they call Antiplans. For example, with their Antiplan of 10.000 pesos per month you get 15 GB of data, unlimited WhatsApp, unlimited calls to other operators.

The smaller MVNOs in Colombia include Avantel  (Now is wom) , ETB and Móvil Exito. And each has relatively small subscriber bases. These small MVNOs reportedly have a combined market share of only about 6 percent of the market. I understand these MVNOs use Tigo-UNE’s network.

On July 27, 2018, Tigo-UNE disconnected services provided to the MVNO Uff! Móvil due to unpaid bills. Users of Uff! Movil had until July 31, 2018 to keep the same number and transfer to another cell phone operator.

Coverage Maps of Mobile Providers in Colombia

One of the biggest differentiations between the mobile providers in Colombia is in 4G coverage in the country. Claro is the largest provider. So, it has the most 4G coverage in Colombia including many small towns and pueblos.

You can look at coverage maps of several mobile providers in Colombia to see the differences:

If you look at smaller towns and pueblos you’ll find that Claro tends to have better 4G coverage. What this means is your 4G mobile Internet on your smartphone is more likely to work with Claro in the smaller towns and pueblos in Colombia.

Where to Buy Cell Phones in Medellín and Colombia

You can buy new unlocked cell phones in any city or town in Colombia – both smartphones as well as basic function cell phones. It’s also possible to buy used phones in some locations. But only buy used phones from reputable vendors, as some places sell stolen cell phones.

The most popular brands of cell phones used in Colombia are Samsung (35.3 percent market share), Huawai (18.6 percent), Motorola (13.4 percent) and Apple (8.6 percent).

Each of the three top mobile phone providers has stores in most of the malls in the cities in Colombia. Also, you can find stand-alone mobile phone provider stores in many places. In addition, you can often find kiosks set up in other places like major grocery stores such as Exito and Jumbo and Homecenter home improvement stores.

But you can typically find cheaper cell phones in other places instead of buying a cell phone from one of the Claro, Movistar or Tigo-UNE stores or kiosks.

Monterrey Mall in Medellín near the Poblado metro station has many stores selling cell phones

Monterrey Mall in Medellín near the Poblado metro station has many stores selling cell phones

You can find many technology stores selling cell phones in many of the malls in Colombia. In Medellín, a good place to buy cell phones is Monterrey Mall, Medellín’s technology mall, where there are many stores selling cell phones.

In 2014, I bought an unlocked Samsung smartphone in Monterrey Mall for 900,000 pesos ($379 at the time). The same phone was selling on Amazon for $326.29. And in a Claro store in Medellín, it was selling for 1,200,000 pesos.

Centro Comercial Opera in El Centro

Centro Comercial Opera in El Centro

The big stores like Exito and Jumbo have sales on cell phones. And technology stores like Alkomprar and Ktronix have sales on cell phones frequently.

Another good place to buy cell phones in Medellín is at Centro Comercial Opera, which is a small mall in El Centro behind the Nutibara hotel. The small stores in this mall sell both new and used phones. It’s possible to find basic cell phones in this mall for about 30,000 pesos and smartphones starting at about 200,000 pesos. But be careful of stolen used cell phones being sold in this mall.

If you buy a phone from a place other than a mobile provider store, make sure to keep your receipt as you will most likely need it to register the phone with a mobile provider.

Using Cellphones in Colombia

Making calls from one provider (Claro, in example) to another (Movistar or Tigo-UNE) can be more expensive in Colombia than making calls between the same provider (Claro to Claro, Movistar to Movistar or Tigo-UNE to Tigo-UNE).

You will often see shops, kiosks and street vendors selling “minutos” or phone minutes on several cellphones for each operator. It can be cheaper to make calls to another operator with them.

In Colombia, only the person who initiates a mobile phone call is charged for the call. The person receiving the call is not charged.

As a result, you will find that some people in Colombia make a “one ring” phone call. They call, let it ring once and wait for the person to return the call. This is frequently done when someone with prepaid service doesn’t have much credit on their phone to make calls.

Here’s how to make calls in, to and from Colombia:

1. To call a cell phone in Colombia from another Colombian cell phone you just dial the number.

2. To call a Colombia landline from a Colombia cell phone, you dial:

This is very easy, just dial the number in this format with no prefix numbers:

area code in Colombia + 7-digit fixed line number

The Colombia area codes for major cities in Colombia changed on September 1, 2021:

  • Armenia – 606
  • Barranquilla – 604
  • Bogotá – 601
  • Cali – 602
  • Cartagena – 605
  • Manizales – 606
  • Medellín –604
  • Pereira – 606
  • Santa Marta – 605

3. To call a Colombia cellphone from a Colombia landline, you dial:

This is easy, previously needed ’03’ before the cell phone number in this format but no longer:

10-digit cellular number

4. To call a U.S. phone from a Colombian cell phone, depending on provider you dial:

  • Claro: 00444 + 1 + area code + phone number
  • Movistar: 009 + 1 + area code + phone number
  • Tigo-UNE: 00414 + 1 + area code + phone number

To call other countries, change the country code of “1” to the country code you are calling.

5. To call a Colombian cell phone from the U.S., you dial:

011 + 57 + phone number

Keep in mind that SMS text messages are considered data in Colombia. So, SMS messages cost extra to send. That is why the WhatsApp app is very popular in Colombia with people sending messages using WhatsApp when connected to Wifi.

Some providers also have prepago plans that permit mobile data access when using WhatsApp. For example, with Claro prepaid, when you recharge your phone you get some MB of data that can be used for WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

You can recharge prepaid cell phones in many places in Colombia including most grocery stores, most drug stores, in cell phone operator stores, in Gana locations throughout Colombia and many other places.

Colombia Emergency Numbers

Colombia has a number of emergency numbers that are free to call in Colombia with a cellphone. These include:

  • 111 – Disaster Care
  • 112 – National Police
  • 112 – Firefighters
  • 127 – Transit (for accidents)
  • 132 – Colombia Red Cross
  • 165 – Anti-kidnapping, anti-terrorism and anti-extortion

Using Colombian Cell Phones Internationally

It is possible to use Colombian cell phones – with both prepaid and postpaid plans – in other countries. But you need to set up international roaming in a mobile provider store.

I have international roaming established on my Claro cell phone. To do this I had to sign some extra paperwork in a Claro office. Since Claro is part of the huge Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil, it has roaming agreements established with over 100 countries in the world.

I have used my Claro cellphone in several countries in Latin America, in Spain and other countries in Europe and also the U.S.

Claro’s competitors in Colombia also offer international roaming. But Tigo-UNE offers international roaming in fewer countries than Claro or Movistar.

Using Cell Phones from Other Countries

Many mobile providers in other countries like the U.S. have roaming agreements set up in Colombia. So, if you have international roaming set up on your cell phone from one of these providers it will work in Colombia. However, it will normally be much more expensive than having a SIM with a local provider.

If your cell phone is unlocked it’s very inexpensive at less than $2 USD to get a SIM from any of the mobile providers in Colombia. For example, a SIM from Claro only costs 5.000 pesos

Sometimes you will even see representatives from Claro, Movistar or Tigo-UNE handing out free SIMs outside a few of the busier metro stations in Medellín, trying to get metro passengers to switch mobile providers.

The GSM 850 and GSM 1900 bands are used in Colombia for cell phones. If your unlocked cell phone supports GSM 850 and GSM 1900 bands it should work in Colombia. Most noteworthy, a CDMA phone will not work in Colombia.

If you bring any unlocked phone to any of the Claro, Movistar or Tigo-UNE stores they will sell you a SIM and install the SIM and configure and register the phone.  You will be required to provide an ID like a cedula or a passport.

Since smartphones can be cheaper in the U.S. or some other countries than in Colombia you can save some money buying smartphones in another country and bringing them to Colombia. We included smartphones in a list of 9 expensive things in Medellín for expats.

Starting in 2016, to activate/register cell phones bought elsewhere (from outside of Colombia or purchased in a non-Claro/Movistar/Tigo-UNE store in Colombia) you likely will be required to show a receipt to prove it wasn’t stolen.

For example, to register a Samsung smartphone I bought in late 2016 with Claro I had to provide a receipt proving that I purchased the phone.

Colombia’s Regulations to Combat Theft of Cell Phones

Over the past several years, Colombia has been putting in a number of regulations in an effort to combat cellphone theft in the country.

In 2015, Colombia put in place a restriction for importing cell phones via mail services under Decree 2025. So, you could no longer buy cell phones on Amazon and ship them to Colombia. Official importers that were registered could continue to import cell phones. But they were required to supply the Ministry of Information and Communications the IMEI of every cell phone being imported into the country.

In December 2016, Colombia changed this with a new Decree 2142, which permits only one cell phone to be imported via postal services, as long as it complies with custom regulations, including listing the IMEI number of the cell phone. In addition, the addressee in Colombia must be a person, not a business.

Also, Colombia permits anyone entering the country to bring up to three cell phones with them into Colombia.

Another recent regulation in Colombia is that the IMEI numbers of all Colombian cell phones used in the country must now be registered. When a mobile provider in Colombia encounters a non-registered IMEI, it will send a text message to the user to register the IMEI of the cell phone or it will be deactivated. You have a maximum of 20 days to register the IMEI or it will be blocked.

Cell phones can be registered at any of the mobile providers stores when you buy a SIM. You need a cedula or passport to register a phone. And most stores will ask for a receipt if the phone wasn’t purchased in the store to prove you own the phone and it wasn’t stolen.

I have heard of some expats experiencing problems registering cell phones using a passport. You are less likely to have problems if you go to a store in a neighborhood that has many expats like in El Poblado in Medellín.

Taking selfies with cell phones is common in Colombia

Taking selfies with cell phones is common in Colombia

The Bottom Line: Buying and Using Cell Phones in Colombia

The competition between the mobile providers in Colombia helps keep the price for mobile services in Colombia generally lower than in the U.S.

Also, it’s very easy to get prepaid (prepago) mobile services established in Colombia. And you can recharge cellphones in so many places. Postpaid plans require a cedula. So, unless you have a visa, you can’t get a postpaid plan.

Since Claro is the largest mobile provider with the best national coverage and about 48 percent of people in Colombia use Claro, it remains the best choice for most foreigners.

Make sure to use common sense and take care when using smartphones in Medellín and other places in Colombia. Smartphones are targets of thieves and are normally the most commonly stolen items in Colombia. So, don’t brandish them around in places like El Centro in Medellín.

Note that regulations and plans from mobile operators change frequently in Colombia and this article will be kept up-to-date.

In addition, “How to buy and use cell phones in Colombia?” is a common question asked by expats visiting Medellín and other cities in Colombia. So, we included this question in our list of Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ).

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.

Editors note: updated on April 3, 2018 to information about provider coverage maps due to several comments from readers about coverage in Colombia.  Also added info about emergency numbers.

Editors note: updated on July 27, 2018 to information about Uff! Móvil phone services being disconnected by Tigo-UNE due to unpaid bills.

Editors note: updated on September 8, 2019 with information about the current cell phone plans and costs offered by Claro, Movistar and Tigo-UNE.

Editors note: updated on February 23, 2021 with current pricing information for cell phone providers in Colombia.

Editor note: updated on September 5, 2021 with new fixed line area codes in Colombia.

Editors note: updated on June 14, 2023  to information about provider coverage maps & price information.

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48 thoughts on “Comprehensive Guide to Buying and Using Cell Phones in Colombia – Update 2023”

    1. Ron S May 20, 2021

      The article doesn’t address texting.

      I have a friend who has a Movistar SIM-ed mobile phone that is without service.
      I wish to establish limited service for short duration…anywhere from 1 week at a time to 1 month at a time.

      here is what I need.

      1. Ability to receive voice calls from U.S. The article mentions that the receiver is not charged minutes. Is this true for calls from outside Colombia? If so, low minutes in plan is fine (basically enough for network access).

      2. Ability to SEND and RECEIVE texts to/from the United States. Moderate usage, but not anywhere close to teenagers (do they still text incessantly over mobile network or have they all migrated to wifi apps like WhatsApp). Can respondent discuss how texts are bought, billed?

      3. Internet (data) access…primarily to establish wi-fi hot spot in apartment and thus use WhatsApp/Telegram for chat rather than mobile carrier for SMS texting.

      Any help would be appreciated.

    2. Hello,
      What if I need my US Cell number to work in Colombia for work? Roaming is $10/day so not an option since I will be there months at a time.
      Is there a way to do this? Thanks for the help. Derick

      • Can you call forward it to a voip service? I use voip.ms but I’m sure there are others. You’ll want the blip service to issue you a us based number. Another option is to call forward it to a Colombian number if you only get the occasional call but that might not work for your employer.

    3. I had issues with Tigo said not possible to register phone without Colombian ID, USA passport not going to work she said. Anyone just change Tigo SIM cards before blocking date to avoid getting locked?

    4. Eric Alley November 25, 2020

      Hey Jeff, great article. I would recommend updating it to include information about the “homologación”. For example my OnePlus 6 is not on their list of cell phones “homologados”, so I must either submit documentation or it will be blocked from using Colombian sim cards in 45 days

    5. TIGO SPAMMERS

      I have several phones using different providers without problem. I recently bought a TIGO SIM. After 1 day I was bombarded with
      SPAM TEXTS inviting me to click on links and help pay off someones debts etc. I then activated a text blocker.
      I then received numerous SPAM calls which I have blocked, this continues on a daily basis.
      I spoke to some locals and they told me this is normal with TIGO. Customer services showed little interest in my issue.

    6. Athir Nuaimi January 22, 2020

      I just recently arrived and got a Tigo SIM at a cell shop in Poblado. The phone is working but today I got a message saying that I had to register the phone within 20 days. Anyone have any experience doing this? Do I need to find a proper Tigo store to do this? thanks in advance

      • You can register the phone online with Tigo – see: https://www.tigo.com.co/atencion-al-cliente/registra-tu-equipo

        • athir nuaimi January 23, 2020

          Thanks for the link Jeff. Still running into issues. Am able to log into Mi Tigo using Facebook but when I try and add my mobile service, it says that the line number is invalid. I’m just entering my local medellin number (304472xxxx). Any idea? Also tried to download the Mi Tigo app but its not available in my country’s App Store? Maybe its best to just go to an official Tigo shop??

          • If running into problems best to go to an official Tigo store.

            • athir nuaimi January 23, 2020

              sounds good

            • athir Nuaimi January 24, 2020

              Minor update. I did an online chat with Tigo and it seems the problem is that the SIM is ‘registered to someone else’. I believe the issue is that I bought the SIM at a local stationary shop and they didn’t ask for any ID so probably registered the SIM in their name. This really isn’t a problem for someone here for 2 weeks or less. But for long-term expats, it needs to get fixed as they will turn off after 20 days. So I’ll be visiting a Tigo office to try and straighten out.

    7. Thanks, I will try that.

    8. Hello, can you clarify what process visitors to Colombia should do if they want to use a loca SIM card while visiting.

      In August 2018 I had not problems with a Claro SIM card. But this week I was not able to get a Claro SIM to work, one provide (I tried two) mentioned the new registration process but didn’t give any details.

      Thanks.

      John

      • I recommend going to a big Claro store like the one on the third floor of Premium Plaza mall – https://medellinguru.com/premium-plaza/. They are used to working with foreigners and will register a SIM card for you. I went there when I had a cell phone stolen and and no problem getting my number transferred to a new SIM in a new cell phone and they registered the SIM for me.

    9. Terry Andresen August 10, 2019

      “If you buy a phone from a place other than a mobile provider store, make sure to keep your receipt as you will most likely need it to register the phone with a mobile provider.”

      Jeff, I lost my cell phone yesterday and need a new one. My wife found a cellphone in a taxi last year and she wants me to use that one. When I get a Sim card for it and switch my plan to the new number I will have to show a purchase receipt. No?

      • Hi Terry, you may need to show a receipt. Last year I needed a receipt to register when I bought a used phone to replace and old phone. But unfortunately that phone was stolen on the metro by a pickpocket. And I bought a new phone from a non-mobile provider store but Claro didn’t ask for a receipt even though I had one.

    10. Bob Larson May 31, 2019

      Just to pass something along. I recently took advantage of google’s 1/2 price Pixel phone offer. for Google Fi users. But they also often have Moto phones for about $100. I signed up for Fi got my phone and did some testing. with Google Fi you can suspend your service and turn it back on at any time. My plan was do to do after my 2nd month because I got a $20 credit towards my second month. But mi suegro passed away so we had to make emergency arrangements, including putting my Fi service to the ultimate test. Google fi phones run on TMobile Sprint and US Celluar in the states. When traveling domestic you get service in many countries Colombia being one. I get data at my usual rates. $10/G billed in .1G increments. Calls are .20 a minute but considering I’m doing all of my calling via whatsapp and FB messenger I’ve been getting off rather cheap. I’ve used less than a Gig in a week and that includes 3 long FB live posts from a Copa Sudamerica game. I’ve had great service in both Bogota and Ibague and at worst, 3G when ever I checked on the 4 hour bus trip in between. Just something to consider if your not a big data user.

    11. I would like to purchase 2 cellphones in the US to give as gifts to teenagers in Colombia that I sponsor through Compassion International. I don’t anticipate activating cell coverage, more just for WiFi use. Is it legal to bring these phones into Colombia and will the children run into any problems having these unregistered phones in their possession? I can give them a copy of my receipt but it won’t have their name on it. Also do you recommend any specific smart phone models for use there?

      • It says in the article “Colombia permits anyone entering the country to bring up to three cell phones with them into Colombia.” Regarding the receipts that aren’t in their name that depends on the clerk and store where a SIM is bought. Some don’t ask for a receipt. Look for cell phones with GSM 850 and GSM 1900 bands that are used in Colombia for cell phones. And Samsung brand smart phones are very popular in Colombia.

    12. hi Jeff.
      Definitely one of the best posts I’ve read. I am still struggling here in Medellin. I bought a similar card in Bogota and started to receive the messages about registering my phone. I’ve tried to this directly on the crc website and been kicked back and via a movistar store (where the assistant struggled a bit too). The card is pay as you go. I have stopped getting the warning texts but am still worried phone will be blocked. What I can’t understand is whether the phone will be blocked outside of Colombia. I’m only here two weeks in total and in hindsight wish I’d never done it and paid for roaming instead!
      Do you know for sure if phone is blocked for use just in Colombia or outside too?the chap at movistar seemed to think it would be okay but he definitely did not look certain! After Colombia, I travel Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina before heading back to UK. I could switch back to old UK sim but really need my phone to be working.. Thanks in advance for any advice!

      • Hi Manny, I have heard that Colombia shares its blocked IMEI numbers of phones list with other countries to prevent phone theft in Colombia where the thieves ship the phones to other countries. But not sure how fast that happens and what countries Colombia shares with.

        • thanks Jeff, I’ve heard the same. I’ve got a “free day” Saturday before leaving for cartegna so might venture to another store and see what I can find out. Their messages says 45 days btw. Thanks again

    13. Don’t get a postpaid plan if you only visit Colombia. Otherwise you’re paying for the whole year when you’re only here part year. Go for prepago! Also be careful where you buy a phone. I bought a phone at Claro and after the one year warranty period I went back and asked to buy the original charger. They said we do not offer any service on our phones after the warranty period. Also you must know what phone to buy before you go shopping. Claro will not recommend any phone. Stores in Opera have bad reputation. Monterrey not much better. Only buy from a store that you have reason to trust. Otherwise Claro is safest. Make sure your SIM is actually registered in your name. Check at Claro after purchase. Otherwise you can lose your prepaid balance.

    14. As a South-East Asiaphile, I can confirm resolutely that Colombia is the most-buggered-up country for using cellphones. I bought a Claro SIM in a Claro store, paid COP$5,000 plus $5,000 top-up, but can’t dial any numbers at all. My 2 SIMs from the UK didn’t work either on arrival at the airport, despite being pre-assured that roaming agreements were in place in Colombia.

      I am seriously considering returning to SE Asia for the blissful peace-of-mind that none of this sh1t happens out there and phones, locally-SIMed, and foreign, do work. This IMEI blocking is pure insanity. And I’ve only been here 7 days !!!

      • Thanks for posting this warning! I returned to the main Claro office in Pereira where I bought the SIM and found out the original salesperson never registered my IMEI — too busy trying to push paquetes to care. That’s why I could only receive but not make calls.

        Claro also told me, strangely, that my 15-year-old second Nokia 6310i phone with a UK SIM need NOT be registered as it wouldn’t be blocked! Never received any warning texts either … maybe they only target modern smartphones.

    15. Great article. A couple additions. 1) Another good place to buy cell phones is K-Tronics/Alkompra. Yes, a lot of places in Monterrey sell them, but they all seem to have the same few models. Here you get a wide selection, good prices, professional support, and they’re likely to still be there when you need help. 2) Verizon and Sprint CDMA phones will work if they are international phones (also have GSM). However, Sprint phones won’t do 4G in Colombia because they only have Band 25, which is not available here. 3) Claro prepaid has a “Pico y place” deal where if you buy a data package on your assigned day of the week, they double your data. Prepaid may be a better choice if you don’t plan to make a lot of voice calls. I pay 42 mil for a monthly package of 2 GB (doubled to 4 GB), and recharge for a few mil more which more than covers the few voice calls and texts I make.

    16. Nice post. I recommend that foreigners never use Tigo. I got service with a passport and they kept cutting off my service and I went back and they turned it on again and about 20 days later it was turned off again. The staff at Tigo were clueless but said this happens often. So I switched to Claro and no more problems.

    17. Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for the article and all the info.

      I can speak to the registration issue with Movistar. My first phone wasn’t registered properly and got shut off. Movistar has never allowed me to register with a passport, US that is. I think they’ll allow a Colombian passport but not from another country. I’ve always had to resort to finding a friend who’d allow me to use their cedula.
      I’ve changed phones a couple of times and each time have to visit a Movistar store to register the IMEI number.

      On the prepaid plans with Movistar versus Claro I can also say that Movistar is much more generous with data for similar time periods……like double or more than Claro.
      This is only in regards to prepaid as I don’t use postpaid.

      Thanks,
      Steve

    18. christophe April 5, 2018

      Let me add, that I was not able to registered my unlocked Samsung phone at “any ” Claro location that sells sim cards( I had purchased a sim card at the Bogota airport and nobody mentioned registration, then I started to get the messages that my phone would be shut down if not registered)…..I tried 3 regular and official Claro offices around Cartagena and had to go to their Main office in Little Miami/Cartagena. it was an hour, yes 1 hour long process, filling forms, showing and photocopying passport, signing a long document that i did not have time to read the details and putting my fingerprint on the document, like it is required for any legal matter in Colombia….all of that to have my phone registered after 15 days….was not as easy as the last paragraph of the article makes it sound.

      • Note it is also possible to register on your phone with Claro. Dial *611# and if your phone is prepago chose options 5, 3 and follow the prompts in Spanish. I plan to add this to the article once I find out the information for all the providers.

        • chris kwiatkowsky April 6, 2018

          hi Jeff, that is correct, and I tried 2 front desk people to help me with the *611 option, no go, that is why I did 3 shops who said I had to go to main office, anyway part of traveling I guess, good thing I was in a big city.

          • Yes, the *611# doesn’t always work to register a phone. I was able to get it to work when registering a new prepago in a dual SIM phone. But a friend couldn’t get it to work and had to go to a Claro store. So, if *611# doesn’t work, best to go to a large Claro store, as they are more likely to have staff experienced with foreigners.

    19. Mackenzie April 3, 2018

      Hi there. What about Avantel? I use them and am very happy with my service and price (10gb + 700 minutes, including calls to the US for 60.000 COP per month).

      • A problem with Avantel is 4G coverage in small towns and pueblos in Colombia. If you look at their 4G coverage map, https://www.avantel.co/cobertura-calidad.html and compare to Claro https://www.claro.com.co/personas/soporte/mapas-de-cobertura/ there are many places where they don’t have coverage where Claro does. For example, near Medellín Claro has 4G in Copacabana, Giradota and Barbosa but Avantel doesn’t. So, don’t expect to use mobile Internet in many small towns and pueblos in Colombia with Avantel.

        • Gloria April 3, 2018

          I agree that Avantel’s coverage sucks. I used to have Avantel but found that when I traveled to many pueblos I couldn’t use mobile Internet, Google Maps, Facebook and other apps on my phone. So I switched to Claro that works better.

      • arnold semmons September 23, 2018

        Avantel doesn’t have great native coverage outside big cities, but the Colombian Government requires the other networks to allow Avantel to roam on their systems (perhaps only in 3G… I can’t find the final answer on that). But anyway, when data doesn’t work well, I just manually switch over to 3G in the phone settings and it works fine again. 4G is great for music and videos, but 3G is fine for everything else. I only pay 10.000 pesos every 10 days for a gig of data and 50 mins of talk. Facebook and WhatsApp unlimited. To me, that’s a great deal.

    20. Don’t ever use Tigo. The staff at Tigo are fools and horrible. The office where I get my SIM never said I needed to register. I got a text and followed the instruction to register and it failed. I had to go to an office and after talking to 3 different fools finally found one that could actually register my phone and it took like and hour and 40 minutes in total. I was also double billed twice and when I finally quit and switched to Claro they wondered why.

      • geoffrey April 4, 2018

        As a counterpoint, I tried to sign up with Claro at three different locations but found the staff to be disinterested, uninformed, insincere and incompetent. Instead I signed up with TIGO over two years ago and see no compelling reason to change.

        • Roy Henderson June 26, 2021

          Very useful article! I have been with Claro four months…three in Costa. The registration continually arises. I went to the Claro kiosk in Oriental Mall…not much help, a little yes.

          Swallowed the pill went to Claro’s Service Center…third floor, Centro Commercial Premium Plaza, calle 30-cr 43a…bit of a line, but it did move along. My issue was “registering”. Claro tech did the work, indicated (in English) that confirmation of registration would be forthcoming in 24 hours.

          Also, confirmed I was out-of-minutes, although I had bought a SIM card and what I thought was thirty days/minutes of service…could “service” be one thing and actual “minutes usage” be another. Purchased another pack of minutes, along with a thirty minute International Calling card (5,000 peso for the international minutes)

    21. Great post. I’ve been here for a while now and am still to find out which provider actually lets you turn off their answering service. If anyone can answer that it would be awesome. So, which provider lets you dial internationally straight with the international dialing code without have to use a particular shortcode before the actual number?

      • Hi Stuart, thanks. I don’t have an answer to turning off the answering service, as that is most likely different for each provider and you would have to ask in a store or call them. As far as I know no provider lets you dial internationally with just the international dialing code. All the providers have a shortcode that is the long distance carrier code.

    22. Thanks this is so helpful and should be required reading for any foreigner visiting Colombia. I used to have Tigo but changed to Claro when I found out most people I call have Claro. I bought a new phone recently in one of the stores in Monterrey mall and it was much cheaper than Claro was selling the exact same phone.

    23. David Williams April 2, 2018

      Nice article that is up to date. I agree that Claro is the best option. I used to have Movistar but encountered problems with no signal in several small pueblos so switched to Claro that works better.

    24. Brock Canner April 2, 2018

      Thanks Jeff. Save me so much time.
      Cheers!!

    25. Brock Canner April 2, 2018

      Thanks Jeff, great post. Can I bring my existing i phone and kick up the service in Colombia? I believe I still have the receipt.

      • Hi Brock, thanks. Yes, if you have a receipt and the phone is unlocked you shouldn’t have a problem.

        • Hi Jeff. I want to buy a cell phone for a friend in Bogota. I live in US. What is the best and most affordable way to do that?

          Thanks, Kyle

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