Visiting Medellín but are unsure of what to do with your cellphone? Don’t worry—there are plenty of short-term and long-term options to optimize your cellphone use.
Having access to data can be extremely beneficial if you want the ability to explore the city more freely. If you decide to stay in Colombia for more than a month, I would recommend seeking out the various postpaid plans offered by Colombia’s major mobile providers.
If you’re just passing through, you should consider the prepaid plans which are extremely cheap and convenient for those who are visiting for just a few weeks.
I moved here nearly three months ago and thought I would be just fine without cellular data, but I abruptly changed my mind after a week because I wanted more mobility. There are a lot of options as well; it’s not like the United States where signing cellphone contracts feels like indentured servitude.
Since Internet access has become a necessity in recent years, most public places offer complimentary Wi-Fi. But what if you end up outdoors, unable to connect to the Internet with no cellular data on hand in a foreign country? If you decide to stay in Colombia for more than a month, I would recommend seeking out the various postpaid options offered by Colombia’s major mobile providers.
Prepaid vs Postpaid Plans
First off, let’s clear up the difference between prepaid and postpaid cellphone plans, even though they are pretty self-explanatory.
A prepaid plan allows you to pay and load your balance with the services and benefits you need at the start of your billing month. In contrast, a postpaid plan lets you start a contract with a mobile service while you freely use as much data as you need. Then, you are charged an amount at the end of the billing month based on how much data you used.
The advantage of a prepaid plan is that it may allow people on a budget to monitor and use their data more responsibly and sparingly. Generally, if you know you use a fairly low amount of data, this will be the cheaper option for those who use little data. Even if a gigabyte or two of data may not seem like that much, you would be surprised at how little you actually go through.
For instance, I barely used a full gigabyte in the United States, and I use even less in Medellín. The occasional browsing of Instagram or replying to my emails use very little data. Some plans will even include WhatsApp on your phone, but we’ll get to that later.
Your average amount of data may dwindle as well in your travels since you’re (hopefully) spending less time on your phone while you enjoy your time abroad. You will also likely be in close proximity where Wi-Fi can be readily available.
However, you may choose to get a postpaid plan which will be more beneficial for those who use up data heavily. This is for the YouTubers and the social media devotees. Or you find yourself less on your phone and more active in the present, you can find yourself with a bill that could potentially cost less than a prepaid plan.
The main advantage of a postpaid plan is that you pay for exactly what you use without receiving any surprising costs—which leads to the main disadvantage of a prepaid plan.
For instance, if you pay for 10 GB of data with a prepaid plan, but only use about 5 GB, you will not be reimbursed for the remaining data that you could’ve spent. Nor will the data rollover to the next month.
To gain a better sense of how much data you will need or want, try starting with a middle-range plan to avoid overuse fees so you can scale back or scale-up.
Overall, if you are staying in Medellín for at least a month, are financially secure, and prioritize convenience, I suggest using a postpaid plan. If you’re just visiting for a week or two or need to be more frugal with your spending habits, I suggest using a prepaid plan.
Major Cellphone Providers
As Colombia’s largest telecommunications provider, Claro has the best wireless network in the country and also boasts the best coverage as well. Their biggest advantage is their ability to offer Internet coverage in all of the nooks and crannies in the smaller cities and obscure pueblos.
Because of this, most foreigners usually choose this provider.
The cheapest prepaid option costs you $6,000 COP for 170 MB of data over a duration of six days. If that’s too small, you can get a 400 MB plan for $10,000 COP over a ten-day period or a 1.8 GB plan for $40,000 over a month-long duration. The former is ideal for visitors while the latter is commonly used by many foreigners who have extended their stay in Colombia.
If you compare the prepaid plans to the postpaid plans, the difference between the costs is pretty minimal.
For instance, you can get an 8 GB postpaid plan with unlimited minutes and texts for $58,900 COP per month. The most expensive plan costs $129,900 for 40 GB of data. But is anyone really going to use 40 GB?
All of Claro’s postpaid plans have unlimited SMS, calling, and high-speed data. The only changing factor between its choice of plans is the amount of GB’s of data available.
Other benefits of choosing this major mobile provider are the complimentary services regarding music and video and different features that can be bought to reload your current accounts, such as Waze, Claro Music, and Clear Drive.
Claro also allows you to use Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp without having to use your own data.
Frankly, Movistar’s data coverage of Colombia is comparable to Claro’s, so that isn’t a big deciding factor when choosing between these providers. All of its postpaid plans also offer complimentary browsing of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, and Rappi.
Movistar is currently branding its ability to provide 4.5Gservice, which is supposedly an improvement of 4G that allows users with a USIM 4G sim card and a 4.5G supported device (most devices) to reach speeds of up to 250 MBPS. This requires no additional cost and has the same coverage as 4G.
A cloud service is also included, as well as unlimited minutes and access to Movistar Play Lite, which is an entertainment service that provides complimentary access to a selection of books, TV shows, and movies. One of Movistar’s attractive features is that postpaid plan customers have the ability to share or request data from each other’s plans.
Other benefits of the postpaid plans include access to Premium Movistar Musica and complimentary months of RappiPrime improve as you buy more gigabytes. Movistar also offers prepaid plans that you can pay off weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
All plans offer data-free use of Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp, and unlimited minutes to any operator in Colombia, as well as a select number of minutes available to international calling to the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, or Venezuela.
Tigo-Une seems to be a little more simplistic than its competitors, but their data coverage is still on par with Claro or Movistar, covering Medellín with 4G data. According to its website, all of its postpaid plans have basic services such as unlimited talk and text, and a varying range of data volumes.
It seems like the only additional benefit that it provides is complimentary Amazon Prime Video, which can make or break your decision depending on your preferences. Tigo’s most lucrative postpaid plan which costs $100,000 pesos, offers Prime Video as a premium benefit, while any postpaid plan below this offers three months of free Prime Video.
Although Avantel doesn’t hang with the heavy hitters because it doesn’t have its own network, I’ve had no issues with it since I’ve arrived in Medellín a few months ago.
Their postpaid options with limited calls and data vary from paying $50,000 COP for 8GB and 400 minutes to paying $65,000 (around $20 USD) for 20 GB and 1000 minutes. I got the latter plan because my brother had it, which I didn’t mind paying since it was a big decrease than $100 USD I was paying for 3GB of data in the U.S.
Comparison Charts of Postpaid Plans from Major Cellphone Providers
|Claro 1||Claro 2||Claro 3||Claro 4||Claro 5|
|International Calling||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico|
|Entertainment Benefits||Clear Music, Sure Video, Clear Drive||Clear Music, Sure Video, Clear Drive||Clear Music, Sure Video, Clear Drive||Clear Music, Sure Video, Clear Drive||Clear Music, Sure Video, Clear Drive|
|Data Exemption||Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Clear Music||Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Clear Music||Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Clear Music||Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Clear Music||Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Clear Music|
|Movistar 1||Movistar 2||Movistar 3||Movistar 4||Movistar 5||Movistar 6|
|International Calling (minutes)||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico||500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico||[500 – US, Canada, Puerto Rico] + [500 – Latin America, Spain]||[Unlimited – US, Canada, Puerto Rico] + [500 – Latin America, Spain]||[Unlimited – US, Canada, Puerto Rico] + [500 – Latin America, Spain]|
|Data Roaming||No||No||No||Available in 61 countries||Available in 61 countries||Available in 61 countries|
|Entertainment Benefits||Movistar Play Lite,||Movistar Play Lite,||Movistar Play Lite, Movistar Musica Lite||Movistar Play Lite, Movistar Musica Lite||Movistar Play Lite, Movistar Musica Premium||Movistar Play Lite, Movistar Musica Premium|
|Data Exemption||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi||Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Waze, Rappi|
|Extras||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 1-month RappiPrime||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 1-month RappiPrime||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 3-month RappiPrime||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 6-month RappiPrime||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 12-month RappiPrime||Cloud service, GB Data Transfer/Request, 12-month RappiPrime|
|Tigo 1||Tigo 2||Tigo 3|
|Data||8GB||15GB Unrestricted, 256 kbps after.||30GB Unrestricted, 256 kbps after.|
|Entertainment Benefits||Prime Video – 3 months. $17.900 per month afterward||Prime Video – 3 months. $17.900 per month afterward||Unlimited Prime Video|
|Extras||N/A||1GB to share, secured screen if a device is bought with the plan||3GB to share, all risk insurance if a device is bought with the plan.|
Where to Buy New Cellphones
In need of a cellphone? You can conveniently buy new unlocked cellphones in any large city in Colombia, including Medellín. The top mobile providers usually have stores in most of the malls as well, along with a healthy sprinkle of standalone vendors and kiosks scattered around. Although many of the businesses may be selling the same products, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the products will be priced the same.
It’s encouraged to check around and compare prices, especially if you’re at Monterrey Mall. Navigating through Medellín’s technology mall can feel overwhelming at first, but going in with a clear list of what you need can alleviate the process. There are a plethora of stores and shops that sell anything from video games and cellphones to laptops and kindle covers.
Remember: since all of the businesses are independent proprietors, their prices vary. It doesn’t hurt to try a few places to find the cheapest option before you buy a product.
Some other options to buy cellphones are in Colombia’s big retail stores, such as Exito and Jumbo where they often hold sales for low-demand products. If you don’t need a smartphone, you can buy a basic cellphone for as low as $30,000 pesos.
However, keep in mind that new smartphones will still be pretty pricey, even in Colombian standards, because of its high value-added tax (VAT) on technology and gadgets. For example, I was specifically looking for the new Bose Quiet Comfort headphones and ended up paying a little more than what I could have spent in the U.S.
But it was worth it to pay a little more to for quality and convenience. The other option would have been to have the item shipped to a domestic U.S. address, then delivered to a freight forwarding service, and having to wait again for that item to cross international borders while paying for shipping and import taxes.
You can also sell used cellphones. It’s obviously a little more difficult to sell older models, but it won’t hurt to try if it’ll mean earning a few dollars to commission your next phone.
When I arrived in Medellín, I was about to give up on selling my used iPhone 6S after the third shop in Monterrey Mall rejected me, but one vendor took my offer and gave me $350,00o COP for it. The phone was already unlocked but they helped clear the data and made sure it worked properly before paying me. This all took less than 20 minutes.
Buying Used Cellphones
Used cellphones can cost as low as $30,000 to $300,000 COP for a smartphone, but it definitely depends on what your priorities are and what you’ll be using the phone for.
Even if you don’t plan on staying abroad for that long, investing in a smartphone might be more beneficial than getting a basic cellphone simply because of convenience; the inability to use lifestyle, transportation and communication apps might hinder your travels.
Since Colombia’s telecommunications systems and infrastructures are so modern, you can essentially acquire Wi-Fi access in most public places. If you find yourself that you use more apps that require Internet over actual cellular talk or text, you may consider simply purchasing a smartphone without paying for a mobile contract.
If you venture out to El Centro, you can buy cheap used cellphones in Centro Commercial Opera, whether you want a standard phone or smartphone. There are mixed feelings about buying used cellphones, only because you want to avoid buying stolen products.
Cellphone theft is a big issue in Colombia. It became so damaging that the government had to step in to impose laws to specifically prevent the stealing of mobile phones and implement other regulations to mediate the growing situation. Because this is such a common issue, there are many stores and businesses that sell stolen cellphones. Be wary.
You can vet the process by making sure you have a usable IMEI number that you can register under your own identity. And don’t forget your receipt! This is crucial if you want to buy a new SIM card or get a new contract with a mobile provider.
Registering Your New Cellphone
A new regulation in Colombia regarding your cellphone is that all of the IMEI numbers need to be registered. An IMEI number is a unique 15-digit number that is assigned to all cellular devices. This number is how your cellphone is identified in the mobile network.
Another purpose of the IMEI number is to prevent cellphone theft. For instance, if you notify your mobile provider that your phone got stolen, it can blacklist the particular IMEI number and block it from the network and prevent further use.
If you don’t register your IMEI number in Colombia, your mobile carrier will send you a warning text to prompt you to register the identity code of your current phone. If you don’t respond within 20 days, your phone will be blocked. It’s not worth the headache. Don’t procrastinate, just get it registered as quickly as possible to avoid a new wave of worry.
It’s quite simple to do; you can register your cellphone at the same time when you purchase your new SIM card at a mobile carrier store. All you need is a cedula (Colombian ID) or a passport, and make sure you have the receipt of your newly bought phone to guarantee that it was not stolen. Even if it was bought outside of Colombia.
But to be frank, the easiest method is to just make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive in Colombia. Having an unlocked phone that is solely yours will just make everything easier. You can bring your unlocked phone to any mobile provider where you can purchase a new SIM card for an extremely cheap price, install the SIM card into your device, and get your phone registered all at the same time.
How to Call a Landline from a Cellphone
Colombia Country Code : + 57
From cellphone to a landline: 03 + City Code + 7 Digit Fixed Number
Major City Area Codes
How to Use Public Phones
If your cellphone is dead or you’re in an area where the service is poor, you can try to find a public telephone. Although they are not as prevalent as the states, you can usually locate one in larger towns and cities with shopping malls and Internet cafes.
Or you can ask a local if you are in the smaller towns or pueblos. Rates tend to stay around only a few hundred pesos per minute to make a domestic call.
Nowhere near a telephone booth? It might be because many of the kiosks and vendors actually use prepaid mobile headsets. Being mindful of courtesy and kindness, you can ask a local to use their headset if you compensate for the minutes, which usually costs between $150 and $400 COP per minute.
Emergency Contact Numbers
If you ever find yourself in need of an emergency, here is a list of important numbers you can call:
- Dial 111 for Disaster Care
- Dial 112 for the National Police and Firefighters
- Dial 127 for Automobile or Transit Accidents
- Dial 132 for the Colombian Red Cross
- Dial 165 for Kidnapping, Terrorism and Extortion Cases
A Little Background
Now that you know all of your short-term and long-term options of using how to use your cellphone regarding different plans, let’s uncover a little history to gain a better sense of why and how Colombia’s telecommunications system is the way it is.
Colombia is technically still considered a third-world country because poverty currently remains a widespread issue, yet its rapidly growing market has boosted its economical ranks, signifying its advancement from a developing country into a developed one.
In 2012, Medellín won the “Most Innovative City” award in a competition assembled by the Urban Land Institute, non-profit research, and education organization. I would say it’s a big step forward for Medellín compared to its former nickname, the “Murder Capital of the World.”
Although its telecommunications industry had a delayed start compared to other developed countries—emerging in 1991—its late arrival opened doors for a more polished, modern infrastructure and created new markets. Today, there are even more cellphones than people: 51,594,619 cellphones are currently in use compared to Colombia’s estimated population of 47,642,821 people.
Why are there so many cellphones in use?
Because of cellphone theft. The rise of the telecommunications industry opened up many lucrative opportunities for people to take advantage of. Although the issue quickly spread throughout Colombia, the government is working towards making new regulations to handle the matter. Their main concern is to diminish the trade of stolen goods between neighboring countries.
In regard to some recent reforms, customers who already have cellphones are now allowed to switch their current carriers or upgrade their phone if they pay a fee, which is similar to options offered in the United States. Customers will also get the chance to purchase a phone without a contract so the cellular costs can be separated from the monthly bill. A contract can be bought later.
Whether you’re staying in Colombia for a week or a month, examining all of your cellphone options will benefit you in the end. Carefully consider what your priorities for travel and communications are when you compare plans.
Do you have a tight budget? Are you going to be traveling far and wide, or staying in one main area during your stay? Do you browse the Internet often, or practice minimal usage?
Although it’s fairly easy and cheap to buy cellphones overall, remember to be wary of buying used ones. And if you do purchase a new smartphone, make sure to have it near you in a safe place at all times since cellphone theft is still a common issue in Colombia, especially if you are a foreigner.