If you’re moving to Portugal, one of the first things you’ll want to do is sort yourself out with a phone. Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to communicate with friends, checking out the news in a café and being able to ask your parents how to use a washing machine at inopportune hours, it comes in handy for emergencies.

Of course, as a newly arrived student this might be a bit tricky. There are a variety of operators, tariffs and coverages over both the Portuguese mainland and the islands, so we put together this guide to make your life a little bit easier. See how choosing a cell phone operator in Portugal can be a piece of cake.

Before you arrive

Before you arrive you should check that your phone is GSMA enabled. If it is only CDMA enabled then you won’t be able to use your existing phone with a new Portuguese sim card, which would mean having to buy a new one.

If you plan on keeping your phone, then you should also make sure the SIM is unlocked. This way all you need to do is pop out your old sim and put a new one in when you get it. If it’s locked then you need to contact your current operator to see what policies what they have in place for giving out your unlock code.

Choose an operator

There are 3 main operators in Portugal. The vast majority of people choose these companies because they are reliable, reasonably priced and have excellent coverage. They are also very easy to find them making them the first place you should look when choosing your new cell operator.

MEO – Owned by Altice, Meo has been in Portugal for over 11 years. They offer both pre-paid and contract plans with extras for data, roaming and international calls.

Vodafone – Vodafone operate worldwide and their Portugal division is a popular option. They offer the usual pre and postpaid plans, but of interest to some may be the Vodafone World tariff. If your family friends back home have the same tariff, then calls and texts are free!

NOS – The oldest of the networks in Portugal, NOS offers a variety of plans in both pre and postpaid plans. This makes it a little confusing to evaluate, but on the other hand it also means they should have a plan ideal for your needs.

There are also smaller MVNOs which are rapidly increasing in popularity. They are cheaper options than the top 3, but of course as MVNOs they have less proven reliability and customer support.

Lycamobile – Chances are you’ve already come across this company as they exist everywhere. Specializing in prepaid plans and bundles, they are an attractive option due to their simplicity and wide availability.

Moche – Running on the MEO network, this operator is only available to people under the age of 25. In addition to having a range of tariffs which can include up to 5GB and 5000 mins per month for €16, they also provide free access to a range of popular apps like WhatsApp and skype, making is useful for contacting home. It is necessary to have a citizen’s card though to qualify, which makes it an unrealistic option for many.

Yorn – Offered by Vodafone, Yorn is similar to Moche in price and function. It is a sim-only operator that provides fantastic value for data and calls and is geared towards young people. Unlike Moche however, you only need a NIF to apply for this card.

Uzo – Uzo offers their tariffs according to national, international and data needs. It is now very common for people with dual sim phones to use this prepaid service as a way of calling home, while keeping a more traditional sim for their domestic needs.

Most major cities in Portugal have full coverage. If you plan on studying in a rural town though, or one of the islands, then check their coverage here.

Select a plan

There are 3 main ways to pay for cell service in Portugal. Monthly, prepaid and data only, with additional extras for roaming and international calls. For most people who communicate through WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, it’s probably more important to make sure that you have a generous and cheap data allowance rather than minutes. If you have family members who can’t figure out how to use Skype no matter how many times you walk them through it, then it might be worth thinking about buying a dedicated SIM for international calls too.

Getting a prepaid SIM is very easy. For contracts however, you might need a NIF (Portuguese tax number), ID and proof of address. So if that’s the direction you take, bring it with you!

In all cases, you can choose whether to use your existing phone or buy one from the operator. Just remember to check the contract length to make sure you won’t have to continue paying after you finish your studies. And also make sure if you buy a phone from the operator directly that it will be easy to unlock should decide to take it home with you!

How to pay

For contract plans it might be best to set up a direct debit. But in all cases regardless of plan, you can pay through Portuguese ATMs, online banking, operator websites, by phone and by buying top-up cards from kiosks.


Choosing a cell operator in Portugal can be a daunting task. Aside from the large number of options, there are also obvious language barriers to overcome. As long as you have a good idea of whether you need to prioritize minutes, messages or data in order to stay under budget, know for how long you will need to be using it and have all the necessary documents, then you can’t go wrong.