How to use and buy cellphones in Colombia

Being able to communicate with and reach people is important, and being able to do it when you are abroad is sometimes even more important. Today, I want to tell you a little more about how you can both buy a cellphone as well as use a cellphone in Colombia.

In Colombia, you can purchase unlocked cell phones in any major city—both smart phones as well as old school, basic function phones. You can also purchase used phones, but make sure you do so from a reputable vendor. Likewise, you can buy cell phones through service providers. However, buying an unlocked cell phone is probably the easiest option for someone without a Colombian cédula (national identification) and/or Colombian credit history.

Now that you have a cell phone, though, how do you use it? To start with it is good to know the specifics about making calls between cell phones and landlines or vice versa. To call a landline from your cell phone you will need to dial the following:

03 + the area code for the region you are in + the landline number

For example, to call a landline in Bogotá, I would dial 031 + landline number or for Barranquilla 035 + landline number.

To dial a cellphone number from a landline, you would dial 03 + the cellphone number you are dialing, no matter what region you are dialing from.

Keep in mind, though, that calls between landlines and cell phones are pretty expensive—it’s cheaper and easier to communicate between cell phones. Even so, if you are calling a cell phone number that is tied to a different service provider than the one you use, it will also be more expensive than if you call a number tied to your same service provider. It will still be cheaper, though, than calling from or to a landline, but the price per minute will be slightly higher.

Also important to know is that in Colombia only the person initiating the phone call will be charged for the call—the receiving party is not charged for the call for the call. This has given rise to the infamous “one ring” call where someone calls another person, lets it ring once, hangs up, and then waits for the other person to “return” their call; this is normally done when someone has little credit on their phone to make calls.

Now, how can you pay for service or add credit on your cell phone? It will be pretty hard to get a plan for your cell phone, unless you have Colombian credit history or a Colombian cédula. So, we will focus on what’s called “prepago,” which refers to adding credit to your phone and, then, with that credit, buying minutes, messages, or data plans that last for designated periods of time. Before you add credit, though, you’ll need to buy a sim card from a service provider. The main service providers in Colombia are Tigo, Claro, and Movistar. Once you have your sim card, you can add credit by going to almost any grocery store cashier, using certain ATMs/cash points, or by asking someone on the street who is selling minutes to top you up. Once you pay the amount of credit you are adding, you should receive a text message confirming the top up.

Hopefully, you’ve got it clear now!

Until next time,

Paige M.  Poole

About the author:

“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog


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