This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: Excellent
Quality of bandwidth: High
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Medium
Frequency of internet in hotels: High
We crossed at Foz do Iguacu and headed east to Curitiba the south to Floranopolis. From there we went back up the coast to Rio de Janiero. Brazil is a massive country, we barely scratched the surface.
Availability was remarkable. Every town had internet or calling centers, every hostel, rental apartment or hotel had wifi. Most gas stations on major highways had internet. We never had trouble finding a hotspot. Availability in campgrounds was mixed, but with a little advance research we were able to find a place with internet.
Bandwidth was almost always high speed. We had some minor connectivity issues, but those were most frequently related to improper router settings and not the ISP. Wifi in hostels was excellent, unless there were others clogging up the bandwidth. Connections with 3G modems are also remarkably fast. We spent 10 days in an apartment in Santos using only a modem with no issues.
In order to buy any type of cellular device (SIM card, modem, or phone), you must have a Brazilian ID number called a CPF. Supposedly you can request a number from aduana when you enter the country. We didn’t know about the requirement, so obviously didn’t attempt to get a number at the border. If the aduana official speaks English (or you speak Portuguese) it would be worth asking if you can get one. The entire SIM card purchasing experience will be much simpler.
There are several cell phone companies in Brazil, the most common are TIM, Claro and Vivo. TIM is everywhere and the cheapest. Most Brazilians use this company because calls between TIM phones are free. Their coverage, however, is not the best.
We had the owner of an apartment we rented in Floranopolis pick up a SIM card for us. He checked out the three companies, but the only one that sold prepaid SIM cards for modem use in store was TIM. He bought the SIM for us with his CPF number.
Also, very important, he called TIM and activated the card for modem use. If you attempt to put a normal SIM in your modem it won’t work unless it has been activated. Again, if you don’t speak Portuguese, buy an English speaking Brazilian a beer. Given the friendliness of the average Brazilian it should take about 2.3 seconds to find someone to help.
The TIM worked fairly well in our unlocked modem. We had some connectivity problems, but our modem was also on the fritz, and so it’s likely this was a hardware issue not related to TIM. The data packets are R$2 (US$1) and are automatically deducted from your balance. One packet lasts one day. There were other longer-lasting packets available, but the daily promo was still cheaper and didn’t require any extra effort on our part.
We purchased a SIM card for calling from TIM for R$10 (USD$5). There was a bit of a run around because of the CPF number requirement, but after asking 3 or 4 places, we found someone that would sell us one without having that number.
The TIM card worked great for local calls, especially for organizing the shipping of our car back to the states, but costs to call the US were high and internet was fast enough for Skype. We ended up using Skype for all our international calling needs.
If you’re coming from Bolivia or Northern Argentina you’ll be delighted at the quality of internet in Brazil. Of course, we stayed on the beaten path, so your mileage may vary. 3G modems are worth the hassle is you are going remote, just be prepared for a runaround if you don’t have CPF number.