You can make domestic calls – intercity or local – from normal card pay phones on the street and in telephone offices. The phone cards you need are sold in denominations of 20 to 100 units (costing between R$5 and R$20) by vendors and at newsstands and anywhere you see advertising cartões telefônicos.
For calls within the city you’re in, just slide the card into the phone, then check the readout to see if it’s given you proper credit, and dial the eight-digit number. Local fixed-line phone calls cost only a few units.
For calls to other cities, you need to precede the number with 0, then the code of your selected carrier, then the two or three digits representing the city area code. City codes are therefore usually given in the format 0xx-digit-digit, with the ‘xx’ representing the carrier code. A long-distance call usually eats up between five and 10 phonecard units per minute.
You need to include the city code (0xx-digit-digit) when calling to another city, even if that city has the same city code as the one you’re calling from.
To make a chamada a cobrar (intercity collect) call, stick a 9 in front of the 0xx. To make a local collect call, dial 9090 and then the number. A recorded message in Portuguese will ask you to say your name and the name of the state where you’re calling from, after the beep.
Brazilian City Codes & Carriers
Brazil has several rival long-distance telephone carriers. When making a long-distance call (either between cities or internationally), you have to select a carrier and include its two-digit código de prestadora (code) in the number you dial. Brazilian city codes are commonly quoted with an xx representing the carrier code, eg 0xx21 for Rio de Janeiro or 0xx71 for Salvador.
This construction may look complicated, but in practice it’s straightforward. For one thing, you can use the main carriers, Embratel (21) or Oi Telemar (31) for any call; for another, other major carriers usually have their names and codes widely displayed in their localities, particularly on public phones.
For example, to call from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza (city code 0xx85), in the state of Ceará, you dial 0 followed by 21, 23, 31 or 85 (the codes of the four carriers that cover both Rio and Ceará), followed by 85 for Fortaleza, followed by the number.
For an international call, dial 00 followed by either 21, 23 or 31 (the international carriers), followed by the country code, city code and number.
Brazil uses the GSM 850/900/1800/1900 network, which is compatible with North America, Europe and Australia, but the country’s 4G LTE network runs on 2500/2690 (for now), which is not compatible with many North American and European smartphones, including initial releases of the iPhone 5.
Celular (cell) phones have eight-digit numbers (nine-digit numbers in São Paulo) starting with 6, 7, 8 or 9. Mobiles have city codes, just like landlines, and if you’re calling from another city, you have to use them. Tim (www.tim.com.br), Claro (www.claro.com.br), Oi (www.oi.com.br) and Vivo (www.vivo.com.br) are the major operators.
Foreigners can purchase a local SIM with a passport instead of needing a Brazilian CPF (tax ID number) – a major bureaucratic roadblock dismantled. Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked European and Australian phones, and in US phones on the GSM network.
Useful Telephone Phrases
I would like to make an international call to… Quero fazer uma ligação internacional para…
I would like to reverse the charges. Quero fazê-la a cobrar.
I am calling from a public (private) telephone in Rio de Janeiro. Estou falando dum telefone público (particular) no Rio de Janeiro.
My name is… Meu nôme é…
The area code is… O código é…
The number is… O número é…