You can make domestic calls – intercity or local – from normal card pay phones on the street and in telephone offices. The telephone cards you need are sold for US$1.40 per 30 units at telephone offices and for around US$2 by vendors, newsstands and anywhere else where you see advertising cartaos telefonicos. The most common denomination is 30 units, but 20-, 60- and 90-unit cards are sometimes available.
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 number (either seven or eight digits). Local calls cost only one or two units. For directory information, call Tel: 102.
For called 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. City codes are therefore usually given in the format 0 x x digit digit, with the ‘x x’ representing the carrier code. A long-distance call usually eats up between five and 10 phone card units per minute.
You need to include the city code (Oxx digit digit) when calling to another city even it 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 Oxx. 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.
To phone Brazil from abroad, dial your international access code, then 55 ( Brazil’s country code), then the city code (omitting the initial Oxx), then the number.
The cost of international calls from Brazil depends on where you call from, but expect it to be about US$0.75 a minute to the US or Canada, and US$1.25 a minute to Europe or Australia. Prices are about 20% lower during hora reduzida (off-peak hours), which is typically from 8pm to 6am daily and all day Sunday.
To make an international call at your own expense, ordinary card pay phones – nicknamed orelhoes (big ears; you’ll soon understand why when you get to see one) – are of little use unless you have an international calling card. For one thing, most pay phones are restricted to domestic calls only. For another, even if they are enabled for international calls, 30-unit Brazilian phone cards (often the only denomination available) may last less than a minute on an international call, and there’s no facility for switching cards mid-call.
If you have an international calling card, or if you only have to talk for less than a minute, you need to find a phone that will make international calls. Every town has a posto telefonico (telephone office) and international calls should be possible on at least some of its phones. Some phones in airports and on the streets of the bigger cities will also make international calls. They may be marked ‘Este aparelho faz Ligapes internacionais’ (This apparatus makes international calls) – or they may not be identified in any way at all.
If you don’t have an international calling card, you can buy Embratel phonecards from newsstands and pharmacies (sold in denominations of US$10, US$15, and US$35). These have a bar on the back that you scratch off to reveal a code to enter along with the number you are calling. (Instructions are printed on the cards in English and Portuguese.) You can make calls from any phone. Rates are generally about US$0.50 a minute for calls to the US, US$0.75 to Europe and about twice that to Asia and Australia.
Another option – and probably the easiest one – is to find an Internet or phone cafe, where you pay in cash after you finish talking (don’t forget to establish the cost per minute before you call). Normally you’ll be directed to a booth and will dial the call yourself Country codes include the following: Argentina tel:54, Australia tel:61, Bolivia tel:591, Colombia tel:57, France tel: 33, Germany tel: 49, New Zealand tel: 64, Paraguay tel: 595, Peru tel: 51, UK tel: 44, US and Canada tel: 1, and Venezuela tel: 58.
You can also make calls from your hotel or a private phone, but in hotels it’s essential to attempt to establish beforehand what it will cost you. Hotels often add a markup.
For a cobrar (international collect) calls, try dialing tel: 000107 from any phone, although this only works to some countries. Or try dialing the local operator tel: 100) and asking to be transferred to a telefonista internacional (international operator). Failing that, you need to locate a phone that can do international calls. Home Country Direct services get you through to an operator in the country you’re calling (or at least an interactive recorded message there) which will connect the collect call for you. For most Home Country Direct services, dial (tel: 00080 followed by the country code (for North America, instead of the country code use tel: 10 for AT&T, tel: 12 for MCI and tel: 16 for Sprint; for Australia, dial tel: 0008006112). Alternatively, you can get a Brazilian international operator by dialing is 000111 or tel: 000333. They usually speak English, but if not, you could experiment with some of the phrases.
If you’re having telephone troubles, staff at reception desks at larger hotels can be helpful.
Be careful with services advertised by stickers on some phones announcing free calls to multilingual operators who can get you collect calls to the US or international credit-card calls. Make sure you establish the costs of any call before making it.
Cell phones in Brazil are known as celular (cellular phones; often shortened to cel). They have eight-digit numbers starting with a 9, and calls to them run through your phonecard units much faster than calls to regular numbers. Mobiles have city codes just like normal phone numbers (0 x x digit digit), and if you’re calling from another city you have to use them.
Mobile telephones are very common in big cities. In Rio and Sao Paulo, you can rent one for around US$7 a day plus call charges. The following are in Rio:
(Tel: 0xx2l-2275 8461; www.connectcomrj.com.br ; No 712, Av NS de Copacabana) Offers pick-up and drop-off service to your hotel
(Tel: oxx21-25481008; www.fastcell.com.br ; No 919, Rua Santa Clara 50, Copacabana) Provides excellent service. English-speaking staff will pick up and deliver to your hotel. You can also email the company before your trip and it can set you up with a number before you arrive.