Photo: Molly Mazilu

“Oi” in Portuguese means “hi” and in Brazil it’s also the name of a mobile phone company. Apparently a not-so-good mobile phone company. On our third day in Brazil, Nellu and I spent about thirty minutes at an “Oi” store in downtown Sao Paulo attempting to buy and activate a prepaid sim card to install in our unlocked smart phones. Well, the buying part was the easy part. It was the activating part that was a bit harder.

We kept going back and forth with the sales clerk and the help of Google translate.  (Just so you have the right picture in your head, we were literally sitting at one of the computers in the store  typing out our questions and comments in our respective languages using translate.google.com to speak to each other.)

Here’s a recreation:

Você precisa do seu CPF para registrar o telefone. (You need your cpf to register the phone.)

What is a CPF? (O que é um CPF?) – Turns out this is similar to a social security number for Brazilians. Foreigners on extended stays can also get them.

Você está em férias no Brasil? (Are you on vacation in Brazil?)

We are on extended travel in South America. (Estamos em viagem prolongada na América do Sul.)

About 15 minutes later, we had resolved all those issues and I had an active “Oi” sim card with 20 reias (about $13) credit. But there were restrictions. Until I used up all that credit and recharged the card again, I could only call “Oi” to “Oi” (meaning I could only call other “Oi” users) and I couldn’t text . Oy Vey!

When we told our Sao Paulo hosts that we had purchased an “Oi” card, well, they pretty much laughed.

After reviewing some of the options for mobile phone usage abroad, we determined that our best strategy was to use prepaid local sim cards. And Nellu secured the right phones to support our cause. Since the phones would be used  mostly for calls and texts when the two of us were separated (we’re using Skype for international calls), we didn’t want the trouble of dealing with the random budget blowing roaming charges or other complications that seem to come with the segmented mobile world. (Oh I miss my blackberry and its work funded plan!)

So Nellu and I have not been outside shouting distance from each other for about a week. So far so good.

We’re still working on the best solution. If we find a good one, we’ll definitely update you.

Here are a few articles from Travel and Leisure that I found helpful:

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/how-to-prevent-cell-phone-roaming-fees#

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/how-to-avoid-big-phone-bills-abroad

~ Molly

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