Big Ears in Brazil

Big ears in Brazil are one more means of communication for anyone on the streets. No, we are not talking about the cauliflower eared athletes in academies, streets and on the beaches… Named after the shape of the covers surrounding the public telephones, “ORELHOES” (plural for “ORELHAO”) are spread throughout most of the cities and even in rural areas. Big Ears are easy to use and can come in handy if you do not have a local phone or in an emergency. Who knows, you could be one of those all night partiers loose on the streets, who wakes up without shoes or a cell phone!

"ORELHAO" (Big Ear)


Theses public telephones do not accept change or have a slot for your credit cards but function with use of a “CARTAO DE ORELHAO”. Public telephone cards or “CARTOES” can be purchased at a corner news stand or “BANCO DO JOURNAL” during their hours of operation (most news stands run during regular business hours and are closed Sundays). The “CARTAO DE ORELHAO” comes in different increments of time, with their least expensive card selling for around R$5.00.

Banco do Journal (news stand)

To use the Brazilian public phones:

  1. Insert the pre-paid card into the reader, located mid-telephone on the right hand side
  2. Look at the digital display of the minute counter registering minutes remaining on your card to see that it is functioning
  3. Dial your number.

*Depending on the area you are calling from, service to the telephones may be infrequent. Do not be discouraged if the first one does not work, there is likely another right around the corner and it’s only a matter of time until reaching one that works for you.

ORELHEAO (Big Ear) telephone

In calling another part of the country it is also necessary to dial the prefix. Area codes for the largest metropolitan areas are (21), for Rio de Janeiro and (11), for Sao Paulo. Generally you will not need to dial a prefix before number if the pay phone is in the area of number being called. There are a number of the pay phones that will also allow you to dial outside the country, however this will use minutes on the card at an alarming rate.

*For international calls, Skype is your best bet unless it is an emergency.

"CARTAO DE ORELHAO" prepaid public phone card

If for some reason you find yourself in a situation without a means to purchase the “CARTAO DE ORELEHAO”, pay phones are still useable. Dial 9090, then the number to place a collect call and the automated operator will prompt you to state your name.

*In dialling collect the number receiving must not be blocked to incoming collect calls.

Emergency Numbers in Rio de Janeiro (do not require phone card or credit to use):

Ambulance: 192

Fire Fighters/Life Guards: 193

Civil Police: 197

Military Police: 190

Federal Police: 194

*Outside of Rio de Janeiro, USE THIS LIST to select your region and find the appropriate emergency numbers.

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