We performed two different approaches (broth enrichment step prior to culture (BEC) and PCR (BEPCR)) for detecting Streptococcus pneumoniae from nasopharyngeal specimens collected from 242 children aged <6 years attending one hospital (n = 140) and one childcare centre (n = 102) in a major urban area in Brazil. These specimens were collected immediately before the introduction of the 10-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV10) and the 13-valent vaccine (PCV13) for routine use in Brazil. Results were compared with previous findings obtained with direct culture (DC) on a selective medium. Colonisation prevalence was 58·3% (n = 141), being higher among children attending the childcare centre (62·7% vs. 55%). The culture-based methods (DC and BEC) enabled the detection of S. pneumoniae in 119 (49·2%) and 115 (47·5%) children, respectively. The PCR-based method (BEPCR) was more sensitive and 137 (56·6%) carriers were identified. Twenty-six serogroups/serotypes were identified, predominantly 6B, 19F, 14, 6A, 15C and 23F. Multiple colonisation was observed in 13 (5·4%) children. The estimated serotypes coverage of available PCVs was 40·4% for the 10-valent (included in the Brazilian immunisation programme) and 55·8% for the 13-valent (only available in private clinics). The use of robust approaches to obtain a more realistic insight about the asymptomatic carrier status is of paramount importance to estimate and assess the impact of vaccine implementation. The combination between culture-based and molecular methods constitutes a suitable strategy.