Changes are afoot in Myanmar’s mobile space. After years of only having MPT, the government-owned telecom as an option, the first foreign company has arrived in the “Golden Land.”
With Qatar-based Ooredoo recently launched and Telenor Myanmar on the way, there is finally some competition and a look into the future of what will likely be a rapid change here in the country.
There have been some challenges however. An Ooredoo spokesperson said they have even had to use oxen to carry equipment to some locations as they deploy their network. Welcome to Myanmar.
For those keeping track, our last look at buying a SIM card in Myanmar in October 2012 offered few options for the traveler passing through. The temporary “traveler” SIM would run you $20 with expensive call rates and no options for data. While hardly amazing now, at least we’re heading in the right direction.
Prices are in Myanmar kyat, and at the time of writing, the exchange rate is approximately 1030 kyat to $1.00 USD but it’s been unstable recently.
- We recommend Ooredoo for most travellers
For years, you only had the state owned MPT as an option (if you could even call it an option). In late 2014, both Qatar-based Ooredoo and Norway-based Telenor have launched bringing reasonable cost mobile service to the country for the first time.
We’re recommending Ooredoo instead of MPT because of their low-cost sim card (1500 kyat vs ~5000 kyat), and much better English-language support, even though the recent network launch means coverage is hardly perfect.
It's best to visit one of the Ooredoo stores in downtown Yangon or Mandalay for the highest chance of English help, but seriously, everyone and their dog sells Ooredoo SIM cards and top-ups. I wasn’t asked for any ID, and was in and out of the random mobile phone shop in less than 5 minutes.
You *may* need to provide your passport (though it’s unlikely), and you will require an unlocked phone or have to buy a phone while here. If your phone is currently locked, you may be able to have your phone unlocked at a general mobile store if you don’t mind potentially voiding your warranty.
1500 kyat will get you a SIM card ready for 3G data access.
Welcome bonus varies, but currently you get a 500 kyat credit and 10MB of data with activation.
- Calls (in network) 25 kyat / min
- Calls (all other) 35 kyat / min
- SMS 15 kyat / msg
- Data 10 kyat / MB (1000kyat / 100MB)
See more prepaid rates here.
Ooredoo's international rates can be surprisingly reasonable, depending where you are calling. You'll find per minute rates of 100 kyat / min to the USA / Canada, while other countries hover around the 500 kyat – 700 kyat / minute mark.
SMS runs about 125 kyat / message. You can find the overseas rates for Ooredoo here.
If you don’t already own a cell phone or yours isn’t unlocked, you can buy an inexpensive phone in Myanmar starting at ~20000 kyat.
With an extremely strong marketing push (you’ll find Ooredoo signs EVERYWHERE), it’s easy to find a top up at a local shop on the street.
Available in 1000, 3000, 5000 and 10000 kyat cards, they are good for 30 days.
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COVERAGE AND DATA SPEEDS
Coverage for Ooredoo is rapidly changing, but with several tourist areas left with no coverage, it currently leaves much to be desired for the traveler. Coverage can be expected in Yangon, Mandalay, Bago, Nyapyidaw. Rural areas (including all of Shan state) are currently without service.
In short: cities and the major highways between them have coverage, but don’t expect it anywhere else. We expect this to change rapidly throughout 2015 and onwards.
Even in the cities, the signal has troubles penetrating the walls of buildings, so expect a lot of missed calls. It’s well known with locals here that you have to go outside to make a call. I missed both of the test calls made to me since I was inside a building, receiving a “missed call” text when I walked back to a place with coverage.
The UMTS 900/2100 data speeds varied a lot through a few tests over more than a month, but ended up being better than expected. This variation is likely due to congestion on the network with it being so new, but I expect it will improve and generally become more reliable in the coming months.
So with all that said, should you even bother getting a SIM card in Myanmar? Right now, I’d say no.
It probably won’t work when you want it to (much like the Wi-fi here) and it certainly won’t meet your expectations of having a mobile SIM anywhere else in the world. So stay offline, and enjoy this place without needing to check your Facebook likes every 5 minutes.
It’s worth noting that roaming may be available from your own provider if you don’t want to buy a SIM card in Myanmar. Keep in mind that the number of roaming providers is comparatively very low and will likely not be available if you’re on prepaid. You can see a list of roaming providers for inbound roaming with MPT here.