Like the rest of South East Asia, Thailand offers a lot to travellers. Beautiful beaches and landscapes, great weather, fantastic food and inexpensive prices make it an appealing destination, and many millions of visitors flock to the country every year.

For those looking to stay connected while they’re there, the good news is that buying a local SIM card is a straightforward and inexpensive process, with decent data speeds and good coverage almost everywhere.

Here’s what you need to know.



COMPANIES

  • We recommend AIS for most travellers

There are three cell networks in Thailand, operated by dtac, AIS and TrueMove. While you can also buy SIM cards and service from resellers, there’s little point in doing so for most short-term visitors to the country.

AIS has the largest market share, and also has a large network of Wi-fi hotspots that you can access as part of the more expensive packages. It seems like you’re rarely far from one of these hotspots, which don’t count towards your mobile data allowance.

The company sells prepaid service under the 1-2-Call and you! Mobile brands. Although the latter provides more flexibility, most travellers will find themselves using 1-2-Call SIMs as they’re more widely available.

I’ve used dtac’s Happy prepaid service in the past, but now tend to stick with AIS due to those Wi-fi hotspots. Note you’ll need a phone that supports the 2100Mhz band to get 3G data (almost all GSM phones do), and 4G/LTE isn’t available at the time of writing.​

HOW

Like many other things in Thailand, buying a SIM card is simple. If you fly into Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi airport, all three cell companies have booths beside each other in the arrival hall. They all offer pretty much the same tourist-focused packages, which are aimed mainly at those spending a week or less in the country.

If you’re in a hurry and not in the country for long, feel free to pick up one of these packages — but for better deals, seek out one of the company’s retail shops outside the airport, or a Family Mart convenience store (which can be found all over Thailand).

Depending on where you buy your SIM, you may be asked for your passport — there’s technically a requirement to register your details, but it’s not always enforced, especially in smaller stores. Instructions for activation are written in English and Thai on the packaging, but the salesperson will often do this for you (especially at the airport or official stores).

When purchasing at a convenience store you typically buy the card for 50 baht (look for a Freedom 3G card), plus a top-up voucher for as much as you need. Add the credit from the voucher by following the instructions printed on it, then activate your desired package with a specific code.

Many of the staff in these stores speak enough English to understand what you’re after and explain the basics of what you need to do.

COSTS

If you buy one of the AIS tourist packages at the airport, you’ll pay 299 baht ($10) for a card with 1.5GB of data valid for seven days, plus 100 baht call credit valid for a month.

There’s also a 459 baht option with three SIM cards and 3GB of data valid for a week, which could be useful for small groups. Packages valid for a month are also available for higher prices, but in that case you’re better off waiting until you’re outside the airport and buying a standard 1-2-Call package.

If you buy your SIM card elsewhere, you’ll have access to the full range of 1-2-Call packages. They are many and varied, with validity ranging from a day to a month.

One of the more useful ones includes 2GB of data valid for 30 days for 239 baht (enter *777*75#), but check here for the latest offers — they change all the time. Local calls and SMS are very inexpensive, and I’ve never spent more than 50 baht in a month on them.

TOPPING UP

You can buy top-ups at Family Mart convenience stores and many other locations. Just keep an eye out for the AIS / 1-2-Call logo.


Can’t be bothered standing in line for your Thai SIM card when you’d rather be sipping cocktails beside the pool?
SIM Easy sells local Thai SIMs with calls, texts and data for only a few dollars more than doing it yourself, and ships them anywhere in the world free of charge. It’s the easiest, lowest-cost way of getting connected in Thailand before you arrive.
Find out more here.


COVERAGE AND DATA SPEEDS

AIS coverage is good almost anywhere you’re likely to go as a tourist, and much of the rest of the country as well. I’ve had full signal most of the time in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and other provincial capitals, as well as on bus and scooter trips in the countryside.

I even had signal for a while after crossing the border into Cambodia, at least until I got outside the range of the last Thai cell tower.

Data speeds are reasonable without being exceptional — the speeds shown in screenshot below are pretty typical.

Bangkok AIS 3G speeds

AIS 3G speeds in Bangkok

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
Want more? Grab our free 5000 word guide
Plus regular tips, discounts and the best travel tech advice.
Subscribe
No spam, ever.
 

12 Responses

  1. Zab Scoon

    Hi Dave,

    A great guide to buying a SIM in Thailand. It worked exactly as you mentioned and the prices are spot on. On mainland Thailand it’s easy to go to the AIS stores. Check out their offers. Sam got 1 week pass with 1GB of data and BHT50 for calls FREE. If you arrive on some of the islands first like Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta the 7 Elevens seem to run out of the best SIMs quite often, just a heads up. I purchased my SIM in a 7 Eleven on Koh Lanta and had 2GB and BHT50 for calls during our month stay in Thailand which lasted right up to the last day!

    Reply
  2. Kitty

    Hi Dave,
    I just want to update information. The account identification has been required every store. I heard that it must do due to the government policy. Besides, there’re 4G services in Thailand since the beginning of this year. I and my friend went to Thailand for 2 weeks last month. My iPad is WiFi-only model, but my accommodation has not WiFI. So, I rented mobile router called – ThaiSims. It provided unlimited data (I don’t know how much GB). Then, my iPad can connect internet everywhere, not only in the hotel. It priced 5$/day. I and my friend equally paid. So, it’s just 2.5$/day!

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Hi Kitty,

      Thanks for the update. I have to say I’m not surprised to hear the passport/ID requirement is being more strictly enforced under the current political regime.

      Regarding LTE — yep, True has had good LTE coverage for a while, and DTAC has limited service. AIS didn’t start offering LTE until this year (2016), so I’d expect it’ll be a while before you regularly see it outside Bangkok and a few other cities.

      For anyone wanting to use LTE with AIS, remember you’ll also need a phone that supports the 1800Mhz frequency — most North American phones won’t, for instance.

      Reply
      • Rehmat

        Hi .
        If aperson will came again in thai land after 5 or6 month .this sim card will work next time if recharg? thank.s

  3. Janine

    my son is going to Thailand to teach English this Sept for at least 6 months…trying to fig out best plan/ card for him for data/text/voice(he has to call me of course!) I’m really confused

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      There’s not a great deal of price difference between the various SIM card options, especially if he’ll be in the country for a few months. Around $10/month will get him 2GB of data and a few local calls and texts, as long as he buys the SIM from a 7-11 or cell company rather than at the airport. If he needs more data each month, there are larger packages available too. As mentioned in the article, I like AIS because it has wide network coverage, and also gives you access to loads of Wi-fi hotspots in the cities.

      For calling you, I’d recommend he uses Skype (or something similar, like Facetime) to save money.

      Reply
  4. Al Stairs

    Good morning:

    I currently am living in Bangkok and just wanted to provide an update. I too like AIS, and all the family are using a tourist SIM. There has been a recent change where AIS and 7/11 are no longer affiliated. You can however top up the AIS cards at Family Mart locations, which are also very plentiful around Bangkok. You can also top up via the AIS website and using a credit card, something I do regularly.

    Reply
  5. Rich

    If I understand this correctly, to enable my laptop I need a GMS phone with a AIS sim card to teather to my laptop. Or is there another way?

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      That’s one way of doing it, yup (it’s GSM, by the way, not GMS). You can also use a dongle like this that plugs into your laptop, with a local SIM card inside it, or more commonly, a hotspot/Mi-Fi device like this with a local SIM that lets you connect 5-10 other devices to it via its own wireless network.

      The key thing with either of them is that they aren’t locked to a specific carrier in whatever country you buy it in, so you can use them with local SIM cards anywhere in the world. Typically, you’re best to buy from Amazon or another retailer, rather than your cell company, for that reason.

      Reply
  6. Hendel

    Hi Dave!
    Thanks for this informative posts!

    Would you please recommend the cheapest package of 1-2 Call for me? I will be staying in the city center so I’m sure I can find Family Mart around the area.

    I’m using a 4G enabled phone with 1800Mhz frequency. I need a fast connection (1.5 GB and up) and not so much on call for 7 days 6 nights in BKK.

    I’m also considering the 7 day tourist sim if there’s not much difference with the price as compared to the 1-2 Call sim in local stores.

    Thanks a lot! God bless.
    Hendel

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Hi Hendel,

      I haven’t been to Thailand for a while, unfortunately, so I don’t have first hand experience of what the current package pricing looks like. That said, the link I gave above (http://www.ais.co.th/package/) should be pretty accurate.

      There will certainly be a difference between the tourist SIM price at the airport and what’s available at local stores elsewhere, but you’re not talking large sums either way for a 7 day stay.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *