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Brunei is a bit of an enigma. It’s a tiny enclave on the tropical Southeast Asian island of Borneo, yet is fabulously wealthy due to vast oil and gas reserves. Ruled by one of the last remaining absolute monarchs, it’s a strict Islamic nation with sharia law and no alcohol or nightclubs for its citizens, yet foreign workers flood in due to no income tax and a low cost of living.
Most travelers only come through for a night or two, basing themselves in the capital of Bandar Seri Bagawan, and perhaps taking a day trip out to the Ulu Temburong rainforest if they’ve got the time.
No matter how long you’re there for, though, you’ll find that staying connected is a simple, inexpensive affair. Just don’t expect much from your data speeds!
Here’s what you need to know.
There are only two cell service providers in Brunei, DST and Progresif. DST has better coverage and an LTE network, while Progresif only offers 3G service, but with better rates for short-term visitors.
Since I was in the country for just four days, and would be spending little time outside the capital, I opted to save some money and go with Progresif. Service is limited outside the larger cities in Brunei, though, so if you do plan to spend much time elsewhere in the country, you’ll probably want to go with DST instead.
Both companies have kiosks conveniently located in the small arrivals area of Brunei’s sole international airport. If you need to get money out of an ATM beforehand, there are several available on the second floor, up the escalator.
In general you may as well buy your SIM at the airport, since prices are the same. Because I was getting picked up by my guesthouse owner and had already made her wait due to a delayed flight, however, I decided to postpone my purchase until I got into the city.
Both companies have stores beside each other downtown near the waterfront, but I ended up going to the Progresif store at Gadong Mall, since I was in the area anyway.
The process was extremely straightforward. Two tourist plans were prominently displayed, so I just picked the one I wanted, and mentioned it to the staff member. She took a copy of my passport, asked me to sign a form, installed and configured the SIM, and sent me on my way within five minutes.
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Progresif was offering two tourist packages when I visited, both valid for a month:
- For 10 BND (~$7.60 USD), you get 1GB of data, unlimited domestic calls and texts, 10 international calls, and 10 international texts
- For 25 BND ($19 USD), you get unlimited data, plus the same domestic and international calls and texts as above.
I knew I wouldn’t use more than 1GB of data during my time in the country, so went for the cheaper plan.
If you choose to go with DST instead, expect to pay 15 BND for a tourist SIM with 400MB of data valid for six days, 20 BND for 1GB of data valid for a month, or 30 BND for 3GB for a month. No calls or texts are included by default.
Brunei is one of the few countries where tourist SIM packages are actually the best deal for travelers, since other plans include a mandatory 25 BND annual registration fee.
Top-ups are available at all Progresif stores, but because the tourist SIM expires and becomes unusable after four weeks anyway, you won’t need to top it up.
If you go with DST, top-ups are also available instore.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage with Progresif was solid in and around Bandar Seri Bagawan, and for most of the short bus journey from there to the (eastern) border with Malaysia. I also had signal while transiting the Temburong section of Brunei shortly afterwards, although didn’t seem to get data service there.
Data speeds, although usable, weren’t anything to get excited about. I was able to make a voice Skype call without much problem, but wouldn’t have wanted to try much more than that.