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. Regardless, 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.
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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/HSPA+ service.
At the time I visited, Progressif’s pricing was better than DST. Since I was in the country for just four days with little time outside the capital, I saved some money by using them. Service is limited outside the larger cities in Brunei, though.
Since then, both companies have changed their tourist plans to be the same price. Progresif offers a bit more data and a few more minutes of calling time, but there isn’t an awful lot in it. If you’ll be spending much time outside the capital, go with DST, otherwise buy from Progresif.
That said, if you only need data and your phone supports eSIMs, you may as well just buy a travel eSIM from aloSIM instead. You’ve got more options about how much data you buy, you’re ready to go as soon as you land, and it’s often cheaper as well. More on all that below.
How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Brunei
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 as elsewhere. 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 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.
As with all travel eSIMs, the purchase process with aloSIM is very straightforward. You can do it whenever you like, including at home before you travel. Head to the Brunei page on the site, buy the data pack you prefer, and follow the on-screen instructions to install and activate the eSIM on your phone.
Enable it when you arrive in Brunei, and you’ll be good to go within a couple of minutes.
Prepaid SIM Costs
Progresif was offering two tourist packages when I visited, but has now slimmed its offerings down to a single option. For 15 BND ($11 USD), you get 30 minutes of local calls and 4GB of data, valid for a week.
You can renew the plan after it runs out each week, but the SIM card itself will expire and become inactive after four weeks.
If you choose to go with DST instead, expect to pay the same 15 BND for a tourist SIM with 3GB of data, valid for seven days. You’ll get 3 BND credit to use for domestic calls and texts. The SIM card itself is valid for 30 days, so again you can top-up each week until the month is up.
Brunei is one of the few countries where tourist SIM packages are actually the best deal for travelers. Other plans include a mandatory 25 BND annual registration fee.
aloSIM also keeps things simple, with three options to choose from:
- 1GB for 7 days – $9
- 3GB for 30 days – $18
- 5GB for 30 days – $27
As you can see, this makes aloSIM cheaper for both shorter and longer stays if you don’t need huge amounts of data. You don’t get a local Brunei phone number though: if that’s a problem for you, you’ll need to stick with the physical SIM options.
Top-ups are available at all Progresif stores. Because the tourist SIM expires and becomes unusable after four weeks anyway, though, you won’t need to top it up.
If you go with DST, top-ups are also available instore.
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 attempted video.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.