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Hungary has grown more popular with tourists in recent years, attractive to both backpackers and those with a few more forint in their wallets. While tourism is picking up across the country, Budapest is still where most travellers spend much of their time.
A city of 1.7 million, the capital is both lively and beautiful, as famous for its ‘ruin pub’ nightlife as its sophisticated wine and cocktail scene.
When the sun comes up, Budapest has plenty to keep you busy, from hikes in the Buda hills, spa baths across the city, and a range of museums and historical sites. Besides the wealth of things to do, Hungary is popular for its prices, far lower than in Western European cities.
Picking up a SIM card is both simple and affordable, although it does require you bring official ID and complete some paperwork. Coverage and speeds are excellent in the major cities.
Here’s what you need to know about buying a SIM card in Hungary.
Note: Hungary is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.
There are some exceptions and limits, however. Double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.
There are four cell networks in Hungary: the three established carriers operated by Telekom (formerly T-Mobile), Telenor, and Vodafone; and Digi, a market newcomer in 2017.
While there are several resellers as well, they require registration by phone in Hungarian, and a follow-up letter to a Hungarian address. Therefore, the primary providers listed above are the most convenient choices for travellers.
Telekom has the largest market share in Hungary. While it has the best coverage on 2G and 4G networks, it has the worst 3G coverage, something that will mostly impact you outside Budapest.
Within the capital, Telekom and Telenor both have good service. While both theoretically offer LTE, I rarely see it with my Telenor SIM, and friends with pre-paid Telekom service have reported the same.
Vodafone has the least coverage of the three main carriers; Digi uses the Telenor network for data.
I’ve used Vodafone on past visits to Budapest, but now use Telenor due to better coverage and value. Vodafone also has a reputation for being difficult for non-resident foreigners to deal with.
I chose Telenor over Telekom because of the companies’ customer service reputation, and slightly lower pricing when I bought it.
Vodafone is the only provider currently offering SIMs at Budapest airport. If you’d like to purchase from one of the other providers, you’ll need to do so when you reach the city.
Getting from the airport to the city without Internet is easy if you use the miniBud shuttle, which you can arrange on arrival in the arrivals hall. Public transport is also fairly straightforward, but requires a transfer.
The transportation desk at Budapest airport can sell you tickets and offer instructions for getting to the city via public transport.
If you’re arriving in Budapest by train, the Arena Plaza shopping mall is about a 10-minute walk from Keleti pályaudvar train station. It has Telenor, Telekom, and Vodafone shops, as well as a Media Markt store that also sells SIM cards.
If you’re arriving by air and decide to purchase your SIM in the city, I recommend going to WestEnd City Centre in Budapest. This large shopping mall is attached to Nyugati pályaudvar train station, and connected to public transport via metro and the 4/6 trams.
WestEnd has Telekom, Vodafone and Telenor shops, as well as a Media Markt and Digi shop.
At all of these shops, there will likely be a staff member who speaks English and is able to help you. You’ll be able to pay with cash, a PIN-enabled card, and (often) contactless PayPass cards.
Purchasing a SIM card will take about 30 minutes due to the paperwork required. While it’s not at all difficult, recent anti-terrorism legislation has increased the information required to get a SIM, so it takes slightly longer than before.
You will need to provide a photo ID, such as a passport or ID card, and sign a bit of paperwork. You may also be required to provide a Hungarian address, so be sure to note down your hotel/apartment details beforehand.
If you purchase your card at the airport, you’ll be limited to Vodafone. The standard “Tuti” pre-paid plan doesn’t include any data, while the “Tuti Net” package costs HUF 1245 ($4.40) for 1GB of data, or HUF 3559 ($12.50) for 5GB.
Various “Max” plans provide 100 minutes of calls or texts and a certain amount of data, valid for 30 days. You can purchase additional data at HUF 1393 ($5) per GB.
Vodafone outlines pre-paid options on the English version of its website. Buying at the airport is convenient, but because coverage isn’t great, you’re better to wait until you get into town if you’re not in a rush.
Instead, I went with Telenor. If you only need data, a SIM and 1GB data package costs HUF 1500 ($5.30), valid for 30 days. The 3GB version costs HUF 3500 ($12.30), and add-on data costs the same amount.
For those needing calls and texts as well, “2in1” package prices range from HUF 1000-3500, depending on the amount of calls, texts, and data included. Telenor’s plans can be found on the English version of its website.
Telekom typically has similar pricing to Telenor — sometimes it’s a little more expensive, sometimes it’s cheaper. An English version of its website outlines current offerings.
Digi is new to the market, and offers discounted service with limits on upload and download speeds. 1GB of data, limited to 2.1 Mbps up/down, costs HUF 1945 ($7) per month. Digi doesn’t offer an English version of its website, and is still relatively unknown.
Topping up is very easy, and there are a number of options.
For many visitors, the easiest option for top-up is to simply return to the telecom shop where you purchased the SIM card, give them your phone number, and let them know how much you want to top-up.
Alternatively, all three major providers also offer online top-up options. It may not work with all international credit cards, but I’ve never had a problem paying bills or completing top-ups online when using one.
You can also purchase top-up cards at news kiosks (such as Relay), gas/petrol stations, and post offices. It’s often harder to find English-speaking staff in these shops, however.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage is excellent in Budapest and every city we’ve visited outside of the capital. Data speeds are generally extremely fast.
Within Budapest, I get speeds of 147Mbps download and 39Mbps upload. I’ve had similar coverage in Pest, in the south, and have been told speeds are much the same in other cities.
I’ve experienced reduced coverage on train trips, including temporary black spots that haven’t lasted more than 15 minutes. The problem you’re more likely to have is poor signal in some old buildings, which often have thick stone walls.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.