Bali rice paddies

Buying a SIM Card in Indonesia

By Dave Dean Get Connected11 Comments


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Indonesia is a nation of over 13,000 islands, but it’s one in particular that gets all the attention from tourists. Whatever draws visitors to Bali — the yoga and healthy living in Ubud, the surf at Echo Beach, the unmitigated partying in Kuta — they come in their millions each year.

While Wi-fi of some sort has long been relatively common in bars, restaurants, and hotels on the island, the speed and reliablity was poor until recently.

Lately, though, the rollout of fibre connections has improved the situation greatly. If your plans don’t extend much further than wandering between the bar and the hotel pool, you’ll probably be able to make do without a local SIM.

If you want to stay connected everywhere, though, a local SIM card is the way to go. This used to be a very straightforward process. Unfortunately the government changed the rules in April 2018, making it more expensive and/or difficult for foreigeners to get set up.

Data speeds, at least, are generally good. Here’s everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Bali.

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Companies


  • We recommend Telkomsel for most travellers

There are four cell service providers in Indonesia, plus a small number of resellers. Telkomsel has the widest coverage, reaching 98% of the country. It’s also the most expensive, although cell service is pretty cheap regardless of which company you go with.

XL Axiata, IM3, and Tri have reasonable coverage in populated areas like Jakarta and Bali at somewhat lower prices, and less (in some cases, no service at all) elsewhere.

LTE data is available in Bali and other major population centers with Telkomsel, XL Axiata and IM3, and is being rolled out increasingly widely.

I decided to pick up a Telkomsel SIM in Bali, just to make sure I’d have coverage everywhere I went. While that didn’t prove to always be the case, I’m still happy to recommend it for most travelers.

How


Cell phone store in Canggu Bali

Buying a SIM card from any of the providers in Bali isn’t difficult. Getting it working, and paying the going rate, however, can be more challenging.

As of April 2018, all SIMs in Indonesia need to be registered at one of the service provider’s official stores. While it’s not illegal to buy them from convenience stores and roadside kiosks, and they may even work for a period of time if you do, there’s a good chance they’ll be cut off without warning at some point.

I was in Bali right as the new laws came into effect, and sure enough, my SIM stopped working a few days later. I only had a couple of days left in my stay, so wasn’t particularly bothered. If I had been, the only way to get it working again would have been to visit an official store, passport in hand, and wait in line with everybody else.

It is possible to register your SIM at the airport, so if you don’t care about not getting a good deal, this is likely the easiest place to do it.

Vendors there sell SIMs from all major providers, including Telkomsel, at noticeably inflated prices. Typically you’ll also only be able to buy packs with large amounts of data, meaning you’ll spend even more.

If you’re happy to wait until you get into town, you’ll have more options, sometimes at lower prices (more on that below). Since you’re going to have to register the SIM at an official Telkomsel GraPARI store anyway, you may as well buy your SIM there as well.

Make sure that what looks like an official store actually is. If in doubt, the staff at your accommodation should know where you need to go.

APN settings came pre-configured, and didn’t need changing. If you need to add them manually, they were as follows:

  • APN: internet
  • Authentication type: not set

Since the new registration laws have made purchasing and registering a SIM in Indonesia relatively difficult, buying one and getting it shipped out ahead of time instead has started looking more appealing.

For shorter stays, this SIM gives 3GB of data in Indonesia and eight other countries, for up to ten days. Worldwide shipping is free, and you can just drop it into your phone when you land and start using it right away.


Costs


I can’t recommend buying from streetside vendors any longer, due to the registration issues mentioned above. If you do, prices will vary widely. One convenience store quoted literally me three times as much for the same SIM and data package I bought 100m down the road.

In the end, I paid 80,000 IDR (~$6) for a Telkomsel SIM with 11GB of data, valid for a month. Of that, 6GB was available for any purpose. Chunks of the rest were allocated to video, social media and chat, and so on.

You’ll pay significantly (up to 3x more) if you buy at the airport. If you do, though, you can at least you can register the card there.

Prices should be similar to the above rates at official stores. You’ll need to also factor in the cost of a taxi if there isn’t a store near where you’re staying.

Topping Up


In a populated area, it’s difficult to walk any distance at all without seeing somewhere to buy credit, both on Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia.

You’ll always pay a little more than the amount of credit you’re buying, which is the storekeeper’s profit margin. Locals pay a surcharge too, but if it’s more than 5% of the total, complain.

Coverage and Data Speeds


I spent most of my time in and around the Canggu area of Bali. While it was very rare to see less than full signal showing on my phone, data service wasn’t as reliable as it should have been.

I’d sometimes go to use my phone, only for web pages or apps not to load. Turning flight mode on and off always fixed the problem, but especially near the beach, speeds would be slow and service would often drop out again soon after.

A mile back from the beach, service was far more reliable, and speeds very good.

I was able to make Skype calls and browse web pages without issue. Since everything worked fine away from the beach and elsewhere on Bali, I’m putting this down to a localised problem rather than anything inherent to Telkomsel service on the island.

Telkomsel 3G speeds on the beach in Canggu, Bali

Telkomsel 3G speeds on the beach in Canggu, Bali

Telkomsel 3G speeds away from the beach in Canggu, Bali

Telkomsel 3G speeds away from the beach in Canggu, Bali

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Unfortunately, this seems to already be outdated. I’m an expat in Indonesia and had to go through the process of registering my phone number a few months back under implementation of the new regulations, it was fairly fast at a “GraPARI” Telkomsel location with a photocopy of my passport, and I imagine Telkomsel will have an official shop at major international airports like Bali and Jakarta for this purpose.

    However, just last week they stopped allowing the data-only cards to be used without registration. I use one in a portable modem and found out the hard way when it stopped working. I thought perhaps I had used up my quota faster than expected, but when I went to 3 different roadside sellers of the cards they all knew of the situation and that now all cards have to be registered before use. This is easily done using a quick SMS for a local with proper ID cards, but a foreigner must go to an office to register.

    At the same time last week that this was implemented, the 15 and 11gb cards you mentioned also became unavailable, and the new options appear to cost 30-50% more for similar anytime data.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      It looks like you’re right — I’m still in Bali at the moment, and the SIM I bought three weeks ago stopped working this morning. The vendor I bought it from also thinks it’s due to the registration requirement (which she’s obviously pretty upset about herself).

      The 11GB SIM packs were still on sale, for what that’s worth, but I suspect they won’t work for long/at all without registration at an official store. I’ll update the post shortly to reflect what the current situation is, as far as I can tell at least.

  2. Avatar

    I’ve just got back from Bali and want to maintain my SIM card for my next visit. Is it just a matter of waiting until my next visit in 6-24months and topping up, or do I need to periodically top up to stop the number becoming ‘deregistered’?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      It’ll be deactivated after some period of inactivity, depending on the operator. It’s often around six months elsewhere in the world, but I don’t have the details for Indonesian carriers specifically. You may want to try and contact whichever company you went with via their websites or social media to see if you can get an answer, along with a way to top up from outside the country.

  3. Avatar

    Im in Indo and bought an Indo sim card. Can I trade out the US sim card and check my phone messages on US number? Do I have to sign out of my Apple account? Or is it as simple of just changing it?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Should just be a case of swapping back and forward. The only potential issue can come with iMessage – if so, we’ve got some tips here.

  4. Avatar

    My phone from the US only has 5 different LTE bands. After doing some research I realized that Smartfren was the only one that would give me LTE on my phone. Sure enough, I ran an app when I got to Indonesia and Telkomsel would only give me 2.5G speed. So I went to the Smartfren office on Sunset Road and for 65.000 got the Sim card and 8 gigs of data good for a month. Registered with my passport while there. Smartfren had good coverage during my 2 week trip. The only time there was no coverage was when I was in a temple in the middle of nowhere.

  5. Avatar

    Hi, Any updates on the sim card situation in bali? It sounds like the grapari on sunset road is closed now. That means you have to just try your luck at a random store? (probably going to try and avoid the airport purchase)

    1. Dave Dean Author

      No update that I’m aware of, unfortunately. You’ll need to visit a different GraPARI, or try your luck with a random street vendor, if you don’t want to pay the surcharge at the airport.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Smartfren service centre locations can be found here. I believe Indosat also has an unlimited package, which may be easier to find.

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