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For many visitors to the Maldives, buying a local SIM card will be the last thing they’re worried about.
In a world of resort islands, over-water bungalows and perfect beaches, checking email on the go is remarkably uninteresting. Lounging beside the pool and sipping a fruity cocktail seems a far better choice, and with good reason.
Since the government finally allowed hotels and guesthouses on locally-inhabited islands in 2010, though, independent travel to this island nation has slowly been making an appearance.
With that has come a small but steady stream of backpackers and other travelers, who want a taste of paradise without the five-figure price tag.
While there’s no Wi-fi at the airport, most guesthouses and the larger restaurants offer it for free. The islands are tiny, so there’s no need for maps. Given how little online information there is about anywhere outside the capital, you won’t be looking up much else beyond the ferry timetable anyway.
On that basis, cell data is a luxury rather than a necessity most of the time. If you do want to make sure you can stay connected, though, it’s a simple and inexpensive process.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Maldives has two cell companies, Dhiraagu and Ooredoo. The former has 80% market share and boasts 100% coverage across every inhabited island in the country, which seemed good enough for me.
Ooredoo has a slightly different range of plans, though, which may suit some people a little better. It’s worth checking out the latest packages before making a final decision.
Buying a SIM card was very simple. The cell companies have little stores beside each other in the arrivals area of Male’ International Airport. This is the best place to pick up a card for anyone arriving by plane.
The terminal is quite small. Just turn right as you exit the luggage reclaim area, and you’ll spot the two shops on your way to the ferry pier for Male’ itself.
After waiting in line for 15 minutes, I handed over my passport and phone to the efficient woman manning the desk.
Having provided my name and intended address in the Maldives, I signed a form, chose a data package, and was provided with a micro SIM that worked immediately after rebooting the phone.
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The prices were reasonably low by Western standards. Buying the SIM cost $3 USD, and a 1.2GB data package was an extra $14 USD, valid for 30 days.
Other data allowances are available on hourly, daily and monthly plans — check the latest offers here.
While prices are quoted to foreigners in USD, it’s fine to pay using Maldivian rufiyaa instead. There are a couple of ATMs nearby in the terminal if you need them.
On local islands, you’ll be able to find top-up cards at most convenience stores. Just ask your guesthouse owner or someone in the street if you’re having trouble tracking one down.
If you’re on a resort, you may need to ask a staff member to pick one up from the staff store for you instead. To check your remaining balance and expiry date, dial *123*6*3*1#.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage was surprisingly consistent everywhere I went, even on ferry rides where I couldn’t see the nearest island. I had 3G/HSPA data on Male’, Maafushi and Guraidhoo, but only 2G/EDGE speeds on Fulidhoo.
I was able to make Skype voice calls without a problem when using 3G, although I suspect video might have been asking a bit much.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.