Chasing pigeons, Durbar Square

Buying a SIM Card in Nepal

In Get Connected by Dave Dean30 Comments


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From the traffic-clogged streets and golden temples of Kathmandu to the towering Himalayas, wandering water buffalos and friendly locals happy to chat over an ever-present pot of masala tea, Nepal is a country that richly rewards its visitors.

When those visitors want to stay connected to the outside world, however, it’s a different story. Wi-fi is often slower than an Annapurnian glacier, and power cuts plague the country for several hours every day.

Mobile Internet, however, is surprisingly fast, especially in the major cities. As long as you keep your devices charged, it’ll keep working for a few hours when the power goes out. Prices are cheap, and getting set up isn’t particularly difficult.

In Nepal, more than most other countries, picking up a local SIM is a smart idea for the connected traveler. As always, you’ll need an unlocked phone, tablet, modem or mi-fi to be able to use a local SIM card.

Here’s what you need to know.

Companies


  • We recommend Ncell for most travelers

From online reports and speaking with other travellers, the general consensus is that Nepal Telecom has slower speeds but greater coverage in the mountains, while Ncell is faster and easier to set up for foreigners. Given I wasn’t trekking on this trip, I opted for Ncell.

If you’re planning on spending significant time in the mountains and want better (although far from guaranteed) coverage, consider picking up a Nepal Telecom SIM card as well – if you can get your hands on one.

I saw dozens of shops offering Ncell cards in Kathmandu, but only one with a Nepal Telecom sign.

How


Kathmandu has the only international airport in the country, so international visitors to Nepal will usually start their trip there. Many of the city’s guesthouses and hotels are in the Thamal area, where you can find clothing sellers, pushy taxi drivers, and many cell vendors who can help you out.

Just look for the Ncell logo on any small shopfront, and ask if they sell SIM cards (not all do). Many people speak English in tourist areas in Nepal, which helps with the process.

Be sure to ask for the type of SIM card you need for your device — full size, micro or nano. I needed a micro SIM, and the vendor used a SIM cutter to chop the card down to size. Some stores may charge a few rupees for this service, but not the one I chose.

To buy the card, you will need to provide one passport-sized photo and your physical passport. The vendor will take a photocopy of your passport identity page and Nepalese visa, and provide you with a form to fill out. It may be in Nepali, but you’ll be shown where to write your name and other details.

Once you’ve completed the process and verified that the card is working, just ask the vendor to add as much credit as you need. You’ll get a confirmation text immediately, and can then dial *17123# and follow the prompts to activate the package you’re after.



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Costs


Prices are relatively low for most day-to-day needs in Nepal, and local SIM cards are no exception. Expect to pay 100-150 rupees (~$1 – $1.50) for the SIM card, and a few hundred rupees for calls and data depending on your needs.

Package information can be found here – you’re looking at 799 rupees (~$8) for one gigabyte of data valid for a month, with smaller and larger packages available.

Local calls and SMS are very cheap – around 2c/minute or less for calls, and 1c per SMS. International calls and SMS are also inexpensive, ranging from as little as 2c/minute to the US and Canada to 15c/minute to several other countries, and 10c/SMS. Selected country rates can be found here.

The card will come with around 50 rupees of credit on it, plus some bonus calls and SMS that will renew each month as long as you top up.

Given the unreliable power and Wi-fi in Nepal, you’ll probably find yourself using more mobile data than in other countries. It may be worth buying a larger data package than usual as a result.

Topping Up


Any store or street stall displaying the Ncell logo should be able to sell you top-up cards to give you the balance you need. Instructions are on the cards, or can be found here.

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Coverage and Data Speeds


Coverage was good in the areas I visited although, as mentioned earlier, I wasn’t trekking in the mountains on this visit to Nepal. 3G/HSPA+ data speeds in major cities were quite fast, and I had consistent high-speed access in both Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Dropping back to 2G/EDGE speeds, however, as happened on bus journeys between cities, made most online tasks a chore. There is no 4G/LTE network in Nepal as yet.

Kathmandu wi-fi vs 3G

Guesthouse Wi-fi (left) vs Ncell 3G/HSPA+ (right) in Kathmandu — quite a difference!

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

About the Author

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. Author

    Yeah, I’ll admit I was pretty surprised, especially given just how bad the wi-fi was. Just make sure you’ve got a portable charger of some sort for when the power cuts last longer than your device, and you’re good to go! 😉

  2. Dave – keep content like this coming! Anytime, you make me almost book a ticket somewhere you will keep pulling me back to the site!

  3. Author

    Will do, Chris! We’ve got a similar post on buying SIM cards in Jordan coming up, as well as an update on Internet for travellers to Myanmar. Maybe one of those will push you over the edge and make you buy that ticket! 😉

  4. Awesome stuff! My Nepal trip is three months and counting…so much to do!!! Thanks for the info!

  5. Appreciate the info, Dave. I’m on my way to Nepal in a month (from Chiang Mai) and will need to find a nano SIM 3g to make deadlines for a certain writing contract you know all too well. 🙂 Hope I can get a SIM cut down to size!

    Cheers!
    Greg

  6. Author

    Hah! I do know it all too well – and you’ll definitely want 3G to have any hope of decent speeds outside Kathmandu (and to be honest, likely in Kathmandu as well!). Enjoy!

  7. Hey thanks for the info! Scoping stuff before heading over there.

  8. Here now and 4g has been a lifesaver. Have to ask though, about 10x per day i notice my gps turning itself on. Not an accident. Began with this NCell SIM. Given that they wanted passport copies and fingerprints, is this some Orwellian tracking? Anyone else experience this?

  9. Author

    I typically leave mine turned on anyway, so can’t help you with that one sorry. Does sound pretty dodgy, though, if you’ve never seen it before!

  10. Hi David, anything changed since you wrote the advice on getting local cell phone SIM in Nepal ? My daughter arrived their today and will be out there several months volunteering in local school but will also do trekking to Everest base camp.

  11. Author

    I haven’t been back since then, unfortunately, so I can’t give first-hand experience of any changes. I believe it’s got a little easier to find Nepal Telecom SIMs than it used to be, though.

  12. Can I use my Florida mobile phone using my Florida mobile number and downloading the iTune codes that I used to do while I was in India?Will this work when I get to Nepal as early as Saturday September 10,2016.No roaming,no cellphone carrier,I just download the iTune like for music etc.I used it to text and call.,will this work in Nepal,I did not even need a wi fi?

  13. Author

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand your question, or what iTunes codes have to do with buying a SIM in Nepal. To send/receive texts and calls, you need cell service, whether it’s roaming with your carrier from home or using a local SIM card. To download anything or use the Internet in any way, you again need to either roam with your carrier from home, use a local SIM card, or use Wi-fi when you find it. To play music you’ve previously saved on your phone, you don’t need cell service.

  14. So I have my mobile phone and i told you I download the iTune codes that are in the back of the card (which my wife scratch so she can get the code)i used this system for 6 months while I was in Delhi,India and it worked.I can call and text in the u s and canada and she pay only $30 for the card that she text me the itune card code.Before I left Florida the provider employe showed me how to do this so i do not get charge roaming ,does it make sense.So my question is will this work in Nepal.How is the Network here in Nepal,does it get overloaded and busy?

  15. I tried to call my husband on his cellphone today he is on his way to Nepal by bus,I can not get thru,it just keeps ringing and his voice greeting is gone?I used to call him on his cell while he was in Delhi and if he does not pickup to answer his voice greeting automatically comes on,so what does this mean,his phone keeps ringing 10 times and then shuts off,Is it the Network,also I don’t think he is getting my text because he never replied since yesterday will it be the network because he in in the Bus?sincerely appreciate your answer!!!

  16. Author

    As far as I know, iTunes cards are only for buying digital music, video, apps etc off an iTunes store, so I don’t understand what they’ve got to do with getting international cell service.

    Maybe you’re using iTunes credit to buy voice/texts within some kind of calling app, I don’t know, but even if that’s what you’re doing, you’ll still need data service (cell or wi-fi) for it to work.

  17. Author

    He probably doesn’t have reliable (or any) cell service.

  18. Yes I think thats what he was using the iTunes for.Most of the times its hard to connect and often the reception is very bad.So if he does not have a service provider,is it possible that his voice greetings and his name be deleted.His name is always on my caller ID on my cellphone today it disappeared too,its just showing the phone number with area code.like this one: 1786 651-2222,his caller id is not showing on my cellphone no more.

  19. Is there anyway I can call or goggle to find out were my husbands wereabout in Nepal.As I mentioned the last time I spoke to him when he was in the bus to Nepal that was Tuesday September 6 in the evening from New Delhi.I cannot get hold of him as I said his phone just rings maybe 7 to 8 times then it shuts off.I also text him ,no reply.I am worried.Can you help me kindly who I can call.?

  20. Author

    I have no idea, sorry. If you’re genuinely worried for his safety, I’d suggest contacting the authorities or US consulate.

  21. You mean the US consulate in Nepal?Would you happen to have the telephone number or email address for the US consulate in Nepal please.

  22. Hello Dave
    This is really helpful information. I leave for Nepal tomorrow, and wondered if you have a view on the GigSky option? It’s probably more expensive, but maybe more reliable? I am on a research trip and haven’t been to Nepal before and so I will want the easiest and reliable option.
    Marie

  23. Author

    It’ll depend on which cell carrier(s) GigSky has a relationship with in Nepal. Any international SIM or MiFi roams with one or more local carriers in each country, so they’re only as reliable as the network they’re using.

  24. Hi dave, great page but I’m still a little confused of the basic logistics of the whole process…
    i can’t work out if i should take my iPhone 7 and somehow get my sim adjusted so that i can use it out in nepal without raking up a massive phone bill or if i should just buy a budget nokia to there with me????
    thanks

  25. Author

    These two posts might help explain the logistics (here and here).

    Buying a SIM card in Nepal was very straightforward, and the vendor will likely take care of everything for you. You just need to ensure your phone has a GSM SIM card slot and isn’t locked by your carrier. Having an iPhone 7 means you’ve got the first part covered, even if you’re from the US. If you bought the phone through your cell company, you’ll need to confirm the ‘unlocked’ part with them before you travel. If you’re fine on both fronts, you should use your iPhone in Nepal. If not, that’s the point where you start looking at alternatives (like a cheap Nokia or whatever).

  26. I had planned to buy a SIM card on my arrival at Tribhuvan Airport, but my flight arrives late at night and I have to be up early to catch a bus the next day. Does anyone have any info on how late the kiosks in the airport might stay open or how early the shops in Thamel that sell them might open? Thanks

  27. Author

    I don’t personally know (others might), but it might also be worth posing the question to your hotel/guesthouse, assuming you’ve booked one. They’ll likely know the answer, and if you ask nicely, may even be able to pick up a SIM for you for a small fee.

  28. Now, there is Ncell 4G service in Kathmandu, Bharatpur, Pokhara, Butwal, Biratnagar, Jhapa, Bandipur, Nepalgunj, sarlahi, janakpur, etc

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