Last updated: 7 January, 2017.
In November 2016, the Vietnamese government started enforcing registration rules for local SIM cards, and cancelled 12 million cards that had been illegally registered. As a result, travellers are now advised to only purchase SIM cards from official carrier stores, where they will need to show their passport to register the card. Links to store locators are given below.
Most other vendors cannot register a SIM card to you, meaning if you purchase from them, you’re either buying a pre-activated card which can be shut down at any time, or an unregistered card that will require a trip to an official store before it will work.
Vietnam is easily one of my favourite travel destinations.
With arguably the best street food on the planet, mile upon mile of unspoiled beaches, the crazy energy of the major cities and laid-back beauty of the countryside and — especially away from the tourist hotspots — friendly and welcoming people, it’s not hard to see why.
Staying connected is inexpensive — as little as five bucks will keep the data flowing on your smartphone throughout your stay. 3G speeds are good, and coverage is widespread.
Here’s what you need to know.
There are four cell networks in Vietnam. Viettel has the largest network and most customers, closely followed by Vinaphone.
Avoid Mobifone if you’re heading off the beaten track, and there’s really no reason to go with Vietnamobile — it’s the cheapest of the lot, but has very poor 3G service outside the largest cities.
I went with Vinaphone due to price and convenience, but was travelling with someone else who picked up a Viettel card for comparison.
Viettel removed roaming charges in Laos and Cambodia in early 2017. It’s still cheaper to buy local SIMs in each place, but it’s now much more affordable for those wanting to use the same SIM in all three countries.
We purchased the Viettel card from a large official store in Hanoi’s old quarter (there’s a store locator on the company’s home page). It took around ten minutes, but was quite straightforward. The salesperson showed us the various prices on a piece of paper, we chose one and handed over a passport and some cash, and she dealt with the rest.
We bought the Vinaphone card from a booth at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s unclear whether this is an official store. If you want more certainty that your SIM won’t be suddenly deactivated, purchase from one of these official stores instead.
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Prices for a data-only Vinaphone SIM at Saigon airport were very reasonable — the SIM card and a 5GB/30 day package cost 100,000 VND (around $5 USD).
If you think you’ll burn through even more data than that, 9GB was available for an extra 10,000 VND ($0.50), and so-called ‘unlimited’ packages (which are throttled to 2G speeds after using a certain amount of data) were also available for a little more.
For those who need calls and texts as well, there were many different packages available. Expect to pay 150,000-250,000 VND depending on how much data, call and SMS credit is included.
It’s very easy to top up your credit. You can buy credit pretty much anywhere you’re ever likely to go as a tourist, and the vendor is highly likely to sort the process out for you even if they speak very little English.
If not, you just type *100*<code on the top-up card># to add the credit, then send an SMS to 888 to activate the call/data package you want to use.
As an example, DK MAX100 would get you 1.2GB of data for 30 days, for 100,000 VND.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Speeds varied between good and very good, depending on where I was. Places like Hoi An, with less network congestion, saw download speeds close to 10Mb/sec.
Those speeds dropped by roughly half in Hanoi and Saigon, and I couldn’t get any data service at all when bad weather caused flight cancellations at Saigon airport and it seemed like half the city was crowded into the domestic terminal with me.
We had full Vinaphone and Viettel 3G signal anywhere in and around Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An on this trip. On a previous trip through remote parts of the Mekong Delta, Vinaphone coverage remained good almost anywhere there were signs of habitation.