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Vietnam is easily one of my favorite travel destinations.
With arguably the best street food on the planet, mile upon mile of unspoiled beaches, the crazy energy of the cities and quiet beauty of the countryside, and friendly and welcoming people, it’s not hard to see why.
As with most other things in the country, staying connected is inexpensive: as little as five dollars will keep the data flowing on your smartphone throughout your stay. Data speeds are good, and coverage is widespread.
Here’s everything you need to know about buying a local SIM card in Vietnam.
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 too far 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 data service outside the largest cities.
I’ve used all three of the major players on various trips, but these days tend to stick with Viettel. With the best coverage, good data speeds, and similar prices to the competition, I’ve found little reason to look elsewhere.
Just as in Thailand, the process for buying a SIM card in Vietnam has become a little more complicated in recent years. The government started strictly enforcing registration rules in 2016, and canceled 12 million cards that had been illegally registered.
While there are numerous stalls selling SIM cards at international airports, and tiny stores on most city streets doing the same thing, be careful if you decide to use them. Most unofficial vendors, including those at airports, can’t register a SIM to you.
Cards purchased from these vendors typically either aren’t registered, or are registered to someone else and can be shut down at any time. In either case, you’ll need to visit an official store for (re)registration.
For those only in the country for a few days and staying in the cities, the convenience of buying at the airport or a roadside stall might still be worth the risk. The worst that can happen is the SIM will stop working, and you’ll need to track down an official store to register properly.
If you’re sticking around for a while, or are heading off the beaten track and don’t want to risk your service being deactivated when you’re in the middle of nowhere, however, it’s a different story. Save yourself the hassle and buy from an official outlet instead.
You can check who your SIM is registered to by texting TTTB to 1414. The reply message is in Vietnamese, but will have the name, birthdate, and passport/ID card details clearly shown. My date of birth and passport country were both wrong when I checked, but at least the name was correct!
I’ve purchased Viettel SIMs from official stores both in Hanoi’s old quarter and several blocks back from the beach in the My An district of Danang. There’s a store locator on the website, but Google Maps is more useful. In both cases the process took around ten minutes, and was quite straightforward.
The salesperson showed me the various package options on a piece of paper, I chose one, and handed over my passport and some cash. After taking my photo with a smartphone app, she dealt with the rest of the paperwork, activated the right package, and sent me on my way.
In both cases the staff member was happy to help, and spoke English well enough to answer any questions I had.
The SIM card by itself cost 50,000 VND (~$2.20), with no credit loaded. I didn’t need calls or texts on my most recent trip, so opted for the MiMax70 package that provided 3GB of 4G/LTE data valid for 30 days, for 70,000 VND ($3).
With these packages, data speed is significantly reduced once you go over the threshold, but isn’t cut off entirely. For those wanting more high-speed data, several other options are available, up to 15GB for 200,000 VND (~$9). Cell service is cheap in Vietnam!
None of the MiMax packages come with domestic calls or texts included, but they’re equally inexpensive if you need them. Just add a little extra credit at time of purchase, and use it up as you go.
It’s very easy to top up your credit. You can buy vouchers pretty much anywhere you’re ever likely to go as a tourist, and the vendor will probably offer 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 9123 to enable the package you want to use. As an example, texting MIMAX70 would activate the same 3GB pack I used.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Viettel coverage was very good anywhere and everywhere I tested it. Data speeds were also impressive, and in smaller cities like Danang it wasn’t unusual to see 4G/LTE downloads approaching 50Mbps.
Speeds slowed somewhat in Hanoi and Saigon, likely due to the larger population there. I couldn’t get any data service at all when bad weather caused flight cancellations at Saigon airport, although to be fair it seemed like half the city was crowded into the domestic terminal with me at the time.
I’ve had full signal with both Vinaphone and Viettel in and around Hanoi, Saigon, Danang, Mui Ne, and Hoi An, as well as pretty much anywhere with signs of habitation all through the Mekong Delta.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.