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.



COMPANIES

  • We recommend Vinaphone for most travellers. Consider Viettel if you want to use the same SIM card elsewhere in the region.

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.

HOW

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.

COSTS

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.

TOPPING UP

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.

Vinaphone 3G speeds in Hoi An

Vinaphone 3G speeds in Hoi An

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

  1. Kayleigh

    This information is on the up to date or incorrect in many cities in South Vietnam we have enough to show a passport in order to buy a SIM card. This has proved really difficult at times because the hotel I’m staying in is holding my passport and won’t even lend it to me for short time while I go next door to buy a SIM card.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      I don’t really understand what you’re saying, I’m afraid. If you’re suggesting that you need a passport to buy a SIM card on the street, then yes, I mentioned that in the article — “Note that as with many other things in Vietnam, you’ll need to show your passport at anywhere except the smallest and dodgiest of stores.”

      Reply
    • i bought my mobifone card, nobody asked me any kind of passport or ID. plus, maybe mobifone has made huge progress because everywhere I roam, reception is very good, even in the most countryside area in the south and in the center (never been in north tho).

      Reply
      • Dave Dean

        Legally, you’re supposed to be asked for ID when you buy a SIM in Vietnam, but there are definitely some smaller places that don’t check. The Mobifone network isn’t bad in towns and cities, on the coast and some other places, but you’re better off with Vinaphone or Viettel if you’re heading to the mountains. If you’re not spending much time there, though, you won’t have a problem.

  2. Vanessa

    Thank you for this information. It is very helpful. I am about to go to Vietnam for the first time and was wondering how to use the sim card? Do you put it in your phone and can automatically start making domestic calls? How do you know when your data is about to run out? Will you get charged if you go over your data limit or would it just stop?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      If you buy the card at the airport or any kind of larger mobile store, there’s a good chance the person who sells it to you will set it up in your phone as well. Basically, as soon as it’s installed in the phone and set up, you can use it as you would at home (with phones, texts and data).

      I’ve never actually run out of data, so I’m not exactly sure what happens when you do. You’ll likely get a text telling you about it, but it may be in Vietnamese. If you’ve only put as much credit as you need on the SIM to buy the packages you want, there’ll be no credit left when you run out of data, so it’ll just stop working. Any remaining credit you did have would go towards paying for data at a casual rate, which would be relatively expensive.

      Either way, though, the company doesn’t have your credit card or other financial information, so they can’t charge you any more than what you’ve already paid.

      Reply
  3. Christa

    a very helpful article, thank you. I am about to go to Vietnam. Should I buy an unlocked phone before going (mine is locked), or can I buy one at the airport there, together with a SIM card?
    Regards

    Reply
  4. Petra

    Great tips – thanks very much Dave! I’ll be interested to see what cell service is like outside of the cities – we are heading to Sapa and Phong Nha.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Based on my experiences in isolated parts of the Mekong Delta, I’d be very surprised if you didn’t have at least some sort of coverage. I had signal even when there was nobody in sight, riding a scooter between small towns. Anywhere with more than a few houses had good 3G service.

      Reply
  5. Bernard

    I’m going Ho Chi Minh for about 3 days time. Which sim card should I go for? And how much data mobile phone should I purchase and how much will it cost? Thank you very much for helping!

    Reply
  6. Berit

    Does this sim card work in a mobile router as well?
    Would like to share with a friend and also get wifi for my pad.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      You’ll want to confirm with the vendor before purchase (ideally at an official kiosk or store), but I’d strongly suspect it will. Almost all data SIMs do.

      Reply
  7. John

    I see a lot of double sim card phones on aliexpress.com Most of these are under $100us. Would they work in VN? They all seem to have GSM/WDMA/4G FDD LTE in them.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      You’ll need to check the specs for any of the phones that look appealing, but assuming they’re GSM and not locked to a carrier, you should get calls, texts and some kind of data service out of them. Perhaps not LTE, but 2G and likely 3G.

      Reply
  8. Panda

    Very helpful article. Going to buy a SIM card directly at the airport. 5 GB should be more than enough for 14 days.

    Reply
  9. Jess

    Helpful article, wish I’d read it before we bought ours. We went with Mobifone and it’s been hell, constant texts and phone calls trying to sell us something, I keep blocking the numbers but they just use a different one the next time. Had 9 so far today. Don’t go with Mobifone !

    Reply
  10. Laurie

    Hi, this is extremely helpful, thanks. I’m assuming yes, but wanted to confirm that their SIM cards are sized to fit an iPhone 6S?
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Yep – that’s a nano SIM. Most SIM cards these days have cutouts for all three sizes, and if not, the vendor will be able to cut it down to size for you.

      Reply
  11. Karen

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the tips! Quick question, does the Hanoi airport open 24/7 ? My friend and I will arrive at the airport past midnight and we will like to pick up the sim card before starting our adventure.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Hi Karen,

      The airport is open 24 hours, but unfortunately I don’t know the operating hours of individual stores within it. If you can’t buy a SIM at the airport that late at night, though, you’ll have no problem finding somewhere to sell you one the following morning.

      Reply
  12. H.

    Hello. I am planning to go to Vietnam for 9 days. The cities are Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, and Hoi An. What amount of data do you suggest for Facebook postings of photos and short videos? What carrier is better for those areas? Vinaphone or Viettel for data speeds and coverage?

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Given how cheap data is in Vietnam (it’s one of the cheapest places I’ve found), buying more than you need isn’t an expensive exercise. That 5GB/30 day package I mentioned should more than cover you, but if you’re worried about it, pay the extra 50c for 9GB. That’s a LOT to get through in 9 days, even when uploading short videos. You’ll notice no difference in those cities between Vinaphone or Viettel, coverage and speeds will be good with both of them.

      Reply
  13. Gib

    Hi, I just landed and bought a SIM card at the HCMC airport.

    I read this article while waiting for my visa.

    Immediately after immigration there’s a money changer and a Vittel kiosk.

    I was worried it might be their only option so purchased for VND 390,00 unlimited 3g data and 40 minutes telephone time that expires in two months.

    I’ll be here 5 days this trip.

    After baggage claim and customs, there are a few more kiosks selling SIM cards and taxi services.

    Outside of the arrivals exit there are a few more options.

    I didn’t price check to avoid remorse and also to avoid the pretty girls at the kiosks hawking rides and SIMS.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Great stuff, thanks for the update. So it looks like the kiosks are still in action at the airport in HCMC at least. Did you need to show your passport?

      Reply
  14. M

    I just got here and it’s 105,000 now for 5gb/30days. And yes, they asked for my passport. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Sandra

    That’s great stuff Dave. Thank you for such an informative article. I’m quite ignorant concerning sim cards…
    One question: do you know if my Truemove 1GB package bought in thailand will work in Vietnam?

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      In my experience, it won’t. If you’re able to use your Truemove SIM there at all, you’ll need to pay roaming charges — the existing 1GB data package will probably only work in Thailand. Given how cheap Vietnamese SIM cards and data packages are, you’re almost certainly better off to buy a local one when you get there.

      Reply
  16. Lui Sieh

    I landed Dec 24 and seems nothing has changed. All the usual suspects had 3G sim cards advertising.

    While waiting for my family landing visa to be processed, I picked up one from the center kiosk inside of the immigration counters. They sold Mobifone sim cards for 220,000VND unlimited 3G data + 100 voice minutes. No passport required.

    Now when I try to register a Vinasun account to that phone number, the app says invalid number. I guess they are cracking down some how.

    Outside kiosks were selling 3G sim cards for as low as 150,000 VND.

    I’ve used both Mobifone and Viettel and I think Viettel is better. I typically travel in D1, D2, D3, and Binh Duong province.

    YMMV.

    Reply
  17. Peter

    If you walk out of the baggage area at SGN and make a left and go the way to the end, you will find Vinaphone and Viettel branded kiosks that register SIM cards with your passport. They appear to be company stores.

    Reply
  18. Nathan

    Just landed in Hanoi and they don’t sell the vinaphone sim at the airport. Will hopefully get one in the old quarter.

    Reply
  19. Val

    Please,DO NOT BUY VIETNAMOBILE ,it is totally useless!
    Bout ha SIM with this company on arrival just few days ago as a package with 1GB data.Internet stopped on the next day and had a painfull chat with their customer service just to be told that the money in the account is gone and you need to recharge.Went to the same desk at the airport and they changed the SIM.The same happened again.On top of this the coverage was disaster.It was on EDGE most of the time,when my MOBIFON SIM had perfect 3G.Total waste of money.

    Reply

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