Need to make a few calls or update your Instagram on the move in Southeast Asia, but don’t want to pay ridiculous international roaming rates? Good news if you have an unlocked phone: in much of the region, local SIM cards are cheap and easy to find.
Data speeds are variable but often quite fast, especially in major towns and cities. In some places, they’re noticeably quicker than what you’ll get from your hotel Wi-Fi. Local calls and texts are usually very cheap if you need them.
Here I cover the basics for each country, based on real-world experience throughout Southeast Asia. In each case, I recommend a major mobile carrier that one of us has used and recommend, and share the costs, data speeds, and general experience you’re likely to have.
Travel eSIMs are becoming increasing popular, and I’ve now used a bunch of them across the region and the world. You’ll pay more for a given amount of data, but especially if you’re only in a country for a week or two, there’s often not much in it. Most iPhones can use them, as can many Android devices.
Because eSIMs are far more convenient than lining up at airport kiosks after a long flight or hunting down a phone store later, I figured it was worth discussing that option as well.
For each country, I’ve mentioned the companies that are offering the best value from those I’ve personally used and can vouch for.
Finally, a few affordable multi-country options are starting to emerge, especially when it comes to eSIMs. Depending on how long you’re in the region for, and how much data you need, these can be a cheaper, simpler alternative to buying individual SIMs in each country. I talk about those at the end.
A wide range of call and data packages are available, depending mainly on how long you’re in the country, how much data you need, and where you’re purchasing.
As an example, a Happy tourist SIM at Bangkok airport with 30GB of LTE data valid for a month cost 599 baht including tax (~$17) last time I was there. The options at the airport either provide unlimited data at a lower speed, or a fairly large amount of data at maximum speed, for a given length of time.
They all come with a domestic call allowance as well, either some amount of credit or a certain number of minutes. You’ll typically pay a bit more for AIS and a bit less for Truemove (the other main provider in the country), but there’s not a lot in it.
Whichever company you use, you’ll find noticeably more, cheaper options if you’re happy to wait until you get into town and purchase at an official outlet or convenience store.
As mentioned above, the only SIMs available at airports in Thailand are tourist-focused. As in many places, you’ll pay a premium for these tourist SIM packages, and will get better deals at official AIS or Happy retail stores or many (not all) convenience stores.
Thailand introduced stricter regulations for SIM card purchases a few years ago. You’ll need your passport, plus have your photo taken, to get the card registered and activated. If you’re not asked for this, the SIM is already registered to someone else, and could be shut off at any time.
For all the details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in Thailand.
The easiest option by far is to go to a convenience or mobile phone store showing the AIS or dtac logo. Once there, you can top up via a printed voucher or scratch card. If you’re struggling to understand the process, the staff member will be able to help (if they don’t just do it for you in the first place).
It’s also possible to top up at ATMs, Thailand Post, and via each company’s app or website, but I’ve always struggled to get these to consistently work.
LTE is available almost everywhere, and is generally pretty fast. I’ve regularly seen download speeds approaching 100Mbps, at least outside major population centers like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. 5G rollout has started as well, although for now you’ll generally only find it in large cities.
Travel eSIM Alternatives
- 7 days: 15GB for $9 (1-15GB available)
- 30 days: 10GB for $22 (3-50GB available)
- 10 days: 50GB for $9.90
- 15 days: Unlimited calls/texts/data for $19.95
With Cellcard, the SIM card costs a dollar, and $4 gets you 25GB of data valid for 28 days. If you’re in the country for a week or less, you’ll only need to pay $1.50 for 15GB of data. Smart has similar packages for similar prices.
All of the plans come with at least 100 domestic calling minutes and 100 texts, and some come with many more of both.
Tourist SIM options are also available from both providers for $5, offering at least 25GB of data plus plenty of calls and texts.
If you’re in the country for less than 15 days, go with either company. If you’ll be there for longer and particularly want a tourist SIM, get it from Smart: their version lasts for 30 days.
When arriving at Phnom Penh airport pre-pandemic, a Cellcard booth was on your right as you left baggage reclaim. The person working there on the day I turned up spoke excellent English, and set everything up for me in a few minutes at no extra charge.
That booth wasn’t there last time I visited, but there is one selling Smart SIMs. Reent reviews suggest it’s rife with scams, however, so I’d probably suggest waiting until you get into town (or using a travel eSIM) instead these days.
If you are arriving elsewhere, Cellcard and Smart signs are everywhere, even in smaller towns. I purchased a card from official stores in Kampot and Phnom Penh, and it was a quick, simple affair in both cases. Your passport will be required.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in Cambodia.
Just find a shop displaying a Cellcard or Smart sign in the window. They’re not exactly hard to track down: chances are you’ll pass a couple on your way to breakfast.
In theory it’s possible to topup online using your credit card with both providers. I’ve never felt the need to test it, given how ubiquitous the physical store options are, but the option is there if you want it.
LTE is available in most of the country, with 5G starting to slowly be rolled out in major centers. Expect slow speeds, or nothing at all, once you start getting remote. I had good download speeds in smaller centers like Kampot, approaching 50Mb/s, but things were noticeably slower in Phnom Penh.
- 7 days: 1GB for $5
- 30 days: 5GB for $13.50 (3-5GB available)
- 7 days: 1GB for $4.50
- 30 days: 5GB for $13.50 (3-5GB available)
The SIM card costs around 10,000 kip (50c), with a small amount of data and call credit included. 30GB of data costs 50,000 kip (~$2.50), valid for 30 days.
Domestic calls aren’t included, but they only cost 300kip (~1.5c) per minute: just top up with a bit of extra credit at time of purchase if you think you’ll need them.
There are many other call and data packages available, including even cheaper alternatives if you’re only in the country for a week or two. Just grab a brochure from any official Unitel store (in most medium-sized towns) for the details.
If you’re flying into Luang Prabang or Vientiane airports, buying a SIM is straightforward: there are booths for all providers just before you exit into the arrivals hall. You’ll pay more for your SIM here, as usual in airports all over the world, but it’s still not exactly expensive.
If you’re arriving in Laos overland, or just want to wait until you get into town so you can get a better deal, just look for Unitel signs in a shop window and ask for a SIM card.
You can seek out an official store if you’d like to, but most convenience stores and third-party phone stores should be able to help.
New registration rules came into force in 2021, meaning you now need to show your passport at time of purchase so that the SIM can be registered to you.
After buying the card itself, you’ll need to top up with enough credit to cover the data package you want to buy, then activate it by texting a specific code. The staff member may offer to do this for you, but it’s not hard if you need to do it yourself.
For the 30GB package shown above, for instance, you’d text *209*123#. The full list of codes is in the brochures mentioned earlier, or on the website.
As with buying the SIM card, refills are available at any store showing a Unitel sign. Just buy a top-up card, scratch off the silver coating, and follow the (English) instructions.
LTE service is reasonably widespread, but speeds vary significantly. You’ll generally get better speeds the closer you are to a major city, especially Vientiane, but no guarantees. There’s no 5G rollout as yet.
You can buy SIMs at all of the international airports, including those in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Danang. You’ll pay more for the convenience, but not prohibitively so.
Last time I flew into Danang, for instance, all of the stalls were displaying the same price: 180,000 VND (~$8) for a SIM with unlimited data valid for a month, 200,000 VND (~$9) for one with a phone number.
In town, a Vinaphone SIM with 100GB of data cost 100,000 VND, while a Viettel SIM with 4GB of data per day and a phone number cost 150,000 VND. The latter came with free calls to other Viettel numbers and 60 minutes of calls to other domestic carriers. Both packages were valid for a month.
There are plenty of other options available if you buy at an official store, with expiry dates from a day to a year in length: just ask what the current deals are when you walk in.
Outside the airports, you can buy a SIM card on pretty much every corner. You’re more likely to find someone who speaks English in tourist areas, but given that this is where you’ll likely be staying, that’s not a big deal.
Be warned, however, that you’re legally required to show your passport and have the SIM card registered to you, something that has been more strictly enforced in recent years.
Most phone and convenience stores (and airport kiosks) typically can’t or won’t do this, which means you risk having it cut off without warning.
As a result, I’d recommend buying your Viettel SIM in an official carrier store if you want to be sure it’ll keep working throughout your stay. If you’re not in Vietnam for long and are happy to roll the dice, you can buy the SIM anywhere you like: just don’t be shocked if it stops working at some point.
That said, last time I was in the country, I did decide to risk it just because there wasn’t a Viettel store anywhere near where I was staying. My SIM stayed active throughout my month-long stay, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in Vietnam.
You can top up at any mobile phone shop: just look for the Viettel signs. The staff member will almost certainly do the top-up for you if you ask.
LTE coverage is widespread throughout the country, and I’ve had download speeds approaching 50Mbps at times. They’re definitely slower in Ho Chi Minh City and to some extent Hanoi, though: with that many people around, it’s no great surprise that speeds drop a bit.
- 7 days: 1GB for $4
- 30 days: 10GB for $22 (3-50GB available)
- 15 days: 2GB for $7
- 30 days: 10GB for $21 (3-20GB available)
Of all of the countries in Southeast Asia, this is the most rapidly changing for telecommunications (and almost everything else).
Only a decade or so ago, it was essentially impossible for foreigners to buy SIM cards, and costs were so high and service so poor that there wasn’t much point even if you could.
With new entrants to the market and plenty of foreign investment, the situation changed dramatically for the better for several years. Since the military coup in 2021, however, there has been significant internet censorship, data shutdowns, and general service instability.
As a result, while I’m including prices and other details below, don’t assume that you’ll be able to easily get online. A good VPN will help avoid the worst of the censorship, but it won’t help if service has been throttled or disabled entirely.
“Do not travel” warnings from a wide range of governments mean we’re not able to return to update prices and details, either, so our on-the-ground experience is now several years old.
1500 kyat (~70c) will get you an LTE SIM, with a minimal amount of credit on it. While you can pay for calls, texts, and data at a casual usage rate if you’ve got credit loaded on your SIM, you’re better off choosing one of the many packages on offer and buying it at the same time.
As an example, you’ll pay 9899 kyat (~$5) for a little under 5GB of data, valid for a month.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Myanmar.
You can buy SIM cards from any of the major vendors, including Ooredoo, in the arrivals hall at the airport in Yangon when you fly in.
If you’re arriving overland or want to wait until you get into town, any cellphone shop in a tourist area should be able to help. English may not always be spoken, but I didn’t have any problems when I was buying mine just down the road from my guesthouse in Yangon.
Passports are now officially required, as SIM cards need to be registered to the person using them.
You’ll find Ooredoo signs everywhere, so it’s easy to top up at a local shop on the street. Cards are available in 1000, 3000, 5000, and 10,000 kyat denominations, and are good for 30 days.
Data speeds vary widely depending on where in the country you are, and whether you’re inside a building. Oordeoo doesn’t cover the entire country, so don’t expect coverage everywhere you go.
With Hotlink, the SIM card costs 10MYR ($2.50). 45MYR ($10) gives 75GB of data valid for a month, along with unlimited domestic calls. Xpax prices are about the same. There are plenty of other options as well, including some packages that provide unlimited slow-ish internet at cheaper prices.
You can buy a SIM and package almost anywhere you see the Hotlink/Xpax logos, which is likely to be several times per city block. If the particular store you pick doesn’t sell it, just walk a few meters down the road.
I’ve bought mine in several different places over the years, most recently from a small store inside Centre Point Mall in Kota Kinabalu after arriving overland from Brunei.
You can also get them from vendors in all of the international airports on arrival, albeit with fewer options about which package you buy. No matter where you buy it, you’ll need your passport so the SIM can be registered to you.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Malaysia.
You can top up anywhere you see a store with the right logo: as mentioned above, they aren’t hard to find. The vendor will likely do it for you if you’re struggling to understand the process.
Fast LTE data service is available throughout the country, including Malaysian Borneo. You’ll only drop back to something slower (or nothing at all) in very remote areas: it really was pretty rare not to have coverage anywhere that was populated.
- 7 days: 1GB for $4
- 30 days: 10GB for $15 (3-50GB available)
hi! Card (Singtel’s prepaid service)
A SIM card with 108GB of data (100GB of bonus data valid for 28 days, 5GB valid for the first 30 days, 3GB valid for 120 days) costs $15 SGD ($11 USD).
You also get $15 SGD of credit, to use for making calls and texts. Note that the 100GB of bonus data can take up to three days to be credited to your balance.
This card is available at Changi airport, plus Singtel stores, 7-Eleven, and elsewhere in the country. Other packages are available, including a Singapore tourist SIM with 100GB of data, local calls, and other benefits for $15 SGD.
It’s valid for a week, so might make sense if you’re only in town for a few days.
Certain packages are available at Changi airport, including the ones I mention above, but not all. If you don’t see the one you want, just wait until you get into the city: there should be enough free Wi-Fi around to tide you over until then.
I’ve found 7-Eleven the most ubiqitous and easy place to buy SIMs outside the airport, but you can likely do it most places you see the Singtel logo. You’ll need your passport so that the SIM can be registered in your name.
Topping up is straightforward: just find anywhere that sells the SIM cards and tell the staff member how much you need. Top-up amounts start at $10 SGD.
LTE speeds are typically extremely fast with Singtel, and it’s rare to notice much of a slowdown even in busy areas. 5G has been rolled out across Singapore as well, so if your handset supports it, you’ll be able to access it even with a prepaid SIM.
- 3 days: unlimited for $15 (1-7 days available)
- 30 days: 10GB for $17 (3-50GB available)
- 7 days: 1GB for $4.50
- 30 days: 10GB for $18 (3-20GB available)
It’s possible to buy a SIM card for under a dollar and top up with as much credit as you need. As a tourist, however, you’re more likely to be offered a SIM and data pack.
These packs are particularly expensive at international airports, especially Bali. They should be much cheaper when purchased elsewhere, but you’ll have much more difficulty with registration at unofficial outlets. More on that below.
In theory, you can get e.g. 11GB of data valid for 30 days, with 60 minutes of calls and 200 texts, for 32,000 IDR ($2). In reality, though, accessing that price as a foreign tourist is impossible at the airport, and often very difficult elsewhere.
It’s not unusual to see price hikes of 500% or more, or only the most expensive tourist SIMs on offer. On Bali, this kind of price gouging has extended beyond the confines of the airport: even many of the official Grapari stores charge foreigners far more than the actual rate.
You can buy SIMs most places you see the Telkomsel sign, and no passport is needed to complete the purchase process. Using the SIM, however, is a different story.
You now need to register your SIM at an official store or a small number of other locations, showing your passport to do so, or risk service getting cut off within a few days. As a result, you may as well buy your SIM at an official store in the first place.
SIM registration can be done at some airports, but again, you’ll pay a lot more to purchase there in the first place.
For this reason, more than anywhere else in Southeast Asia, I now recommend that anyone staying less than a month should just use a travel eSIM (below) if their phone supports it, and avoid the hassle entirely.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in Indonesia.
Just follow the signs. Topping up at a convenience store is even easier than buying the SIM in the first place, and you’re less likely to be overcharged when you do it.
LTE is widely available in Bali and many other parts of Indonesia, with speeds extremely fast at times (downloads in excess of 80Mbps in Ubud, for instance). You won’t get that kind of service everywhere, especially in more remote spots, but it’s surprisingly good, surprisingly often.
- 7 days: 1GB for $4
- 30 days: 10GB for $20 (3-50GB available)
In a refreshing change of pace from most places in the world, you’ll pay the same amount for your SIM at the airport in Brunei as you will elsewhere in this small country.
The Progresif Tourist SIM will set you back $15 BND ($11 USD), with 4GB of data and 30 minutes of local calls, valid for a week. That’s not an amazing deal, but if you’ll be in the country for seven days or less and don’t need a lot of data, it’s still the cheapest option.
This is one place where a travel eSIM (below) may be cheaper, depending on how long you’re in the country and how much data you need.
Given there shouldn’t be a price difference, most visitors should just buy their SIM at the airport when they arrive. The kiosks are on the ground floor and are rarely busy, so it doesn’t usually take long.
Because I was being picked up by my guesthouse owner and the flight was already delayed, however, I waited until I got into town and went to a store in a nearby mall instead. The process was quick and painless, so feel free to do it either way.
You’ll need to show your passport so the SIM can be registered to you.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in Brunei.
Topping up is easy to do, either online on the Progresif website, or by dropping into either an official store or anywhere else displaying the Progresif logo.
Since 2020 all of the providers use the same physical infrastructure, which means you can expect the same coverage with each. 4G/LTE networks cover much of the country, with 5G rolling out in larger cities.
- 7 days: 1GB for $7
- 30 days: 5GB for $18 (3-20GB available)
The cost of a Globe SIM card varies, depending on where you’re buying it, but it should be around 50 pesos (roughly $1 USD) at a 7-Eleven.
There are many types of prepaid plans, depending on how you plan to use your phone. Unlimited text, unlimited calls, data plans, and more are all available.
Plans are generally pretty cheap. As an example, a 12GB data pack with unlimited calls and texts that’s valid for a week costs 149 pesos (~$3). A 15GB pack with no calls or texts, valid for 15 days, costs 250 pesos.
Convenience stores like 7-Eleven or authorized retailers should be able to sell you Globe SIM cards. However, general merchandise stores (Filipino: sari-sari store) might serve you better outside of the major cities. They’re on every street corner, even in small towns and villages.
You won’t need to bring your passport or other form of identification with you to buy the SIM, but you’ll need it (along with a Wi-Fi connection) to register and activate it on your carrier’s SIM registration portal.
It’s a bit of a hassle, but ultimately a simple-enough process, and thankfully it doesn’t take long to do.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card or eSIM in the Philippines.
Asking someone to “top up” your phone might cause some confusion. The local word for prepaid phone credits is “load” and in the Philippines, you “buy load”.
Scratch cards are available in various denominations from convenience and sari-sari stores, but for most visitors, the easiest way to top up is to head to a 7-Eleven and use the CLiQQ e-Money terminal that you’ll almost certainly find inside.
These terminals let you buy call/text/data packs for all the major carriers: you just choose the one you want on the screen, then give the receipt to the cashier and pay for it.
5G and LTE are fine in metro Manila and other large cities, with download speeds of around 30Mbps not uncommon. Outside that area, it’s hit and miss. In some provinces, data service works pretty well, while elsewhere it’s unbearably slow or non-existent.
- 7 days: 1GB for $4
- 30 days: 10GB for $17 (3-50GB available)
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Multi-Country SIM Cards and eSIMs for Southeast Asia
When it comes to roaming in neighboring countries, local SIM cards in Southeast Asia really are a bit of a mixed bag.
A few providers have one or two packages that include some sort of roaming, others only offer it at expensive casual rates or with an add-on pack, others don’t provide it at all with prepaid SIMs.
It’s all a bit of a hassle to navigate, not helped by the fact that in my experience, most staff members don’t know a lot about the roaming options, what is and isn’t covered, and how much it costs. That’s especially true outside official stores, but sometimes even at them as well.
Unless you can do it online, topping up outside the country of origin is often difficult or impossible as well. That’s less of a problem on shorter trips, but anything longer than a month is likely to cause an issue.
All of that said, just because it’s difficult to do with local SIMs doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do at all. As is often the case when there’s a gap in the market like this, other companies have stepped in.
While it’s generally still cheapest to buy local SIMs in each country if you’re staying for a while, travelers moving more quickly should consider the following:
- SIM Options provides a data-only physical SIM that works throughout Southeast Asia, with 10GB of data valid for 14 days for $49.90.
- aloSIM has an eSIM that covers Thailand and Malaysia, along with Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Prices start at $5 for 1GB valid for a week, going up to 10GB for $27 valid for a month.
- Airalo‘s regional eSIM covers more countries: 14 in total, including all of the places mentioned above with the exception of Myanmar and Brunei. Prices start at $5 for 1GB for a week, going all the way up to 100GB valid for six months for $185.
- Nomad‘s SEA-Oceania eSIM covers most of the countries mentioned above, plus Australia and New Zealand. Prices start at $6 for 1GB for a week, going up to 30GB valid for two months for $60.
So there you have it, the basics of buying a SIM card or eSIM that works in every country in Southeast Asia. Of course there are other options available beyond the ones I recommend: if you have first-hand experience of them, feel free to share in the comments!
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
Main image via nextvoyage, other images via author