Need to make a few calls or update your Instagram on the move in Southeast Asia, but don’t want to pay those 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 much better than you’d expect, especially in major towns and cities. Local calls and texts are usually very cheap.
Here we’ll cover the basics, based on real-world experience throughout the region. In each case, we recommend a major mobile carrier that we (or others who spend plenty of time in the country) use and recommend.
1-2-Call (the prepaid brand of AIS) or Happy (the prepaid brand of dtac)
Many different 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 SIM at Bangkok airport with 30GB of LTE data valid for a month cost 599 baht including tax (~$17).
It’s possible to buy tourist SIM packages at international airports, but you’ll pay a premium to do it.
You’ll get better deals if you wait until you get into town. Just head to the nearest AIS or Happy retail store, and pick one that works for you. Many convenience stores can also sell and register a SIM to you.
Thailand introduced stricter regulations for SIM card purchases in 2017. You’ll now need your passport, plus have your photo taken, to get the card registered and activated.
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.
3G/HSPA+ service is pretty fast, and you’ll find it in most cities and reasonable-sized towns. LTE is available in most of the country, and 5G rollout has started in major cities.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Thailand.
The SIM card costs a dollar, while $5 gets you 30GB of data valid for a month.
You’ll pay 5-8c/minute for national calls, and 3-5c/minute for national SMS, so an extra dollar or two should be enough to cover you for domestic calls and texts.
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 was no longer there in February 2022, but I can’t confirm whether it’s returned now that Covid regulations have eased in the country.
If you are arriving elsewhere, Cellcard 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.
Just find a shop displaying a Cellcard sign in the window.
Fast 3G/HSPA+ was common in towns of any size, with slow EDGE service available most (but not all) other places. LTE is available in most of the country.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Cambodia.
The SIM card will cost around a dollar, with a small amount of data and call credit included. 3GB of data costs 100,000 kip (~$11.)
There are many other call and data packages available, however. Just grab a brochure from any official Unitel store (in most medium-sized towns) for the details.
Just look for the Unitel signs in a shop window and ask for a SIM card. You may not need to provide a passport.
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 rollout so far is limited, but 3G/HSPA+ is available in most major towns and some smaller ones, with EDGE present almost everywhere else. Speeds are often surprisingly fast.
(via Adam from Pergidulu.com)
You’ll pay around 120,000 dong ($5) for a Viettel SIM card with 3GB of data, valid for a month. If you plan to make domestic calls and texts, just add a bit of extra credit on top.
Surprisingly, the rates at the airport are at least as good and sometimes cheaper than what you’ll find in town, but be careful: the SIM card likely won’t be officially registered to you, which means it can be cut off at any time.
There are several mobile phone stands outside the international arrivals hall at Ho Chi Minh City airport. The staff speak good English and are very efficient.
Outside the airport, you can buy a SIM card on pretty much every corner. You’re more likely to find someone who speaks English in tourist areas, however.
As mentioned above, though, unofficial outlets (including at the airport) probably can’t register the SIM to you, so you risk having it cut off without warning. As a result, we recommend buying your Viettel SIM in an official carrier store. A passport will be required there, but not necessarily elsewhere.
Any mobile phone shop will do, just look for the Viettel signs.
LTE download speeds can approach 50Mbps, and even 3G/HSPA+ is often quite fast in major towns and cities. Slower 2G speeds can be found pretty much everywhere else.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Vietnam.
Of all of the countries in South East Asia, this is the most rapidly-changing for telecommunications (and almost everything else).
1500 kyat (~$1.50) will get you a SIM card ready for 3G/HSPA+ data access. You’ll pay 25-35 kyat/min for calls, 15 kyat/msg for SMS and 10 kyat/MB for data, but you’ll get better value from one of the many packages on offer.
Any cellphone shop should be able to help, although English may not always be spoken. A passport shouldn’t be required.
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 10000 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.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Myanmar.
Hotlink (the prepay brand of Maxis) or Xpax (the prepay brand of Celcom)
With Hotlink, the SIM card costs 10MYR ($2.50.) 35MYR ($9) gives 6GB of data valid for a month. Xpax prices are slightly cheaper, but there’s not much in it.
You can buy a SIM and package almost anywhere you see the Hotlink/Xpax logos. That’s likely to be several times per city block. If the particular store you pick doesn’t sell it, just walk a few metres down the road.
You can also buy at international airports on arrival. Either way, a passport will be required.
You can top up anywhere you see the right logo.
Fast LTE and 3G/HSPA+ data service is available throughout the country, including Malaysian Borneo. You’ll only drop back to EDGE/2G in very remote areas.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Malaysia.
hi! Card (Singtel’s prepaid service)
A SIM card with 3GB of data valid for 120 days and free local calls costs $11 SGD. 1GB of that data is for use any time, with the rest valid between midnight and 8am. You’ll also get 5GB of bonus data to use anytime in the first 30 days.
Other packages are also available, including a Singapore tourist SIM with 100GB of data, local calls, and other benefits for $15 SGD (~$11 USD), valid for a week.
Certain packages are available at Changi airport, but otherwise dropping into a 7-11 is probably the easiest option.
If you somehow can’t find one nearby, several other places (including the carrier’s mobile stores) will do it. Unsurprisingly for Singapore, you’ll need your passport.
No passport required, just find anywhere that sells the SIM cards and away you go. Top-up amounts start at $10 SGD.
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 more difficulty with registration at unofficial outlets (more below.)
Even there, though, there are big variations in price. I was quoted three times as much for the same thing in a convenience store as I was in the cellphone store just down the road.
In the end, I paid 80,000 IDR (~$6) for a SIM with 6GB of standard LTE data. It also had 5GB of “special” data for social media, video, and other usage.
You can buy SIMs most places you see the Telkomsel sign, and no passport is needed to purchase. Registration requirements changed in 2018, however, which limits your options.
You now need to register your SIM at an official store or a small number of other locations, showing your passport to do so. 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 more to purchase there.
Just follow the signs. Topping up at a convenience store is even easier than buying the SIM in the first place. You’re less likely to be overcharged when you do it.
3G/HSPA+ and LTE are widely available, falling back to slower speeds in remote spots.
For more details, read our full guide to buying a SIM card in Indonesia.
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 7-11 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.
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 100, 300, and 500-peso denominations. You can also buy load in sari-sari stores, in 10, 20, 30, 60, and 115-peso denominations.
5G and LTE are fine in metro Manila and other large cities. Outside that area, it’s hit and miss. In some provinces, data service works pretty well, while elsewhere it’s unbearably slow or non-existant.
Multi-Country SIM Cards and eSIMs for Southeast Asia
While local SIM cards in Southeast Asia typically don’t include affordable roaming to neighboring countries, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good options available if you’re traveling to several countries in the region.
While it’s generally still cheapest to buy physical SIMs in each country if you’re staying for a while, travelers moving more quickly should consider the following:
- Surfroam provides data service globally, including all countries in Southeast Asia. Rates are typically 1 or 2 euro cents per MB. The SIM is available in both physical and eSIM format.
- SIM Options provides a data-only SIM that works throughout Southeast Asia with 4GB of data, valid for 12 days.
- Airalo lets you buy eSIM data service in each country directly from the company’s app. As long as you have a recent iPhone or other device with eSIM support, you’ll typically pay near-local rates for a few gigabytes of data.
So there you have it, the basics of buying a SIM card that works in every country in Southeast Asia. Of course there are other options available beyond the ones we recommend. If you have firsthand 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
Thanks for this Dave, in Thailand I had mixed performance with 3G on the iPhone. True-H seems the most reliable for 3G and it simply does not work on all carriers. I am not sure about Happy, haven’t tried. For those with iPhone 3GS, understand that this is a model that did not sell a lot in SEA and some companies simply won’t support it.
Thanks for the info, Andre. I actually used an iPhone 3G (not S) with a Happy SIM when I was in Thailand in 2010, and never saw the magic 3G symbol at all. It did work fine with Edge, however.
I picked up my Happy Sim a few days ago in Thailand, and on my Galaxy S3 I got good 3G coverage and speeds in Bangkok. Not tried the rest of the country yet, will report back 🙂
That’s really interesting, Laurence – did you need to do anything special to enable 3G, or did it just work out of the box? And which package did you buy?
It just worked out of the box. I’ve not bought a package yet – I went for the happy internet SIM which came with 10 hours of internet as part of the package. When that’s used up, I’m going to go for the 399 baht unlimited package, which gives a month of unlimited 3G data, with the provisio that you get 3G speeds for the first gigabyte, and drop down to Edge beyond that. Given the availability of wifi in Thailand, that should be fine for my needs 😀
As promised, three months of Thai holiday later, time to report back 🙂 I got good HSUPA (or whatever the acronym is) across most of Thailand, except for the more rural parts where it dropped back to EDGE.
I did learn a couple of things. Happy offer two types of package – a time based one and a data based one. The time based one lets you buy different amounts of time, valid for a month. For example, you can buy 70 hours of time which remains valid for a month for 200 baht. This is capped to 384kbps to prevent overload, but that was more than enough for what I wanted it for.
Alternatively, you can buy what they call an unlimited data package, which gives you what they call unlimited data for a month. This runs at true 3G speeds, up to 42Mbps, for the first gigabyte, and is then capped at a rather glacial 64kbps until the end of the month. It also costs more like 399 baht.
How about minicards for iPhones? Easy to find!?
In Thailand (sorry to hijack this one Dave!), the guy at the place I bought my card from had a sim cutter, and he just cut my sim down to the micro sim format to fit my Galaxy s3 on the spot for no extra charge. Not sure what the deal is with the new nano sim format though.
In many countries in SE Asia you can pick up a micro-SIM at the same place as you pick up standard SIMs (eg: 7-11). If not, the carrier’s mobile stores will almost certainly have them, and failing both of those options, someone will cut it down to size for you (or there are about a million videos and guides online on doing it yourself if necessary).
I don’t think a 300 minute deal (Thailand) is a good choice these days, now we are always online and with that SIM it will only last for half a day. You can get 1GB volume without time limit for 350 baht or unlimited volume for 799 baht per month as a prepaid SIM. There are some more volume bundles, but those two are the most interesting i think. To activate it you just a get a normal SIM at 7/11 and use a UUID code to pick a data plan, for example for 12Call (AIS) those codes are:
you need to put credit on your phone first to activate those plans of course, so get a SIM and just buy some recharge cards right away, dial in the credits and then pick a plan. If you stay longer than a month you need to make sure that you have enough credit one (two, three, ..) month after activation, sop best is to set yourself a reminder. If you run out of volume before the month is over things can get a bit messy, i.e. you can end up with two subscriptions on the same number.
If you pick the 550 baht one or above you also get free AIS wifi access for a month, which is nice if you like to sit in cafes with your laptop. The coverage of wifi hotsports is pretty extensive for Bangkok.
Sometimes 3G isn’t activated and you need to dial *300
Similar offer are available from DTAC and TRUE of course,
There is a link with all details, but usually those stop working after a few month when they decide to redesign their website, those short codes are likely to work for a long time, prices might drop.
Thanks for the detailed info, Jan. Totally agree that 300 minutes is insufficient – I burned through mine within a day. They’re a good starting point for an extra 20 baht, but nothing more.
I actually usually turn the data off on my phone when I’m not using it here in Thailand – helps save a few bucks for the larger data packages, and battery life as well.
Good point about the AIS wifi as well – if you’re in areas with significant coverage, it could be a great choice.
Thanks a lot, Dave! I was planning to do some research and do a blogpost on it, but that’s not needed anymore 🙂 You don’t happen to have some info on a philippines sim, do you?
No problem! The Philippines info is coming – I actually meant to include it (oops!). I’ll update the post when I receive it. 🙂
Great, thanks Dave!
And done. 🙂
Can you recommend a SIM in India?
I can’t personally – anybody else with personal experience, please feel free to chime in!
Hi, In India, the major providers are Airtel, Vodaphone, BSNL, IDEA, TATA PHOTON and Aircel. Price wise BSNL is cheapest as it is owned but government. Speed in 3G wise my pick would be Vodaphone or Airtel. Intensive coverage even in remote areas by BSNL.
You can walk in any small store street side also and get the sim, and get activated within 24hrs. Recharge also done in any small roadside shops to malls. However to get a sim connection you need to provide 1 copy of passport size photo, 1 copy of photo id like a passport. My advice would be to walk in a BSNL offices situated in any city and village and get a sim card and then just change the provider after 24hrs. No hassle.
Thanks for the detailed info, Ani – much appreciated!
Great roundup, Dave. Bookmarking it now.
Such a helpful post! We just got a Vietnamese sim card the other day and will be traveling to all the other countries in this list so will be good to reference this post later on!
Dave, I am going to Beijing via Hong Kong and then on a cruise to various ports in South East Asia including Busan, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Thailand, Saigon, Singapore as well as spending quite a bit of time out at sea in between! I was hoping to find an option other than the ships wifi for my Ipad that could service me anywhere in SEA. Have I a hope rather than free wifi on land? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers
Sadly your options are limited, to say the least. If you’re on land, but only for a day or so in each place, a global/international SIM might be your best bet. I don’t usually recommend them, but your case is a bit different. There’s no particular one that I can suggest, since prices change all the time – all I can say is to look very closely at the fine print for the data charges!
Out at sea, satellite is your only choice – which means either the extortionate cost of shipboard wifi, or the extortionate cost of renting a satellite phone/modem and paying the data costs that come with it. There’s no great answer for that one, I’m afraid. 🙁
lol – I’ve been living/wandering around SEA for the past two years now collecting SIMs wherever I land, and…
I’m now thinking of selling SIM card EARRINGS on Etsy!
Those little guys are a pain to keep track of, but would make interesting earring, no? 😉
Totally agree! I’ve got a little plastic bag full of expired SIMs that I can donate to the cause. 😉
Dave, I am a digital nomad in need of access to wifi via my computer. I currently have an iPhone that is locked to ATT but I will be unlocking it for the trip. Does this mean that I will be able to use my iphone as a mobile hotspot using one of these sim cards so that I can get into the backend of WordPress to do some basic membership adjustments on my site? Is there a better way to do this? Can I get some type of mifi and use one of these cheap cards to get online with my laptop, or should I even consider purchasing a Google Nexus tab and popping a sim into this? Sorry for the long questions but we will be traveling for one year and I run 2 membership sites and need to be able to login and just check things at least once daily. We will be traveling mostly in SEA.
Thanks, I love your site BTW!
To answer your questions — yep, if your iPhone is unlocked, you should be able to drop a local SIM card in it and use it as a mobile hotspot. It’ll use more battery to do so, but that’s about it. I’ve done the same thing many times with various smartphones (including an old iPhone) and it works well enough, depending on the speed of your data connection of course.
You could also buy an unlocked mi-fi device to do the same thing, or a USB 3G modem that plugs into your laptop (and can then be shared with other devices using Connectify, if you’re running Windows). I cover quite a bit of this stuff here.
I wouldn’t buy a tablet just to use as a hotspot, although if you’ve got other reasons to want a tablet then it’s a nice side benefit.
Hope that helps!
I’m unsure why you need a passport in Vietnam to get a simcard. I’ve gone there on 10 occasions over the past 3 years and lived there, and I just get one for 100,000vnd at Tan Son Nhat airport, and not once been asked for ID. You also get 100,000vnd worth of data/sms/calls. This has been Mobifone, though. They’ll also have offers of topping up your SIM for free. You top it off for 50,000 they give you another 50,000. Buy 100,000 you get another 100,000.
On two occasions I’ve had a stroke of luck and had free 3G. (until next time it’s updated)
I don’t know if it should be noted, but if a SIM is unused for two months it’s disabled. Again, mobiphone.
Haven’t been there in 6 months now, and can’t recall any other benefits that’s not already been mentioned.
I hope this is of value.
Thanks for the useful advice, Dave, and that’s a valid point about the passport — I don’t think I was asked for it at the booth at Tan Son Nhat either, but I was asked at a travel agent on Pham Ngu Lao on a previous trip. I’ve updated the article to say “may be” instead of “will be” required. 🙂
On the hunt for a sim that will work in all 3 of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. In Vietnam now – where can I buy and what us available? Need an unlocked phone too as mine broke ( permanently, a long story)
I’m not sure that such a thing exists, especially on prepaid. Given how easy it is to buy SIM cards in each of those countries, I’m not quite sure why you need it either? If you need a consistent number, that’s achievable in other ways (Skype Numbers, Google Voice etc) without having to use the same SIM in each country.
I am travelling to singapore and malaysia for 7days what will be the best option
1)buying local sims at both the places / 2) buying world travel sim.
in both the case please suggest best operator
Suggested operators are in the post. There’s probably little difference between an international SIM and local SIMs for the short amount of time you’re talking about, unless you plan to use a lot of data (in which case local SIMs will be cheaper).
Wow this list actually helps me a lot. But I will also go to China, Honkong, Taiwan, South-Korea and Japan, do you also have tips for those countries?
Just follow the link at the bottom of the post (this one) to see all of our SIM coverage. At time of writing, we’ve got a piece on Taiwan, but not the other places you list (although we do have an article on renting a Mifi device in Japan as an alternative option).
I’m going to be travelling through 7 different Asian countries, I’ll be in most for 3 weeks and then the last, India, for 7 weeks.
I’ve been trying to find a travel sim that has a good price for calls, txts and data within country and to the UK and i’m having no luck at all!
I’ve found Travelsim and Gosim and those kind of ones too expensive and then the idea of having to buy a sim card in each country is just annoying/costly/not convenient.
Are you able to shed any advice for my situation please?
For a trip of that length, I’ve found no travel/international SIMs offering what I would call reasonable rates, unless you plan to barely use your phone at all.
Unless you’re from the US and are a customer of T-Mobile or Google’s Project Fi, roaming with your existing carrier is likely to be totally unaffordable.
If you’re in each country for 3 weeks, buying a local SIM makes by far the most sense. You don’t say which countries you’re visiting other than India, but in SE Asia, at least, it’d be rare to be able to walk from your guesthouse to dinner without passing a vendor that could set you up with a SIM for around $10-$15 with enough data, calls and texts to last the duration of your stay. Things are a bit trickier in India (we’ll be posting an article about that soon), but still possible.
I’ve never found the process annoying, costly or inconvenient in any of the countries listed in this article.
Really helpful post, just had a few questions.
Are you able to purchase Nano or Mirco simcards in these countries?
I will be travelling across Asia for 8 months and the two phones I will be taking with me require either a mirco or a nano sim? (Nano is the one even smaller than Micro)
Yep, there’s no problem picking up micro or nano SIMs across Asia, since pretty much every phone sold there uses one of those two types. You’ll often get a card with cut-outs for each size, or the vendor will ask which type you need. Failing that, on the rare occasion you can’t get a (typically) nano SIM, the vendor will cut it down to size for you, usually for free.
Perfect – that is what I had read but wanted to check!
Thank you 🙂
Smart and Globe tourist sims now being sold in Philippines at international airports. 5GB 14 days was 700 peso with Globe. 7 days or 30 day sim also available. Girls at booth will install for you. Speed was good 4G in many urban areas around Luzon. Good reception also.
Previous experience with Smart was lots of dead spots with no signal, especially inside buildings. No 4G, speed was very slow like too many people trying to use and it took minutes to refresh Facebook feed or just time out.
Viettel in vietnam
Metphone in cambodia
Truphone in thailand
ooredoo in Myanmar
All gave excellent speeds. In Myanmar buy more data then you think you need because the wifi is horrifically slow and the 4G is superb, so you’ll be using it by default.
Picked up all at airport kiosks at decent prices. Tru in thailand was more expensive as an actual ‘tourist sim’ but unlimited data.
Great site. Next update would love to hear hacks for SIM validity for those who drop-in and out of countries regularly through the year, e.g. every small (20bht) reload at AIS (Thai) extends validity for 1 month so you can cheaply run it up to 12 months validity; don’t have too many problems with Telkomsel (Indonesia) expiry as long as I’m there every 4/5 months; didn’t find a cost effective hack for long validity for Cambodia (Smart), Malaysia (MyDigi), Singapore (SingTel), Vietnam (Bima) although MyDigi seemed to allow SIM to expire and then 1RM (left in the digital wallet) to add 24 hours validity during which you can buy a new online package.