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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 pre-pay brand of AIS)
The SIM card by itself costs 50 baht (~$1.60). Many different call and data packages are available, depending mainly on how long you’re in the country, and how much data you need.
As an example, 427 baht including tax (~$14) gets 3GB of LTE data valid for a month, plus access to the high-speed AIS SUPER WI-FI network.
It’s possible to buy tourist SIM packages at international airports, but you’ll pay a noticeable premium to do it.
You’ll get better deals if you wait until you get into town. Just head to the nearest AIS store, and pick one that works for 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/1-2-Call 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 over 80% of the country, including all major cities and towns.
For more details, read our full write-up on buying a SIM card in Thailand.
The SIM card costs $0.50, while $5 gets you 3.5Gb 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.
If you’re arriving at Phnom Penh airport, a Cellcard booth is on your right as you leave 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.
If you are arriving elsewhere, Cellcard signs are everywhere, even in smaller towns. I purchased a card from the official store in Kampot, and it was a quick, simple affair. Your passport may 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.
For more details, read our full write-up on buying a SIM card in Cambodia.
The SIM card will cost around five dollars, with some call credit included. 1Gb of data costs around the same (40,000 kip / $5).
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.
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 a mere 100,000 dong ($5) at the airport for a SIM card with 5GB of data, valid for a month.
To get a useful amount of calls and text, including some international credit, expect to pay roughly double that.
Surprisingly, the rates at the airport are at least as good, and sometimes cheaper, than what you’ll find in town.
There are several mobile phone stands outside the international arrivals hall at Ho Chi Minh City airport. The staff in the Vinaphone stall on the left-hand side 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. A passport will be required in official stores, and probably not elsewhere.
Note that some small shops only sell credit, not the SIM cards themselves. There’s also an ongoing question about the validity of SIMs purchased outside official stores. If you want more certainty your SIM won’t be suddenly deactivated, buy from a carrier store.
Any mobile phone shop will do, just look for the Vinaphone signs.
3G/HSPA+ is fast and available in major towns and cities. Slower speeds can be found pretty much everywhere else.
For more details, read our full write-up on buying a SIM card in Vietnam.
Burma / Myanmar
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. Packages are also available.
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 check service areas closely before deciding whether to purchase.
For more details, read our full write-up on buying a SIM card in Myanmar.
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 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 write-up on buying a SIM card in Malaysia.
hi! Card (Singtel’s prepaid service)
A SIM card with 3GB of data, plus $15 SGD of credit for calls and texts, costs $15 SGD. 1GB of that data is for use any time, with the rest valid between midnight and 8am.
Other packages are also available, including a data-only card with 5GB of data for $20 SGD, 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.
Even then, 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 80,0o0 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, showing your passport to do so. As a result, you may as well buy your SIM there in the first place.
SIM registration can be done at some airports, including Bali, 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 write-up on buying a SIM card in Indonesia.
The cost of a Smart SIM card varies, depending on where you’re buying it. It should be around 30 to 120 pesos (60c to ~$2.50).
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 2GB data pack (plus 1GB/day for Youtube and other services) valid for a month costs 299 pesos (~$6)
Convenience stores like 7-11 or Ministop or authorized retailers should be able to sell you Smart 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.
3G/HSPA+ is fine in metro Manila. Outside that area, it’s hit and miss. In some provinces, data service works pretty well, while elsewhere it’s unbearably slow.
(via Paul from Walk Fly Pinoy)
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 first-hand experience of them, feel free to share in the comments!
SIM image via MIKI Yoshihito
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.