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Stay Connected While Traveling: Southeast Asia SIM Cards

Stay Connected While Traveling: Southeast Asia SIM Cards

Gone are the days of post cards and snail mail to stay connected while traveling. Enter the days where smartphones and mobile devices are now like appendages, and everything is Insta this, Snap that, and hashtags. For some, this is their sole reason for wanting/needing to be connected while traveling (because if you don’t post about it, it obviously didn’t happen, right?! *inserts sarcasm*); for others it may be work, or to simply keep in contact with family and friends. For me, it’s a combination of all 3, and more importantly, it gives me access to all things local and helps me navigate the city better. Plus, it is a life saver for a “wherever the wind blows me” person, like myself, who is known for showing up in a city/country without knowing where I’m going to lay my head that night.  I can just hop on my favorite booking app and 10 minutes later I have accommodations…easy peasy.

So for me, and I’m sure for you as well, staying connected while traveling is vital, and in this digital age it is now easier than ever. Here are some options if you will be traveling in Southeast Asia:

  1. Add an international plan with your existing carrier. This is pretty simple to do. Just call your phone company or go to their website and add a plan. However, this is not the most cost efficient method. International calls can still range in the dollars per minute, data limits are often laughable, all in addition to a one-time (or recurring, depending on your length of stay) charge. Again, not the most cost efficient, but it is an option.
  2. Rent or purchase a portable hot spot device. These can be a bit pricey as well. Also, if traveling abroad beware of roaming charges. They can be insanely expensive. There are companies, such as XCom Global that offers unlimited use for a flat rate.
  3. Turn off roaming on your cell phone and only use free and available Wifi. I’ve done this a time or two, but it is not the most convenient way to stay connected, especially in countries where Wifi is not as prevalent.
  4. Simply say Eff it and allow your cell phone to roam. But, this will definitely come at a hefty price. I’ve heard of some people who came back with several hundred or even 1000+ dollar phone bills.
  5. Possibly the best, and most cost efficient, option is purchasing a SIM card upon arrival in whatever country you will be visiting. This method is pretty simple and extremely cheap in Southeast Asia. I have compiled a list of networks and carriers for each Southeast Asia country. The countries with an asterisk beside them are ones I have personally used myself. The others I have researched just for you, so you don’t have to! 🙂

Note: Your cell phone MUST be unlocked in order to use another carrier’s SIM card. Be sure to do this BEFORE leaving home, as it can sometimes take up to 48 hours to complete. Click here for an awesome guide on how to unlock your phone with some of the U.S.’s major carriers.

Also note: These options are geared towards short-term traveling. If you will be doing long-term travel, or will be living abroad, I would recommend looking into monthly/post-paid plans in the respective country. Also, I have provided links for each carrier for more information regarding voice plans, etc.

Final note:  You should be prepared to show your passport. Many companies are required to keep a copy on file, so don’t be alarmed.

Ok, last note seriously this time: Make sure your SIM card works/you can connect to the internet before you walk away from whoever you purchased the card from. If it doesn’t have them fix it. If you do, by chance, leave and it doesn’t work you can try this little trick (iPhones only): iPhone settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. This is a quick fix and works like a charm. It only resets your network settings and you will not lose any data or information on your phone.

Brunei SIM Cards

There are only 2 carriers in Brunei: DST and Progresif Cellular, and to be honest, neither of them are the cheapest of the bunch. DST does offer a data only plan called GO!broadband for about B$55 ($40.18 USD) at $0.01/200mb, which includes a B$10 preloaded credit (valid for 15 days). Progresif has comparable plans with a cost for 9 days at B$50 ($36.52 USD) and B$65 ($47.48 USD) for 13 days. Both Progresif packages include unlimited data. Progresif may have the cheaper prices, but DST has the better coverage. You can find both of these carriers at any authorized dealer. DST can be found in the airport.

CarrierPriceAllowanceValidity Period
Progresif Plan 1B$34 ($24.85 USD)Unlimited1 day
Progresif Plan 2B$38 ($27.78 USD)Unlimited3 days
Progresif Plan 3B$50 ($36.52 USD)Unlimited9 days
DSTB$55 ($40.18 USD)$0.01/200mb15 days
Progresif Plan 4B$65 ($47.48 USD)Unlimited18 days

Burma (Myanmar) SIM Cards

Connectivity was once hard to come by in Burma, now known as Myanmar. Now, staying connected has become a bit easier with companies like Telenor, Ooredoo, and MPT. You can usually find these travel SIM cards for around 1500 kyat ($1.29 USD) and can top up in increments of 1000 kyat ($0.86 USD).

CarrierPriceAllowanceValidity Period
MPT Plan 12,800 MMK ($2.40 USD)550 MB data30 days
MPT Plan 26,500 MMK ($5.58 USD)1.35 GB data30 days
Ooredoo Plan 16,850 MMK ($5.88 USD)1.35 GB data30 days
Telenor (Tourist SIM)12,000 MMK ($10.31 USD)- 1 GB data
- Free Facebook
- 4,400 MMK of credits
- Free incoming calls & SMS
14 days
Ooredoo Plan 212,500 MMK ($10.73 USD)2.5 GB data30 days

MPT Plan 325,000 MMK ($21.47 USD)6.5 GB data30 days
Ooredoo Plan 327,000 MMK ($23.19 USD)5.5 GB data30 days

Note: Telenor Tourist SIM is only available at the Telenor counters in the Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw Airports.

*Cambodia SIM Cards

I arrived in Phnom Penh by bus, so I couldn’t grab a SIM card at the airport. Instead, my cyclo driver led me to a small convenient store where I could buy one. Literally, everywhere you look there will be signs for vendors selling SIM cards, so just choose one. I ended up with a Metfone SIM card, and to be honest coverage was not the best. It was actually pretty, down-right, bad, especially in Siem Reap. To avoid the same annoyance I endured you may want to check out one of these other carriers: Cellcard/Mobitel or QB.

CarrierPriceAllowanceValidity
Metfone (MIUW)$1.50 USD1.5 GB data7 days
QB$2 USD1.5 GB data
20 min call (on-net)
200 SMS (on-net)
N/A
Cellcard (iNet200)
$2 USD1 GB data7 days
Metfone (MIU)$3 USD2 GB data30 days
QB$5 USD4 GB data
60 min call (on-net)
500 SMS (on-net)
N/A
Metfone (MIU5)$5 USD3 GB data30 days
Cellcard (iNet500)$5 USD3.5 GB data30 days

Note: All companies offer 3G in densely populated areas, but other areas you are likely to only get 2G service.

Indonesia SIM Cards

Telkomsel is the best carrier as far as internet and coverage. There is another provider, XL, who is cheaper, but they do not have coverage everywhere, so stick with Telkomsel. You can buy this SIM card at the airport, but it will be more expensive, or you can buy it from any street vendor, but beware of scammers who may try to price gouge you (this is advice for anywhere). Look for the simPATI plan with Telkomsel. It has sub plans as seen below:

PlanPriceAllowanceValidity
Entertainment 1rp 49 ($0.73 USD)1.1 GB data30 days
Entertainment 2rp 89 ($1.34 USD)2.6 GB data30 days
Entertainment 3rp 119 ($1.79 USD)6 GB data30 days
Entertainment 4rp 169 ($2.54 USD)14 GB data30 days

Laos SIM Cards

The are a few telco companies in Laos such as, Beeline, Lao Telecom, ETL and Unitel. However, Unitel is the more common and highest regarded option, as it has better coverage. The others can be hit or miss depending on the province. With Unitel you have a few options to choose from:

PlanPriceAllowanceValidity
Plan 150,000 LAK ($6.16 USD)1,500 MB data30 days
Plan 2100,000 LAK ($12.32 USD)3,000 MB data30 days
Plan 3120,000 LAK ($14.79 USD)4,000 MB data30 days
Plan 4230,000 LAK ($28.34 USD)Unlimited data30 days

Malaysia SIM Cards

Malaysia is pretty solid when it comes to connectivity and there are several carriers to choose from such as Maxis/Hotlink, Celcom, Digi, and U Mobile. Hotline’s coverage can be spotty in more congested areas, but they have the lowest international call rates, compared to its competitors, and many of their plans includes free Spotify Premium. Celcom offers 4G service, but again it’s usually on great outside of large cities. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Digi (see below). They offer simple packages with 4G service, and has good coverage in larger cities. U Mobile is a small network, but they offer the best value and benefits making them the best overall option. You can pick up any of these SIM cards at the airport or at local vendors, such as 7-Eleven stores.

CarrierPriceAllowancePlan
CelcomRM8 ($1.98 USD)2 GB data7 days
U Mobile (Starter Pack)RM8.50 ($2.11 USD)3 GB data/RM5 preloaded credit/150 min free calls U Mobile to U Mobile10 days
U MobileRM10 ($2.48 USD)2 GB data/free calls to all U Mobile30 days
Maxis/HotlinkRM10 ($2.48 USD)600 MB data7 days
DigiRM10 ($2.48 USD)300 MB data/free 20 min/free 20 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp10 days
CelcomRM18 ($4.46 USD)4 GB data30 days
DigiRM30 ($7.44 USD)1 GB data/free 60 min/free 60 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp30 days
Maxis/HotlinkRM38 ($9.42 USD)3 GB data/free Spotify premium30 days
Maxis/HotlinkRM48 ($11.90 USD)2 GB data/free Spotify premium30 days
DigiRM50 ($12.40 USD)2 GB data/free 100 min/free 100 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp50 days

*Philippines SIM Cards

You can pick up a SIM card at any airport when arriving in the Philippines. If you are arriving at Kalibo Airport, right outside of the airport you can buy a SIM card. Avoid the first stall. They offer 800MB/day for 7 days for p350 ($7.45 USD). The booth right next to it (Globe) offers unlimited data for 5 days for p300 ($6.39 USD). However, it is known that internet service is not all that great in the Philippines, especially if you are headed to the islands. It was almost a waste to get a SIM card at all, as it hardly ever worked in Boracay. I was better off going to a nearby coffee shop and bumming their internet service.

Singapore SIM Cards

Singtel is the way to go here. With this carrier you will be able to use Wifi for free in most areas. The hi!Tourist SIM Card is highly recommended. They have 2 choices that should cover all your needs. You can find this card at the airport or at local 7-Eleven and Cheers stores.

PlanPriceAllowanceValidity
hiTourist 4GB$154 GB data/500 local minutes/100 local SMS/30 minutes internationalN/A
hiTourist 4GB$3014 GB/unlimited local calls/unlimited local SMS/90 minutes international/free access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Line, and WeChatN/A

*Thailand SIM Cards

I picked up a dtac Happy SIM Card from a local 7-Eleven store in Bangkok and was quiet pleased with the service throughout Thailand. For 299 baht ($8.45 USD) I received a 100 baht credit and 1.5 GB data with 3G/4G internet speeds. This was valid for 7 days. Also, what I loved is there were dtac hotspots available all around so I didn’t have to burn up my data.

Timor-Leste SIM Cards

Considering Timor Telecom  monopolized the telecom industry in Timor-Leste until recently, it is no surprise that it is still the most popular. You can get the Viva Plan that includes 5 minutes free, 10 SMS, 10 MB data. After those 10 MB are exhausted it will be $0.04/MB. When you top up your card you will be paying for the days of validity and not the usage. For instance, $1 USD gives you 7 days at the rate of $0.04/MB for data. $2=14 days, $5=30 days, etc.

*Vietnam SIM Cards

I found Mobifone to be a great bang for my buck. You can pick up a SIM card from the airport. It was a super easy and quick process. They show you a booklet of the options they have available. You select your package, and they do the rest. It takes about 5 minutes, if that. Here are the package options below:

PlanPriceAllowanceValidity
Package 1350,000 VND ($16 USD)Unlimited internet access/5 GB data/local call for 75 minutesN/A
Package 2300,000 VND ($14 USD)Unlimited Internet Access/ 3 GB Data/
International call for 10 minutes/
Local call for 100 Minutes
N/A
Package 3200,000 ($10 USD)Unlimited Internet Access/
5 GB Data/ Local call for 75 minutes
N/A
Package 4150,000 VND ($7 USD)Unlimited Internet Access/
600 MB Data/ Local call for 60 minutes
N/A
Only Phone Call150,000 VND ($7 USD)60 minutes local callN/A

I opted for Package 3. I use a lot of data and didn’t want to feel limited with only 1.5 GB. I was in Vietnam for a total of 9 days and this package was perfect. I still had about 1 GB to spare, but I was fine with that. Better to have too much than not enough. Coverage and speed were both great.

Have you visited any of these countries and used any of these carriers? What were your experiences with them? Let me know in the comments below.

Colby

  • Laura @ Grassroots Nomad

    Great round up! I always try to buy a local sim card when I stay somewhere. They are also a great thing to pass on to other travellers to save them money 🙂

    May 16, 2016 at 4:48 pm Reply
  • Melissa Epifano

    This was super helpful, as I’m looking to hopefully travel soon. Thank you for the great details!

    May 16, 2016 at 4:56 pm Reply
  • Florence

    This is a great article! It’s true, having a sim card and roaming abroad is very important. However, I still love sending postcards (I think it’s so nice to receive one as well) – But definitely I really need to stay connected when I’m traveling 🙂

    May 16, 2016 at 5:28 pm Reply
  • Tami

    Lots of detailed valuable information here. I wonder how many people travel without first figuring out how they will communicate? We had the same issues to consider on a recent two-week trip to France. We thought we would be buying the SIM card to put in my husband’s phone. Although he thought it was unlocked, it turned out it wasn’t. So we ended up purchasing an inexpensive basic smart phone for about 60 euros and a SIM card for it for about 30 euros. A little more than we had planned to spend, but it was totally worth it, and when you do the math, it was only a little over 6 euros a day.

    May 16, 2016 at 7:34 pm Reply
  • NomadPhD

    Quite piece of work you’ve got there!
    Will be useful for my next trip over there…

    May 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm Reply
  • Maya

    Great round up post for travellers going to Asia! Any chance you know of options for Central and South America? 😉

    May 17, 2016 at 2:24 am Reply
  • Aimee Horgan

    Wow, such detailed information. It must have taken a lot of time to write this. But thanks as it will be so useful for my next trip to SE Asia.

    May 17, 2016 at 5:30 pm Reply
  • Hung Thai

    Wow thanks this is a super complete list for Asia. If it’s available, the wi-fi egg (a wi-fi enabled device that gives all your electronics wi-fi) is the best!

    May 18, 2016 at 4:50 am Reply
  • T. Michelle

    Good info. I usually buy local sims when I travel because it gives me the beat option for cheap voice calls and data. But I also have T-Mobile which offers free data in many countries. I use that as my back up.

    May 18, 2016 at 2:03 pm Reply
  • Ivana

    Very informative post! My friend is heading to Southeast Asia in just a few days. I will be sharing this with her!

    May 18, 2016 at 2:34 pm Reply
  • Brianna

    This post is incredibly useful!! Thanks for sharing!

    May 18, 2016 at 3:27 pm Reply
  • Erika Bisbocci

    This is an incredibly helpful and comprehensive post. This post will be very helpful for my trip to Indonesia next week and I’ve bookmarked it. Admittedly, I have to figure out what I am going to do about a phone still. I usually just stick with option #3 and use WiFi. But I’m realizing more and more how important it is to have access to a phone while traveling to facilitate navigating cities and booking hotels in the case of emergencies.

    May 18, 2016 at 3:53 pm Reply
  • Stella the Travelerette

    I’ve never been to Southeast Asia, but this is a very detailed and easy to read post. I personally use T-Mobile and so unlimited international texting and internet is included with my plan. But in some places the cell phone reception isn’t very good generally! I wonder how good the coverage would be, say, in Cambodia.

    May 19, 2016 at 2:18 am Reply
  • Laura Lynch

    After two failed attempts at using a SIM card in our supposedly unlocked Verizon phones overseas, we decided to just go with Verizon’s new plan that costs like $10 a day in most countries. It’s expensive and I’m sure that’s why Verizon never truly unlocked our phones for us like they said they did.

    May 21, 2016 at 11:15 pm Reply
  • Nancy

    Wow, you really did your homework on this. If we make it to Asia this year your post is the one I’m coming back to for help. I really don’t want to get stuck with huge roaming charges. You just never know who is going to call while you are traveling International.

    May 22, 2016 at 12:44 am Reply
  • Milosz Zak

    Very comprehensive. We used a WiFi dongle device, called an ONDA in Egypt and in Europe. It’s ridiculous how cheap it is compared to North America.

    May 22, 2016 at 6:50 pm Reply
  • Paul

    Great post and I’ve saved it to read in more detail for later this year for when we travel to SE Asia! Thanks

    May 22, 2016 at 7:17 pm Reply
  • There and back with snacks

    I need to share this with my family in the Philippines!

    May 22, 2016 at 10:20 pm Reply
  • Claire

    This is really handy – I’ll be bookmarking this for when I go to Asia! Thanks!

    May 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm Reply
  • Castaway with Crystal

    OH WOW what a flipping great list. So comprehensive, it must have taken ages to put together! Thank you.

    Crystal recently posted… Budget Guide: Japan

    May 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm Reply
  • Ashley Hubbard

    Great information! I did pretty much what you describe when I went to Thailand and it worked perfectly! Will definitely use these tips when I head back to SEA!

    May 24, 2016 at 4:33 am Reply
  • Danielle Des

    #4 just letting your phone roam, I’ve done that and it wasn’t a happy ending the next month. I have TMobile so traveling to over 130+ countries is no worry, texting and internet.

    May 24, 2016 at 11:48 pm Reply
  • Kim Armosilla

    If I have my own pocket wifi device is it possible to just get a sim card for that?

    February 3, 2017 at 8:09 am Reply

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