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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
|Progresif Plan 1||B$34 ($24.85 USD)||Unlimited||1 day|
|Progresif Plan 2||B$38 ($27.78 USD)||Unlimited||3 days|
|Progresif Plan 3||B$50 ($36.52 USD)||Unlimited||9 days|
|DST||B$55 ($40.18 USD)||$0.01/200mb||15 days|
|Progresif Plan 4||B$65 ($47.48 USD)||Unlimited||18 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).
|MPT Plan 1||2,800 MMK ($2.40 USD)||550 MB data||30 days|
|MPT Plan 2||6,500 MMK ($5.58 USD)||1.35 GB data||30 days|
|Ooredoo Plan 1||6,850 MMK ($5.88 USD)||1.35 GB data||30 days|
|Telenor (Tourist SIM)||12,000 MMK ($10.31 USD)||- 1 GB data|
- Free Facebook
- 4,400 MMK of credits
- Free incoming calls & SMS
|Ooredoo Plan 2||12,500 MMK ($10.73 USD)||2.5 GB data||30 days|
|MPT Plan 3||25,000 MMK ($21.47 USD)||6.5 GB data||30 days|
|Ooredoo Plan 3||27,000 MMK ($23.19 USD)||5.5 GB data||30 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.
|Metfone (MIUW)||$1.50 USD||1.5 GB data||7 days|
|QB||$2 USD||1.5 GB data|
20 min call (on-net)
200 SMS (on-net)
|Cellcard (iNet200)||$2 USD||1 GB data||7 days|
|Metfone (MIU)||$3 USD||2 GB data||30 days|
|QB||$5 USD||4 GB data|
60 min call (on-net)
500 SMS (on-net)
|Metfone (MIU5)||$5 USD||3 GB data||30 days|
|Cellcard (iNet500)||$5 USD||3.5 GB data||30 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:
|Entertainment 1||rp 49 ($0.73 USD)||1.1 GB data||30 days|
|Entertainment 2||rp 89 ($1.34 USD)||2.6 GB data||30 days|
|Entertainment 3||rp 119 ($1.79 USD)||6 GB data||30 days|
|Entertainment 4||rp 169 ($2.54 USD)||14 GB data||30 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:
|Plan 1||50,000 LAK ($6.16 USD)||1,500 MB data||30 days|
|Plan 2||100,000 LAK ($12.32 USD)||3,000 MB data||30 days|
|Plan 3||120,000 LAK ($14.79 USD)||4,000 MB data||30 days|
|Plan 4||230,000 LAK ($28.34 USD)||Unlimited data||30 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.
|Celcom||RM8 ($1.98 USD)||2 GB data||7 days|
|U Mobile (Starter Pack)||RM8.50 ($2.11 USD)||3 GB data/RM5 preloaded credit/150 min free calls U Mobile to U Mobile||10 days|
|U Mobile||RM10 ($2.48 USD)||2 GB data/free calls to all U Mobile||30 days|
|Maxis/Hotlink||RM10 ($2.48 USD)||600 MB data||7 days|
|Digi||RM10 ($2.48 USD)||300 MB data/free 20 min/free 20 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp||10 days|
|Celcom||RM18 ($4.46 USD)||4 GB data||30 days|
|Digi||RM30 ($7.44 USD)||1 GB data/free 60 min/free 60 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp||30 days|
|Maxis/Hotlink||RM38 ($9.42 USD)||3 GB data/free Spotify premium||30 days|
|Maxis/Hotlink||RM48 ($11.90 USD)||2 GB data/free Spotify premium||30 days|
|Digi||RM50 ($12.40 USD)||2 GB data/free 100 min/free 100 SMS/unlimited WhatsApp||50 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.
|hiTourist 4GB||$15||4 GB data/500 local minutes/100 local SMS/30 minutes international||N/A|
|hiTourist 4GB||$30||14 GB/unlimited local calls/unlimited local SMS/90 minutes international/free access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Line, and WeChat||N/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:
|Package 1||350,000 VND ($16 USD)||Unlimited internet access/5 GB data/local call for 75 minutes||N/A|
|Package 2||300,000 VND ($14 USD)||Unlimited Internet Access/ 3 GB Data/|
International call for 10 minutes/
Local call for 100 Minutes
|Package 3||200,000 ($10 USD)||Unlimited Internet Access/|
5 GB Data/ Local call for 75 minutes
|Package 4||150,000 VND ($7 USD)||Unlimited Internet Access/|
600 MB Data/ Local call for 60 minutes
|Only Phone Call||150,000 VND ($7 USD)||60 minutes local call||N/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.