Tourist SIM Cards – what every traveler should know
If like me, you travel a lot then you are most probably always on the look-out for local tourist SIM cards so as to get the best deal for getting online. What follows is a guide to a number of tourist SIM cards I have used on my trips.
Why get a tourist SIM card?
When I’m traveling I like to be online so I can research the places I am visiting, use mapping apps (I am always getting lost), and start working on blog posts using apps like Swarm and Evernote. To do all of this I need to be online, with a good connection. However, there is a problem in that I need to keep my personal phone number for emergencies, but at the same time, I need to connect locally to the internet to avoid excessive data roaming charges. To solve this I use (unless I state otherwise) a Huawei Mobile WiFi (MIFI) that takes a full-size SIM. The unit is unlocked and is model E5377s-32.
Optus – The tourist SIM card cost $30 AUS for a 1.5 GB data plan, which was valid for 30 days. I used 1.1 GB in 4 days. I bought the card at Perth airport, where the was a big queue of fellow passengers doing the same. I had no issues with the card, and it seemed to be able to connect almost anywhere. No ID was required to buy the card. (Aug 2015)
Telkomsel (TSel) – The card cost 170000 local (£8.50 UK; $12 U.S.) for 2 GB data plan, which was valid for 30 days. Unfortunately, the card only offered 3G connectivity. The store owner activated the card using another phone. I had no issues with the card, and it seemed to be able to connect almost anywhere, with good coverage in the countryside. No ID was required to buy the card. (One point to note – I didn’t see any phone stores, and I had to look for shops selling SIM cards.) (Sept 2015)
A tour guide met me at Siem Reap Airport, and so I couldn’t track down a SIM card until I got into town, despite seeing booths selling SIMs at the airport. I picked up a Metfone card for $3 U.S. and an additional $10 got an extra 7.5 GB of data. The SIM card had to be activated and topped up with credit using a phone in the store. However, it would appear that I only got 1.5 GB of data as the SIM card locked up with “insufficient credit” at 1.5 GB. Also, phone coverage (and hence data coverage) was very limited, particularly in the countryside. As soon as I got outside Siem Reap, it only had 2G connectivity. (Sept 2015)
Despite visiting several mobile phone shops (I couldn’t see anywhere to get a SIM card at Beijing, Dalian, Chengdu, or Shanghai airports) I couldn’t get buy a card. On all occasions, I was asked for my ID, and as soon as I showed a British passport, I was told it wasn’t possible to buy a card. (Oct 2015)
CSL – I picked up a Tourist SIM card at the Airport. The card ran on CSL (PCCW-HKT), and cost 118 HKD ($15 U.S.; £10 UK) for eight days, and 5 GB of data. I had no issues with the card, and it seemed to work everywhere and delivered 4G. No ID was required to buy the card. (Sept 2015; and again Jan 2016)
I did not see anywhere at Delhi or Mumbai airports where I could buy tourist SIM cards. I also tried a number of shops in Delhi and was told in one place that my ID (a British passport) was not suitable. There also seemed to be a problem with the activation of the cards, which appeared to be an overnight process. I ended up not getting a SIM – and with no phone for two weeks it felt like my right arm had been cut off! In May 2016 I returned to India and at New Delhi airport I found an Airtel 4G booth selling SIM cards. The SIM cost 910 rupee (£9.50 GBP; $15 USD) for 1.5 GB data. The SIM was activated while I was at the booth. I had no issues with the SIM in my phone or MiFi when I was in the Delhi area, and it gave speedy 4G coverage. However, in Mumbai and Lucknow it would only work in the phone, only gave 3G, and I had to manually select the network (automatic network detection wouldn’t work). (Nov 2015; May 2016)
Lao GSM – I am not sure what the make of the SIM card the network was Lao GSM, and cost but of the 60,000 Laos Kip ($7.5 U.S.; £5 UK) for 5 GB of data. The card was valid one month after activation. The SIM card had to be activated using a phone in the store. The card worked around Luang Prabang with no issues but stopped working a short distance from town. I had great difficulty in tracking down somewhere to buy a card; there were no stores at the airport. Finally found I found a mobile phone shop on the outskirts of Luang Prabang. (Sept 2015)
Tunes SIM card – I was able to buy a Tunes SIM card at KL Airport (before immigration) for 60 Ringgit ($15 U.S.; £10.50 UK) that gave 5 GB of data and was valid for as long as I topped it up. I had no issues with the card and it worked around KL and in Penang, but only with 3G coverage. My passport was required to buy the card as proof of ID. The card was activated and tested while I waited at the stand. (Feb 2016)
I did not find any local suppliers of SIM cards on my trip to Myanmar in March 2015. For the trip I had been provided with a phone on a Malaysian network, which I was told would work (it was a contract SIM), and it sort of did. Network coverage was spotty, and seemed to be slow 3G in Yangon and Mandalay, with patches of 2G. Data usage was seriously capped and most days my data speed was throttled back before noon. (March 2015)
Smart Tourist SIM – I bought a Smart Tourist SIM at the Manila Airport for PHP300 (£4.40 GBP; $6.30 UDD). The card was valid for seven days and was limited to 800 MB per day. It had to be activated on my phone and then transferred to the MiFi. The SIM worked flawlessly providing 3G and 4G coverage with ease across Manila. ID was required to buy the card. (Jan 2016)
Singtel – I bought a SIM at Changi airport for $50 SGD ($42 US; £28 U.K.), and to-date this is the has been my most expensive card. The card came with 5 GB of data and offered the fastest 4G network I have experienced. I believe there are better deals available (see below), but I was unable to find any shop selling them. (Feb 2016)
There were SIM stalls at the Bangkok Airport, but they would not sell me a SIM card as they said it wouldn’t work in a MiFi. Finally, I bought a SIM in a store in Bangkok, and it wouldn’t work in my MiFi (guess they were right at the Airport!). The SIM was activated at the store and would only work in my phone. The card got good 3G access around Bangkok and was very patchy once outside of the city. I have no record of the make of the card, or the cost. (Sept 2015)
Buying a SIM was all a bit complicated. First, it didn’t seem possible to buy a data package. With the help of the staff at the hotel, I finally managed to buy a SIM from a woman in a doorway two blocks down the road for 150,000 Vietnamese Dong ($7 U.S.; £4.60 UK). I then added another’s 50,000 Dong ($2.20 U.S.; £1.50 UK) to get the credit I needed to buy a data package required. All very confusing and I was not sure what I’ve ended up with, but I gathered it had a 600 MB limit; after which there would be a reduction is data speed. There were a number of different SIM card sellers at the airport, and their deals may have been more tourist friendly. (Sept 2015)