Asia SIM card
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Whether you’re a digital nomad looking to do some work while traveling, or simply going on holiday in Asia, it’s always good to have a SIM card or pocket WiFi router that works in the local region to stay connected!

Overview of SIM Cards and Portable WiFi

What is a SIM card?

Sim card in Asia

You probably know what a SIM card is; short for “Subscriber Identity Module”, the card is inserted into your phone to connect you to a local network provider with a local phone number, and allow you to make calls and use internet. If you use those services or internet data on your normal SIM card outside of your home country, you are roaming and will likely get charged high roaming fees.

What is a portable WiFi router?

As for portable WiFi, you might be able to guess what it is – a WiFi router that you can take around with you. A portable WiFi router transforms a data connection like 3G or 4G into a private WiFi signal, meaning you can have WiFi pretty much wherever you go. Depending on where you buy it, you might pay for a certain amount of data, or for a certain time period with unlimited data.

What are the pros and cons of a local SIM card and portable WiFi?

The great thing about a local SIM card is being able to call friends and family if you get separated or need help, and being able to use the internet without paying extreme prices. A lot of international airports also conveniently have SIM card shops in the airport, with different packages like 1 week or 1 month. The only downsides are that sometimes it can take some time to set up at the airport, and depending on the country, the upfront cost might seem steep. But if you’re in the country for more than a few days, it’s usually worth it!

A portable WiFi router may not be necessary for some, but is absolutely essential for others! In hotels and hostels, you sometimes have to pay to use the WiFi for any decent amount of time, and it’s not always the most reliable. You usually can connect multiple devices at the same time, so if you are traveling with a group of friends or family it can be very handy. And when you’re out and about, it’s unlikely you’ll always be able to find free WiFi to connect to, so a portable WiFi will let you message people and stay connected. There aren’t many cons to portable WiFi, other than the price and sometimes the weight. Most are light and small, but some can be a bit chunky if you are used to traveling without a bag.

Which SIM Card or Portable WiFi Should You Rent in Asia?

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Now that you know a bit about SIM cards and portable WiFi, which ones should you consider if you’re heading to Asia? Let’s take a look at some of the best ones and how you can get them.

Global SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers

If you plan on traveling to multiple countries, a global SIM card or pocket WiFi is probably your best option.

Two of the most convenient global SIM card providers are Travel SIM and OneSimCard. Both services can send a physical SIM card to you, and have comprehensive customer service if you have any questions. These can also both be used in multiple countries; you can buy a new plan online and then take the card with you. Travel SIM’s SIM cards arrive already activated, but data plans need activating. Travel SIM also offers eSIMs, which you can download so might find easier if you have a compatible phone. OneSimCard only offers physical SIM cards, but also has a few options for buying unlocked international phones.

For pocket WiFi that you can take to multiple countries, you might like mywebspot or TravelWifi. Both can be used in over 100 countries worldwide, and have unlimited internet packages. Though bear in mind the internet speed drops after a certain threshold (dependent on the plan). Both services also offer 24/7 customer support. With mywebspot you can receive and return the pocket WiFi by post, or in person in France. TravelWifi offers more options for receiving and returning, and has a few physical stores around Europe.

All these global sites also offer country-specific SIM cards and WiFi routers.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in Thailand

For Thailand, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

For SIM cards, if you arrive at one of the international airports, you can get a SIM card from AIS, dtac, or TrueMove, the three cell networks in Thailand. Each of them have counters at the airport, and some even have self-service booths that are like a SIM card vending machine! These are good if you are only there for a week or two. If you plan to stay longer, you’ll need to go to a convenience store like 7-Eleven, or an official retail shop. You could also buy a prepaid SIM from a website like SimOptions. Although their packages are limited to 14 days, it is easy to top up and continue using them for longer.

For portable WiFi routers in Thailand, you can also pick them up at the network provider counters at the airport (AIS, dtac, or TrueMove), at their official stores, or on their websites. But if you want to order them in advance, you can order to pick them up at the airport from getyourguide (passenger number = number of days needed), or thaisims, who also will deliver to your hotel in Thailand.

Although many cafes and coworking spaces in Thailand offer pretty good Wi-Fi connections especially in the cities, you may want to get a local SIM or Wi-Fi router if you wish to keep connected while you are on the streets.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in the Philippines

For the Philippines, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

Smart, Globe, and Dito Telecommunity are the three network providers in the Philippines. Arguably, the best option for travelers is to use Smart, as you can get both a travel SIM and a pocket WiFi from them at the airport. Although their travel packages cap at 30 days, you can keep using them and top up your card around the country on your travels once your package expires. Globe also offers prepaid traveler SIM cards, but not portable WiFi units.

However, neither of these websites or providers offer the option to reserve your SIM or WiFi in advance, so you will have to buy them at the airport, at an official retailer, or at a convenience store upon arrival. If you want to have the security of ordering in advance, we recommend using one of the global services mentioned above, such as Travel SIM or TravelWifi.

Something to note about SIM cards in the Philippines is that connection can be unstable, and in fact many locals choose to have both Smart and Globe SIM cards in order to switch between them for the best coverage. If you are planning to work remotely, it is recommended to use a coworking space in the Philippines, where high-speed internet is available.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in Indonesia

For those who are heading to Bali which is a popular destination for digital nomads, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

Indonesia has a few more operators than Thailand and the Philippines, and the main ones are Indosat Ooredoo IM3, Smartfren, Tri, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata. Telkomsel is considered to be the most stable and to have the widest coverage. While most of these providers will have counters at the airport, the packages are sold at noticeably higher prices, and only the large data plans are available. If you are on a budget, it’s better to go to an official store in town.

It’s no longer a good idea for tourists to buy SIM cards from corner shops or other unofficial shops, because there is no guarantee they can register the SIM to your name, which could mean the SIM card will get cut off after a few days. Finding a Telkomsel shop is our recommendation for a SIM card in Bali, as it is the most reliable. However, it is also the most expensive and cannot be pre-booked. If you would like to prebook, Klook offers airport pickup for the other providers.

Free WiFi is available in a lot of places in Bali, from Bars to Pools, so pocket WiFi is less common. However, the free WiFi is not always the most stable, and is not necessarily good for high usage. So if you want a pocket WiFi, it is best to order it in advance rather than trying to find one when you arrive. This can be booked via Klook, TravelWifi, or mywebspot.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in Japan

For Japan, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

For short term stays, it isn’t possible to get a SIM card directly with major providers in Japan, as you need to have a Japanese bank account and other credentials restricted to Japanese residents. So, your best option as a traveler is to get them through virtual network operators that piggyback off the major providers. This is perfectly legal and safe, but creates some restrictions, as many are limited to data-only SIMs or to SIM cards that will only work for a certain number of days.

The best option for travelers is Sakura Mobile, as they offer short and long stay SIM cards, with special packages for over 90 days. They also have pocket WiFi, and it is very easy to order them both together and pick them up at the airport or from a number of different locations around Japan. Mobal also offers SIM cards and pocket WiFi that can be picked up or sent to your home country, and NinjaWiFi has portable WiFi.

If you don’t want to book in advance, you can pick these up from the variety of counters at the airport, or you can buy them in town from electronics shops or official retailers. However, we recommend doing this at the airport as the staff will likely have better English than in town, and will be able to walk you through the process.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in Sri Lanka

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For Sri Lanka, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

There are a number of different network providers in Sri Lanka, with the four main ones being Dialog, Mobitel, Airtel, and Hutch. The ones generally best for travelers are Dialog and Mobitel as they have the widest coverage.

Much like the other countries we’ve mentioned, you can easily get a SIM card from one of these providers at an airport counter. While, like most places, the tourist packages at the airport will be a tad more expensive, everything will be handled and set up for you. You can get a card like this one from Dialog, and as long as you top it up before the 30 days are over, you can keep using it for longer. You can top up or buy a SIM at most corner shops that have the carrier’s logo. If you want the security of booking in advance, use Klook, or one of the global options we’ve mentioned above.

As for portable WiFi routers, in Sri Lanka you can get these from the network providers, such as this one from Hutch. You can pick these up in one of their store locations. If you’d like to book one in advance, though, the only way is to book through one of the global websites mentioned above.

Local SIM Cards and Portable WiFi Routers in Vietnam

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For Vietnam, these are the best local SIM cards and pocket WiFi routers.

For SIM cards, Vietnam has four network providers; Viettel, Mobifone, Vinaphone, and Vietnamobile. However, most would not recommend Vietnamobile as, while it’s the cheapest option, it also has the worst coverage and stability. Viettel, on the other hand, has the largest network and is the most popular, so is our top recommendation.

Although other countries tend to charge substantially more for SIM cards at airport counters, in Vietnam the price difference is minimal. So, the easiest option is to buy your card on arrival at the airport, particularly if you are not planning to stay long. If you do want to buy your SIM card elsewhere, though, you can buy them at most regular shops around Vietnam. Like most other Asian countries we’ve mentioned here, if you want to order in advance for pickup or delivery instead, you can use Klook, Travel SIM or OneSimCard.

Portable WiFi routers are less common in Vietnam, so you can’t simply pick them up from network provider outlets as you can in other countries. If you want to have a pocket WiFi for your travels, it’s best to book one in advance via Klook, TravelWifi, or mywebspot.

Wrapping Up

Photo by Patrick Schöpflin on Unsplash

If you’re planning on taking a trip around Asia and hopping to multiple different countries, the easiest option for a SIM and portable WiFi is to get a global one from a website like TravelWifi, or mywebspot. Even if you buy it for a specific country initially, these are both easy to top up and use at your next destination, too.

If you are a slowmad and plan to spend long period of time in one country, opting for a local SIM card or WiFi router is likely to work out cheaper, and you can feel secure knowing their stability for that country!

Even if you spend most of your day at a coworking space with high speed internet, a local SIM card or a portable Wifi router can be very handy as they let you keep connected when you are outside. With all this knowledge in your hands, rest assured you’ll be connected and have plenty of internet data to post travel updates on the ‘gram throughout your travels!

The Digital Nomad Asia is a web magazine for the people who love to travel and remote work in Asia.