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Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

Toronto, Canada
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19 posts
9 reviews
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Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

We will be travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Our cell provider has indicated we cannot purchase a SIM card other than their card. Their international plan seems expensive.

Would appreciate advise from others who have travelled to these countries and what you have done in terms of cell usage.


Sherbrooke, Canada
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1. Re: Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

What brand of phone do you have? I assume that you are under a contract?

What usage do you plan to have with your phone while in these countries? You are visiting a lot of countries, do you plan to stay long in each country?

Bangkok, Thailand
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2. Re: Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

You need to buy an unlocked GSM phone either in Canada or once you arrive in South-East Asia. If you buy in Canada, it is likely that only quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) phones are available. If you buy after arriving in SEA, it would be easy to buy a cheap dual-band (900/1800) phone that will be good enough in all of the countries that you plan to visit.

Once you arrive in a new country, it is easy to buy a local SIM card. typically these are sold already at the air port. If not, SIM cards will be available at mobile operator kiosks and shops, convenience stores and equivalents. You can top up your credit in these places, too. You either buy a voucher and dial the included code into your phone, or you give money and your phone number to the shop assistant who will handle the top-up using his/her phone. Call rates are not high (e.g. in Thailand less than 4 cents per minute for calls within the country.). Note that in the SEA countries you do not pay at all for incoming calls and received text messages when you are not abroad.

If you need only voice calls and text messages, a basic unlocked phone costs less than $30 in Thailand. I do not expect similar products to be more expensive in the other countries.

If you also want to use mobile data, you need to pay more for a phone that can handle 3G (WCDMA) which is available in all of these countries. 3G data service will be available also for prepaid users. Often the default is time based charging which will quickly use up your credit if you keep mobile data switched on for long periods of time for navigation, etc. Also prepaid users can buy packages that give you a certain amount of data during some period (day or month) and are more suitable for use with smartphones.

Note that a phone that works in SEA will also work in Europe, Africa and Latin America, in case you some day travel there.

Edited: 15 November 2013, 08:49
Destination Expert
for Travel Gadgets and Gear, New Brunswick
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3. Re: Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

I have an unlocked simple phone i purchased in the UK and buy sim cards when i travel. I also have a virgin smart phone which I can purchase text and call packages when traveling. (coverage is in zones)

4. Re: Cellphone Usage in Southeast Asia

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