Finding your way around a new country without a phone can be a challenge even for the most experienced of backpackers. Most of us give up on our phones abroad as data roaming charges are extortionate these days. Not particularly an issue when you’re relaxing in the hostel bar or at a local restaurant, WiFi is everywhere these days. Trouble is being caught phoneless when we’re out and about. We often find that without our smartphones pointing us in the right direction or letting us call someone when we’ve lost our merry little way, we don’t know how to function. So, how do we function? We get some data. And how do we get some data? We pick up a local SIM card. Here’s what you need to know about getting a SIM card in Thailand
Where to get one
Thailand has a huge range of SIM cards specifically designed for tourists. They offer a good mix of affordability and convenience. Whether you’re flying into Bangkok, Phuket or Samui airport, you’ll usually walk past a Thai mobile network stand on your way out. We’d suggest picking one up here to save time later on. If you’re landing at some godforsaken time in the morning/night and everything is closed, wait until the next morning. You can pop into any phone shop, 7/11 or Family Mart. Remember, you will need to have your passport with you in order for the store employee to activate the SIM Card, as per Thai Law.
Which Network Should I Choose?
There are a couple of networks to consider. We’ve got AIS, DTAC, TrueMove, MY, and TOT. While AIS has the most subscribers, in reality True, DTAC and AIS are all commonplace in backpacking, farang, and Thai circles. At the airport, you’ll have a wide range of choices, but if you wait till the next morning to check out 7/11 or Family Mark you’ll have a much smaller selection. Unlike both 7/11’s and Family Mart’s selection of toasted sandwiches, there’s not exactly a wide range to choose from.
A fact to remember is that you can get data packages as a tourist. If you know you’ll be using your data when out and about, or never wanting to have to worry about the hostel wifi going down, a data package is definitely the way to go. But as a tourist, no one network is better than the other.
Packages, talk to me
Assuming you pretty people have already decided it’s probably a better idea to have some mobile communication device ready to go during your shenanigans, here’s a little breakdown of what to expect to pay and get.
Prices are pretty consistent across the board in terms of Networks, starting from around 400B for 4G, going up to nearly 800 Baht for 9gb. They do vary slightly in internet allowance and call cost. Unlimited internet is also an option too. Both DTAC and AIS offer 15 days unlimited internet at 6GB max speed for the same price, 599B, 100B of the 599B being phone credit.
With a little research online, you can also change or add on to your SIM cards package. On the website of each provider, you will find a list of prepaid phone packages, accompanied with a dial code. To activate or change your package, simply ensure you have enough credit on your phone, and dial the number shown. Shortly after, you will receive a text message confirming the package has been changed.
Finding the perfect package really does depend on what you’ll be doing and how long you’ll be in Thailand for. If you’re staying for a while, try to keep in mind you’ll need to top-up your SIM card every 30 to 45 days, depending on the network, or they’ll be deactivated.
Whether you’re savaging your data or you’re needing to get more call time, knowing how to top-up is essential. Now, you can either do this at an actual counter with a person or you can use an orange kiosk, found outside 90% of Family Marts and 7/11s. Unless you’re actively seeking out ways to improve your Thai, dealing with staff at counters can be confusing at the best of times. The kiosks outside have an English language option and are super quick and straightforward.
Look for an orange machine with a touchscreen. Once you’ve found it, press the English flag at the top of the screen and you’re on your way. From there you’ll only need to input your phone number and how much credit you need. Bear in mind, while these machines are convenient they do charge an extra 5B to use, not particularly a high price to pay for convenience though.
Whether you use your phone for posting live updates on the horrendously spicy food you’re about to eat, finding your way to a local landmark or just as a safety measure in, having a working phone without paying a literal arm or leg for is by far a wise choice. Picking up these cheap SIM cards is super easy, so easy that not picking up one will cause you more inconvenience in the long run.