When traveling abroad, it’s incredibly important to understand how you will be able to receive cell service in the country. Without data or the ability to call in case of an emergency, you could easily find yourself lost, stranded, or even worse — unable to post that killer Instagram photo you just took.
What is the cheapest and easiest way to
Buying a local SIM card and data can seem daunting if you have never done this before. Fret not, as the process is incredibly simple. And, if you didn’t see an option above that worked for you, we will list a few more ways to get cell service in Thailand so that you can fully enjoy your trip — pictures and all.
Where do I get a SIM card?
Unlike most things when traveling internationally, buying a SIM card in Thailand is actually quite simple. If you fly into any of Bangkok’s large airports (Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Chiang Mai, or Phuket), you will be able to find booths for all three cell companies just outside the arrival halls. All three companies offer competitive tourist packages, which are ideal for those visiting the country for a few weeks or less.
Purchasing a SIM card (and about 8 days worth of data) will run you about $20-$25 at any of the service booths. If you are staying in Thailand for a week or less and you are only planning on surfing the web and using Google Maps, the carrier that you go with will not matter much.
If you are planning on staying in Thailand for a longer period of time, you might want to stop by one of the many retail shops that can be found all over Thailand to shop for better deals and make sure you are picking the service that is right for your needs.
As of 2017, Thailand has had stricter regulations regarding the purchase of cell service. One used to be able to hand over cash at any small kiosk or reseller around the country and receive pre-paid cell service. However, it has been reported that at some airports you will need to hand over your passport and take a photo to receive your new SIM card. Although, it is worth noting that from personal experience, I did not have to do this.
What is the best network in Thailand?
There are three main cell service providers in Thailand: dtac, AIS, and TrueMove. While AIS has the largest market share and reportedly the largest percentage of coverage in the country (80%+ of the country receives LTE service with this carrier), the other services offer comparable coverage. I have used dtac and receive the same type of data speeds and service that I have seen with Verizon in the US.
It has been said that AIS is the “rural” service and the one that you should choose if you know you will be going off-the-beaten-path. Since they have the largest area of coverage in the country, this makes sense. Dtac is the middle of the road option, offering reasonable prices and good cell service no matter where you are in the country. TrueMove is known as the “city option”, which provides fast internet in the cities, but does not cover much of the rural areas.
What if I have a locked phone?
There are several options for you if you have a “locked” phone. If you have purchased your phone on a payment plan from any of the large US carriers (Verizon, T-mobile, ATT, or Sprint), then your phone is likely locked.
However, due to a change in laws, you can now request your carrier to “unlock” your phone for you if have paid the phone off in full. If you own your phone outright and want to use a SIM card while in Thailand, you can ask your carrier to unlock your phone for you before you leave on your trip.
If you do not own your phone outright and it is locked, then you have a few different options. The easiest option (albeit, maybe more expensive), would be to purchase international cell service through your provider.
T-mobile has an amazing unlimited plan that they call T-mobile One, which costs around $80/month and gets you unlimited data and calling in the US and abroad. Apparently, T-mobile One gets pretty good coverage around most of Thailand. Verizon and AT&T both offer international “day passes”, which cost around $10/day. This is added on to your monthly rate of $80-$95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an option, nonetheless.
Another way to go (although a bit riskier and not for the novice traveler), is to get your phone “unlocked” when you arrive in Thailand. It has been reported that there are many small shops around Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai that will unlock your phone for as little as $5. While this option requires some bravery and directional awareness (you will have to get to these small shops without cell service), it has worked for many travelers to Thailand before.
The last option is more for long-term travelers, but is thrifty, nonetheless. Many people, needing an unlocked phone for cell service, have purchased a phone upon arrival in Thailand. This solution is elegant and might not cost as much as you think. Buying a simple Nokia can cost as little as $30, while an old iPhone might run you about $70. This option proves to be much cheaper than renting a phone, which could run you between $40-$60 a week.
How can I communicate with people back home while I am in Thailand?
There are many ways to communicate with people from all over the globe while you are traveling internationally. The most-used app for global communication is “WhatsApp”. With WhatsApp, you can call and text with anyone, simply by using the wi-fi in your hotel, Airbnb or local cafe. Using the available wi-fi will not charge you or the recipient international rates.
If you purchase a SIM card on arrival, you will be able to call and text using your phone. Unlike WhatsApp though, this method may charge the recipients of your calls or texts international rates. The only exception to this is iMessage (from an iPhone to another iPhone), which also uses wi-fi to send the messages.
If you do wish to make an international call to the US, make sure to add a “+1” to the phone number. If someone from the US wants to ring you, make sure they use the Thai country code of “+66” before dialing. If both participants have iPhones, you can get some face-to-face action using FaceTime. This video-chat option also uses wi-fi, and will not rack up an inordinate international bill.
Beyond using WhatsApp or old-fashioned calling and texting, you can easily communicate with friends and family using other websites/apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, and Skype. Most of these applications allow for messaging, calling and video-chatting services.
What kind of electrical adaptor will I need in Thailand?
Power outlets in Thailand can work with flat-pronged plugs (like in the US), as well as round-pronged plugs (like in Europe). Thailand’s uses 220 voltage electricity at 50 Hertz. If your devices cannot accept this voltage, then you will need a converter.
What are the internet speeds like in Thailand?
Thailand has the 8th fastest internet in Asia. The average speed found in Thailand is around 19.91 Mbps, while the fastest internet in the country can be found in the city of Mukdahan, at 32.19 Mbps. Most cafes, hotels, and restaurants have wi-fi available.