This last trip to Asia we tried something that we had never done before. It was to buy a SIM card so we could stay connected to the internet and have the ability to text and call without looking for the dreaded free wifi.
I'll be honest I had heard of doing this before but I was always skeptical. I knew how complex and difficult the phone companies in the US can be when switching networks or changing plans so I assumed this would be similar. But this time I figured we'd give it a chance so I could write about our experience. Let me tell you, it was the easiest thing we did all trip.
Buying a SIM card in Thailand
Total Cost: $9.43
Total Time Took: 5 minutes
Package: 8 days of 4g data, call and text
You can purchase one at the airport or any 7Eleven, Tesco Lotus, Fresh Mart, and FamilyMart across the country. Since we arrived at 1 am we didn't bother to try to find a SIM card at the airport given our concern it would be complicated. The next day while stopping by a 7 elven for snacks I remembered to ask to buy one. It cost only 299 baht, which is less than 10 dollars, to have 8-days of 4G+ internet. The counter attendant did require to have my passport to activate it, fortunately, a photo of it would suffice.
You simply take the SIM card and swap it with the current one in your phone. A few text messages later and a phone restart it was ready to go. The 8-day pass gave us non stop 4g internet for 3gb, access to the companies free wifi, and 100 baht for call and text. Let me tell you, the internet was extremely fast and we even had it in the middle of the ocean for our dive trips.
In the event, you ran out of data or needed to extend the package length you could do so through their app or ask for help at a 7Elven counter. Now on to switching in Cambodia.
Buying a SIM card in Cambodia
Total Cost: $2
Total Time Took: 4 minutes
Package 1.2gb of 4g data, call and text
This time when arriving in Cambodia we figured we'd give it a shot at the airport. Once we exited the airport to the taxi pickup area there were 2 open booths selling SIM cards. For a mere $2 dollars a card we got access to 1.2gb for 30 days. You could pay the following as options too:
$3 for 2gb
$5 for 4gb
$10 for 8.5gb
The attendant quickly took out my Thailand SIM card and put the new one in after scanning my passport. She handled the complete setup and activation prior to handing my phone back.
Why buy a SIM card? Simple Cost Savings and Safety
If we had upgraded our plan from the US it would cost $10 a day for an international plan. This approach cost us $11 for the entire length of the trip. This ensured we always had access to call in the case of an emergency, easier time to navigate between locations and the ability to call a Grab (same as Uber) no matter where we went. The ability to call for a Grab alone saved us money on potential taxis overcharging.
Important to Know
Make sure your current phone is "unlocked". Your provider will often lock your phone until you have paid it off so to prevent you from abandoning their contract. Some providers will automatically unlock once the phone is paid off while others you need to call.
The easiest way to confirm is to call and ask your cell provider. They will be able to confirm and assist over the phone. The second way is to risk the $2 or however much when you arrive and buy the SIM card. Once you pop it in and try to activate it then it won't work and you can assume it's cause your phone is still locked. This is how we found out 1 of our 2 phones was locked.
Whenever we travel in the future we will plan to buy a SIM card as long as it is affordable. It was great to always be connected and to be able to call our tour guides or accommodations with ease.