Do you use your mobile phone when traveling in foreign countries? Yes? No? Apart from the comfort of not having to change your SIM card and just calling and getting called like you’d do everyday; the usually outrageous roaming charges will surely knock you out of your travel budget soon.
But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Just get a local SIM card!
Is it really that easy? Yes and No.
It pays to change your calling behaviour a little to save the most on connection fees and money spent. For calls back to your home country, just try using Skype or other VoIP services and you can save a lot of money. If you use a PDA or similar phone as described here or here (with WiFi and Mobile Skype); you can even use free-of-charge hotspots to call home!
While I wouldn’t recommend to anyone to using your prepaid phone card to call back to your home country (it’s simply too expensive), a prepaid phone card (SIM) *does* come in handy, when traveling a bit longer in a certain country. You will meet a lot of people, make new friends and want to arrange to meet for dinner or other joint activities. Being able to hand over a local phone number usually is a big advantage – if you are planning to see those people again. :-)
So how to do it in Asia?
In most countries I traveled here it’s easy like that – just bring your own phone. Visit any of the many phone shops in the main city centres and ask them for prepaid phone cards to use with your existing phone.
They usually have a wide array on providers to offer, from 3 (Singtel, M1, Starhub) in Singapore to 4 o 5 in Thailand or Malaysia and up to 8 (simPATI, KartuAs, IM3, Flexi, ProXL, Fren and others) in Indonesia.
And how to find out, who offers the best rates?
The local dealer will tell you anything to sell one of those with the highest commissions. It pays as well, to use the same networks like your friends do, as usually the rates for calling the same provider are lower then calling into another network. So better ask your fellow travelers or local friends, or google for it!
Usually you have to register some personal particulars with the network provider as well, which became mandatory in most countries after 9/11. Somehow too many people seemed to use their none-registered mobile phone cards for other activities.
After having installed your new SIM card you are ready to go. If you run out of credit – just top it up again by purchasing “Top Up Credits” for your network. You will get a plastic card with a rub-off-field, which reveals a secret number. Dial the Top Up number, follow the automatic voice and key in the numbers on your plastic card -> Voila! More credits to use your phone with.
There are differences from country to country, on how prepaid SIMs are handled by providers:
In Thailand, prepaid SIM cards will be deactivated after 4-6 weeks, if you don’t top-up them again. This can be pretty annoying, as you might not even used up all your credits. You won’t be able to call or receive calls until you add additional credits.
The same counts for Indonesia, although the expiration dates are longer (up to 3 months, depending on provider). In Indonesia it’s still bl**dy expensive to use your mobile phone card for calling other people, that’s why most people do mainly SMS. So don’t expect anyone to talk with your on the phone for hours and hours – except, if you pay, of course!
In Philippines, SMS were even free-of-charge for the first couple of years! Until the permanently-financially-stricken government noticed the huge revenues they unnecessarily forewent each year – then they started to tax it. After great civil unrest of course! But that’s the Philippines.
Anyway – a general rule of thumb is: do use prepaid SIM cards, when you plan to stay longer then 4 weeks in the same country.
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