If you bring your iPhone to Thailand, it’s fairly easy to buy a local SIM card and get super cheap internet access through your iPhone without costly data roaming fees
They may be expensive, but iPhones and iPads are a common sight amongst travelers in Thailand these days. Walk into any cafe around Khao San Road and you’ll see more Apple devices than guidebooks.
It’s straightforward to connect your iPhone or iPad to any wifi source – and there’s plenty of cafes in Bangkok with free wifi (and you can search for Bangkok hotels that have free wifi as well) – but what if you want have always-on internet on your iPhone just like at home? That’s quite easy too – you just need to buy a Thai SIM card for your iPhone.
Is Your iPhone Unlocked?
The only caveat is that your iPhone needs to be unlocked i.e. not restricted by your phone company from using another telecom company’s SIM card. If you’ve bought your iPhone in the USA or UK as part of a promotional deal where you have a contract for a fixed length of time, for example, it’s quite likely that your iPhone is not unlocked. You will need to check with wherever you got your iPhone from to be sure. You can “jailbreak” your iPhone to unlock it but that will invalidate the warranty and may well completely freeze the phone – “brick” it – next time you update the iOS software. Unless you know what you’re doing, I would avoid jailbreaking it.
Unlocked And Ready To Rock
If your phone is unlocked, then all you need to do is go to one of the three main Thai mobile telecoms companies – AIS, DTAC and True – and ask for a prepaid SIM card for your iPhone. It’s probably a good idea to do this at a telecoms shop branch that is used to dealing with tourists and where the staff can speak English.
Get A Thai SIM Card At Bangkok Airport
The easiest solution is to do it as soon as you arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. There are branches of all three telecoms companies – AIS, DTAC and True – in Bangkok Airport’s Arrivals Hall so you can get a SIM as soon as you arrive. Ask them to install and set up the SIM card for you, just in case any settings need to be changed. Ensure the data connection is working and you can access your emails, Facebook etc before you leave the shop. These shops stay open late so check them out even if you arrive in the small hours of the morning.
Alternatively, you can also buy a Thai SIM card online at Klook and pick it up at the airport, skipping any queues at the shops.
Getting A Thai SIM Card In Bangkok
If you don’t get your Thai SIM at the airport, you can find branches of all three mobile carriers in Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s ritziest mall where the staff speak English. The mall is located right next to Siam Square BTS Station – very easy to find.
There are numerous other branches dotted around the city for each carrier if you prefer to try there instead. See their respective websites for complete addresses of each of their outlets. ( DTAC Shop Locations – AIS Shop Locations – True Shop Locations (True’s page is – bafflingly – Thai language only, despite being linked from their English language site!))
True, DTAC or AIS – Which One To Choose?
I personally use True, which has great coverage in Bangkok. but can be patchy elsewhere in the country. I don’t have much firsthand experience of the other two networks on iPhone but there does not seem to be much between them.
True claims to have 3G coverage in Bangkok, which is a very elastic use of the term 3G, but it’s pretty fast most of the time and certainly adequate for casual web browsing, email, Facebook and uploading photos.
AIS and DTAC both have excellent English language help over the phone – call AIS on 1175, DTAC on 1816 and True on 1331.
The iPhone 4 uses a microSIM and each of the telecoms company sell this smaller size now as standard, with an adapter for normal sized SIM slots (handy if you are bringing an iPhone 3G or older smartphone).
How Much Does Does It Cost?
Thai SIM cards and data usage for iPhones are remarkably cheap. All three carriers offer Unlimited packages, meaning you can use the net as much as you want within a set time for a fixed price. The prices are continually fluctuating with offers and promotions, but expect to pay somewhere around 600 Baht (around $18 USD) for unlimited data usage for 1 month, provided you have the right data package. You can get packages for just 1 week as well if you wish.
All You Can Eat – Local Phone Calls And SMSs Included
These packages usually also provide free phone calls and SMSs – within Thailand only, not internationally. Sending SMSs overseas is fairly cheap, expect to pay 10 to 15 baht per SMS depending on where you’re texting. This can also give you access to each telecoms company’s wifi networks too (which normally you need to pay to access). You will find True and DTAC wifi networks in every Starbucks in Thailand, for example.
For examples of current Thai SIM card with unlimited data usage prices, see the price pages for True iPhone SIM cards and DTAC’s Happy SIM cards. (True iPhone SIM price page – DTAC Happy iPhone SIM price page – AIS 12 Call SIM price page).
You should definitely ensure you have a package set up and operational on your Thai SIM before you leave the shop, otherwise you will burn through whatever credit you have on your SIM card very quickly.
Use Your iPhone As A Wifi Hotspot For Your Mac / PC / iPad
The other real bonus to getting a Thai SIM card for your iPhone is that, as at the time of writing (March 2012) all three Thai mobile telecoms companies let you use the Personal Hotspot functionality on your iPhone. Switch it on under Settings and any other wifi enabled device can connect to your iPhone – and so be connected to the internet as well. I regularly use my iPhone to connect my MacBook and my iPad to the net and the connection is zippy enough for web browsing and email.
If this functionality is important to you, I’d suggest you bring whatever device you need to connect to your phone to the shop when you buy your SIM card initially. That way the staff can help you set it up and connect it for the first time.
Personal Hotspot is a function that many other foreign mobile companies – e.g Vodafone and 02 in the UK – charge an extra fee for. This is pretty outrageous but it sets an unfortunate precedent which Thai telecoms carriers might follow in the future. For now though, the Personal Hotspot really makes get a Thai Sim card for your iPhone invaluable if you need continual internet access while you’re on the move.