Friday, August 17, 2012

Practical Info: Prepaid Mobile SIM Cards in Thailand, Cambodia and India

I've recently (summer 2012) gone through the process of acquiring prepaid mobile SIM cards in Thailand, Cambodia, and India, and I thought that some of my readers might be interested to know what the process entails.


Getting a prepaid SIM card in Thailand is extremely easy. It can be done already at the airport, or at any of the convenience stores (e.g. one of several thousands of 7-11s), takes less than five minutes, and costs just $3 (99 Thai Baht).

No documents are required, you only need an unlocked GSM phone, and the shopkeeper will be happy to do everything for you--set up the SIM card, register it, and even set the service messages to English.

There are three main operators in Thailand: AIS, DTAC and True/Orange. I went with DTAC, as I read good reviews about their services before my trip and because I liked the name of their prepaid SIM card--"Happy Tourist." :)

Indeed you will be happy to hear how reasonably priced DTAC's calling rates and SMS services are:
Domestic phone call - 1.25 Baht/min
International phone call - 3 Baht/min to e.g., the US, Canada, China; 4 Baht/min to e.g., Russia; 5 Baht/min to most Western European countries (e.g., Germany, France, UK, Spain, Switzerland)
Domestic SMS - 3 Baht
International SMS - 5 Baht

1 Thai Baht = 3 US cents

A word of caution, though. To get the low international rate you must dial 004 before the number, as this is the way to direct your phone call through VoIP. You can check the rate for the country of your interest here: cost of international phone calls through DTAC.


To my great surprised, getting a prepaid SIM card in Cambodia was also extremely easy. I hadn't been planning on getting one, but as I walked down the airport corridor, a young man at a nearby stall asked me if I'm interested in a prepaid SIM. So I thought 'why not?' and I got myself one.

The process was similar to the one in Thailand: it also took less than five minutes, costed just $1, and the young man also did complete phone set up for me. Contrary to Thailand, though, in Cambodia I was asked to show my passport. The passport was scanned and attached to a contract that I needed to sign. Still, it was not a big deal and the whole procedure went very smoothly.

The international phone call rates in Cambodia are similar to the rates in Thailand--about 10 cents/minute to most countries.


By now you might be thinking that it's easy to get a prepaid SIM card anywhere in Asia. Well, that's not the case and India had to be the exception. (But if you traveled before in India, you're not surprised--you know that EVERYTHING is much more difficult in India.)

There're many cellular carriers in India (the biggest are Airtel and Reliance; Airtel has better coverage) and all of them require the same extensive set of documents before you can get a prepaid SIM card. Not only do you need an ID document (preferably Indian, of course), but also a current photo of yourself and a proof of address in India (!). And no, the hotel address won't do. You'll be asked to show, e.g., a utility bill, not older than three months, addressed to you and sent to the address you're providing on the application form.

By now you might think that it's impossible for foreigners to get a SIM card in India. Well, I'm not convinced it's true--it's India after all, and everything is possible here! So if you really want to have an Indian phone number, go ahead and visit several offices of several carriers--I'm sure one of them will budge to your charm and you'll get what you need.

As for the cost, Reliance offers the prepaid SIM card for just 4 Indian rupees (about 8 US cents). The domestic phone calls are 1 (local calls) or 1.50 (long-distance calls) rupees/minute, and the international phone calls are 6.40 (to the US, Canada, Australia) or 10.00 (to Europe) rupees/minute (1 rupee = 2 US cents).