When it comes to staying connected on the road, the budget traveller has a few options. The cheapest however, is usually to buy a local SIM. Of course, you could use an international SIM card, as offered by companies like WorldSIM, but these offer convenience at a high price.
A local SIM will not only give you cheaper rates, but also access to local discounts. This is undeniably the best option if you don’t want to consign yourself to enduring expensive phone calls, scavenging free Wifi, or returning home to an exorbitant bill.
However, buying a local SIM is not without challenges, so read through these tips to make sure you have a trouble-free trip.
Make Sure It Is Possible to Buy a SIM Card in Your Destination
In some countries, foreigners are forbidden from purchasing SIM Cards, and others make it very difficult. In Pakistan for example, it is very difficult for a foreigner to buy a SIM, but other foreigner-friendly countries like Thailand will greet you at the airport with the opportunity to buy a local SIM.
As a tourist, the majority of countries in the world offer you the opportunity to buy some form of local SIM card, but some places make it impossible to buy a local SIM, or very difficult.
Check Your Phone is Unlocked
In order to put another SIM in your phone it needs to be unlocked. If you are not sure if your phone is locked or not, then try going to a mobile store and asking a salesperson if they can try one of their SIM cards in your phone. This will determine if the phone is unlocked or not. If your phone is locked, then contact your network provider to unlock the phone.
Make Sure Your Phone Is Compatible
Mobile networks across the world run on a range of different frequencies, mostly using one of two different systems; CDMA & GSM. If your phone is not equipped to run on the same system as your destination country, then it will not work. As most countries use the GSM system, your phone will probably need to be a GSM device in order to be useful in another country.
Confusingly, the GSM system itself also varies from country to country. There are a range of different GSM frequencies, and not all phones can handle them all. However, most modern handsets are capable of this.
The WillMyPhoneWork website provides a handy way to check if your phone will work in your destination country.
Check Destination Coverage
Sometimes the best option, especially in Asian countries where everything is so cheap, is to select a SIM card based on the coverage the network can provide. This is particularly wise if you are heading off the beaten path, where it might be worth knowing in advance that you will have a signal. Coverage maps are usually available on the network providers website, or on Open Signal.
Buying the SIM Card
Check it Works
As soon as the SIM is in the phone, check it works. Definitely do this before you leave the shop. The vendor may also do this for you, but don’t leave the stall until you are sure it is working.
Note Your Number
Take immediate note of your new number, and save it in the phone if necessary.
Keep Your Old SIM
Take your old SIM and keep it in a safe place. You might ask the store to tape it to the packaging of your new SIM so that you won’t lose it.
When you have finished using the SIM and are returning to your home country, consider what to do with your SIM card. Some SIMs will expire after not being topped up, and others may incur a fee to remain active. Check the terms and conditions of your particular package, as it may be worth keeping the same SIM incase you one day return.