What is your best option for data roaming?

I’ve previously written about how you can get SIM cards for the USA, the UK and France delivered to you in Singapore so you can have them activated and ready to go by the time your plane touches down at your destination.

But it’s also helpful to be aware of the data roaming offers from our various local telcos so we can see how we can get the best deal. I’ve taken the liberty of looking at Starhub, M1 and Singtel’s offers and here are some of my findings.

Starhub (Prepaid)

Starhub has what I think is the best data-only solution for anyone who just needs data. I just came to be aware of Starhub’s Happy Roam prepaid roaming offer. You don’t need to be an existing Starhub customer to take advantage of this, you just need to buy a prepaid Happy Roam SIM.

This offer is valid in the following countries

Destination Network
Australia Telstra
Hong Kong Three (3)
Indonesia XL Axiata, Three (3)
Malaysia All operators
Taiwan Chunghwa Telecom
Thailand TrueMove
UK Three (3)
USA T-Mobile

There are different pricing configurations on offer

Validity Data Cost
3 Days 1GB $5
7 Days 1GB $7
30 Days 1.2GB $10
30 Days 2.4GB $15
30 Days 3.6GB $20

You can buy a $15 or $50 Happy prepaid SIM in Singapore, download the Starhub Happy prepaid app and activate just before you leave. Note that while you will be able to make calls using this prepaid SIM, they will be at the usual outrageous roaming rates. Therefore if you buy a $50 Happy prepaid sim and activate a 30 Day 3.6GB $20 plan, you’ll have $30 left on your phone for calling. Don’t be surprised if that lasts you all of 5 minutes.

If you just need data, I think this is an amazing deal. It’s difficult to beat S$20 for 3.6GB of data. This is my personal favourite given that you don’t need to be a Starhub postpaid customer to subscribe.

Happy Roaming SIMs can be purchased at any Starhub shop, 7-Eleven/Cheers store and at Changi Airport (Travellers’ Counter and UOB Currency Exchange Counters)

M1(Postpaid & Prepaid)

M1 has a nifty program for its postpaid customers called DataPassport, which lets you pay a fee to use your local data allowance overseas for a given month. $10 to let me use my monthly local data in the USA? Sounds pretty sweet.

It’s significantly more expensive to do this for Europe though- if you want to use your local data in France, Germany etc it will cost you $50. That said, it gives you the freedom to use your data across multiple European countries so if you’re hitting 3-4 different countries during your Europe trip this might be preferable to buying 3-4 different local SIMs from each country.

Alternatively, you can pay $15 for unlimited data roaming per day in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA , or $25 for Japan.  These rates are significantly cheaper than Singtel’s (see next section)

EDIT: Thanks to Alvin on the comments who has pointed out that M1 does have a prepaid option too.  Those with the MCard can activate data roaming and use their local data allowance as per normal in the following countries with no additional charge. 1GB of data valid for 30 days costs $10.

Countries Networks
Hong Kong SmarTone
Indonesia XL Axiata
Macau SmarTone
Malaysia Celcom
Taiwan Chunghwa Telecom

Singtel (Postpaid)

Ah Singtel. The ones who invented this whole campaign around the “Romaphobe”, poking fun at those who go to ridiculous lengths to avoid using data overseas, while forgetting that the reason they do so is because telcos like them charge obscene amounts for data roaming (and it’s OT but let’s remember that Singtel is the upstanding telco that tried to pull a fast one on all its customers back in 2008 by signing them up for their stupid Color Me Tones and saying you need to opt out or you’ll be charged. They got off with a slap on the wrist).

Seriously, just watching the video again makes my blood boil. It’s like the classroom bully making fun of those who detour down the corridor to avoid them.

Anyway.

Singtel’s postpaid customers can take advantage of DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Daily plans. In my opinion these are the worst value of all the telcos.  All the plans are for 1 day and expire at midnight local time. Meaning that if your flight lands close to midnight, say, 1150pm, and you turn on your data roaming you’re going to feel very stupid…

Destination DataRoam Saver (Unlimited) DataRoam Daily (100MB)
USA $29 $10
UK $29 $10
Australia $19 $10
Taiwan $19 $10
Malaysia $19 $10
Japan $25 $10
S Korea $19 $10
Hong Kong $19 $10
Indonesia $19 $10
Thailand $19 $10

Do note that if you’re travelling to China, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, you can pay $20 to enjoy 1GB data for 30 days. (promotion valid till 31 Dec 16)

If you’re heading to Australia, you can pay $10 to get 1GB of data that lasts you for one month.

And if you’re heading to Malaysia, you can pay $10 for 1GB of data (one month) or $5 for 200MB (one month).

Despite these offers, I’m of the opinion that Singtel has the all round worst deals of any local telco.

Local prepaid SIM

The big advantage of getting a local prepaid SIM is that it gives you both data and voice calling. Why do you need voice calling in an age of Skype/Whatsapp? Well, if you’re on a road trip you might end up in a place with only 2G speeds or no data coverage at all. If you’re trying to book a table at a restaurant they may request for a local number. If you’re trying to register with some of the local apps (eg taxi booking) they might request a local number to send a OTP registration code to. If you’re trying to register with a wireless public hotspot some of them only send activation codes to local numbers. As far as Skype/Whatsapp have come, voice calls over the voice network are still much more reliable and better quality.

EDIT: Another important need for a local number- when you need to call your Uber/Grab driver to tell them where to find you

Of course, the value on offer differs. Anecdotally I’ve found the US to have the best prepaid SIM plans and the UAE to have the worst value ones. Let’s see how everything stacks up

Summary: Comparing the options

Here is a summary of what your options are for a few randomly selected countries. I’ve not been exhaustive in my research of the local SIM options so there may well be better local prepaid plans available, but hopefully it’ll be at least indicative of what the best local SIM alternative is.

In general, whenever you need just data and are travelling to Australia, HK, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, UK and the USA, Starhub will almost always have the best price for you.

Singtel has the highest prices but also the most diverse coverage- if you’re going to somewhere totally off the map like Gabon, Chad, Ghana, Grenada, Kyrgyzstan etc you should be able to get a Singtel unlimited daily roaming plan.

M1 plans make sense if you’re going to a whole range of European countries on one trip (with Singtel you’d be paying a new daily fee in each country you go to, and with Starhub you’d only have coverage in the UK)

Of course Singtel and M1 plans are postpaid only, so this exercise is a bit academic if you’re not willing to switch your provider.

If I’m going to an English speaking country I’d probably get a local SIM card, if not I can foresee problems at the shop getting one and might opt for one of the other options instead.

USA

Starhub HappyRoam Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming H20 Wireless Lyca Mobile
Cost S$20 S$29/S$10 (postpaid customers only) S$15 (postpaid customers only) US$40 US$35
Data 3.6GB Unlimited/100MB Unlimited Unlimited, first 3GB at 4G speeds Unlimited, first 2GB at 4G speeds
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A Unlimited local calls, local & intl SMS, practically unlimited calls to Singapore Unlimited local and international calls, SMS
Validity 30 days 1 day 1 day 30 days 30 days

United Kingdom

Starhub HappyRoam Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming H20 Wireless Lyca Mobile
Cost S$20 S$29/S$10 (postpaid customers only) S$15 (postpaid customers only) US$40 US$35
Data 3.6GB Unlimited/100MB Unlimited Unlimited, first 3GB at 4G speeds Unlimited, first 2GB at 4G speeds
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A Unlimited local calls, local & intl SMS, practically unlimited calls to Singapore Unlimited local and international calls, SMS
Validity 30 days 1 day 1 day 30 days 30 days

Australia

Starhub HappyRoam Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming Vodafone
Cost S$20 S$19/S$10 (postpaid customers only) $10 AUD 25 (until 26 Jul, after which AUD 50)
Data 3.6GB Unlimited/100MB Utilizes your local data allowance 8.5GB
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A Unlimited national calls, SMS, international calls to 10 selected countries including Singapore
Validity 30 days 1 day 1 month 28 days

Thailand

Starhub HappyRoam Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming DTAC
Cost S$20 S$19/S$10 (postpaid customers only) $10 THB 299
Data 3.6GB Unlimited/100MB Utilizes your local data allowance Unlimited (first 1.5GB at 4G)
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A 100 THB call credit
Validity 30 days 1 day 1 month 7 days

Taiwan

Starhub HappyRoam Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming Chunghwa Telecom
Cost S$20 S$19/S$10 (postpaid customers only) $10 NTD 500
Data 3.6GB Unlimited/100MB Utilizes your local data allowance Unlimited
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A NTD 150 voice credit
Validity 30 days 1 day 1 month 7 days

Japan

Starhub Happy Roam doesn’t cover Japan, but Starhub postpaid customers can buy plans similar to Singtel’s

Starhub Singtel DataRoam M1 Unlimited Data Roaming eConnect
Cost S$25/S$10 S$25/S$10 (postpaid customers only) S$25 JPY 4,980
Data Unlimited/100MB Unlimited/100MB Utilizes your local data allowance 3GB
Other inclusions N/A N/A N/A N/A
Validity 1 day 1 day 1 month 30 days

 

13 thoughts on “What is your best option for data roaming?”

  1. I used the starhub prepaid SIM and it’s amazing. Used it for my Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand trip all within a month, and the 30-day data ppt was ideal.

    If i were to nitpick though;
    (1) if need to top-up via Happy app while you’re overseas, you need the prepaid card in the phone. but when using credit card to pay, they will send the OTP to your local number.
    (2) if going to the abovementioned countries, you would more often than not, be taking Grab or Uber. Not having an overseas number was quite inconvenient cos sometimes you are at some ulu place, and they can’t find you.

    Having said that, it’s really small issues that can be worked around. I’ll still buy this for my APAC trips. Thanks for the comprehensive write up!

    1. great point on the uber/grab and needing a local number. have added it to the reasons why you might want a local sim.

    2. The uber issue was a big problem for me when i traveled abroad as most drivers did not have international calling.
      Locally Uber is able to redirect all calls from a driver using a local number (switchboard?). I hope they can figure out a way to switch to VOIP when we travel abroad. Its a pain to update mobile number abroad even if we use a local number.
      A friend of mine tried to register a local number when he was abroad, but keyed in an incorrect email address. He tried to explain the situation to Uber and requested for correcting the email address, but Uber refused to do anything about it. The only option left was to discard the local SIM and get a new one.

  2. This article is really useful! I have been using local SIM cards all this while and didn’t realise about the Starhub deal until now. Can factor this into whether to get a local SIM card or this, depending on which is more useful.

    As far as Uber is concerned, I didn’t seem to have a problem based on my experience in LA when I was there without a local number. I’m not sure how they did it, but all the Uber drivers that I took (and I took quite a few) somehow managed to call me on my Singapore number. I’m not sure if they have some VOIP plan or something.

  3. It is informative blog.I need this information that you mentioned above. Postpaid customers called Data Passport.I am waiting to get more information from your site.
    Thanks for sharing this..

  4. Hi how about starhub postpaid user roaming at Malaysia monthly rate? I can’t just use a new prepaid number as I have an existing postpaid with starhub and I do not have extra phone.

  5. Thank you for such an informative article, Aaron. I agree that to get a local, prepaid SIM is the best idea while travelling, as it’s the cheapest variant. But I’d like to put an emphasis on the country one is travelling at. For example, I’ve been staying in Lithuania once and for a local SIM (http://www.ezys.lt/en/) I paid only € 2.09 and it had 1.5 GB of data, so it was perfectly enough. Whereas when I went to Andorra to do some hiking and wanted to get a prepaid SIM, the one and only choice was called Mobiland Clic! and it cost € 60 including the same credit valid for 5 months… So my advice would be, before travelling one should ALWAYS check the prices for prepaid SIMs, as sometimes the hope for a better deal may be naive.

  6. I got the StarHub happy prepaid. Out of 3 trips to Malaysia and one to Thailand and one to Hong Kong, the card only worked once. Money is deducted each time but I am unable to use the data. Got my relative in SG to call StarHub each time. Takes 48 hours minimum and multiple calls and being pushed around to resolve the issue. Each time I am told my card has been deactivated. And I certainly did not do that on my end!

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