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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

 

Hack your laptop, save on wifi costs

Today I’m going to teach you how to get around number of user restrictions for Wifi. This is one of the most arbitrary and annoying restrictions that hotels/airlines have on their networks.

For example, SQ’s new aircraft come equipped with T-Mobile’s awesome time-based wifi (whole flight $21.95 as opposed to the horrible OnAir volume based wifi where 50MB costs $19.99), but limits you to one device per login. Other hotels may only allow 1 or 2 devices per login code and charge beyond that. But if you and your partner have 3 devices each (phone, tablet, laptop), that might be a problem.

Although there are hardware solutions to this which allow you to turn one Wifi connected device into a hotspot, we don’t like spending money. So today I’m going to tell you about several nifty apps that allow you to turn your laptop into a Wifi hotspot, effectively sharing your connection with your other devices while only using 1 login

Just install it, follow the instructions and viola- your own laptop becomes a font of Wifi goodness! For longer instructions, see here

VirtualRouter_09_Screenshot001.png

I know we said we didn’t want to pay, but if you’re hungry for alternatives you can try these also. Apparently they’re a bit more reliable than the free ones (which you may need to restart every now and then)

Wasn’t that easy?

cover photo by davejimison

Claim your Singapore birthright- the APEC travel card

As Singapore citizens we are blessed with clean air, efficient government and the existential angst of Amos Yee.

However, not everyone may know of another great perk- the ability to apply for the APEC business travel card.

samplecard2

If you already have it, congrats. This article is not for you. Go out and enjoy your newfound privilege. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, read on. It’ll be worth your while.

Tl;dr version: When you get the APEC business travel card you will be able to use special immigration lanes in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, US and selected airports in Canada.

The below is shamelessly copied from the ICA’s section on the APEC Business Travel Card. I have added extra Milelion value via comments below each segment.

What is the APEC Business Travel Card?

The APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme is designed to facilitate the travel of business persons between the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies. The ABTC is a multiple-journey-visa where cardholders enjoy visa free entry and expedited immigration clearance through designated ABTC lanes in ABTC participating economies.

The application fee for a new card is S$100 (non-refundable). Each card is valid for five years, or up to the validity of the passport, whichever is shorter.

Milelion notes: Unfortunately, paying the fee with your DBS Woman’s Card doesn’t earn you bonus points here because ICA manually processes the transaction on their backend.

Where can I get fast track immigration?

The ABTC participating economies are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Besides being able to use designated APEC lanes at the 19 participating economies, cardholders are also entitled to use ‘fast-track’ immigration lanes (currently designated for air-crew) at all international airports in the USA and the following designated airports in Canada:

  • Vancouver International Airport
  • Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport ( Terminal 1 & 2)
  • Ottawa Macdonald – Cartier International Airport
  • Montreal -Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
  • Halifax Robert L Stansfield International Airport
  • Calgary International Airport
  • Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport
  • Edmonton International Airport

Milelion notes: Strictly speaking, each country does their own pre-clearance and it is possible you’ll get access to some countries and not others. In practice though, it’s highly unlikely any individual country will deny you access. You can see the countries which have cleared you on the back of your card

apecsample

Being able to skip the queues at US airports is a lifesaver, believe me. In most airports there should be a clearly marked APEC queue, sometimes it goes by other names eg ABTC (APEC Business Travel Card) so don’t get confused.

Who can apply for one?

The following groups of Singapore Citizens are eligible to apply for the card:

  • Bona fide business persons (i.e. those who represent an economically-active business entity)
  • Members of professional bodies such as doctors, lawyers and other members of professional bodies
  • Public officers from Ministries, Government departments, economic agencies and statutory boards who need to travel in their official capacity

Milelion notes: the first bullet point can pretty much be anyone. There is no “you must travel X amount of times to countries in the APEC zone in a year” or “your company must have a business turnover of at least $y” restriction (I believe other countries do)- so long as you travel abroad for business, you can get this

How do I get one?

Milelion notes: Your HR department needs to fill out and sign this form.

supportletter

It was literally a 5 minute exercise for me, and costs your company nothing. I cannot imagine why HR would not be willing to sign one of these documents, even if you travel occasionally rather than frequently.

Can I use it for personal travel? 

Milelion notes: Officially, the APEC card is meant to facilitate “business travel” among member states. In practice though, many people have used it when on personal travel.  Of course if you are asked by the official what your purpose of visit is, you should never lie. A simple “mix of business and pleasure” usually suffices.

Can I bring a guest?

Milelion notes: Anecdotally, when I travelled with my family to Bangkok my Dad and I each had a card which we used to get my Mum and Sis through the fast track lane. Whether or not this is official policy, I do not know. I imagine officials would frown on you using 1 card to get 4 family members through, but 1 guest seems to be reasonable. I was also able to take a guest with me in Jakarta. YMMV. I would hesitate to try this in countries with, shall we say, unfriendlier immigration officials (hello USA!)

How long will I take to get it?

Milelion notes: The website says 3 months minimum, but mine took about 4-5 months. The reason it takes so long is that each individual country needs to clear you. However, based on what I hear online the processing time is decreasing

Conclusion

$100 is a small fee to pay for a card that lets you cut the queues for 5 years. Go for it! Feel free to ask me any questions about my experience using the card.

cover photo from here