Tag Archives: sim cards

What is your best option for data roaming? (updated)

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)

Happy Roam

Starhub has what I think is the best data-only solution for anyone who just needs data with their 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 Preferred Partners’ Network
Australia Telstra | Vodafone
China China Mobile
Hong Kong Three (3)
Indonesia XL Axiata | Three (3) | Indosat
Japan NTT DoCoMo | KDDI
Malaysia All operators
New Zealand 2Degrees | TNZ
Philippines Smart
South Korea SK Telecom | Olleh KT
Taiwan Far EasTone (FET) | Chunghwa Telecom
Thailand TrueMove | DTAC
United Kingdom Three (3)
United States of America 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 it 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.

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). I’ve been using one on my current RTW trip and don’t have any complaints so far.

Starhub (Postpaid)

DataTravel

If you’re a postpaid customer on Starhub, you can pick from a 2GB or 3GB DataTravel pack that costs $15 and $20 respectively.

What’s interesting to note is that these plans cover 12 different countries, but they’re not the same as the ones covered under HappyRoam. For example, you can get Macau on DataTravel, but not the UK or the US. If you want the UK/US, you’d have to use HappyRoam, or…

DataTravel Unlimited

This is Starhub’s version of Singtel’s unlimited data roaming packages. You pay one flat fee, depending on country, and get unlimited data for a day.

However, Starhub’s plans range from $19-50 per day, versus Singtel with $19-29. To be fair though, there’s only one country at the $50 price point (Vietnam- which Singtel DataRoam Unlimited doesn’t support. Presumably the carrier in Vietnam asks for a very high reimbursement rate)

RoamEasy

If the 12 countries covered under Starhub’s DataTravel don’t match where you’re headed, Starhub has a slightly more expensive option in the form of its RoamEasy packages. These cover 80+ countries, but you’re looking at paying $40/$100 for 400MB/1GB, versus $15/$20 for 2GB/3GB with DataTravel.

M1 (Prepaid)

MCard

Where prepaid is concerned, M1 has recently relaunched its MCard offering with a $15 and $28 option. You get 2GB and 10 minutes of calls that are valid for 10 days, which can be used across either 12 or 17 destinations depending which plan you spring for.

M1 (Postpaid)

DataPassport

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.

These DataPassports come in a few flavors- if you’re going to a single destination, you can pay $10 or $25 depending where you’re headed

And if you’re headed to multiple destinations you have regional DataPassports too

Daily Unlimited Data Roaming

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 and the UAE.  These rates are significantly cheaper than Singtel’s (see next section)

Singtel (Postpaid)

DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Unlimited

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).

ReadyRoam

Singtel has also recently launched another offering called ReadyRoam. When you sign up for one of these plans, you get 1GB of data to use across 30 days, with 9, 16 or 31 destinations depending on which plan you spring for. This is very useful when you’re travelling to multiple geographies and may even be better than purchasing a local sim card in some cases.

If you finish using your 1GB your plan will automatically renew at the same price as your pre-selected plan, i.e $12/GB for 9 destinations, $20/GB for 16 destinations and $35/GB for 31 destinations respectively.

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

Other Options

People on the comments have highlighted providers like Interfone where you put a sticker on your sim card that allows for cheaper roaming. I’ve not tested any of these, but feel free to provide more ideas in the comments as well.

The EU recently eliminated data roaming charges across Europe, meaning that if you buy a prepaid sim card in France you should be able to use that data all across Europe. I’m hopeful that closer economic integration among ASEAN and other regional blocs will see similar legislation passed soon, so people can post important cat videos wherever they are.

Update on US SIM card availability

Hello everyone!

Thanks to some intrepid travellers (who braved getting pulled aside for additional screening for carrying copious amounts of prepaid SIMs through security) we are now back in stock of US sim cards.

Please refer to the updated article here for more details, especially on the new Lyca Mobile SIMs. All SIM requests should go through the Google Forms link here.

Remember that you can get free UK sim cards here, and free French sim cards here.

For those of you who have reached out to me already, please resubmit your requests through the Google Forms link, it makes things so much neater for me. Many thanks!

Aaron

If you must roam, get some miles out of it

So first and foremost, unless your company is paying for it, there’s no reason why you should ever use roaming. Until we have an EU type agreement which abolishes the ridiculous fees we now pay on roaming, you’re much better off finding a wifi hotspot or getting a local sim card and surfing to your heart’s content.

If you must roam, for whatever reason, you might as well get something out of it. Krisflyer has a partnership with a company called TravellingConnect. How this works is that you earn miles for incoming/outgoing calls, data and SMS utilised while roaming. What’s the earn rate like? Here’s some popular destinations

Country Outgoing Incoming Data SMS
Hong Kong- 3 2 miles/min 2 miles/min 0 0
Japan- NTT DoCoMo 1 mile/min 0 0 0
UAE-du 1 mile/min 0 2/MB 0
Indonesia-Indosat 4 miles/min 0 0 0
Macau-3 1 mile/min 0 0 0
South Korea-KT 1 mile/min 0 0 0
TUrkey-Turkcell 4 miles/min 0 0 1 mile/2 SMS

I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

To summarise, I’m not even going to bother calculating what rebate this is, because the answer is “minuscule”. Yes, it’s better than a slap in the face, but only just.

Long story short- don’t roam. If you must roam, register with TravelConnect and get some miles out of it.

 

Get a French sim card delivered to you in Singapore, for free

We needed sim cards for France, but from reading online it appeared that most outlets at the airport would charge you 5 euros just for a 0 balance sim card. Which is ridiculous.

Fortunately, I found Lebara, which offers a very reasonably package of 14.99 Euros for 10 hours of calling, 600 SMS and 1GB of internet. Calls to other Lebara numbers are free, and calls to Singapore are at a really cheap rate too.

lebara1

On Lebara’s site you can click a link to get a free sim card. Now, by right Lebara only delivers its sim cards within France. But with the right tweak, you can get the system to send a card to you anywhere in the world.

Click on the “order a sim” link on the home page (the home page is available in English, just toggle the language bar on top)

lebara2

 

You’ll be able to select your sim size here.

Now here’s the important part- you’ll need to enter a France ZIP code. Any ZIP code will do, I use 91300. The system will load an address. Select the address that loads and the fields will autopopulate.

Now manually edit the Street Name so that it reads YOUR ADDRESS, SINGAPORE XXXXXX (where XXXXXX is your postal code).

The address on the envelope will then be

YOUR NAME

YOUR ADDRESS, SINGAPORE XXXXX

FRANCE 91300

Because of this the package will take longer to reach you- it took 3 weeks in my experience because it needs to be re-directed from France. But hey, you’ll get a free sim card out of it. Just remember to give yourself ample time to get this done before you fly!

Remember- use your Paypal account + DBS Woman’s World Card to pay for your Lebara top up and get 4 miles per $1 spent.

 

 

Get UK sim cards mailed to you for free

EDIT (20/6/16): Multiple other options exist to get Giffgaff SIMs for free apart from the one I mentioned in this article

  • https://www.facebook.com/Giffgaff-in-Singapore-570433863009162/
  • http://sgfree-giffgaff.blogspot.sg/
  • giffgaff.singapore@gmail.com
  • [email protected]

The problem with sim cards is that the time you need them the most is the time you can’t get them yet. Like when you first land and want to use Uber, or check out directions to your hotel, or send your parents a whatsapp to let them know you go there safely. Until you can find wifi, you’re helpless. So the gold standard is to get a sim card and have it activated before you reach your destination, so you have data from the get-go. Of course the issue is that you’d (1) need to find someone who is willing to ship you a sim card and (2) the price of shipping might negate any cost savings.

I’m going to the UK and France this August (and looking forward to writing my very first (and probably very last) SQ Suites report) and have been looking out for cheap calling and data options.

I’ve been told that GiffGaff is one of the better options there. It’s a VMNO which runs on the O2 network, and they offer some quite nifty plans- see below. The 10 pound plan sounds like the best value to me, but that of course depends how long you intend to be in the UK.

giffgaff

Giffgaff has a referral program that means when you activate a sim card sent to you by someone else, that person earns a bonus too. This has led to a cottage industry of sorts on hardwarezone where people openly offer to send you free sim cards, in anticipation that they’ll earn some credit when you sign up.  Oh, and you also get an extra 5 pounds free credit when you sign up using this route. Meaning that if you pick the 10 pound per month plan, you pay 10 pounds, get that plan plus an extra 5 pounds of credit (Which can be used after you’ve exhausted your data or minutes in the 10 pound plan)

I’ve tried one such service – [email protected] My sim cards arrived promptly 2-3 days later with a nice note attached

IMG_20150717_223454

I’d strongly recommend this service to anyone who is going to the UK. You can get nano, micro, standard sim cards, and as many as you want (Although, for common decency reasons, you shouldn’t horde them)

Now if only I could find something similar for France…

 

Get cheap calling and data when travelling the USA

The Idea


The Details

A common issue everyone faces when travelling overseas is how they can get cheap, affordable data and calls. Since most of my travel is to the US, I’ve extensively researched the options available and believe I’ve come upon the best solution-VMNOs

VMNOs are virtual mobile network operators. They don’t own any of the physical infrastructure that a telco uses- instead they buy airtime and bandwidth in bulk from established network operators and resell that to customers in the form of their own service plans. For a period there was such an arrangement in Singapore- anyone remember Virgin Mobile? Their business model was to buy airtime from Singtel and then resell it. They folded in 2002 after barely a year of operations.

Fortunately in the USA VMNOs are alive and well, and offering much, much more competitive packages than the traditional incumbents like T-Mobile and AT&T.

I’ve used Simple Mobile numerous times in the past. Look at these plans and tell me that’s not ridiculously good value

simcard1

Yes, for US$40 I can get 2 GB of local 4G data, unlimited local calls and texts and unlimited international texts. It gets better. For a US$10 supplement, I get unlimited international calling. I can call back home to Singapore as much as I like, for 30 days, for US$10!

However, Simple Mobile runs on the T-Mobile network and has some coverage gaps, especially around the Big Sur Highway 1 area. Therefore I started looking for an alternative provider using the AT&T network, which has stronger coverage in that area. My new favourite is H20 wireless, which has plans which are just as good value. US$40 gets you 1GB of data, unlimited local calls and texts and unlimited calling to Singapore (versus Simple Mobile where you get 2GB of data but need to top up US$10 for international calling)

simcard2

How to buy and load these cards

The actual sim cards are sold on amazon for 1 cent each, very often with free domestic shipping (however, with some merchants, if you order more than 1 they start charging you for shipping. Weird, but there are many different merchants so just order 1 from each). Why so cheap? The entire industry is extremely low margin- they sell you the sim card cheap and hope that you buy top up cards from them, which at least allows them to make some small margin.

simcard3

You can get the cards delivered to the hotel you’ll be staying at. Just let them know beforehand

Alternatively, I buy these in bulk every time I head to the states, so let me know if you need one and I’ll see whether I have any spares in my inventory. Always nice to have a sim card from the moment you step off the plane.

IMG_20150418_090453

Loading these cards can be an issue, as the official websites only accept US-issued credit cards, for anti fraud reasons

You have 2 options to overcome this

  1. Get a UOB Virtual AMEX
    • UOB Virtual Amex works like a US issued credit card and comes with a US billing address. US websites will recognize this card- you just pay you balance at the end of the month like you would any other card
    • EDIT: I’ve just been informed that UOB is currently not accepting new signups for this card. I’ll keep you informed if this changes
  2. Buy from a 3rd party like callingmart

Some people have asked about Singtel’s Dataroam. Dataroam is still much more expensive than getting a local sim card.For the USA, Dataroam will be S$30 per day, and only includes data, no calls, no texts.

I love how Singtel created the term “Roamaphobe” to use in their marketing campaign and tries to light heartedly poke fun at people who are paranoid about finding Wifi and not consuming any data when travelling. Well Singtel, the reason people are “Roamaphobes” is because telcos like you charge us ridiculous rates for overseas data. People are right to be scared.

Get these sim cards and you won’t need to bother with Singtel when overseas.