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Thailand Prepaid Internet: Prepaid SIM Card for Thailand Visitors

OK – so you are planning to travel to Thailand and you want to stay in contact with the peeps back home. In today’s inter-connected world you may be just assuming that your smart phone/ iPad /netbook will just WORK. Well – yes it probably will – at a price.  Not working out how you want to connect to home can cost you heaps if you just assume that you can just use your home phone. I mean hundreds and hundreds of dollars, in a few days. Yes international roaming is a huge profit centre for your local friendly ISP or teleco. If you aren’t really interested in their bottom line – you might want to look at some other options.

Making an International Call From Thailand

There are a fair number of public phones in Thailand – they are bright yellow Lenso and you will need to buy a pre-paid card (for about 300B) from a nearby convenience store – normally you will find these outside any 7-11 store – which are ubiquitous throughout the country.

In reality – most visitors will use a cellphone- either their home mobile or a local one.

Buying a Local Thai Mobile Phone and SIM

This is probably your best option if you have a US-based mobile.  American carriers don’t use international standards so the travelling American is basically locked into their carrier’s global roaming rates. You may want to check out what those rates are before you travel.  Make sure you are looking at the roaming rates, i.e. the rates to call from Thailand rather than to Thailand. After you have picked yourself off the floor – you have some options.

Depending on your mobile contract and length of your trip it may be worth putting your current contract on hold.

Buying a pre-paid mobile phone in Thailand is dead easy – in fact you will probably be able to do it before you leave the airport. Though it may be cheaper to wait until you get to a shopping center (Panthip Plaza in Bangkok is good for electronics and phones).

Most Thai phones are pre-paid and locked to their network – you can get them unlocked – but really its hardly worth worrying about – either bring an unlocked phone with you to Thailand (most UK, Australian and New Zealand cell phones are), or buy a phone / SIM for you preferred Thai network when you arrive.

Check the details of the phone’s plans when you get it. DTAC has a good reputation for not just their rates but the English help available on their website and call centre.

Cell Phone Seller, Thailand Photo Credit: bluemonkey via flickr.com CC

Buying a Thai PrePaid SIM Card

If your existing phone operates on GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands then it work just fine in Thailand, add a local SIM if you want cheap calling rates.  In fact as you arrive at the airport in Phuket or Bangkok – its quite possible that you will be handed a free SIM from TrueMoves. Otherwise it will cost around 5B for the card – which can then be topped-up pretty much anywhere in intervals of 50B and up. Micro-SIMS for iPhones and iPads are not quite as easy to find but they do exist – alternatively many shops will offer to cut down a full-sized SIM for a nominal charge.

If you are using a pre-paid SIM for international calls then check the rate card or website of the carrier – you can often get really, really low rates e.g. 5B/minute by using a specific prefix to call your international number.

Pre-Paid Internet in Thailand

Connection speeds for data in Thailand aren’t the blindingly fast connections you may be used to in Europe or America (though as an Australian or NZer you will probably be pleasantly surprised). There is only very limited 3G coverage in parts of Bangkok, Chang Mai and (August 2011) west coast Phuket. However the slower GPRS/Edge coverage is extensive

Once you have a Thai GSM SIM you probably already have access to data.  For light use you can just pay by the minute (around 1B) – but a package will be a much cheaper deal if you want to spend hours connected.  In fact daily and monthly unlimited packages are probably the simplest solution for anyone wanting to spend more time online than on the beach, or who needs to keep their business running.

If you are bored with trying to type on a smart phone then your options are:

  • find an Internet cafe;
  • use your netbook on the hotel’s WIFI;
  • connect your netbook using your smartphone’s bluetooth or USB tethering functionality
  • buy a 3G dongle

Although you will find Internet cafe’s everywhere – they have some issues. Typically they often stay open late but open late (11am or later), they can be smelly, cramped and hot (or very cold if the AC is on), and you will struggle with Thai language keyboards in some cases.  More seriously many cafe’s have machines which are infected with keyloggers and other nasty viruses. Becareful about doing banking and other sensitive transactions in them.

Almost all hotels and guest houses seem to offer some variation of WIFI. The cheaper the hotel – the more likely it is to be free, while some mid-range and up hotels think that WIFI is a “business” expense and charge appropriately. Alternativley some coffee shops and restaraunts will offer WIFI to customers.  Although WIFI over an insecure network is inheritantly risky – its probably safer than some Internet cafes.  Most hotels will also offer a couple of Internet-connected PCs in the lobby, and you are likely to pay for them, but often the environment is nicer than the Internet Cafes.

If you have bought a Thai SIM card then you can probably connect your smart phone to your netbook or laptop. Bluetooth or a USB connection are the usual methods. Bluetooth will eat your phone’s battery – so packing a small USB cable to connect phone to netbook is probably a good idea. Play around with this at home before you leave – but I personally found this a surprising easy way to connect online, and its probably the most secure option easily available.

Many of us in the West are familiar with 3G dongles, which plug-in to your laptop and provide an Internet connection. Unfortunately these seem uncommon in Thailand – and until the coverage of 3G improves are likely to remain so.

Using a SIM For Returning Visitors to Thailand

if you make regular trips to Thailand – or intend to return a few times you may want to check out a pre-paid plan which allows you to keep your number minutes for an extended period of time. Most plans will expire your minutes within a month or two of in-activity and you will lose your number. For a minimal on-going cost you can subscribe to a longer term plan though.

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