How to chose a phone plan and SIM card in Thailand

How to get a phone plan and SIM card in Thailand and save money

One of the more complicated issues for a person coming to stay in Thailand is the incredible range and variety of phone packages and plans.  None of the major companies provide brochures explaining these in English, and while there is an ‘English’ option on the phone company websites, they tend to use images which are written in Thai. Not very helpful for the non Thai speaking resident of Thailand trying to shop for the best phone plan.

Visiting one of the thousands of phone provider stores around any city also tends to be a fruitless endeavor.  First there are the famous Thai waiting lines, only to find that the English speaking person available, does not have sufficient language skills to understand or explain even basic questions.  The following article on How to get a Thai SIM Card (and Phone plan) should help you understand your various options.

How to get a Phone SIM Card in Thailand

It is very easy to get a SIM card for your cell phone in Thailand.  More than likely they are offered to you at the airport, but can get them at any 7/11, shopping mall and many phone stores will have them available. Really all you need to do before you arrive in Thailand is make sure that your phone is unlocked (able to work outside of the network you are currently using) and operates on the GSM network.

You may also need to make sure you know the PIN number that the phone may ask for if you put a new SIM card in it. To find out if your phone needs a pass-code … swap a friends SIM card from another network into your phone. Your phone will request the pass-code if it needs one.

Phone plans in Thailand are amazingly cheap compared to other countries.  You can easily get a months worth of internet data and talk time for around US$15.

[notify_box font_size=”13px” style=”red”]SMS (text messages) are not free in Thailand and they are seldom included in the main phone plans.  Plans come with either a talk based option (phone calls), a Net based option  (data) or a combination package.  In Thailand a text message will cost 1-3 baht. You can however prepay for a certain amount of SMS texts – but most Thai people use online based texting services[/notify_box]

Choosing the best SIM Card in Thailand

Short Time Stay (One – Two weeks)

If you are coming to Thailand for a short period of say a few weeks, your best bet is to get the tourist sims which you will usually find at the airport.  These cell phone sims are either free (requiring a top up) or 199 baht (one week) and 299 baht (two weeks) of varying combinations of talk or net time. They can be topped up at any 7/11 or phone company store.

 

traval sim card thailand

Every Phone SIM card in Thailand will have a talk, data or combo plan.  For the tourist the data plan is the best option as it will allow you to use the internet and post photos and updates. Make sure you read the packet or ask for the type of card you want.

Each of the major phone companies offer a tourist SIM card, the price is more or less the same, but the amount of data (before it slows) and talk time are different.  They change all the time with every new promotion (making it difficult to list the differences) – but in reality they are more or less the same.

bullet-redSome of the Free Tourist SIM cards are limited to Edge data speed. If you want to have faster data speeds other SIM card options will be better for you


Short Time Stay (One – Three Months)

If you are coming to Thailand for a longer period of time, you will want to hold off getting a travel SIM card that are handed out at the airport.  Instead you should look for a Prepaid Phone SIM card.  They come in 3 basic forms, and can be topped up at any stage with either a certain amount of money, or better (and cheaper) by selecting a prepaid top-up plan

1) The Prepay Talk Plan SIM
Offered by all three major phone companies the talk plans have a greater focus on making phone calls.  They have a limited amount (if any) of internet data included.  You will pay extra for Data and SMS

2) The Prepay Data Plan SIM
Offered by all three major phone companies, the data (or Net Plan) has a greater focus on the amount of data you can have, and have access to WiFi hotspots. You will pay extra to make calls and send SMS

3) The Prepay Smart Plan SIM
Offered by all three major phone companies, the smart phone plan can be specific to a phone brand or for general phones, and provides a more even distribution of talk time and data. SMS will cost extra.


Longer Stay (3 Months – Years)

If you are coming to Thailand for a longer period of time, then you may want to look at the Post pay (Contract) plans.  They again come in 3 basic forms, and have better value offering more talk time and data than the visitor SIM’s.  You will require your passport in order to purchase a phone contract, and the minimum amount of time is 3 months.

The contract phone plans also come in the same variety of SIM card options and related plans.  Signing a contract with the Phone company is a process that will over the long term save you money, but a daunting challenge for the new arrival to Thailand.  Chiang Mai Buddy does offer assistance for this service if you are in Thailand. You can hire a Thai speaking person to go with you and help with the contracts.


Choosing the best phone plan in Thailand

Understanding the complexity of Thai phone plans is a challenge

Understanding the complexity of Thai phone plans is a challenge

After you have purchased your SIM card (either a talk, data or smart combination package) you can then purchase a monthly bulk prepaid subscription.  To do this you must have a balance of credit on your phone that will allow you to purchase the various plans.  Each plan is purchased by texting a phone number when required or arranging for the plan to be purchased on a recurring basis each month.

Once you have your primary plan, the additional services (SMS, Talk or Data) will cost you additional amounts.  For example if you purchase a talk plan, you will have a certain amount of talking minutes, but will be charged when you use the internet or send a text message. If you have a data plan you will have your data and be charged additional when you send a text message or make a phone call.  This is why the Smart phone or combination plans are the best option.  You will get less talk time and data that the specialty plans – but save from the additional charges.

N.B.  I will mention this a few times because it is the reason most people end up paying more for there phone than they need to.  You can only purchase the specialty package that matches your SIM card.  Talk = Talk plan, Data = Data plan and Smart = Smart plan. However some companies will change your SIM card type for just 30 baht.

Some of the providers have plans that charge data by the minute and others by the download.  If you leave your data connection on (and who does not now days) your credit is drained quickly if they charge by the minute.


Comparison of the Phone Plans available in Thailand

Lets look and compare the three major phone company brands and what they offer for each category. The packages are constantly being updated so accuracy is not guaranteed but generally things will be remain the same.

It is important to note that some plans feature unlimited data at a topped off volume amount. So once you have reached that volume (500Meg, 1Gig, 3Gigs etc) the speed declines. We will first compare the smart phone plans which offer a combination of talking minutes and internet data. This is your best option.

The Net and Smart packages usually include unlimited WiFi connections at the various hotspots around the city.

Smart Packages (Combination Plans)

AIS, TrueMove Dtac Phone Smart Package Comparison

thailand smart phone plan comparison

Note: The Thai on the far right meas unlimited WiFi connection (provided around the city) although it is slow and unreliable


Net Packages (Internet Plans)

TrueMove Phone Net Package
true move net phone rates

The excess of True Move Net Plan
The call rates 1.25 baht / minute after plan minutes used
SMS rates 2 baht / Text MMS rates 5 baht /

TrueMove 4G Net Package

Currently TrueMove is the only carrier providing 4G high speed internet for phones that are 4G capable.

 

truemove 4g phone plan

Here is a speed test sent in from a reader.  Awesome speeds, and probably in reality faster as the server pings (Yangon) is a slower server. Pinging Bangkok or American servers will show higher speeds.

truemove 4g speed

AIS Net Phone Plan Package

AIS net phone rates

The excess of AIS Net Plan
The call rates 1.25 baht / minute after plan minutes used
SMS rates 3 baht / Text MMS rates 5 baht /

Dtac Net Package
dtec internet phone rates

The excess of Dtec Smart Plan
The call rates .99 baht / minute after plan minutes used
SMS rates 2 baht / Text MMS rates 5 baht /


Talk Packages (phone calls)

The talk packages offer phone call minutes only.  Using Data, or SMS will cost you additional.

 AIS Talk PlanAIS Talk Phone Plan

The excess of packages AIS Talk.
The call rates 1.5 baht / minute
SMS rates 3 baht / Text
MMS rates 6 baht /
The WiFi service 1 baht / minute
Rates 3G + / EDGE / GPRS. 1.5 baht min

TrueMove Talk Plan

truemove italk package

The excess of packages iTalk.
The call rates 1.25 baht / minute
SMS rates 2 baht / Text
MMS rates 5 baht /
The WiFi service 1 baht / minute
Rates 3G + / EDGE / GPRS. 2 Baht


How to Use the various phone plans

Topping Up

Putting credit on your phones SIM card is called Topping up.  You can top up your phone almost anywhere, the various phone stores, 7/11 shops, and many small independent shops will send you credit.  In Thailand your SIM card balance can be used to make movie purchases, buy coffee and a variety of other products and services. You can also transfer credits to other phones and people.

topping up SIM cardScratch Card and 7/11 Receipts
The most common way to top up your phone is to purchase a certain amount of credits.  Phone stores will give you a scratch card, where as 7/11 will provide you with a printed receipt.

You then make a phone call or send a text including the code and you have topped up your balance.  Easy as that!

Credit Transfer
Many small individually owned business will do a credit transfer.  You ask for which ever phone provider you have and tell them how much money you want to purchase.  These smaller places will usually charge about 5 baht for the service.  They then transfer credit from their phones to your own SIM card and you are ready to go.

Getting your Phone Plan Activated (Subscribing)

Once you have credit on your SIM card you can then activate your monthly phone plan.  Again remember you can only activate the phone plan for your specific SIM card type  (Talk for Talk SIM, Net for Net SIM and Smart for Smart SIM).  Each plan has a number that you use to Subscribe to the service, and so long as you have enough credit on your SIM you will receive a text letting you know your plan has started.

Most people only ever put 100-300 baht credit on their phones and never subscribe to a service.  This way they pay more for each call, text or minute they are using the net.


Final Thoughts

In addition to the various phone plans you can also purchase an incredible variety of additional services.  This includes talking minutes, Data packages and cheaper SMS texts (on some providers).  This is the work around to the SIM card type = Phone plan available.

So if you have a talk SIM you can purchase a data package, and a Net SIM will allow a Talk Plan.  BUT they are more expensive that your plan suited for your SIM card type.  However when we use the term ‘expensive’ in Thailand it is relative only to Thailand prices.  All of the phone service charges, for all the services (except SMS text messaging) is likely to be half to a third what you are paying in your home country.

Promotional Texts

From your Phone Provider:
You will be sent from time to time promotional text messages by your phone company.  They will be written in Thai – but well worth copying and pasting into your Google translate App.  The phone companies are constantly bringing out promotions and special deals – which can save you bundles of baht

From Advertising Partners:
These are just a pain in the ass.  When you get your SIM card at a phone provider ask immediately to Op-out of the sponsors messages.  Otherwise a quick call to the Customer Service and a few taps and 24hrs later they stop.  The following numbers will reach the Help Desk who speak very good English.

AIS *1175
Dtac *1678   Go here for additional self call codes
TrueMove *9399  Go here for additional self call codes

Thai people do not use SMS texting, they use online programs like Skype and more popular here LINE.  If you are staying or living in Thailand and you do not have LINE – your ability to interact with other people is going to be severely limited.  You can learn more about Line here