Thursday, 24 March 2011

Tourist / PAYG SIM Card

One of the things that is extremely useful I find is to have mobile phone connectivity in any country, preferably activated the day you arrive or shortly thereafter, especially if you use your phone regularly for data such as e-mail and internet. In my case, I carry my iPhone for day to day use and use a spare phone to put the UK SIM in just in case of emergency (or the inevitable "Your credit card has been blocked" message because AGAIN the bank fails to take notice of the "I'm going to X" message you so painstakingly sent them!!). As I use an iPhone my interest will be for a SIM that has a data bolt-on to allow internet connectivity for retrieval of emails and blogging if nothing else (I find surfing on them a bit tiresome).

For Malaysia there are numerous options in terms of these pre-paid or "Pay as you go" SIMs but the ones which seem most popular are:
From what I can gather they are all much of a muchness but for where I am going to be based (West coast / Penang) I understand that Digi may have the edge on coverage so that is what I will be going for. Again, I understand that there are desks at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) where you can get these SIMs (you will likely need your passport as proof of identity regardless of where you buy) and at the time of writing the SIM costs RM 8.50 which includes RM 5.00 of calls/SMS. The call/SMS charges are very low and IMHO not worth bothering about so I won't go into the detail. For those that are bothered the details are available through the site links above.

Most of these pre-paid SIMs you get are designed for calls/SMS but you can use data connection as well, typically for a charge of RM 5-10 per day flat rate. Each of the companies does either a data bolt-on or a specifically branded pre-paid call/SMS/data SIM. In the case of Celcom this is called Xpax and for Maxis it is Hotlink (unfortunately at the time of writing several of the Maxis links for Hotlink were down). As I plan to go with Digi (at least at first) I will likely buy the data bundle they offer which for RM 15 a week gives you unlimited (well it is actually limited but you'd have to be using a lot to burn it up I think - save the You Tube and streaming video for wifi!!!!) data for as many weeks as you pay the fee. That is a good rate to me - RM 70 a week at the daily rate or RM 15 for the week. Digi also offer the ability to sign up to internet for a day (up to 24 hours) at a cost of RM 3. Be aware however that the cut off time of your subscription is midnight (so if you 'sign up' at 23:00 for one day, you will get 1 hour, not 24 hours until 23:00 next day) AND the daily subscription will auto-renew until you cancel.

The other thing you can do with Digi is opt to pay a one off fee of RM 30 for what they call 'Super Long Life'. This validates your line and any credit you have for 12 months so you don't need worry about any credit you buy expiring, very useful for those making periodic trips or who have chosen to stick with pre-paid and leave the country for protracted periods. One thing I do like about Digi is that the information about their plans is very well laid out and easily accessible. Their links all work too!!!

All these SIMs can be topped up with vouchers that can be purchased from a variety of outlets such as Tesco, Cold Storage, Giant and 7-Eleven etc. In the case of Digi (and I imagine others) the value of the voucher affects the length of time the credit will stay valid for, ranging from an RM 10 (10 days) to RM 100 (120 days). Others available are RM 20, 30 and 50. As I will be using the data package bolt on for nearly 3 weeks I imagine I'll go for the RM 100 option.

Mobile phone and SIM availability is just one of those things I like to have explored before I get there so I know exactly what I want and can get connected from day one, or at least as quickly as is possible.

NB: Please bear in mind one thing. In certain countries mobile phones may well be sold/provided locked to a network provider if bought with a plan. Not so in others and not so for many phones bought on PAYG. For instance, an iPhone sourced in France, the UAE or Belgium will be network unlocked. If your phone is locked you will not be able to insert a local SIM into the phone and get it to work. In most cases your mobile service network provider will be able to provide you with a SIM unlock code if you explain that you are travelling overseas and need to use a local SIM. In many cases you have the right to demand that code, especially if your phone is 'out of contract'. An easy way to check if your phone is SIM locked before you arrive is to just pick up one of the countless PAYG SIMs that many countries and insert it in the phone. If it works, you are already unlocked. Bottom line, if you plan to use a local SIM in your mobile when you arrive, check it is unlocked before you come, and do it early as some providers take up to two weeks to provide the SIM unlock code.

(See also subsequent post dated 6 June re Digi 'Super Long Life').

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