Stay Connected in Southeast Asia: eSIM vs Roaming vs Local SIM (2024)

Man staying connected during his trip in Southeast Asia

Planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Here’s your complete guide to finding the best connectivity options for 2024!

Travelling to this tropical region offers a unique blend of street food culture, island and beach paradises, and rich histories that are unparalleled. You can explore night bazaars and street food stalls in Chiang Mai, Thailand, stroll through lantern-lit streets and craft workshops in Hoi An, Vietnam, snorkel and relax on the beaches of Amed, Indonesia, or visit the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, renowned for its colonial architecture and its appearance in “Crazy Rich Asians.” There’s so much to discover, you’ll find it hard to choose where to go first!

However, your experience can hinge on one crucial factor: staying connected. Imagine the frustration of pulling out your phone to open a translation app to talk to a local seller, only to be met with an endless loading spinner due to no connection.

So, if you’re gearing up for a trip to the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, or even Laos, read on to find the best connectivity options, from those you can purchase before your trip to ones you can buy at your destination. Keep scrolling to dive in!

Southeast Asia Travel eSIM vs Roaming vs Local SIM

1. Travel eSIM – Buy Before or During Your Trip

We mentioned that there are connectivity options you can get before OR during your trip. But did you know that, with travel eSIMs, you can get them anytime and anywhere?
Activating a travel eSIM is also simple! It can be done instantly by scanning the QR code sent to you via email without even needing to swap SIM cards physically, so it doesn’t matter whether you buy it in advance or upon arrival!

Here are a few more things you need to know about travel eSIM:

Advantages

  • Travel eSIM allows you to avoid hefty roaming fees charged by your local telcos
  • With a travel eSIM, bid farewell to lining up at the airport or the hassle of searching for SIM card shops
  • Travel eSIM is virtual, eliminating the risk of losing, dropping, breaking, or having it stolen like physical SIM cards or pocket WiFi
  • With travel eSIM, you can reduce e-waste and pollution by eliminating the need for a physical SIM card, which often ends up in the trash after use
  • Travel eSIM can work in multiple countries with just the one plan! So convenient 🙂

Disadvantages

  • Your phone needs to be eSIM-compatible for you to be able to use the technology

    Click here to find out if your phone is eSIM-compatible!

    If you’re in search of a reliable travel eSIM provider, be sure to check out the 5-star-rated TravelKon!

TravelKon

TravelKon is an Australia-based provider of travel eSIMs (and SIM cards), offering prepaid data plans for more than 180 countries, including Southeast Asia.

Not only is TravelKon affordable and convenient, but it also stands out for its reliable connectivity and responsive customer support. Assistance is readily available through Messenger, WhatsApp, and email whenever you have questions or need help.

There are several eSIM plans you can choose to complete your Southeast Asia trip:

PlansPrice
DTAC Thailand eSIM | Unlimited Data | 100 Minutes Calls | 10 Days$25
Telkomsel Bali eSIM | 24 – 70GB | 5G Data-Only | 30 Days$29 – $49
Telkomsel Indonesia eSIM | 25GB | Voice | 30 Days$39
Indonesia eSIM | 15 – 30GB | Data-Only | 30 Days$25 – $35
Singapore eSIM Unlimited Max | Unlimited Data* | Data-Only | 1 – 30 Days$9 – $75
Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand eSIM | 15GB / 30GB | Data-Only | 30 Days$29 – $45
Unitel Laos eSIM | 15GB | Voice | 10 days$19
Unitel Laos eSIM | 30GB | Voice | 15 day$25
Vietnamobile Vietnam eSIM | 2GB / Day | Voice | 20 Days$20
Vietnamobile Vietnam eSIM | 5GB / Day | Data-Only | 20 Days$19
Southeast Asia eSIM Unlimited Lite 4 Countries | 1GB Daily + Unlimited at 5 Mbps | Data-Only | 3 Days$15
Southeast Asia eSIM Unlimited Lite 4 Countries | 1GB Daily + Unlimited at 5 Mbps | Data-Only | 7 Days$29
*All prices are correct as per 28 May 2024Price in AUD

For more details on each of these options, explore TravelKon’s Southeast Asia eSIM plans. Or if your phone is not eSIM-compatible, worry not because TravelKon also offers travel SIM cards.

2. Roaming – with Your Home Country SIM

If you’re ready for the notoriously expensive rates for a slightly more convenience, consider using roaming with your home country SIM!

Roaming is a feature that allows your phone to connect to a local network in the area you’re visiting, so you can still make calls, send texts, and access the internet abroad using your current number. Unless manually switched off, some home country SIM providers – like Telstra, automatically enable international roaming on all mobile plans once you use your phone outside the country.

Just ensure your provider covers the countries you’re visiting and includes roaming in your plan. Be sure to also check for the rates so you won’t be surprised by the bill at the end of your trip.

Including factors like cost and convenience, here are some more things you need to consider before using roaming:

Advantages

  • Seamless connectivity without the hassle of buying and swapping local SIM cards in each country
  • Retain your Australian phone number, convenient for you and your contacts

Disadvantages

  • Coverage may not be as reliable or extensive as at home
  • Slower data due to speed limitations and caps
  • Extremely expensive charges for calls, texts, and data

To give you an idea of prices and plans available for Southeast Asia countries, Optus have Optus Daily Roaming, giving 5GB data, unlimited talk, and text for AU$5/day. Telstra also offers options like the International Day Pass, providing 1GB data, unlimited calls, and SMS for AU$10/day.

*All prices are correct as per 28 May 2024

3. Local SIM – Buy at Your Destination Country

If you’re planning to visit a single country in Southeast Asia for an extended period of time (at least 1 month), buying a local SIM card or eSIM at your destination country is another way to stay connected.

These are the pros and cons of buying a local SIM:

Advantages:

  • Cheaper rates for calls, texts, and data than roaming
  • Better network coverag:e and faster data speeds in remote areas

Disadvantages:

  • Plans tend to be long-term and not suitable for a short trip or visiting multiple countries
  • Some countries require ID like passports to get a SIM, which can be a hassle
  • Getting and setting up a local SIM might be tough if you don’t speak the local language

Here’s a quick look at the most popular providers in each SEA country.

IndonesiaTelkomsel

Planning a trip to Indonesia? Telkomsel, a top Indonesia provider whose connectivity covers 97% of the country, offers a Pre-Order Tourist Prepaid Card that gives you 25GB of data and 25 minutes of voice calls for AU$14.13*.

To grab yours, visit Telkomsel offline store that you can find easily everywhere in the country. Alternatively, you can pre-order online via Telkomsel’s website and pick one up from designated pick-up points located in Bali and Mandalika. Payments can be done with your credit card or with cash in Rupiah at the pick-up location. Just make sure to bring your passport and IMEI for validation and pick it up by the latest 14 days after pre-ordering.

Sounds like a hassle? Well, TravelKon also offers plans that connect with Telkomsel’s connection, such as their Telkomsel Bali eSIM and Telkomsel Indonesia eSIM. With these packages, you can use Telkomsel while skipping all the hassles.

Thailand – AIS SIM Card

AIS, Thailand’s leading telecom company, offers lightning-fast 5G and 4G/LTE connections nationwide.

For tourists, SIM card options range from a pay-as-you-go option at AU$2.02/day* to a 30-day plan with 300GB at AU$51.59. If you have an eSIM-compatible device, there are also eSIM choices like unlimited data plan for 30 days at AU$68.10 or high-speed internet plan for shorter stays starting at AU$12.34*.

If any of these options suits your preference, you can pick up your AIS SIM cards at airports, stores, and mobile shops throughout Thailand, while eSIMs are available online or at an AIS outlet.

Philippines – Smart Communications

Looking for a good network in the Philippines? Popular among tourists staying long-term in the Philippines, Smart Communications SIM cards offer tailored plans and fast networks.

One plan costs AU$12.99* and provides 1 GB of daily data for 30 days, plus additional data for social media. For shorter trips, there’s a 7-day plan available for AU$2.60*, which also includes social media data.

Smart SIM cards can be purchased at airports like Mactan–Cebu and Manila, as well as in convenience stores and malls.

Vietnam – Viettel

If you’re off to Vietnam for a few months and need to stay connected, you can consider Viettel. Known for its reliable network and broad coverage, Viettel offers prepaid SIM cards tailored for travellers.

They have an AU$4.16* plan for 30GB over 30 days, AU$8.02 for 150GB, and AU$48.14 option that gives you 900GB for 180 days. To purchase any of these plans, just visit their official stores or head to nearby convenience stores, airports, or tourist spots!

Singapore – Singtel

Planning a trip to Singapore and need to stay connected?

Singtel’s AU$8.96* hi! Prepaid SIM Card gives you local data, calls, and SMS for 90 days. Plus, you can extend it up to 180 days with a top-up. Want more? Check out the Singtel AU$16.79* hi! Prepaid SIM Card, valid for 120 days, or the Singtel AU$42.55* hi! Prepaid SIM Card for extra perks over 30 days.

Get yours online with free delivery or at any authorised retailer.

Cambodia – Metfone

If you’re off to Cambodia and need a SIM card for your phone, Metfone has got you covered. With their Data Osja Plus, you can get your hands on 100GB of data for AU$15.13*, lasting a whole month. Just snag one from mobile operator shops or grab it straight from the airports in Cambodia.

Metfone’s coverage blankets over 90% of the country, including remote spots, so you’re never out of touch!

Malaysia – Celcom

Celcom is one of Malaysia’s top 4 providers, known for its cheap plans, wide coverage, and easy use.

For travellers, Celcom gives two choices: eSIM and SIM card plans. The eSIM Tourist Pack has a 7-day unlimited data plan with 10GB fast internet, while the 30-Day Tourist Pack has 20GB. Plus, there’s the Xpax eSIM for customizable prepaid plans and postpaid eSIM for unlimited data, calls, and texts within Malaysia, with data roaming. Prices for eSIM plans go from AU$2* to AU$10, depending on the package.

If you like physical SIM cards, Celcom offers various data packages from AU$4 to AU$22* for different times and speeds. You can get these plans at Celcom stores, authorised dealers, or online.

Laos – Unitel

If you’re off to Laos, trust Unitel to keep you connected wherever you wander. Their network covers over 95% of the country, even rural spots such as the serene Luang Prabang.

For travellers, Unitel’s prepaid SIM card offers various plans. If you need data-only plans, they’ve got options from 500MB to 5GB, priced between AU$2.12* to AU$10.58. There are also plans that include calls, ranging from 1 to 30 days with data from 1GB to 3GB per day, priced between AU$1.54 to AU$15.44*. If you’ve got an eSIM-ready phone, check out Unitel’s pioneering eSIM service.

Ready to stay connected? Grab your Unitel SIM at airports, their stores, or hop online for eSIMs. Or get TravelKon’s Unitel Laos eSIM that gives you 15 GB data for 10 days at AU$19.00 or 30 GB data for 15 days at AU$25.00!
*All prices are correct as per 28 May 2024

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