Thailand is now one of the top tourist destinations in world. So what’s the best way for travelers to get their mobile communications up an running quickly? Here are a few things to consider when getting a local Thai phone number.
Before you trip to Thailand, the most important thing you can do is find out if your phone is locked or unlocked. If you don’t know the status of your phone, one big tell is if you paid $, $99 or $199 for a top model Apple, Samsung or Nokia phone. A price that low means your phone has been subsidized, and you are likely in a 1-3 year contract where your carriers are trying to make their money back (and more) over the length of the contract. If your phone is locked, you won’t be able to use a Thai SIM card in your phone. If you paid $500 and up for your smartphone, your phone is unlocked and you’ll be fine.
The first thing most people want to do when they arrive in Thailand is get connected. In Thailand, your worst option is being connected on roaming with you home network. Thailand makes it very easy to get on WiFi or on the cell networks, so there is really no excuse to be on roaming. Any user of an Unlocked phone will have no trouble getting a local SIM and swapping out your home country’s SIM. Activate the Thai SIM and just like that you have a number people can reach you on. Even if you have no credit on the SIM, callers can reach you as long as your SIM has validity.
What does ‘locking / unlocking’ a phone mean?
Locking your phone refers to a practice by the Networks your phone to ONLY work with the SIM currently in your phone.
How do I know if I have a locked / unlocked phone?
The practice of locking helps networks subsidize the price of phones. If you have a subsidized phone then there is a good chance it is locked. If you have an iPhone that you paid $0, $99 or $199 for, then you have a subsidized and likely locked phone.
How do I get it unlocked?
In Thailand it’s easy to unlock your phone. There are several malls with mobile phone dealers who can readily unlock a phone. If you find somewhere online that says your phone can be unlocked, then the locals here can do it too. Many times an unlock will also require a jailbreak.
Where to get it unlocked?
It’s going to cost between 200-400 baht based on the complexity. Can be up to 600 for fresh iPhone unlocks.
- MBK @ Siam Square
- Fortune Town Ratchada (Second Floor)
- IT Square Laksi (Second Floor)
- Zeer Rangsit
- Central Lat Prao (Bottom Floor)
- Big C Lat Prao
When you get off the plane
The first thing you’ll want to do is get connected. When you switch on your phone you’ll either be given the option to connect to one of 3 main networks in Thailand: AIS, DTAC or True.
How to get a Thai Phone Number
The way to get a local Thai number and local data is by buying a Thai SIM card. SIM cards slide into the back of most phones. In Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), there are several places to buy a Thai SIM card. First, right outside of the International gates, there are kiosks for Thailand’s main mobile operators – DTAC (blue), AIS (Green ) and True Move (Red). If there is no line, anyone of these is fine. Jump in line and wait your turn, and the staff should get you hooked right up.
Tourist SIM Cards
All three networks sell Tourist or Traveler SIM cards. The base model is a is unlimited internet for 7 Days and 100 Baht of calling and SMS credit. There are also other flavors like 15 and 30 day packages. You might also see cards with “Unlimited Whatsapp or WeChat” as additional benefits.
Buying a SIM outside the airport
If you’re not able to get a SIM card in the airport, no problem. Every 7-11 in the country carries SIM cards and Top Up Credit. There are over 7,000 7-11 stores in Thailand. (That’s one store for every 9,428 people in the country.) Also any mall is going to have phones for sale as wall as official DTAC, AIS and True Move retailers.
How to get Mobile Data working
If you got yourself a Tourist / Traveler SIM, the data working after activation (inserting the SIM into your phone and getting activation SMS). Most likely it will work right away. If not, grab a staff member and hold on to them till they fix it for you.
Recharging and adding data
If you finish the 7 day unlimited period, use up your calling credit or finish any data package, you’ll need to add more funds. In Thailand it’s called top up, but other places call it adding minutes, recharge, refill, load or top-up. How much credit you need is up to your use case.
If you want to get day by day internet packages, they cost from 20 -80 Baht per day. If you want to make calls, they cost from 1 – 3 Baht/minute for domestic and 3 to 50 Baht for International.
An internet package is a way to pre-purchase an amount of data you would expect to use in a month. Unlimited data (at capped speeds) starts around 400 thb for the month, and goes up to about 1000 thb. You can buy daily, monthly, weekly, volume based, time based and add on data packages.