In this article I explain why I prefer cellular data over wifi, share the cost of different data plans around Asia and reveal a fantastic deal I received here in Vietnam!
As an international traveller and resident, I find it particularly interesting to compare prices of everyday items. Sometimes, items/services are about the same price as in Canada such as many Western brands names (Apple, Nike, Sephora) and other times, they’re not (food, rent, transportation). Today we’re going to talk about a service that is not the same, or even similar, to Canada — cell phone plans!
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When I first started travelling (Vancouver 2012, 2015), I really appreciated the value of mobile internet access. I believe a large data plan was a contributing factor to making those trips pleasant. Whenever I needed information, direct access was available. Even more helpful was being able to use it without worry of going over the limit, or having restraints. Directions, reviews, social media, downloading local apps, communications, uploading photos to social media, whatever it was, I didn’t need to take a detour to a cafe/restaurant to get wifi. I don’t understand why people buy small data plans while having fancy $1,000+ smartphones. If I’m spending that kind of money, I want fast, 4G service, everywhere, all the time.
In Beijing, I was unable to connect to the airport wifi, preventing me from notifying my contacts I had arrived. 130km away from my new city of residence, the high speed train I needed to catch was on the opposite side of a mega-city, and I didn’t speak the language (no wifi = no translation software; Google Translate does work in China), I was reassured of my reluctance to depend on wifi accessibility.
When I finally did arrive in Tianjin, it was late, I couldn’t message anyone, nor use GPS/maps to find a hotel, and had absolutely no idea where I was. Despite trying the wifi at multiple restaurants, I couldn’t connect because a phone number was needed to receive a wifi password. A particular reason I enjoy cell service is to look up information that I may not have planned for, but need to get on-the-spot, such as a taxi ride, medical care, price comparisons or in this case, accommodations options. Not a stranded experience I’d like to repeat.
While living in Tianjin, I used China Unicom. I was paying approximately $70USD for 12Gb of data. The 4G service worked with my Canadian phone, and was fast for services allowed in China. Using a VPN with popular services such as Facebook was challenging, but for other websites the government wasn’t so focused on restricting, the service speed was sufficient.
Besides the issues with the firewall from the government, cell phone service in China was worth the financial cost and of tolerable value. If I live in China again (which is a strong possibility), I’d sign up for China Unicom. The only issue was all telecom providers are government owned, and having the government monitor all my communications was certainly a sticking point.
In January 2017, I took a one month trip to India for my yoga teacher training certification. Service there was easily accessible. A guy with a small shop selling cheap electronics also sold SIM cards. All I had to do was give a photocopy of my passport and hotel information. He typed in the SIM card number into his feature phone (non-smartphone) along with a code for the plan I subscribed too, and voila, my service was activated. The SIM card was $5 and the plan included 1Gb which cost $5. It was a bit burdensome renewing the service over in Delhi, but otherwise I was happy.
The service was easy to sign up for. Even in a semi-remote region of Rishikesh, 3G service was reasonable, though not great. The low cost really helps boost the value. I was using Airtel and received 4G on my iPhone 6 Plus in Delhi.
In February 2017, I visited Singapore for a few days. I forgot to buy the SIM card from this onboard pamphlet and as a result, I missed a great deal (I was flying with Scoot!). Make sure to buy it if you see it in your flight! I wish more flights sold me pre-activated SIM cards with worthwhile offers.
Buying a SIM card at the airport was easy. Unfortunately the number of options was minimal. I hesitantly went for the 100Gb of data over 10 days, which cost 30SGD. While it was great dollar value for the money, it wasn’t good time value. As a result, I made sure to video chat a number of friends. I don’t know how much data 5-6 hours of FaceTime uses, but who cares when you have 100GB?! Before leaving, I downloaded a boatload of content on Netflix and iTunes for my trip to Malaysia.
Ease of sign up was great. While it’s awesome to have 100Gb, the lack of options between stupid small and unusably huge was frustrating. If I recall correctly the other option (in the airport, not the flight) was around 1Gb of data for ~$15SGD for 10 days, and I knew I’d use more than 1Gb so I didn’t really have a choice. If I was a resident, I’d skip having home internet and renew this 10 day plan over the course of the month — 300Gb of data for $90SGD, that’s amazing! The service was with SingTel.
Malaysia, like everywhere else, offers SIM cards at the airport. I picked up a 12Gb plan costing 25MR/$6USD. Later on when I topped up my plan, I paid 9 Malaysian Ringgits/$2.20USD for 1Gb. Larger plans were cheaper on a gb/$ basis. Similar to the West, I had to visit a carrier booth (Digi) and talk with someone about getting it topped up, who then went through a number of processes on the computer (vs typing in a phone number and plan code in India).
The service was quickly topped up and I was ready to go again. I even received moderate signal out on an island I was camping on! I had to top my data even after buying 12Gb because I got a wicked bad sun burn and spent a lot of time inside during the day.
The coverage was good in Kota Kinabalu and Mamutik island, the value was very reasonable and the network was compatible with my iPhone 6 Plus (GSM).
Hong Kong was by far my favourite airport to arrive in. Services such as ATMs, convenience stores and tourist information were readily available without being intrusive. 7-Eleven made it easy to get a SIM, which involved nothing more than picking the right amount of Gb and putting the card in my phone.
The SIM included 1.5Gb of data, was active for five days, and cost 70HKD/$9USD. This wasn’t good value for money, but given my short time in HK, the five day option was nice (I was staying 4). Before leaving I ended up buying another SIM card so I was connected while preparing to leave (things like bus routes, GPS, flight email updates, entertainment etc).
Coverage throughout the city was available, it’d be wonderful to have the phones tie into the MTR (their subway, which is exceptional). Having access to SIM cards in the 7-Eleven booths, in the subway stops, was welcomed. The price was a bit high for 1.5Gb of data. With the same price but including 3.5Gb would offer real value. The most enticing part of cell service in Hong Kong is the ease of access more than value of data.
When I arrived in Da Nang, I checked cell phone booths at the airport and am offered a 4G SIM card, costing $6USD for “unlimited” data for the month. WOW! I purchase a card, and over the following 30 days, use at least 20Gb of data. I had a friend who was coming into the country from Hong Kong and asked her to purchase a few more SIM cards for me, given such a good price. Unfortunately, the SIM cards were of different carrier (Viettel instead of Mobifone) and their service didn’t work as well.
When I decided to stay, I started with a 30Gb plan for 300,000VND/$13.20USD! Since I wasn’t using the full 30Gb, I reduced it down to 20Gb for 200,000VND/$8.80USD. A month ago, I was considering going down to the 15Gb, which is how much I typically use a month in Canada, China and now here.
At the beginning of November, I went into Mobifone and was informed about new plans coming out. I’ve since switched and it includes:
Just take a minute and imagine having a cell phone plan with 62Gb of data for a moment.
Oh, and, the price? $3.96USD!
That doesn’t even buy a McDouble and small fries at McDonald’s in Canada!
Shall we do a little comparing to Rogers?
Not counting that I’d lose 30% of the monthly data, with $290CAD I can:
I’m always curious what causes such drastic changes in prices of cell phone plans, or anything, between countries. There’s always a person, company, piece of legislation, technology and social development behind it. Typically I don’t get to find out, but when I do it’s fascinating.
What are data plans like in your city? How much are they? How much data do you buy?
Do you have any cost comparisons of products/services around parts of the world? Let me know!