Planning a trip to Thailand soon? Lucky you! As you create your dreamy itinerary, don’t forget to take care of all the details. If you haven’t thought about your data plan for abroad yet, I’ve got you covered. This guide encompasses everything you need to know about SIM cards while traveling, including both physical SIM cards from local Thai companies and our preferred choice of eSIM options.
Similar to many other countries in the East, Thailand offers travelers a world of adventure and beauty. White sandy beaches, stunning landscapes, perfect weather, incredible cuisine, and relatively affordable prices all contribute to Thailand’s particular allure and popularity as a destination.
While exploring the Land of Smiles, you’ll want to be fully present in each moment, but you’ll also desire a connection to the internet. Purchasing data plans and packages for use abroad is a relatively straightforward process, though it might seem a bit confusing at first.
Having spent a significant amount of time traveling around Thailand and other East Asian countries, I’ve experimented with all the major companies. Finally, I’ve discovered the perfect solution for making calls and accessing the internet in Thailand. So, whether you’re on a short vacation or embarking on a long-term journey, I’ll share the best options to suit your needs.
My Preferred Choice – eSIM
For many years now, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world, and as a tour guide, I can even consider traveling my job. Embracing a nomadic lifestyle comes with its fair share of ups and downs, but perhaps one of my most significant challenges has been the quest for reliable data plans in the countries I visit. After a long day of flying, the last thing I wanted to do was spend precious time searching for a phone store or kiosk that would sell me a local SIM card for the country I was in. It was a tiring process, relying on free Wi-Fi and grappling with tricky translations. However, in the past, this was the only option available, so I had no choice but to cope with it.
Fortunately, things have taken a turn for the better, thanks to the advent of eSIM technology, which has significantly simplified the lives of travelers like us. For those who might not be familiar with it, an eSIM is essentially a virtual SIM card. This concept may still be unfamiliar to many people, but here’s the bottom line – you no longer need to wait until you arrive at your destination to insert a physical SIM card into your phone (a task that can often be quite frustrating!). So, how does it work? It’s a breeze. You simply scan a QR code that’s sent to you via email, and you’re good to go. This means that the moment you touch down at your destination, you’ll already have access to calls and the internet without any hassle.
The Benefits of Using an eSIM in Thailand
There are numerous benefits to using eSIMs. Firstly, as mentioned, it’s significantly simpler and more convenient. You no longer need to roam around searching for a place to purchase or replace a SIM card; everything is already integrated into your phone. Plus, a significant advantage is that you get to keep your existing phone number.
In addition to the ease of use, the cost of an eSIM is considerably lower when compared to SIM card packages offered by local companies in Thailand.
I personally set up my data package through the company eSimple, and I’m delighted with my choice. While there are other eSIM providers in the world, if you’re looking for a company with representatives who speak multiple languages, provide excellent support, and offer competitive prices, I highly recommend this company.
The Disadvantages of eSIMs
The sole drawback of eSIM is that it’s not supported by all phones. If you want to ensure that your phone is eSIM-compatible, please click here.
What if my phone doesn’t support eSIM?
That’s okay! It’s only a matter of time before all devices support eSIM. But until then, you can simply purchase a SIM card in Thailand from one of the local companies.
What SIM companies are recommended in Thailand?
If you’re seeking a faster, more convenient, and cost-effective solution, an eSIM for Thailand is your best choice – but it’s essential to ensure your device supports this technology.
Thailand has three major cellular networks operated by DTAC, AIS, and TrueMove. AIS boasts the best coverage and the largest market share, along with an extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots included in their more premium plans. Their prices are only slightly higher than their competitors, making AIS SIM cards an excellent choice, especially if you plan to travel to remote areas of Thailand.
While 5G is available in Thailand, it’s primarily limited to major cities at this point. Considering that 4G is more affordable, widely available, and still quite fast, it should suffice for most purposes.
During my travels in Thailand, I’ve personally used both TrueMove and DTAC’s Happy services. TrueMove is often slightly more budget-friendly, but both providers offer good coverage and speed in both villages and cities. It’s worth noting that, like any provider, there may be some reception issues in more remote areas.
In summary, if you prioritize the best coverage and are willing to go with a local company, AIS is the way to go. However, if your plans keep you mostly in tourist areas and cities without venturing off the beaten path, each of the three major providers will serve your needs well, with TrueMove typically being slightly more budget-friendly than the other two.
Where and How to Purchase a SIM Card in Thailand
Acquiring a SIM card in Thailand is a relatively straightforward process, particularly if you’re arriving at one of Bangkok’s airports. Both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports host booths for all three major mobile companies in their arrival halls.
At Suvarnabhumi, it’s common to find these stalls crowded, with long queues at all vendor counters. While the staff is efficient and lines move fairly quickly, it’s important to mentally prepare yourself if you’re tired after a long flight.
Notably, Happy offers a self-service machine right next to its booth, accepting Thai baht cards and bills. Surprisingly, many customers overlook this option despite the lengthy lines at the counter service, making it a convenient choice if you’re not up for waiting.
You can also purchase a SIM card at other international airports in Thailand, including Phuket and Chiang Mai. During the pandemic, several airport SIM card booths temporarily closed, but they all reopened once tourism resumed.
Previously, you could access a wider range of standard 7-11 SIM card packages near the Airport Rail Link entrance in Suvarnabhumi Airport’s basement. However, as of my last inquiry in late 2022, I was only offered a tourist SIM card at the same price as the booths in the arrival hall. If the main counters have long lines, and you need to take a train into town anyway, it may be worthwhile to obtain your SIM at a 7-11.
The agent will present you with various package options (and most of them speak English) before handling all the necessary steps for you, including SIM activation and plan payment. The entire process typically takes just about ten minutes, and your SIM card works immediately upon activation. It’s important to note that whether you choose to shop at the providers’ booths or 7-11, the staff will need to make a photocopy of your passport for documentation purposes.
How Much Does a SIM Card Cost in Thailand?
Many tourist SIM cards available at Thai airports offer “unlimited” plans, which typically include a specific amount of high-speed data initially, but the speed may be significantly reduced after reaching that limit.
You can purchase these SIM cards at the airport upon your arrival. Each of the top mobile companies has a shop or stall, making it convenient to buy your new SIM card.
However, it’s important to note that in Thailand, when a plan is advertised as “unlimited,” it often comes with certain limitations. In reality, the data is usually restricted in terms of speed and usage duration, based on my experience. Additionally, calls are typically limited to local calls, and the internet speed may start to slow down after a few days, depending on your personal usage.
Regarding prices, TRUE LOVE offers the most budget-friendly option, although their service may not be consistently reliable everywhere. However, if you primarily stay in major cities, it should work well for you.
Keep in mind that when shopping for SIM cards at various stores and kiosks in Thailand, not all chains carry all SIM card brands. For instance, 7-11 doesn’t sell AIS SIM cards, and some stores like Tesco Lotus may not sell SIM cards at all.
In my experience, I prefer to look for an AIS store in one of the malls in Bangkok when I’m in Thailand, as it provides a reliable option for purchasing and assistance with your SIM card needs.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, Thailand offers a variety of options when it comes to SIM cards. I trust that this guide has provided you with a clearer understanding of the local companies, pricing, and eSIM alternatives. If you have any further inquiries about data plans in Thailand, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.