How to have Internet access during Overseas Travel
Internet access during travel is almost indispensable nowadays – it gives you directions when you’re lost via maps, informs you with what to see and where to eat, etc. You can either put local-service-capable SIM to your phone or to your own WiFi egg (router) or rent the router with the SIM. Of course, if you are technical savvy, you can buy your own egg/router and just rent the SIM anywhere you go, just beware that there are many different systems/frequency bands in the world, hence you need an egg that can work in all the countries you’d travel. In most popular travel destinations, the local SIM cards with data access is available at a very reasonable costs nowadays (as low as HK$12/day), some with ‘unlimited’ data which I’ve recently used in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. You can of course take the easy way of using your own mobile service provider and roam while overseas (which is outrageously expensive- could easily cost you thousands in a week’s trip), or standard daily plans such as provided by 3 in Hong Kong which caps your daily expense to HK$168/day overseas. If you’re not satisfied with these or want to have cheaper faster local plans, read on…
In most popular travel destinations, you can get a local SIM card with data which costs cheaper and you can choose amongst a few options and local providers there. Below are my recommendations from personal use and information per location (current as of Q1/2015). Before, you change your SIM to the local one, you may want to forward your usual no. first to say your spouse/friend’s phone (say xxxxyyyy) by calling **21*+852xxxxyyyy# (and cancel it afterwards by calling ##21#) [I saved these codes in my Contacts so that you can recall them any time you want]:
- Australia – get an Optus (3G network covering 98.5% of Oz population, and growing 4G in metro areas) prepaid SIM card at A$2/day for unlimited calls (in Australia) and 500 Mb of data per day (click here), tethering is allowed. Stores available upon arrival at the airport (available in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) and other high street stores. Check their locations here. Or you can order online for delivery.
- Japan – data SIM only as most Japanese providers do not offer voice call SIM for outsiders, except this one which is relatively expensive (at around 8,000 to 10,000 yen per 7 days with unlimited data and ability for local voice calls). But with data only plan, you can still do VoIP calls like calling via Whatsapp, Skype, etc. There are heaps of options and providers (depending on the data amount/day and access speed), I’m just going to mention just a few here (and I haven’t tried all of them). Docomo and Softbank are popular service providers there. 3 options – get/rent a SIM or router on arrival, buy/order one online and have it delivered to you or ready to be picked up by you upon arrival (which seems more straightforward), or buy one in Hong Kong before you travel.
- Update mid 2017: Klook Travel now offers very competitively priced wifi egg with good signal strength (I tried in Osaka and mid Japan areas). You order this online and pick it up at the HK International Airport before you board your plane (make sure you do that before security, as once you get inside, you cannot get back out). This is the best and cheapest option for Japan I know of.
- On arrival in most airports (including Narita, Haneda, Chitose, Kansai, Fukuoka, Central, Nara), go to the service provider counter (e.g. Softbank- procedures here) and get it with your ID.
- It may be faster if you pre-book/order it online first (you can check the procedures/info for Softbank, for NTT, for b-mobile visitor SIM). Softbank offers unlimited data at 1,550 yen (about HK$100)/day; NTT cards cost 3,218 yen for 7 days and 3,780 yen for 14 days (each day 100MB data, above this speed reduced to 200k); b-mobile visitor SIM has 2 plans – one with prepaid 1GB data at their theoretical max speed or prepaid 14 days at up to 300k speed- both at 3,686yen or around HK$240 (excluding tax). This one- eConnect rents WiFi eggs from 252 yen (300k) to 1,080 yen (4G) per day.
- Buy in Hong Kong before you leave – from time to time, Groupon offers such purchases, e.g. recent a Docomo prepaid SIM was offered on sale. For those which you can purchase any time, below is a table of some recent info. For more than 7 days, just buy a multiple of the card and activate one after another. I guess that these would be available at China Unicom shops, but I’m sure that they’re readily available at Apliu Street, Shamshuipo (see my directions and comments below if you’re not a pro at Apliu Street) at very competitive prices, and remember to get the owner to cut the SIM card (for free) to nano SIM size for you if you use it for iPhone 5 or 6 –
▲Note: 櫻花卡是上唔到 Facebook 的
Available at Kweilin Street near Apliu Street – accessible from Shamshuipo MTR Exit C2, note that the many hawker stands only open from after 1PM to about 9PM. Upon Exit, walk straight ahead and cross the bustling Apliu Street and the public latrine on your left, passing the line of hawker stores for about 50 m and before reaching Yu Chau Street, you would see about 5 hawker stands selling prepaid SIM cards (you may be amazed at the varieties of prepaid SIMs there- literally dozens for almost anywhere, but mainly mainland China and Asia). Prices are usually marked on the front (which are typically 65% of what you’d normally paid at the official stores) and there is no haggling. So if you know which one to buy, it’s straightforward, just pull out the one you want like a pro and pay.
But if you want to ask for details, very likely you’d be snapped by the owner as if you’re a totally ignorant dumb idiot. So be prepared and don’t feel offended as Apliu Street is probably the place where you’d find the worst customer service- guess the owner are completely numbed and annoyed by the thousands of similar questions each day. The smaller wall stand behind the larger stands on the street (2nd one by the wall before Yu Chau Street) operated by a lady has the best customer service, but as it’s smaller, and may has less varieties available?
- For Malaysia – buy after arrival either at the airport (Celcom, Maxis, DiGi counters are in KL and Penang airport) or if you don’t need it at the airport- better (cheaper in some cases) at downtown (available in most large malls such as Gurney Plaza or similar). Prices range from RM10 to 39 for about 1GB data/ 7 days, it may be a lie if they tell you it’s unlimited data. I’ve used Celcom and it’s OK with tethering allowed, others reported that DiGi is OK too.
- For Mainland China – after some research, I chose the China Mobile CMHK1-Card-2-Number Prepaid SIM Card which I reckon has usage rates cheaper than most, a strong network and you can maintain the numbers for a nominal charge up amount every 6 months – available for auto charging up if you set this up for credit card payment online every time when the balance drops below $20 or one day prior to expiry. The official price HK$120, but available at Apliu Street at as low as $60 or $98 (if you want to choose your tele nos.). I only found one store (the lady wall store mentioned in 2 above) which sells these allowing you to choose your tele nos., prices of course varies depending on the nos. – from $98 to above $1000. Yes, you need to change the SIM in your phone after your cross border each time, but I reckon for infrequent travellers like me, it’s a much more reasonable plan than say paying 3 for a $28 monthly plan which costs more per call and data especially if you travel outside GuangDong. An attractive alternative especially if you travel for a week or more would be the China Unicom SIM package available in Hong Kong – standard price HK$150 (for 7 days and 2 GB data), but you can typically get this from a street shop or online for about HK$120. It’s good for gmail and facebook inside Mainland China and the signal reception is reasonable in remote areas such as Xinjiang and Yunnan (where I have tried). Data only though.