Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Travel With Prepaid Local SIM Better

_DSC0313The June school holidays have already started, and many Singapore families, particularly those with school going children, will find themselves traveling. SingTel took the opportunity last week to post a YouTube video selling their data roaming services, suggesting to users that data roaming is the way to go. Well, guess what, I totally disagree. Roaming is so old age.

I’m sure many others, even the occasional traveller, will agree with me. Many of us already know the better way to stay connected while overseas. But seeing that SingTel believes there’s an audience that can be convinced that data roaming works, then perhaps this post is still useful.

In a nutshell, don’t roam. I’m not just talking about data roaming, but using roaming at all. Don’t use your local SIM card overseas. Instead, get yourself a prepaid local SIM card at your destination.

Prepaid local SIM cards are common and easily available in most countries. In fact, they are nowadays so convenient that in many major cities, you can pick one up at the airport arrival hall, or have it sent to your hotel. They are really cheap in some countries, maybe not that much so in some other countries, but still likely cheaper than roaming with your Singapore mobile phone provider.

For example, in Thailand, the Happy Tourist SIM card gives you 7-day unlimited data for just 299 Baht (S$11.52), with some credit for local phone calls included. In Japan, which is considerably more expensive, b-mobile gives you either 14-day 1GB high-speed 4G data or 14-day unlimited data at 300Kbps for 4094 Yen (S$49.97).

In comparison, SingTel’s data roaming saver plans cost $15 a day in Thailand and $20 a day in Japan. You go work out the sums.

I was just in Japan. Phone service isn’t cheap in Japan. Having to pick between 1GB of fast data or unlimited amount of slow data seems inconvenient. Furthermore, B-mobile is a data-only service, and has no option for making voice calls. No, you can’t even pay for it.

Are you concerned about lack of voice calling capabilities? Or the inconvenience that, when you use a prepaid local SIM card, your family and friends cannot reach you on your Singapore phone number?

Well, times have changed. Voice calling is no longer that primary feature people need with their mobile phones. The telephone companies know that, and that’s why they are worried too. There are so many alternative ways to communicate these days, and all of these just need Internet access to work. The way to keep in touch these days are via:

  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook (including Messenger for texting)
  • Google Hangout (formerly Google Talk)
  • Skype

Then there’s, of course, the good old fashioned email. There’s also no end to the list of other Internet communication apps.

What if you need to communicate with your traveling party? Like if you got separated in a theme park or shopping mall and need to link up? Yes, in the old times, you would call them on their phone. Well, nowadays, you could use WhatsApp for that right? In fact, any of the above apps could work too, depending on your group’s preference.

The multiparty messaging capabilities of these apps are really convenient too. Think about the times you needed to tell everyone about a change in plans. Had to call each one individually? Well, with a WhatsApp group, you can easily get the message out.

I’ve been able to rely just on messaging, without voice calls, on my overseas trip. Some service providers are even catching on this trend to use Internet communication tools. For example, while overseas, I used WhatsApp to book a MaxiCab to pick me up at the airport. I did that before I boarded my flight. I didn’t have to make a long-distance phone call.

Family and friend at home who want to keep in touch can still do so with any of these Internet connected apps. Your Singapore phone number isn’t all that important anymore.

Remember that it’s just Internet access that you need, and there are more ways to get Internet access. Some hotels may provide free Wi-Fi in-room. This may be a good option for uploading all your photos when you get back from a day out in the city. Sometimes the free hotel Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby. Not terribly convenient, but perhaps something you could make do.

So, tell me, why would you need roaming services?

I can see that some people will be satisfied to pay their mobile phone provider for roaming services just so that they don’t have to figure out the prepaid local SIM card thingy. In fact, business users who have their phone bills paid for by their companies would likely just go with roaming. But for the rest of us who care about keeping connected on the cheap, it is worth the effort to do bit of research before traveling to find out about prepaid local SIM cards.

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