Once you are in Thailand there are a number of ways of keeping in touch via telephone with friends and family back home. Computer users can use Skype and other V.O.I.P services via your own laptop or in an internet cafe. If that isn’t an option, then one of the easiest and most convenient ways is to buy a Thai pre-paid (pay as you go) SIM card for your mobile phone or cellphone. This will normally work out much cheaper than using your own SIM card from your home country. Depending on where you are in Thailand, you may be asked by some shops to show proof of I.D. (i.e. your passport) although this is more usual for postpaid SIM cards rather than the pre-paid pay as you go variety.
Getting a SIM card at Bangkok airport
Arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport you will see kiosks in the arrival hall who can arrange a pre-paid (pay as you go) SIM card for you from network providers including DTAC (Happy), AIS (1-2-Call) and True Move. At the airport the SIM card may be slightly more expensive because they will normally include an extra amount of call credit. The cost of a SIM card is typically around 50 to 100 Baht. At the airport kiosks you may pay 200 Baht but this will usually include 100 to 150 Baht worth of credit or call time.
Free tourist SIM cards at the airport
It’s worth keeping an eye out for promotions staff handing out free prepaid SIM cards. At the time of writing, Airports of Thailand (A.O.T.) have linked up with True Move to provide a complimentary SIM card for tourists visiting Thailand. The bright yellow leaflet clearly explains in English how to use your card and gives you dialling codes and call rates. The rates are competitive and if you only need a phone for the occasional call back home or SMS then this is certainly a convenient option. I’ve seen these leaflets being handed out at various Thai airports including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Buying a SIM Card in Thailand
If you forget to buy a SIM card at the airport or you are arriving in Thailand via another route, all major towns and cities have shops selling SIM cards and top-up cards. In tourist areas, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding staff in shops who can speak reasonable English especially if you head to any shopping mall where you will find a cluster of phone shops. In my experience, assistants in phone shops have always been very helpful. Even if your phone is locked they can sort it out for you and the staff will almost certainly fit the SIM card for you and set up your phone. If you arrive in Thailand without a phone, it’s also easy to buy a new or second-hand one quite cheaply. Convenience stores including 7-Eleven and Family Mart also sell SIM cards from as little as 49 Baht (no call time credit included) or 99 Baht (50 Baht call time included).
Which network provider should I use?
There are a number of network services to choose from and in my personal experience there isn’t a lot to choose between them and will depend on individual usage for the most cost-effective option. I use DTAC (Happy), but I know some expats and long-term visitors who prefer 1-2-Call or True Move. I’ve provided links below to the websites (in English) so you can compare call rates and service availability.
Dialling codes for cheaper international calls
The general international dialling code from Thailand is 001. However, when using a pre-paid SIM card refer to the websites above or the leaflet provided with your SIM card to check on which prefix code to use for the best rate. For instance, I use DTAC (Happy). To make an international call to a landline number in the UK, if I use the prefix 004 the cost of the call is 5 Baht per minute. If I don’t use the 004 prefix, the call is charged at a premium rate of 17 Baht per minute. Different network providers use different prefixes, for instance True Move currently uses the prefix 006 for first class quality calls and another prefix, 00600, for low cost calls (currently as low as 1.5 Baht to Australia, Canada, UK and USA).
To dial the following landline number in the UK, 0181 123 4567, I would dial the relevant prefix for my network provider followed by the UK dialling code (44) followed by the number dropping the first 0.
Using DTAC Happy
004 44 181 123 4567
Using True Move Low Cost
00600 44 181 123 4567
Sending an SMS text message
The typical cost is approximately 5 Baht per message. To send an SMS use the international format e.g. for the example above the number to text would be +44 181 123 4567
Selected international dialling codes
United Kingdom 44
Topping up the credit on your SIM card
Top up vouchers can be purchased from numerous retail outlets including Family Mart and 7-Eleven as well as telephone shops. Instructions are available in English on the top up card and/or via voice prompts on your phone so it really is quite straight forward.