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Asia travel

Five of the best travel SIM card deals for Hongkongers, plus tips on alternative options for the holiday season

When it comes to overseas travel it can be tough to know what phone packages are the best value. We take a look at the different data options and give our pick of the SIM packages that won’t leave you high and dry on your holidays

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 6:39pm

International mobile SIM cards are travel essentials as they can keep you connected during the trip without paying for expensive data roaming charges. But with so many options, how do you choose the right one? Here are four tips and our top SIM picks for different destinations.

Data roaming, pocket Wi-fi or SIM card?

Enabling cellular and data roaming will give you the most stable connection, but it is also the most expensive method, as users are often charged by the megabyte. Some mobile network providers have launched cheaper packages with a fixed daily rate, but with only limited speed and data – so they are still no match for travel SIM cards and pocket Wi-fi.

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If you are travelling in a group or with family, renting a pocket Wi-fi – or Wi-fi eggs as they are known in Hong Kong – is the cheapest option. Rates start from HK$20 per day for Asia and HK$80 for Europe. The battery typically lasts only three to six hours, so most rentals include a portable charger.

The device can be picked up at airports or convenience stores and returned afterwards, but note that most companies charge a penalty for late return and a hefty compensation fee if you lose any of the items.

Pocket Wi-fi routers require you to be within about 10 metres of the device, so if you and your fellow travellers are planning to go separate ways, it is best to get individual SIM cards. 

Where to buy them?

You can get them online on sites such as HKTVmall or Klook and have them mailed to your home or pick them up at the airport. Plan your trip ahead as many online sites offer discounts to those who book a month ahead. 

For physical stores, check out Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po where you can find the biggest number of options available at some of the lowest prices in Hong Kong (some are sold at almost half the official price). But do note that there is always a chance the SIM card may not work. 

Those on a last-minute dash can go to any 7-Eleven convenience store as these sell prepaid international SIM cards from local mobile service providers, albeit at a higher price in general. 

How to activate?

Some SIM cards require users to activate them several hours in advance or download the APN (access point name) configuration profile beforehand. So make sure you check the instructions on the card before you set out. 

How fast is the actual speed?

While most SIM cards promise 4G data, the actual speed will depend on a number of factors including the network coverage at your location, the country you are in and even the number of people around you. 

Though many SIM cards offer unlimited data, the connection speed is severely restricted once you have used a certain amount of data. You may still send messages, but uploading photos or using social media would be impossible. 

What else?

There are other factors you should take into consideration when picking travel SIM cards. Most SIM cards only offer data plans, so you cannot make an actual phone call or send text messages. If you need to make phone calls, go for those that allow you to do so or buy a SIM card from a local service provider upon arrival. It is also important to note that tethering is prohibited for some cards, so you would not be able to share the data with other devices through Wi-fi hotspot.

Our top picks:

Japan 

Taiwanese company EZ Nippon offers unlimited data within six or 11 days at HK$238 and HK$338 respectively. The SIMs are slightly more expensive than ones you find in general but they are supported by Japanese service provider NTT Docomo and offer the most stable and the fastest connections. Note that they do not work on certain phone models such as those of HTC, BlackBerry and Xiaomi. 

Asia

SIM2Fly by Thai company AIS covers most Asian countries – including South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, India – and have recently expanded coverage to include Sri Lanka. The price of Asia and Australia packages dropped to around HK$80 this year; they provide 4GB of data within eight days, after which the speed will drop to 128 kbps. At that speed, you will still be able to send messages but not photos, and internet browsing will be excruciatingly slow as well.

Europe

3HK has a Europe package but 3UK offers a better deal – its HK$200 Pay As You Go SIM offers 12GB of data at 4G speed in the United Kingdom and 3G speed in more than 60 other countries. It also allows you to make 300 minutes of calls to 25 countries including China, Canada, Italy, Germany and France. When you use up the data, simply top up the card by buying vouchers on its official site.

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United States, Canada and Mexico

The best deal we found is the T-Mobile SIM card available on Kkday.com (HK$221 for seven days and HK$408 for 15 days). It provides unlimited high-speed data in the United States, while in Canada and Mexico the speed is capped at 128 kbps after 5GB. It allows unlimited calls and texts, which will come in handy, as many Americans do not have WhatsApp and prefer texting.

Reusable SIM cards

Frequent travellers can check out AIRSIM or Birdie Travel SIM, both of which are reusable. Delivery of the SIM card takes up to five working days, after which users can purchase packages online whenever they travel. AIRSIM covers up to 80 countries and allows local as well as international calls through AIRTALK at additional cost.

Birdie Travel SIM has launched promotions for the holiday so it is now slightly cheaper in comparison. But it does have a daily cap of 300MB/500MB, though users can add an additional 500MB for HK$8.