How to use a cell phone in Thailand — don’t bring your own, buy one
After having read articles on other websites about how to use a cell phone in Thailand, I realized most of the people who have written them have either never used a cell phone in Thailand, or never visited the country at all.
So, I decided it was about time I wrote an article about how to use a cell phone in Thailand giving correct information about Thai cell phone networks, and how to get a cell phone connected.
Using a cell phone in Thailand is incredibly easy. There are certain tips you should follow and easier ways to do things but, if you follow these tips, using a cell phone in Thailand should be as easy as picking up the phone and dialing.
1. Using a U.S. Cell Phone in Thailand – Most American cell phones are locked. What that means is you can only use them with a certain carrier so, if you’re using your cell phone with AT&T, you can’t just come to Thailand, buy a Thai SIM card and connect to a Thai network. Your locked phone won’t let you.
However, you can get the phone ‘unlocked’ for as little as $5 at many cell phone shops or stalls in Thailand (and there are hundreds of them!)
If you’re in Bangkok, the easiest way to do this is on the cell phone floor at MBK Mall next to National Stadium sky train station. Many stalls on that floor will unlock it for you. It takes five minutes, and from then on you will be able to use that unlocked phone almost anywhere in the world.
2. Buy a Cell Phone in Thailand, Don’t Rent One – Some articles I’ve read on how to use a cell phone in Thailand recommend renting a cell phone when you get here.
Now, that’s a stupid recommendation as renting a cell phone is at least $40-$60 a week. As you can buy a cell phone in Thailand for less than $70, why on earth would you rent one?
Related: Where to buy a cell phone in Bangkok, Thailand?
Plus, if you do buy, you then have that cell phone to use, not only in Thailand, but in any country in the world you might travel to later.
3. Getting Thai Cell Phone Service – Once you have a cell phone (either your own phone unlocked or you’ve bought a new phone) then all you need to do is get it connected.
Unlike the US, where it’s a complicated process, getting phone service in Thailand is easy. Just buy a SIM card at any phone shop or 7-11. Thai airports always have booths from a variety of phone companies as well.
You can choose AIS, DTAC, Orange or any other cell phone company. They’re all the same, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
It does help, of course, if you know the size of SIM card your phone uses (normal/micro/nano), but it’s not mandatory as the salesperson can find that information for you in 30 seconds.
SIM cards are around $5 and they often come with 15-30 minutes telephone time. Also, buy a phone card top-up for the same phone company as the SIM card. Phone cards come in denominations of 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 baht (around $3, $5.50, $9, $11.50 and $16)
Install the SIM card in your phone and turn your phone on. Or, if like me, you prefer the salesperson to install the SIM card, they will do that and will even make sure everything is set up for you in English as well.
Within 2 minutes, you’re ready to make calls.
To add credit to the phone take the phone card you bought and scratch off the userid and password on the back of the card to reveal the codes. Dial the number the phone card tells you to dial, wait for the English menu, key in your userid and password, and wait until the recorded message says the new amount has been added to your account. Disconnect the call, and you have a cell phone that works.
When your phone is getting low on credit you will get a recorded message when you dial a call saying you have “less than 25 baht credit” . Your phone will still work until that 25 baht credit runs out, but remember to buy another phone card at any phone shop or 7-11 and refill it so it doesn’t stop working.
** Update — January 8th, 2018 In the last couple of years, Thai authorities have mandated you register your new phone number. So you will have to take your passport with you in order to buy a SIM card. No worries, though, registration takes two minutes and then you’re ready to go.
5. Dialing the USA from Thailand – To make a call to the US from Thailand, just dial 001 then 1, and then the American phone number.
6. Incoming Calls Are Free in Thailand – Unlike the US, where cell phone customers get gouged, in Thailand the only person who pays for the call is the person making it. So, if you receive a telephone call on your cell phone, the person calling you pays for it, even if the call comes from overseas.
7. Don’t Use Your USA Telephone Service in Thailand – Several articles I read about how to use your cell phone in Thailand have mentioned asking your US telephone company to set you up with international roaming when you travel in Thailand. Unless you absolutely must keep that same US phone number, using US international roaming services is a dumb idea.
Not only would it cost you about 10 times the cost of using a Thai cell phone company, the sound quality is poor, causing you to have to spend reconnecting your calls.
8. Don’t Rent or Buy an International Cell Phone in the USA – Some US companies recommend you buy or rent an international cell phone from them before you travel to Thailand. Don’t. As I said, cell phones in Thailand are much cheaper than in the US, so why spend money if you don’t have to?
Using a cell phone in Thailand is easy and cheap. Just follow these tips and you’ll have a cell phone connected and working in less than 30 minutes.
** If you are still confused about how to use a cell phone in Thailand, just go to any phone shop and tell the salesperson what you need. They will set you up with a phone, a SIM card and credit on the phone before you can say “ET phone home”.