Should I bring my iPhone to SE Asia, or go prepaid (and other international phone questions)?
February 29, 2008 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Should I bring my iPhone to SE Asia, or go prepaid (and other international phone questions)?

I travel more than 5 times a year to SE Asia. I'm about to get an iPhone, so the antenna compatibility should be there. International fees can be quite expensive, so my questions are more about pricing.

First some usage stats:

* I travel mostly to Singapore and Malaysia (Penang)
* I travel on occasion to Thailand and the Philippines
* I wouldn't do a lot of calling/texting. Less than 200 minutes /month
* I'm not very familiar with the prepaid plans in SE Asia

Now, the questions:
* Can I get a SIM card for my iPhone out in Asia with prepaid minutes?
* Typically, how competitive the international rates on prepaid minutes? Ideally, I'd like to get one Singapore number that I can use in Malaysia/Philippines/Thailand.
* Would it be cheaper to get a prepaid account in the countries I visit most?
* Typically, when do the prepaid accounts expire? 6 months?

posted by colecovizion to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think travel like this was made for MAXroam.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 PM on February 29, 2008

If your Iphone is unlocked, you will have no problem finding prepaid SIM cards to use.
In every country you mentioned they will be in your face all the time.
posted by citybuddha at 3:32 PM on February 29, 2008

It will be cheaper for you to buy a SIM there and use it.

I bought a good, simple quad band phone here and had it unlocked, then purchased the SIM card overseas. Maybe you'd prefer to have the iphone, but I'd be worried about carrying something so expensive where it could make you a target for pickpocket/thieves/etc.
posted by sharkfu at 7:23 PM on February 29, 2008

Local SIM cards are quite cheap and available on just about every streetcorner. But they'll only work in your Iphone if you have unlocked it, as citybuddha noted.

However, buying a cheap phone and a SIM card would definitely be cheaper for any kind of regular use than using your American phone with international roaming charges.
posted by bluejayk at 7:30 PM on February 29, 2008

Another concern with the iPhone is that it makes you a huge huge target for thieves in at least of the countries you mention. Not only is the phone itself a fantastic score, it also advertises you as a rich foreigner with lots of other good stuff to steal.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:37 PM on February 29, 2008

Here's the advice I have on Malaysia's mobile networks:

It's a lot cheaper to buy a local card than to roam. Thanks to the network wars, calling and SMS prices have been repeatedly slashed. Local calls and SMS, that is. International calls and SMS have pretty much stayed the same price. For international calls, you're better off buying an international phone card from the very same cell phone stores that stock SIM cards.

In Malaysia, this particular third party reseller claims that Maxis, Digi, and Celcom are your best bet. The last time I was in Malaysia was 2005 and the best coverage (area and reception) was Celcom. Half the time I was in remote areas - the sort without running water - and Celcom would be the only one with coverage. This may have changed by now, but just a note if you're heading off to the great unknowns.

Phones are a BIG deal in Asia, much bigger than it is in America. And frankly, America didn't really care until the Razr and iPhone came about. But even with the Razr and iPhone ... trust me, most people have no idea. Asia really loves their cellphones (or, handphones). Having lived in Malaysia myself, I would say that when used in public, your iPhone puts you at risk of daylight robbery. All-out freeze and hand over your goods robbery. Which includes some daring teenager leaning over, snatching it, and running away. If you're going to only keep it in view of those you trust, you should be fine. Although since you mentioned you visit SE Asia frequently, you probably already know this.

I believe that Malaysia implemented some sort of phone registration program a couple of years ago. To buy a SIM card or reload your balance, you'll have to give up your life in numbers. Not sure how this works for a non-citizen, but I imagine it'll be passport details.

You'll still be able to receive calls and text messages about a month after your balance goes to zero. After three months, the next step happens, but I'm not sure what it was. The number is wiped out from the system after a year.

Also, it was to my understanding that prepaid accounts were designed with sms users in mind, not calling. It's probably cheaper to go postpaid for calls, but then again you won't be in the area for very long periods of time. At the same time, the currency conversion probably makes the prepaid/postpaid price gap irrelevant.

You'll probably cycle through a good deal of SIM cards, due to their expiration periods. It's inconvenient, but just hang on to the numbers of your contacts. They're used to having their contacts change their phone numbers every few months.

Ugh. Why do I know so much about Malaysian mobile networks. The things you learn as a teenager...
posted by Xere at 12:27 AM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

You need to unlock your iPhone for the SIM cards to work. Get one locally, in Malaysia you'll need to register yourself, but get a cheap amount and use that.
posted by divabat at 1:33 PM on March 1, 2008

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