Practically everyone has a smartphone these days and we almost feel naked without data. When you're travelling, you know the feeling. Wifi coverage in cities is spotty at best and fine you can check your mail and all of that when you get back to your hotel or hostel but we're so spoiled with having instant access to information. And what about all those selfies we're taking and our strange obsessiveness to check-in and Instagram on the go. Relying on Wifi sucks.
What ends up happening is you get data withdrawal at some point and you and your group will end up converging on free wifi spots (i.e. Starbucks) like zombies looking for fresh blood.
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Why having a prepaid SIM with data is awesome
- Access to emails if you have important stuff going on back home
- Make emergency calls if you really need it
- Need to search for something on the fly? Now you can
- Maps? I know I talked about the awesome hack to get Google Maps offline but what if you didn't have to pre-cache everything when you had wifi?
- Instagram, Tweet, Facebook to your heart's content
Just beware not to get sucked in to your phone while travelling. The whole point of getting out there in the first place was to get away from the craziness of back home right? Look up instead of down.
Find yourself in Hong Kong?
So let's say you're in a city like Hong Kong which I was earlier in the year and you're there for a good 2-3 weeks. Instead of suffering that whole time, why not figure out a solution to your data problems and get a prepaid SIM?
Hong Kong has such an amazing cellular network, you're pretty much covered everywhere you go.
Just like how you'd get a SIM card back at home for your phone plan, you can easily get one in developed cities like Hong Kong.
A prepaid SIM gives you a local cell phone number and access to the provider's network. It's prepaid because you need to load it with money beforehand or buy a starter package. Service will only be provided if there's credit in the account. Once it runs out, you either have to put more in it or eventually it'll expire. And of course there's no contract to sign.
This is perfect for the traveler.
To be specific, this article is focused on the best plan for data and not for a voice + data plan. For me, I really didn't want to pay extra for a voice plan when I knew I wouldn't be making any calls. That being said, the data plan I'll talk about below did give me a cell phone number so in an emergency I could make a call or receive calls which was a nice to have.
Before we get into the details of the prepaid plan, there are a few things you have to double check with your phone.
- Is it unlocked? This is something that you should've made aware of when you purchased your phone. A lot of times when you get a subsidized phone through a cellular provider, it may be locked to them. When in doubt, just check with your cellular company and find out. Only unlocked phones will work on a separate provider that isn't your home one.
- Is your phone 3G capable and use the UMTS/HSDPA frequency of 2100 MHz? It's okay if you don't know but at a minimum I would just make sure your phone can actually accept a SIM card. Most phones circa 2010 should be capable of transmitting and receiving in that frequency. If you're using an iPhone like myself, you're pretty much set unless you're using the CDMA (no SIM card) model.
At first I thought I'd do a comparison with all the providers out there but I know you really just care about who's the best and in terms of the best price point and ease of use, it's gotta be one2free. I did all the research before heading down to Hong Kong and I'd recommend it.
- 148HKD for 30 days, capped at 3GB
- 258HKD for 30 days, capped at 5GB
- 8HKD per hour, unlimited (fair usage up to 5GB before you are put on a lower priority)
- 28HKD per day, unlimited (fair usage up to 5GB before you are put on a lower priority)
- 78HKD per 7 days, unlimited (fair usage up to 5GB before you are put on a lower priority)
- Caller ID + Call Waiting is free
- No admin fees
- Expires after 180 days of inactivity
- No contract
- Compatible with micro SIM, mini SIM or nano SIM
- Local calls = 0.30HKD/minute
- Caller ID + Call Waiting is free
- Local SMS = 0.8HKD/SMS
- International SMS = 3HKD/SMS
I was in Hong Kong for just about 3 weeks and so it made sense to take advantage of package #1 which is bolded. Personally, 3GB is plenty for 3 weeks unless you plan on doing streaming (why are you streaming while travelling??). I used to have a 1GB data plan back home and even that was just enough.
148HKD translates to roughly $21 CAD. Full month of data. Never get lost in Hong Kong.
Leveraging the CSL network which is one of the largest provider in Hong Kong, this package gets you 3G speeds. There are reports however that some have been able to get speeds comparable to LTE in the center of Hong Kong so that's pretty darn good.
Where to get it
At the airport
Picking up a One2Free prepaid SIM is easy to do at the airport. After you arrive, head up to the Level 7 Departures Check-in Hall. There, you'll find a 1010 Shop (CSL) at the end of section F. The nice thing about going to a carrier store is that they can help you set everything up for you.
As an alternative, you can also pick up one of these prepaid SIMs at a Circle K, VanGo and 7-Eleven stores right by the terminal exits.
Tip: If you use an iPhone 5, 5c or 5s, you will need to go to the actual 1010 Shop because these convenience stores don’t have the smaller Nano-SIM cards that you need.
In the city
If you forget to pick up a prepaid SIM at the airport, you still have tons of opportunities to buy it in the city. My recommendation is to find either a 1010 Shop (CSL) or even better a One2Free store. I picked mine up in Causeway Bay. It's along one of the main streets that leads to the Sogo department store. The sign is huge you pretty much can't miss it. Like I said, the advantage of going to the store was that they had the nano SIM cards on hand and did all the set up for me so I didn't need to activate it on my own.
But what if i'm not staying in Hong Kong for that long?
Now I know I was in Hong Kong for 3+ weeks and so one2free had the best bang for buck but what if you're only there for a week or less? Well don't worry, I got you covered because there's another plan by the carrier PCCW that might fit the bill.
Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card
Who doesn't like special treatment? This one's designed for tourists through a partnership between PCCW and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
This is super easy to understand because there are only 2 options.
- 5-day pass for 69HKD (1.5GB of data and unlimited local calling)
- 8-day pass for 118HKD (5GB of data and unlimited local calling)
- Ability to add on roaming in Macau if you buy the 8-day pass
- Can add on 5 days for 50 HKD which will give you 1.5GB during those extra 5 days and unlimited calling
- International SMS is 1.80 HKD
- International calling is 0.45 HKD/minute
Good to know and gotchas
- Other than the ability to tack on 5 days for either plan, once they run out, they expire
- For the 5 day pass, 25 HKD is preloaded into the card to allow you to call and text
- For the 8 day pass, 35 HKD is preloaded for calling and texting
- Once these preloaded credits are used up, there's no way of adding anymore
- On the official site, it says that the 8 day pass option only comes in Micro-SIM and not in Nano-SIM while the 5 day pass is suitable for Micro and Nano SIMs
These plans are really good for the price because not only do you get decent data but it also provides the flexibility of being able to call locally. If you look at the details to the plan below, you'll also notice that charges for SMS (local and international) are a lot cheaper than one2free's data plan.
The only reason why I didn't opt for this is because we needed something more than 8 days.
You get 3G speed for the 5-day pass and up to 4G/LTE speeds with the 8-day pass.
Where to get it
- You can get both Hong Kong Tourist SIM card options in regular SIM or Micro-SIM format at any convenience store including 7-Eleven, Circle K and VanGo
- Like one2free, you can also pick these up straight from the airport terminal
- There are over 60 PCCW stores around Hong Kong so you can always go straight to the carrier store
- You can also pick this up at the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Kowloon Visitor Center at the Star Ferry Concourse in Tsim Sha Tsui
I would recommend getting this from a store than at a convenient store just so you can get someone to help do the activation for you although since this is a tourist card, I'm sure there are instructions in multiple languages.
Tip: If you using an Apple iPhone 5, 5c or 5s, you will need a Nano-SIM which is only available at PCCW retail stores.
- If you're going to be a data power-user, I would stick to one2free. It gives you the flexibility of always being able to add more money to the account if you want add-ons or more credits to make those emergency calls and texts. The account also doesn't expire right away. I purchased the 30 day package but the 7 day for 78 HKD is comparable and more flexible than the 118 HKD 8 day pass.
- If you're going to be transiting through Hong Kong for only a short period of time and are not worried about the limits and self-destructing nature of the card after 5 or 8 days, this may be the card for you. The price point is quite comparable and I like how it does give you built-in credits to make local/international calls and texts at an extremely reasonable rate. Keep in mind though that once those built-in credits run out, you're out of luck.
Going Awesome Places recommends: Go with one2free. If you want to make calls, do it on wifi via Skype. Text? Who text's these days anyways? Just use a chat app like Whatsapp and you're all set. Data is what you need and at a little over $20 for a month, it's a pretty solid deal.