Tips for Using an iPhone in Thailand

August 2, 2010
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We were happy to receive this article from Stephen Etheredge about his experiences of using an iPhone in Thailand. Stories like these are always worth their weight in gold. Please feel free to post a comment if you have anything to add.

Having an iPhone in Thailand while traveling has many benefits: being able to check your email; using the maps function to find out where you are and where you’re going; using a free translator app to help you communicate; using the internet to do on-the-go travel research; using it as a camera/video camera; etc.  However, using your iPhone with your non-Thai mobile service provider will mean very expensive international roaming rates (I have heard stories of iPhone bills topping $1000 USD after international trips).  This is because the iPhone is constantly connected to the data network when international roaming is turned on.  However, you can cheaply use your iPhone in Thailand by using a local Thai sim card instead of the sim card that is currently in your iPhone.  This guide will walk you through the steps to easily and cheaply use your iPhone in Thailand.

  1. Your iPhone must be unlocked (it’s free and MUCH easier to do than you think). No matter what version iphone you have, if it is “carrier locked” to a specific mobile carrier, you will not be able to use a local Thailand sim card in it. Several countries sell iphones unlocked, so you can skip this step. However, in several countries, including America, all iPhones come locked to a service provider (AT&T in America). To unlock your iphone, you must first “jailbreak” it (which sounds bad, but is completely legal), which just means that you are opening your iPhone up so you can run third party applications. Once it is jailbroken, you must “unlock” it so it is no longer tied to just one mobile company (which is also legal). The whole process of jailbreaking/unlocking can be done from your home computer and usually takes 5-30 minutes and next to no skill (other than being able to follow directions). As this technology is constantly changing with each software update Apple issues, the easiest way to jailbreak/unlock your phone is to do a Google search noting what iPhone you have (3G, iphone 4, etc.) and what version firmware you have (settings>general> about>version). I find that www.redmondpie.com typically has easy to follow directions on how to jailbreak/unlock your iPhone.  Or if you are scared to do it yourself, look on Craigslist (or a similar site where you are located) for people offering an unlocking service, or if you are in Bangkok, just take your iPhone to the 4th floor of MBK and someone there will be able to unlock it for you.  A jailbroken/unlocked iPhone will have all the same functionality as it did before you jailbroke/unlocked it, except now you will be able to use any sim card anywhere in the world.
  2. Selecting a Thai service provider. There are 3 major providers to choose from in Thailand: DTAC (also known as “Happy”), AIS, and True Move.  Each company has some advantages over the others, so do a little research to find out which one you like.  I prefer DTAC/Happy, and therefore this guide is based off of my experience with DTAC.
  3. Purchasing a Thai Sim Card if you are arriving in Bangkok. Purchasing a sim card in Thailand is as easy as buying a candy bar.  They are EVERYWHERE.  If you are flying into Bangkok, without a doubt the easiest way to set up your iphone is to take it to the DTAC Service Center at the Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) Airport.  It is open 24 hours a day, and is located in the Arrival Passenger Hall, 2nd Floor, Gate 7.  Simply take your unlocked iPhone there and tell them what you want (they speak great English).  Here is a list of the internet/data packages available here. The last time I was at the airport the only Sim Card they had available was the “Happy Sim”, which cost 99 Baht and came with 35 baht of free calling credit.  I also purchased the unlimited 7 days of internet/data for 249 baht.  So for 350 baht, I had unlimited internet on my iphone for a week and some credit to call hotels, etc.  I simply told the DTAC representative what I wanted, handed him my phone, and he took care of the rest.  In less than 5 minutes I had a fully functioning iphone with a new Thai sim/number.
  4. Purchasing a Thai Sim Card if you are not arriving in Bangkok. If you are not arriving in Bankgok, you can still try to find a DTAC service center (here is the link) to visit and have them set up your iphone for you.  Or you can try to find another local shop to do it for you.  Or you can do it yourself.  Just go into any 7-11 (they are EVERYWHERE) and buy a sim.  The Happy sim is 99 baht and is nice because it comes with English directions, but the Simple sim (with an apple on the case) is only 49 baht and has a year long validity.  You will also need to buy top up credits to credit your account in the amount of the internet/data package you wish to purchase (here are the options).  Once you purchase the sim, simply push a paperclip in the hole on your iPhone where your sim card is located and swap out the sims.  Then call the DTAC customer support at 1678 and press 7 for English.  Tell them what package you want and they will set it up for you.
  5. Troubleshooting. If your iphone does not connect to the EDGE data network, in your network settings enter this information: Operator: DTAC; GPRS APN: www.dtac.co.th; Username: (leave blank); Password: (leave blank); DNS: 203.155.33.1 or 203.44.144.33.
  6. Special iPhone 4 considerations. As of August 1, 2010, the iphone 4 can be jailbroken by visiting www.jailbreakme.com, but the unlock is still likely a few days away. So if you live in a country where the iphone is locked, then you are currently out of luck. However, a jailbreak/unlock program is expected very, very soon (hopefully within the next week)… so check www.redmondpie.com often. The other issue with the iPhone 4 is that it uses a new type of sim, a “micro sim” which is smaller than a normal sim. Currently True and DTAC both offer micro sim cards, but I do not know the availability of these cards to pre-paid customers, and the internet packages with the micro-sim are more expensive. However, you can simply cut a regular sim card down to micro size, and it will work fine. You can cut the sim yourself (for example:) or you can take the sim to MBK (or any other cell-phone store) and they will cut it for you using a special device.  The DTAC service center might even have a sim cutter.
  7. Additional Links. Here are two blogs about how easy the process I describe above really is: iphonedownloadblog.com / johnnyvagabound.com .  Here is another good blog about general iphone use in Thailand, including information on several good Thailand specific apps::.  DTAC/Happy website: http://www.happy.co.th/home_en.php#
  8. Other Helpful Hints. Incoming calls are free, so people back home can call you and it won’t cost you anything (and if they use Google Voice, Skype, etc.,  it will only cost them 3 cents/minute to call your mobile from the USA).  For calling home, dial “004″ before the country code instead of using “+”. So to call the USA, dial 004-1-area code/number, and it costs about 4 baht/minute (as opposed to about 10 baht/minute if you don’t use the 004 code).  If you purchase the “Happy Sim” and will be returning to Thailand within a year, you can extend the validity of your sim for up to a year by calling *1013, pressing 9 for English, and following the instructions.  Each 3 month extension costs 12 Baht.  3G, for the most part, is not available in Thailand yet.  However, the EDGE speeds are sufficient for most non-streaming tasks and the coverage is amazing.

25 Responses to Tips for Using an iPhone in Thailand

  1. Alexander Man
    August 3, 2010 at 12:07 am

    DTAC will upgrade your existing SIM card to a micro SIM free of charge! I’m on Happy Pre-paid and they just copied your info onto the new SIM in a few for my 32GB factory unlocked iPhone 4 purchased from the UK. I did this at a large DTAC centre in Seacon Square… They were extremely helpful!

  2. Richard
    August 3, 2010 at 6:58 am

    One serious caveat: unlocking/jailbreaking your iPhone means you can no longer update the operating system without re-jailbreaking. When you do so many of your settings are lost and it can be a major inconvenience!

    Additionally, when you have one of the guys at MBK do the jailbreak, they install a ton of worthless software on the phone. Some of this crapware simply sits there, but some of it can cause real problems (like eating up your baht with frequent network access and clogging your address book with with childish phone numbers).

    The author also failed to mention that unlocking/jailbreaking your phone will instantly void the Apple warranty. That also means no more help from Apple when you have a problem!

    I am now waiting for the iPhone 4 to be officially released in Thailand (next month?) and for sure I will never purchase one again that is not factory unlocked.

    In the early days of the iPhone you had to jailbreak to take advantage of many apps, but today almost all of these are available in the App Store, so there is less and less reason to jailbreak. Don’t do it unless you have to!

  3. e1ia
    August 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

    just one small details:
    in the airport there is also a true center
    and for my point of view 12call is the best (cheap and good)
    i ask for the iphone plan from true but they refuse to activate bz i didn’t buy the iphone from them

  4. Steve
    August 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Richard- in response to your comments:

    Yes, you have to re-jailbreak every time there is an updated operating system, but the jailbreaks are so easy now (you literally just visit a web-site on your iphone and a minute later your iphone is jailbroken) that it isn’t much of a hassle, and you do no lose any settings at all. I updated my iPhone 4 to 4.0.1 yesterday and jailbroke it, and did not lose a single setting. And if you do lose any settings, all you do is re-sync your iphone with itunes and all of your settings are restored. The only inconvenience is that you usually have to wait about a month after the updated operating system is released to update, because you have to wait for the updated jailbreak to be released.

    I agree with you about MBK – not the best place to do it. Especially now that it is SO easy to do at home.

    While jailbreaking/unlocking technically does void your warranty, you can “remove” the jailbreak by simply clicking “restore” when your iphone is connected to itunes. That restores your iphone to its original condition, and Apple will never know that it was jailbroken. So if you ever have any problem with your iphone, simply restore it before taking it to Apple.

    In response to your comment that there is no need to jailbreak anymore… that simply is not true! The only way to unlock your iphone is to jailbreak it. So if you are coming from a country with a locked iphone, you will not be able to use your iphone in Thailand without a jailbreak. The whole point of even mentioning jailbreaking in the article isn’t to advocate jailbreaking… it is to point out the necessity of jailbreaking if you want to use your sim-locked iphone in Thailand. The process is so easy now that in my opinion, even if you don’t care about having a jailbroken iphone, it is worth doing it just for your vacation to Thailand and then you can restore your iPhone to an un-jailbroken state upon returning home.

  5. Shaun Walker
    August 4, 2010 at 3:11 am

    What key settings will I need to know the info for when I update/re-jailbreak? … just so I’m prepared. Email server info? Key app/iOS settings ? ??

  6. Shaun Walker
    August 4, 2010 at 3:12 am

    And does Khon Kaen, where I visit my brother, have any 3G yet? Carrier?

  7. Richard
    August 6, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Perhaps things are different now, but on the two occasions I upgraded the operating system (some time ago), I lost all my settings, including WiFi passwords, favorites, history. All the icons on all the screens were even re-arranged. In fact the only things that were preserved were photos, music and contacts. Syncing did not restore any of the settings and it was a major hassle for me since I have done so much customizing.

    The rest of your points are well-taken, however. Of course many people will want to jailbreak so they can use their phone in Thailand (and obviously that was the point of your article). Since I live here, of course, I’m coming from a different point of view!

  8. Colin
    November 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve just got back from Thailand this morning, and used my iPhone for 10 days on the AIS/12call network. Everything worked perfectly – as it had done last year.

    I bought rather more credit than I needed – so still have two or three hundred MB of data (and a few quid of call credit) remaining on the prepaid SIM. If anyone is going over to Thailand in the next few weeks and wants the SIM, leave me a message here with your email, and I’ll organise to get it posted to you.

    Colin

  9. Amira
    October 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I appreciate this article. I just arrive in Bangkok yesterday and am about to take the skytrain for the first time to the nearest MBK to get my iphone 4 (version 5.0) jailbroken so I can communicate via skype, email, etc. with my parents back in Washington state on my cell phone. Let’s hope all goes to plan and it’s truly as easy to do as all of you say!

  10. Kelly
    November 16, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Just read this, just arrived in Bangkok, going to give it a go tomorrow. More later, thanks

  11. Susan
    December 5, 2011 at 1:08 am

    I just wanted to let anyone with iOS 5 know that this probably won’t work. We’re headed to Thailand on Tuesday and figured we could jailbreak our current phones and use a Thai sim card. Unfortunately, there’s only a tethered break for this right now, meaning you can’t turn on your phone without your computer.

  12. Hugh
    January 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

    There is an untethered jailbreak available for 5.0/5.01 but you cannot carrier unlock iphones anymore if you have anything higher than IOS 4.0
    Get it unlocked by your carrier if possible, otherwise don’t bother taking it to thailand.
    (there is a big difference between a jailbroken iphone and an unlocked iphone)

  13. Balbir
    February 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Sir I hav 4g locked phone m using gevy sim in india now m going bangkok Thailand now plz tell me there is it works ? :(

  14. ElGuapo
    March 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I bought an Iphone 4S unlocked in Bangkok at Terminal 21. Put an AIS card in it, can FB with it, but not text or make calls. I have 500 baht on the AIS card. Any help?

  15. Maureen
    March 30, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Going to Bangkok in April. I have a 4S. AT&T. Will this work? It sounds like you can’t do it with a 4S.

  16. Steve
    April 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Balbir- the gevey sim unlock will work in Thailand.

    El Guapo- When you connect to FB, is it on wifi or 3G? Because that is very odd to be able to connect to the 3G network but not be able to make calls or texts.

    Maureen- I do not believe you can unlock the iPhone 4s on AT&T. The only option is possibly the gevey ultra s sim unlocker (google it for more info).

  17. Travis
    June 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Anyone had any luck with the Gevey sim unlocker?
    Heading there in January and wanted to know.

  18. Anne
    June 22, 2012 at 2:34 am

    I am one year into a two year contract with AT&T in the US. I LOVE my iphone and rely on a ton of apps on it. I am moving to Thailand next month for two years and I really want to be able to take it with me. What suggestions do you have??

  19. Richard Barrow
    June 27, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Sounds like it is locked. You probably have no choice but to dump the At&T contract (it will be over once you are back anyway) and get it unlocked at a place like MBK in Bangkok. But what happens when you go back? Buy a new phone?

  20. Jenna Davis
    June 30, 2012 at 2:29 am

    So a few questions: Exactly how much would the average person spend on SIM cards every month for an iPhone? This article is outdated, but the author said he got unlimited data/calling for a week for 350 baht. Times four, and that’s 1,400 baht, or about $44/month. Compared to numerous people I know in the States that pay about $90/month for basic service and data charges, that’s pretty good.

    I’m moving to Bangkok in a month and really want an iPhone, but buying an unlocked one on Apple (yes, they offer that now) is extremely expensive–as in between $600-800. Does anyone know if it’s legit to buy a used unlocked iPhone on Amazon or elsewhere? I just can’t bring myself to spend that much! Also, I won’t go through with it at all if it will be really expensive to pay for SIM cards every month in Bangkok. Any information is appreciated!!

  21. Stephen
    September 18, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Jenna, you can get unlimited data on the iPhone for as little as 399 baht/month through DTAC/Happy (although you will only get 1 gb of data at 3G speeds, which is more than enough for most people). You will only have to buy the actual sim card once, and then keep refilling it. It is a different (and in my opinion better) process than in America.

    As for buying an unlocked iPhone, as long as it is factory unlocked, I think buying on Amazon is fine.

  22. S
    September 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Great blog, thanks a mill for this. Do you know if the iphone 5 would be ok to work out in Thailand? I’m planning on getting a sim-free unlocked one.

  23. Janele
    October 9, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Dear all

    Would you like to show me where i can buy an Iphone 4s or 4 in Thailand with cheap price and trust strore. Im planning to travel to Thai on March 2013.

    Thanks Guys

  24. scott
    October 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    currently have iphone 4s on 3 uk using ios 6.0, thought to be unlocked but dtac micro sim from airport would not activate… guess not unlocked? drove me crazy. ended up buying a samsung pay as u go on truemove which worked all over thailand but not back in uk at all

  25. Pierni
    July 25, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I’ll be in thai on this sun, 28 july 2013, i use 4S n’ haven’t jailbreaked it, so is it a must to jailbreak it to use it in thai? Or i can simply buy a new simcard there? Honestly, i don’t want to jailbreak it. I live in Indonesia n’ bought this phone in Indonesia. Thank you so much for the follow-up, Richard.

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On this blog I will be sharing with you tips and methods of using an iPhone and iPad in Thailand. I am not pretending to be an expert, but I hope that from my personal experience of using an iPhone for my work and pleasure you might gain some knowledge. As well as reviewing apps that I use, I will also post about accessories and also the latest news from around the world.

- Richard Barrow


Twitter: @RichardBarrow
Contact: @Paknamweb.com