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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: 126.96.36.199 or 188.8.131.52.
- 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.
- 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#
- 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.