• In Praise of the Hong Kong Tourist SIM

    It's a matter of fact that since I've been a regular contributor to Howard Forums I've travelled to Hong Kong, Malaysia, the USA, Australia, Taipei and Mauritius. And as you'd probably guess, I've done my fair share of travelling before that. It's my jam.

    But I'm not here today to brag (honest!), only to reiterate that the best prepaid SIM I've ever had the pleasure of using in any foreign country is the Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card. Just pop it in to your phone, reboot and you're done.

    If only the last two SIMs I had to use were as easy to set up as this.

    UK - EE

    If you're flying into London Heathrow as I did, you'll have no shortage of places to secure yourself a local SIM—if you're on British Airways you'll even see an ad on your IFE for a service called Lebara. But if it's just data you want at the best available price, avoid the Vendpoint SIM-vending machines, pass right on by the crowded SIM Local shop and find yourself a humble WHSmith in the Arrivals Hall—there you'll be able to get an Everything Everywhere SIM with 2GB of LTE data for the entirely reasonable (for the UK) price of £15.

    On the store receipt was an activation code that I was to text to EE to start the service but strangely, said service started working right away. It got my girlfriend and I through the gruelling bus ride from Heathrow to Gatwick and then suddenly locked us out. I suspect that EE provides its prepaid users with just enough service to set up an account on their phone and text in the necessary activation codes. But here I was like a chump with no data or SMS whatsoever, and had to call in the codes over the phone, navigating through a labyrinth of voice prompts before finally speaking to a human being. And then doing it all over again for the other SIM.

    When you're operating on only a few hours of sleep this isn't fun.

    Mauritius - EMTEL

    According to TripAdvisor you can obtain a prepaid SIM from local carrier EMTEL at an airport Post Office. But as we arrived early on a Sunday morning we weren't sure if it would be open, and the prospect of some 200 other passengers spilling out of our plane also looking for SIMs gave us pause. We decided instead to have our taxi driver make a stop at a local convenience store en route to our hotel. There we were able to purchase a pair of SIMs with 3GB of data for Rs 649 each (about $25.75 CAD). And of course there were no included instructions on how to set them up. And the shopkeepers had no idea what an APN was.

    So again I had to make a call to customer service, navigate through another maze of voice prompts (these ones in French) before finally getting the information I needed to get the SIMs up and running. For a brief moment I thought of educating the shopkeepers on setting up data on an Android device—until I saw their old school flip phones and knew it would be a waste of time for all.

    For anyone wondering, the APN is "web"; enter "WEB" as the new APN, "web" in the APN field and save. That's it.

    So yes, of all the tourist SIMs I've used in all the faraway places I've visited, the Discover Hong Kong SIM is still by far the easiest to set up. You just have to make sure you put the right one in your phone.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: In Praise of the Hong Kong Tourist SIM started by acurrie View original post
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. below20's Avatar
      below20 -
      I have been to HK a few times and each time I buy local prepaid SIMs. And I can say that getting a more expensive package does not always get you a better deal, even from the same provider. It may not even get you more minutes or data! Often, it is the roaming rate that is different.

      Here is a less than favorable review of the tourist prepaid SIM:


      The prepaid cards are often catered to different markets. Some cater to foreign maids. Some to business travelers. Some to tourists. If you are using HK as a hub to enter China, you may want to get the China Mobile one as it offers better roaming rate. If you are staying for lower than 10 days, there are other cards that is more suitable.

      The major players I recall are PCCW/CSL/One2Free, China Mobile, "3" and Smartone. Their website has more details and I recommend you guys do your research before you buy. Last time I went, I got a card that is good for a month but with 200MB data for HK$68. I have free Wi-Fi where I stay so 200MB for 10 days is good enough for me.

    1. airshow1's Avatar
      airshow1 -
      Have you had any positive experiences in Mexico?
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Haven't been Mexico since before I had a cell phone... Sorry!

      Also, forgot to add that the only tricky thing about the HK SIMs is getting one in the first place. The 7-Eleven on the Arrivals level at HKIA is supposed to carry them but they always seem to be sold out. It would be awesome if you could buy them on-board my favourite airline.
    1. merlin666's Avatar
      merlin666 -
      Nice report, I was in HK almost 4 years ago and enjoyed the widespread availability of WiFi, even on many of the city buses.

      As for tourist/cheap prepaid SIM what's the best for the good old USA? I tried Ready SIM on Kauai last winter and there was pretty little coverage, similar issue with AT&T. service for tourists there is poor!
    1. flyguyset's Avatar
      flyguyset -
      Yeah I've traveled to Hong Kong several times and have always admired the efficiency and convenience of HK society, not just in wireless services, but also transportation system, payment systems, vending machines where you can buy anything, etc. Plus I like their amazing shopping deals, especially on electronic devices!
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Quote Originally Posted by merlin666 View Post
      As for tourist/cheap prepaid SIM what's the best for the good old USA?
      Roam Mobility worked great for me at JFK and LAX last summer. Their service in Hawaii would likely depend on T-Mobile's coverage there.
    1. krazy's Avatar
      krazy -
      I'm guessing the reason why the HK Tourist SIM card is so easy to use is because they're already pre-activated so all you need to do is pop them in your device and you're good to go (you'll notice there's an expiry/"use by" date on the SIM card package). Most other carrier's prepaid SIM cards require some sort of activation before you can use them.
    1. mskoch's Avatar
      mskoch -
      Quote Originally Posted by krazy View Post
      I'm guessing the reason why the HK Tourist SIM card is so easy to use is because they're already pre-activated so all you need to do is pop them in your device and you're good to go (you'll notice there's an expiry/"use by" date on the SIM card package). Most other carrier's prepaid SIM cards require some sort of activation before you can use them.
      When I used a 30-day China mobile sim last year I'm pretty sure I had to dial a number to activate it. I also had to add the access point (info on package) into my phone to get data, but once done it's smooth sailing.

    1. mikethaler's Avatar
      mikethaler -
      After reading these posts - now realize how lucky those of us in the U.S. on T-Mobile are. We have landed everywhere from China to Costa Rica and ca simply use our phones as tho we are home. Unlimited text, data and 20¢/min voice.
    1. below20's Avatar
      below20 -
      But your speed becomes 128Kbps. i.e. EDGE. Also, it is not so convenient when someone local needs to call you because you have a US number. And the $0.20/min adds up if you need to answer a lot of calls or trying to keep in touch with people traveling with you.
    1. verix's Avatar
      verix -
      Does anyone know if the regular CSL Local prepaid card can be bought at Hong Kong airport?
    1. xtachx's Avatar
      xtachx -
      I would be stopping over at hong kong for a day. Do you recommend that I buy the tourist SIM or just use the international roaming? Telus allows 150 MB on the $50 roaming pack - thats enough for me. Since I have a single day, I would not want to waste time with activation etc.
    1. Jonavin's Avatar
      Jonavin -
      This seems like a good option for HK but the roaming rates for Taiwan and China isn't great. Is there a card that has decent data for HK but not pay $9/minute for roaming while in Taiwan? I'm heading there next month.
    1. below20's Avatar
      below20 -
      Recently traveled to HK. For those staying for 7 days or more and gets free Wi-Fi from their residence is the China Mobile card for locals. It sales for HK$48 (around US$6.5) and comes with $46 of air time. After activation, you get 2 days of data with 500MB (printed on package, not mentioned inside). And then, you can use HK$30 to sign up 10 days worth of their "3G Lite" data plan.

      The "3G Lite" is capped at 384Kbps but it is UNLIMITED. What does 384Kbps get you? A lot more than you think! I can stream YouTube without issue so it is good for almost everything except video calling.

      You can buy the HK$48 China Mobile card from every 7-Eleven store, which is practically in every block.

      You can also buy it online for HK$38, not sure about shipping:

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