Savvy travellers know that they should get a local SIM card in their destination country. Why? It’s often a cheaper option than paying roaming services for international calls and text.
It’s especially useful when you’re travelling in the Philippines, for a lot of good reasons. Having a Philippine SIM card lets you:
- access the internet (public WiFi, or good WiFi access at a good price, is hard to come by in the country)
- use GPS for finding your way around the city
- keep your social media and email active
- make international calls and texts (local rates are way cheaper than roaming fees)
- transfer funds via online banking
Be aware that the internet here can be relatively slow compared to other SEA countries and is often limited in the country side. So you need a backup for your communication needs. If you booked a tour, your travel company will ask for a mobile number for sending your trip details. Many locals don’t have smartphones, so business is done mostly via text and calls.
Where to Buy a SIM Card in the Philippines
It’s ridiculously easy to get a Philippine SIM card. In most other countries, you’ll need to apply for a SIM. But, here in the Philippines, you can buy one literally anywhere – at airport kiosks, seaport counters, convenience stores, mini shops, street vendors or wherever there’s a Globe, Smart, TNT, TM and SUN advertisement banner.
It’s best to get one as soon as you arrive so you’re sorted right away. Make sure you have cash (local currency) on you because hardly anywhere takes card payments.
If you can find the Smart counter, you can get a free Tourist SIM upon arrival at any international airport.
Other prepaid SIM cards cost around P20 to P40. Most of them come in tri-cut form (standard, micro and nano sizes). You can specifically ask for an iPhone SIM or nano SIM if the .
You can buy a “load” for at least P10, but a 1GB data package is usually priced at Php50 (US$1).
Philippine SIM Cards to Choose From
There are two major mobile networks in the country: Globe Telecom and Smart. Each one has its own pros and cons. In terms of coverage, Globe offers better access than Smart particularly in Luzon and Mindanao.
Globe carries another network, Touch Mobile (TM). And Smart carries Talk n Text (TNT) and Sun Cellular.
There are prepaid SIM cards tailored for travellers:
Smart LTE Tourist SIM
This one’s FREE and preloaded with 300MB data (valid for 3 days upon activation). It works with any device – smartphones, feature phones, tablets, and pocket WiFis.
To claim one, just show your foreign passport at the Smart booth in the airport. You can ask the personnel to do the activation for you. It’ll be a quick 10 minutes.
Load at least P30 load within 3 days of activation to get an additional 700MB mobile data.
The SIM pack comes with iFlix and Uber voucher cards.
Available at Globe booths at the Cebu International and Domestic Terminal. Also in NAIA (T1, T3, T4), Clark International Airport, Kalibo International Airport, Caticlan Jetty Port, Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao), Iloilo International Airport and Laoag International Airport.
The SIM pack is free but you need to purchase load to avail of a mobile data plan. To do that, text any of the codes below to 8888:
- Travel3 (P150) – 250MB valid for 3 days
- Travel7 (P500) – 1GB + P200 credit valid for 7 days
- Travel30 (P10000) – 5GB valid for 3 days
You’ll get a text confirmation shortly.
Alternatively, you can buy a Traveler SIM for P40, which gives you FREE 35 SMS to all networks. For more credit, buy a load in denominations of P100, P300, and P500.
It’s ready to use (no activation required). Valid for three (3) months but can be extended if topped up within the validity period.
The Globe Traveler SIM lets you make calls abroad for as low as US$0.40/minute and access 4G LTE speed up to 42 Mbps.
Other than being free, a traveler/tourist SIM is not much different from a regular prepaid SIM. You could even get better data plans with a regular SIM.
On that note, it’s recommended to choose an LTE SIM so you can access 4G connections wherever available
How to use your Philippine SIM card
Most prepaid SIM cards don’t require activation, so you can use them right away.
Choose a Regular, Micro or Nano SIM
To top up, you can either buy a prepaid load card or buy electronic load (e-load) online or from merchants.
Load card denominations are P100, P300 and P500. Via online stores, you can buy P50, P100, P200, P300 or P500 worth of credit. From retailers (convenience stores, sari-sari stores, etc.), you can load at least P20.
Standard Text, Call and Surf Rates
Below is a quick comparison of regular rates for Globe, Smart, Sun Cellular and Touch Mobile networks. Obviously, Smart and Globe favors their subsidiary brands. You’ll see why they have better promos with carriers on their respective networks.
Tip: To get the most bang for your buck, take advantage of promos or data plans. There’s one for every budget and data needs. And you can continuously register for promos after using up your MB data allocation.
Surfing Promos for Smart:
GigaSurf offers the best data bundle, while All-Out Surf gives you credit for sending texts and making calls.
Dial *121# to choose a Smart promo.
Surfing Promos for Globe:
Below are data packages for Globe users. GoSURF is good for tourists who casually browse the internet and make lots of calls. Meanwhile, SuperSURF works best for heavy data users.
Dial *143# to choose among other Globe promos.
Surfing Promos for Sun:
SunCellular prepaid subscribers enjoy lower rates for all services. Still, you can squeeze out more value for your dollar by subscribing to their Non-Stop Surf plans:
To avail, text the code to 247:
Surfing Promos for TM:
TM also offers generous promos for data and call/text bundles. These include:
Download Speed and Availability
Every SIM performs differently depending on location, among other factors.
As mentioned, Globe has better geographical coverage than Smart, making it the default choice for tourists. It pays to research or ask your local friends (even the tour company) which provider is preferable in your destination. There are places that only Globe can reach and there are some that only Smart can reach.
However, if you’re confident that Smart has a good coverage in your destination, then go with that. Smart provides faster download speeds on LTE connections.
Another factor than can affect SIM performance is the weather. Globe usually suffers a significant dip in signal strength when it’s raining.
Both Smart and Globe has a daily data cap of 800MB, regardless of the data allocation for the promo.
If you know what SIM your friends are using in the Philippines, it’s best to get the same one as theirs. This lets you save on your balance whenever you send regular texts or calls.
We only discussed prepaid options here because a postpaid SIM is much harder to get. You’ll need all sorts of documents to apply for one. A prepaid SIM is much cheaper anyway. And it gives you more control over your communication expenses.
Tip: Spend layovers at coffee shops, coworking spaces, restaurants or travellers’ lounges. They offer Wi-Fi for free so you can switch off your mobile data and save it for the road.
About the author
Hey, it’s Chenzi! A writer made in Cebu. Stringing words is my bread and butter, but baking and mothering my 3-year-old are what feed my soul. I have an insatiable thirst for learning.