Buying a prepaid SIM card in Vietnam is easy, in this article I’m going to explain how. Straight up, one of my most useful pieces of advice would be DO NOT rely upon blog articles about how to buy a SIM card in Vietnam.
Before you leave, let me explain.
The deals offered by sellers of prepaid SIM cards in Vietnam change regularly, as much as every few months. That means that most of the information you’ll find online will likely be somewhat out-of-date.
And it’s not just the deals, but other factors can change also. For example, roaming agreements between carriers can change… and that’s going to effect your service coverage.
The most useful thing I can do is to provide general guidelines about how to buy a prepaid SIM card along, with insider tips that will demystify the process.
Where to buy a SIM card
Prepaid 3G and 4G SIM cards with data are available at all international airports in Vietnam, including Tan Son Naht International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Noi Bah International Airport (Hanoi), and Da Nang International Airport. (As far as I’m aware, stores are open, pretty much 24/7 at the Ho Chi Minh Airport. (I’ve arrived after midnight, and the majority of stores are open. My assumption is that they open to meet the flights, and a lot of flights arrive around midnight)).
However, if you’re after the best deal, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you buy your SIM card there.
Sellers at the airport tend to mark up the prices of the SIM cards. For example, I recently purchased a prepaid 3G SIM card with data for 200,000 Vietnam Dong (just under $9 US) at the airport. It renewed at 100,000 Vietnam Dong/month. However, the renewal price was the actual price I would have paid if I’d bought it anywhere else.
So that would be my strategy, buy my SIM card somewhere else.
This way you’re going to be able to choose between all of the carriers, and a full range of deals that are available. At the airport, many sellers of prepaid SIM cards only use one or two of the top telephone carriers. Sometimes, another carrier whose plans they don’t sell will have an offer that’s better suited to your needs.
If you do purchase your SIM card at the airport, shop around for the different deals between the sellers. Most will be selling the same deal, however, you’ll likely find a few that offer a combination of data and/or phone calls that might more accurately suit your requirements.
Also, If you buy at the airport, be aware that you’ll likely need to hand over your passport for them to take a copy of your personal details. That actually is a legal requirement. (Phone companies have canceled SIM cards where the purchase has not registered their ID. This hasn’t personally happened to me.) If you buy your prepaid SIM card elsewhere (at a non-company store), you often won’t need to provide this information.
So, where else can you buy prepaid SIM cards?
Each of the phone carriers have their own company stores, and there are tens of thousands of small phone shops around the country that will sell you a prepaid SIM card. If you don’t speak Vietnamese (and they don’t speak English), it is likely you can still communicate your simple needs with an offline translation app like Google Translate. However, in any of the cities in Vietnam, this is unlikely to be an issue. Small telephone/SIM card resellers will often provide you with deals that the phone company owned stores may not. You also typically won’t have to pony up your passport to register the SIM card at the smaller shop. (My understanding is that store owners register the SIM cards using their own ID details.) So, when I want a SIM card in Vietnam, I go to one of these small phone stores.
Once you’ve got your card, topping up is easy. The easiest way to do it is with a recharge voucher (scratch ticket or printout) that you can buy at almost any convenience store, mobile phone company store or reseller, and the many small ‘mums and dads’ home-front stores that sell snack foods, grocery, and other similar products. That means you could probably buy one from somewhere every few hundred meters, at most.
Pro tip: Grab has introduced topping up your pre-paid SIM card inside their app. I really like the feature. It takes less than a minute to pay for, and top up your mobile phone credit. Advantages include that don’t need to hunt around and find a store or figure out what the top-up dialling code is. In fact, you can complete the whole transaction from your mobile phone. You even get Grab reward points. Better still, Grab gives you the discounted price for your top-up that many retailers will keep for themselves.
What kind of deals are available?
As I write this, there are many great deals available for data. I’ve used each of the major telephone carriers in Vietnam.
At the moment I pay 200,000 Vietnam Dong/month ($8.50 US) for 20GB of high speed LTE data on the Viettel network.
I have a secondary SIM card on a smaller carrier Vietnam Mobile, for which I get 4GB of 3G data/day (yes, a DAY!) for 20,000 Vietnam Dong/month. Yes, you read that correctly… 4GB of 3G data for less than $1US/month, or around 3c/day. I’ve found that Vietnam Mobile works fine in the major cities, and even in many of the smaller cities. You won’t find this deal at the airport.
Update: I think they’ve since changed this deal to 1GB/day for $1/month. I’ve since changed to 50,000 VND/month plan that gives 6GB/day of 4G data. I’ll be honest, my experience so far in the cities I’ve used it in is that the speed is similar to the 3G plan I was on, and sometimes a little slower. Still, I’m not complaining about getting 6GB data/day for $2/month.
Another typical deal is about 2GB data/day on a major carrier for around 100,000 Vietnam Dong ($4.50 USD).
You can by special ‘tourist’ SIM cards with various combinations of data, phone calls and text messages, however, they are much more expensive.
Because the deals in Vietnam change so frequently, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to outline them here. Needless to say, this is one country where you can get a lot of prepaid mobile 3G and 4G data at a very cheap price.
Pro Tips for Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Vietnam
Free, hi-speed wi-fi is also almost ubiquitous in this country. You’ll find it in most hotels, coffee shops, cafe’s, and even buses. You might want to factor that into your decision as to how much data you purchase to use on your mobile phone handset.
The data speeds provided by the mobile phone networks in Vietnam are pretty good. I’d rank them in the following order: Viettel, Mobifone and/or Vinaphone, then Vietnam Mobile. Apart from Vietnam Mobile, as a traveler, I’d be happy to take the best deal that any of the carriers were offering at the time. My preference, however, has been Viettel. (I use the 4GB data/day deal from Vietnam Mobile and tether it to my laptop to use it as wi-fi, and I really don’t have any complaints about it. Its rare that I feel the need to get more speed from my Internet. However, when I want a guarantee of constant high speed data that I can use anywhere in Vietnam, its Viettel that I’m choosing.)
If you do want a rough idea of the kinds of prepaid 3G and 4G SIM cards that are available, check out this wiki-page. However, even this page can be out-of-date at times. That said, it does offer helpful information about the process of recharging and useful tips about each of the companies/data plans available. It is a worthwhile read.
If you’re traveling to Cambodia, here’s how to buy a 3G or 4G prepaid SIM card in Cambodia.
And, while you’re here, if you want to get about the cities of Vietnam without being ripped off by motorbike or taxi drivers, check out my review of Grab Bike and Grab Taxi. There’s also promo code for a free ride, to test out the service.