If you see a bunch of bewildered looking tourists searching for wi-fi hotspots while on holiday, there’s a high chance they’re Singaporean. Apparently, we’ve all become so used to staring at our smartphones on those grinding MRT rides and during boring meetings that we’re completely unable to disconnect even on holiday.
But there’s a reason why on a drive to Malaysia everyone scrambles to put their phones in airplane mode before crossing the border — data roaming fees are insanely expensive. And we’re not talking about “expensive” in the way chicken rice now costs $6 at some food courts. We’re talking “change-your-name-and-go-into-hiding” levels of “expensive”.
While pay-as-you-go data roaming charges are so insane the only people who end up using them are the ones who do so by accident, telcos have rolled out travel roaming packages that are much less heart attack-inducing.
Overview: Data roaming plans from Singapore telcos
|Travel data plan||Destination options||Price|
|Starhub DataTravel||2 tiers: Asia Pacific / global||From $5 for 1GB to $50 for 3GB|
|Singtel ReadyRoam||4 tiers: Malaysia / Southeast Asia / Asia Pacific / global||From $5 for 1GB (Malaysia only) to $35 for 3GB|
|M1 Data Passport||2 tiers: Non-traditional country grouping||Either $12 or $27 per country to use local data bundle overseas|
|Circles Life Roam Boost||2 tiers: More popular / less popular countries||Either $5 or $8 per 1GB|
|MyRepublic Roam Like Home||7 tiers: Malaysia & Indonesia / Southeast Asia / India / East Asia / Australia & NZ / US & Canada / Europe||From $6 for 1GB to $35 for 1GB|
|Starhub Giga Jetset Roaming Pass||1 tier (14 countries)||$5 for 1GB / 5 days|
|Singtel GOMO Roaming Data Pump||1 tier (10 countries)||$10 for 1GB / 10 days|
- Most telcos offer a variety of roaming data as add-ons to regular data plans
- Best for short trips: Circles Life, Starhub, Giga (all $5 for 1GB)
- Best for data guzzlers: M1 Data Passport ($12 to use local data bundle overseas)
- Other options: Travel SIM / tourist SIM card / rent a travel Wifi
Starhub DataTravel – best for weekend getaways
|Asia Pacific||$5 for 1GB||3 days|
|Asia Pacific||$15 for 2GB||30 days|
|Asia Pacific||$20 for 3GB||30 days|
|Global||$40 for 2GB||30 days|
|Global||$50 for 3GB||30 days|
Of the big 3 telcos’ data roaming plans, Starhub DataTravel data roaming options are among the simplest because there are only 2 destination tiers — either Asia Pacific, or … everywhere else.
Asia Pacific: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
Global: Asia Pacific + everywhere else.
I like that Starhub charges a flat fee for everything in the Asia Pacific tier, compared to some other telcos who put more coveted destinations like Japan and Korea in a more expensive group. I also like that you can opt for a 3GB bundle, which not every telco offers.
Of note is the $5 for 1GB option, which is a really good option if you’re just going to Bali for the weekend or JB for the day. Assuming 1GB is sufficient for your usage, this might actually be cheaper than buying a local SIM card when you land.
My main gripe is that the Global roaming plans are very expensive, so if you’re travelling outside the APAC countries you might want to look for alternatives.
Singtel ReadyRoam – best for faraway destinations
|1 destination (Malaysia)||$5 for 1GB||7 days|
|9 destinations (Southeast Asia)||$12 for 1GB||30 days|
|18 destinations (Asia Pacific)||$20 for 2GB||30 days|
|56 destinations (global)||$35 for 3GB||30 days|
Singtel customers should be pretty familiar with Singtel ReadyRoam, which, like Starhub DataTravel, is a selection of add-ons to your existing plan.
Like Starhub, they have a $5 for 1GB option, but it’s only for Malaysia. If you’re going to any other nearby destination for the weekend, it’ll set you back at least $12.
Take careful note of the countries included in the 9 and 18 destinations:
9 destinations: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand
18 destinations: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam
56 destinations: All of the above + everywhere else
For these destinations, Singtel’s rates are higher than Starhub’s. For example, if you’re going to Japan, you’ll top up $20 for 2GB with Singtel, whereas Starhub costs $15 for the same data.
It’s also kinda restrictive that Singtel’s $20 18 destination plan is only 2GB, whereas Starhub offers 3GB for the same price, for most of the same countries. Unless you want to pay for more data, you need to watch your usage a bit more closely.
M1 Data Passport – best for heavy data users
|M1 Data Passport||Price (includes $2 activation fee)||Validity|
|$10 Data Passport||$12 per country||1 month|
|$25 Data Passport||$27 per country||1 month|
|ASEAN Data Passport||$27 for 9 ASEAN countries||1 month|
|Asia Data Passport||$52 for 23 Asian countries||1 month|
|Europe Data Passport||$52 for 36 European countries||1 month|
If you use a lot of data even while on holiday, M1 Data Passport is probably the best value of the 3 big telcos since it allows you to use your existing data bundle overseas — so you don’t get restricted by the measly 1GB or 2GB with the other plans. (Note that for SIM-only plans, usage is capped at 10GB, which is still very generous.)
Like I mentioned in the beginning, M1 has split the countries up in an unconventional manner.
$10 Data Passport countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, USA
$25 Data Passport countries: Brazil, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom
If the country you’re going to qualifies for the $10 Data Passport, it’s super worth it since it’s basically $12 (including $2 activation fee) for a ton of data. Surprisingly, even the US falls in this category.
Unfortunately, popular destinations like Japan and China fall under the $25 category, which makes it a bit pricey, though you can still get your money’s worth if you do use a lot of data anyway.
M1 also has this thing called Unlimited Data Roaming where you pay $15 to $25 per day for unlimited data overseas, but I’m not going to talk about that because it’s too crazy.
Circles Life Roam Boost – limited basic add-on packs
For Circles Life base plan subscribers, activating data roaming overseas is a simple matter of choosing a “Roam Boost” in your usual app.
Each boost is 1GB and you can add boosts if you run out of data. The price of each boost is either $5 or $8, depending on which set of countries your destination falls under.
|Roam Boost A||Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan||$5 for 1GB / 7 days|
|Roam Boost B||Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Macau, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, USA||$8 for 1GB / 7 days|
Pretty straightforward, right?
The only thing to note is that roaming is only available for Base Plan subscribers, so if you signed up for the $0 Flexi Plan, you can’t add them on.
And the list of countries is quite limited, so if you’re going to a place like the UK or New Zealand, you’re not covered — you’ll have to get a travel SIM card instead.
MyRepublic Roam Like Home – many options available
MyRepublic has a whopping 7 tiers, so the cost of roaming can vary drastically depending on which country you’re going to. Here they are, listed in order of price.
|MyRepublic Roam Like Home||Countries||Price|
|Neighbours||Malaysia, Indonesia||$6 for 1GB / 30 days|
|Emerging Asia||Brunei, India, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam||$15 for 500MB / 30 days|
|Pacific||Australia, New Zealand||$15 for 1GB / 30 days|
|Essential||Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong||$18 for 2GB / 30 days|
|Popular Asia||China, Macau, South Korea, Japan||$20 for 1GB / 30 days|
|Canada & USA||Canada, USA||$35 for 1GB / 30 days|
|Europe||Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK||$35 for 1GB / 30 days|
Prices are not exactly competitive for some of the countries. For example, it’s probably a lot more worthwhile to buy a SIM card when you land in “Emerging Asia” than to pay $15 for a measly 500MB of data.
For places like Japan or China, $20 for 1GB is also exorbitant considering you can get 3 times the data for the same price with Starhub’s Data Travel.
Starhub Giga vs Singtel GOMO vs MNVOs
If you’re considering one of the new “virtual telcos” like Giga and GOMO or the zillion other MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that have been sprouting up like pimples during PMS, here’s a quick look at the ones that offer data roaming packages.
|Telco||Travel data plan||Price|
|Giga||Giga Jetset Roaming Pass||$5 for 1GB / 5 days|
|GOMO||GOMO Roaming Data Pump||$10 for 1GB / 10 days|
|Grid Mobile||TravelRoam 1GB Pack||$18 or $35 for 1GB / 30 days (free 1GB in Malaysia)|
|RedONE||Data can be used in Malaysia||From $8 for 3GB|
Starhub’s Giga clearly has the best roaming plan for short trips. It costs just $5 for 1GB, and it can be used in 14 countries: Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
On the other hand, Singtel’s GOMO is twice the price for the same data — $10 for 1GB — and it can be used in only 10 countries: Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. (No China, Myanmar, New Zealand, Vietnam.)
However, Giga’s roaming pass only lasts 5 days whereas GOMO’s lasts 10 days. But that’s not a huge deal because I assume most people would use up 1GB in 5 days anyway.
Meanwhile, a parallel rivalry is going on between new MVNOs RedONE and Grid Mobile.
RedONE doesn’t have a roaming data plan, but its regular data plans ($8 for 3GB, $18 for 6GB, $28 for 10GB) allow you to use your local data in Malaysia, which is convenient if you cross the border frequently.
In response, Grid Mobile now includes 1GB roaming in Malaysia for free in its regular plans each month. For visiting other countries, you can pay $18 or $35 per GB — which is very steep — depending on which country you’re going to.
Or… you could get a prepaid SIM
If it’s not economical for you to add a data roaming plan onto your current plan, you may want to consider getting a prepaid travel SIM card instead.
For example, an 8-day unlimited data SIM card for Thailand costs only about $5, where one for Taiwan or Hong Kong costs about $10 to $15, also for unlimited data. (This is a good way to check if your data roaming plan is worth paying for.)
For multi-destination trips, there are also prepaid travel SIM cards which can save you the hassle and cost of getting a separate SIM for each leg. Here’s a snapshot of some options on the market.
|Prepaid Travel SIM||No. of countries||Price|
|Thin Margin Travel SIM||17||$15 for 2.4GB / 30 days|
|M1 M Card||12||$15 for 2GB / 10 days|
|GOMO Travel SIM||10||$20 for 3GB / 10 days|
|M1 M Card||17||$28 for 2GB / 10 days|
If you really want to break things down, getting a data roaming add-on for your regular postpaid data plan may not really be that worth it.
For example, you might have to pay $15 for 1GB of roaming data with your telco — whereas you can get 2GB for the same price with a prepaid SIM. But I think most Singaporeans don’t mind paying a premium for the convenience of not having to pick up and change your SIM card.
Do you use data roaming when you travel? Tell us why or why not in the comments!
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