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The Expat’s Guide to Getting a Prepaid SIM Card in Singapore

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Jeff Cuellar

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After a long, turbulent flight that had you praying every hour, you finally land at Asia’s “little red dot.” You then find yourself in a long immigration queue, followed by an even longer customs check queue (queuing is a national pastime here). Provided you weren’t carrying bundles of heroin, tiger penis, or anything else that would land you in Changi Prison, welcome to Singapore!

So what do you plan on doing first here? Should you get some local food? Do some shopping? Visit the cultural landmarks? They all sound like good ideas, but I have another one – go out and pick up a SIM card for you phone!

It doesn’t matter if you’re here on holiday, business, or to find a job – purchasing a local SIM card will keep you in communication with friends, family, co-workers, and prospective employers (if you’re here looking for work).

It’s not rocket science, but the details could confuse you. Here’s how to do it:

 

Will a Singapore SIM Card Work on Your Foreign Phone?

 

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If your phone isn’t made to function on Singapore’s GSM frequency band, you might as well make a fashion statement with those SIM cards you bought.

 

Phones in Singapore run on a GSM 900 and 1800 frequency bands. So if you’re coming from a European or Asian country, chances are good that a Singapore SIM card will work. It’s a good idea to check your phone’s specifications to see if it runs on Singapore’s GSM frequency band. Speak to your phone service provider or read you phone’s manual to find that information.

But if you’re from the United States, Canada, or other Western Hemisphere nation, things can get a bit… complicated. That’s because many phone companies either use CDMA technology (especially US telcos like Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, etc.) or have different GSM frequency bands altogether (800, 850, 1850, 1900, etc.).

If you own a phone that’s “locked” by your phone service provider or runs on a different GSM frequency, you’re left with three options:

 

What Kind of SIM Card Should You Buy?

 

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With only three phone companies here, you won’t be swamped with 1000 different kinds of SIM cards.

 

Buying a SIM card in Singapore is as easy as walking into a gas station, grocery store, post office, or phone shop. All you have to do is select the SIM card you want, present your passport, and pick a phone number, which is then registered with your passport details.

So what SIM card should you buy? The answer depends on two things – how long you plan to stay in Singapore and how frequently you’ll be using voice, text, and data services. For example:

  • If you’re a tourist staying a local hostel for a few days (with free Wi-Fi) who doesn’t make too many calls, you can buy a simple $8 prepaid card (StarHub Happy Prepaid SIM card).
  • If you’re here on business for a 2-day conference you’re always checking your email on the go, you can pick up a $15 SIM card (Singtel data plan) with up to 100GB of data.
  • If you’re here for the long haul (2 weeks to 1 month + depending on your VISA) to look for a job and your mom demands for you to call her every night, then pick up the $50 (StarHub Happy Prepaid SIM Card) or buy a $32 data SIM card (StarHub MaxMobile Prepaid Internet Plan) if you want to speak to her via Skype.

Singapore has three major telecommunications companies that provide prepaid SIM cards: M1, Singtel, and StarHub. Each offers SIM cards ranging from $5 – $50 for voice + text with enough data (usually 5MB to 30MB) for casual email checking.

But if you start twitching from internet withdrawal like a crack addict within a few hours, opt for a SIM card specifically meant for high data usage.

Here are SIM cards offered:

SIM Cards for Calling

Singtel

Card Name Singtel’s “hi!” Prepaid SIM Card
Card Value $10.00 ($8.00 + $2.00 Free), $12.00 ($10.00 + $2.00 Free),
Freebies
  • Free incoming calls*
  • Free global calls (“free” meaning local rate)
  • 10 Free IDD-019 minutes with every 8-minute call (China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, or Thailand)
  • 75 Free global SMSes with every 5 global SMSes (China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, or Thailand)
  • 30 Free local SMSes for every 10 local SMSes
Rate Per Minute (Local) $0.08 from 8.00 p.m. to 7:59 a.m. M-F and all weekend. $0.16 from 8.00 a.m. to 7:59 p.m. M-F
Rate Per Minute (International – IDD 019) Same as local rate for the following: Australia (non-mobile), Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand (non-mobile), Puerto Rico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, UK (non-mobile), USA, and Vietnam.
Rate Per SMS (Local) $0.05
Rate Per SMS (Global) $0.15
Rate Per MMS (Local) $0.11 (< 5K), $0.33 (< 30K), $1.00 (> 30K)
Rate Per MMS (Global) $0.20 (< 5K), $0.60 (< 30K), $1.00 (> 30K)
Data 5MB
Validity 4 months

*Note: You have to dial *1300 to activate “free” incoming calls, which costs $0.60 a day.

StarHub

Card Name StarHub’s “happy” Prepaid SIM Card
Card Value $8.00 ($5.00 + $3.00 Free), $18.00 ($15.00 + $3.00 Free)
Freebies
  • Free incoming calls* for 18 days
  • Free global calls (“free” meaning local rate)
  • Free 100MB Data (only for $18.00) valid for 5 days
  • 160 Free local SMSes
  • 50 Free global SMSes with every 5 global SMSes
Rate Per Minute (Local) $0.22 for the first minute and $0.08 per minute after (billed on a per second basis)
Rate Per Minute (International – IDD 018) Same as local rate for the following: Australia (non-mobile), Brunei, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand (non-mobile), Puerto Rico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, UK (non-mobile), and the USA.
Rate Per SMS (Local) N/A
Rate Per SMS (Global) N/A
Rate Per MMS (Local) N/A
Rate Per MMS (Global) N/A
Data Free 100 MB (only with purchase of $18.00 & $60.00 prepaid SIM cards) valid for 5 days.
Validity 6 months

*Note: You have to dial *133*1# and hit send to activate “free” incoming calls, which costs $0.59 a day.

StarHub also offers a Preferred Tourist Prepaid SIM Card that similar to the “happy” card, but only comes in an $18 ($15.00 + $3.00 Free), has 3-month validity and comes with 30MB Free for 3 days.

M1

Card Name M1’s “M Card” Prepaid SIM Card
Card Value $8.00 ($5.00 + $3.00 Free), $18.00 ($15.00 + $3.00 Free), $60.00 ($50.00 + $10.00 Free)
Freebies
  • Free incoming calls*
  • Free global calls (“free” meaning local rate)
  • 10MB Data (only for $18.00 & $60.00)
  • 10 FREE IDD-021 minutes with every 8-minute IDD-021 call made
  • 10 Free local SMSes with every 5 local SMSes
  • 75 Free global SMSes with every 5 global SMSes
Rate Per Minute (Local) $0.08 from 8.00 p.m. to 7:59 a.m. every day and  $0.16 from 8.00 a.m. to 7:59 p.m. M-F
Rate Per Minute (International – IDD 021) Same as local rate for the following: Australia (non-mobile), Brunei, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand (non-mobile), Puerto Rico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, UK (non-mobile), and the USA.
Rate Per SMS (Local) $0.05
Rate Per SMS (Global) $0.15
Rate Per MMS (Local) $0.02 per KB
Rate Per MMS (Global) $0.31 (< 30KB), $0.84 (> 30KB)
Data 10MB (only with purchase of $18.00 & $60.00 prepaid SIM cards) valid for 3 days.
Validity 6 months

*Note: You have to dial #100*5*1# and hit send to activate “free” incoming calls, which costs $0.60 a day. 

 

SIM Cards for Data

Singtel

Card Name Singtel Mobile Data Plan
Card Value $1.00 – $25.00 (Singtel has High Usage, High Value, and Long Expiry plans)
Data Bundle 10MB – 14GB
Speed of Service N/A
Validity 1 Day to 30 Days

 

StarHub

Card Name StarHub MaxMobile Prepaid Internet SIM Card
Card Value $18 and $32
Data Bundle Up to 2GB (daily) up to 5 days ($18) or 3.5GB total over 60 days ($32)
Speed of Service 7.2Mbps
Validity 5 days to 2 months

 

M1

Card Name M1 Prepaid Data Card
Card Value $18.00
Data Bundle 1GB
Speed of Service Up to 21 Mbps (3G). Up to 75 Mbps (4G)
Validity 30 days

 

Top-ups For Your SIM Card

 

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If you’re running through minutes the way the Expendables run though ammunition, you’ll have to top up your SIM card with enough credit to last those long phone conversations.

 

Depending on how long you intend to stay, you’ll probably need to top up your SIM card at some point. So if you eat up your phone’s talk time the same way a gulag inmate eats his dinner after a day of hard labor, it’s a good idea to go for the $128/$130 card offered by all 3 Singapore telcos – it only costs $28, but comes with $100 dollars of added value. There’s three ways to top up:

  • Top up online through the dedicated top-up pages for Singtel, StarHub, and M1.
  • Top up electronically by using an iNets kiosk, Singapore Post SAM kiosk, ATMs (DBS, POSB, OCBC), or AXS stations.
  • Top up by walking into a grocery store, gas station or phone store. You can either have the cashier “top up” your phone for you, or you can just take the card and DIY.

And if you’re staying in Singapore to get a job, once you land one, you can opt for a monthly phone plan. Read our Expat’s Guide to Phone Plans in Singapore to find out more!

 

Do you have any questions on how to get a SIM card in Singapore? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook!

Image Credits:
Fulbizniszsneurgaonkar, hn.

 

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Jeff Cuellar

I'm known by many titles: copywriter, published author, literary connoisseur, ex- U.S. Army intelligence analyst, and Champion of Capua.

  • prepaid sim cards

    Thanks, for the informative post.

  • hameed faizul

    Its very informative, Just what I needed to know before packing for sg, thanks Jeff and moneysmart

  • mzmo

    Let me say that having had a week with StarHub, alongside friends with SingTel sims, that StarHub just isn’t worth it. Often had signal problems, and the default data rate means that the “limited time offer 100Gb” is meaningless. While the phone appeared to connect at 4G, all that was available was 3G ish speeds. Meanwhile my SingTel connected friends were very happy indeed.

  • Mark

    Hi can I ask my friend to purchase a sim, I’ll just send my passport info, I will be applying for a job 1 week before my departure. Please give any advise that could help thanks 🙂

  • Rohana Al-Johary

    Hi, I’d like your advise on S’pore sim card. Which one wld be more economical for me to buy. I’m always at home, keeping an elderly company for a month. I like to check my emails and facebook everyday and night. I’d also like to watch movies online. Any ideas? Thank you.