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How to Use Your Mobile Phone in Thailand

Updated on October 3, 2017

Using Your Mobile In Thailand

A lot of travelers to Thailand want to know the best and easiest way to stay in touch with friends, family, and business associates while traveling. One common question is whether they can use there own mobile or cell phone while traveling in Thailand. The short answer is yes, but as always there are exceptions to the case.

Is Using My Home Number or Getting A Thai Number Better?

The first question is what exactly are your mobile phone needs while traveling to Thailand. Do you want people back at home to be easily be able to reach you by your current number in cases of emergency? Do you expect to only make calls in Thailand from your cell in cases of emergency as well? If so, just ensuring that your phone carrier and phone will work in Thailand is all you'll need. I'll get into finding out if your mobile phone is compatible a bit later. Bear in mind this is an expensive option should you find yourself making or receiving a lot of calls.

If you'll be making a lot of calls locally while you are in Thailand, and want to give your friends and family a local number to reach you, then getting a Thai SIM card for your phone is the better and cheaper option. They are readily available at most convenience stores and malls and are quite inexpensive. You need to make sure your phone is compatible, which I'll get into in a little bit.

The third option can be to carry two phones, which I often do. I have a local phone with a Thai SIM card for local calls, and my home phone from the US in case of emergencies. I usually keep the home phone locked up in the hotel room safe and only check it once a day in case someone needs to reach me. Having both phones came in quite handy when I was stuck there during the airport closures thanks to the protesters.

Is Your Cell Phone and Network Compatible In Thailand

American - U.S.

America is still not on the same standards as most of the global community, and sometimes not even with each other. However, so carriers and phones will work while you travel in Thailand. You need to have a Tr-band or Quad-band phone. Most smart phones these days are Quad-band but you must check it out with your carrier. A dual-band phone will not work as they are made strictly for the U.S. market.

Next check with your carrier to see if they have an agreement with one or more of the Thai companies. You can usually check this from the website. Your carrier must be GSM in order to work. CDMA is not compatible.

T-Mobile now offers an international plan with wi-fi calling. This is a great option as it gives you free international data, which allows you access to email, web, and maps while travelling in Thailand. Calls while on a wi-fi network are free and calls off of the network are offered at a low per minute rate.

If you want to use a Thai SIM card, you need a phone that uses that technology. Not all American carriers do. AT&T Yes, Sprint No.

Also, you need to make sure that your cell phone is unlocked if you want to use a Thai SIM card. Most U.S. Cell Phone companies 'Lock' your cell phone so it can not be used on other networks. This has to do with them subsidizing your phone purchase - that means they give you a lower than MSRP rate for a contract term. When the initial period is up most companies will help you unlock the phone. Just to reinforce - If your phone is locked a Thai SIM will not work.


Most European phones will work in Thailand without a hassle. Though checking with your cell company before you depart is advised to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Buying And Recharging Your Thai SIM

Once you get to Thailand you used to be able to purchase a SIM card almost anywhere. However new laws require you to show your Passport to purchase a SIM card. Although places like 7-11 used to always sell SIM cards, I have been turned away at every attempt since the new law was put in place.

There are several mobile phone company Kiosks at the airport as you walk out the doors from customs that are good places to buy SIM cards. If you skip them, you'll need to find a DTAC or 12Call store in town.

In Bangkok you can go to a shopping mall like the MBK, where they have an entire floor dedicated to cell and mobile phones shops. They will set up the phone for you and you will be on your way in minutes.

In Pattaya the best place to go is the Tukcom IT mall. There is a DTAC shop on the second floor that will get you setup.

The two most popular SIMs are 12Call and DTAC. Either of these will work fine. You can get these with a variety of different data plans to suit your needs while visiting.

Recharging Your SIM

Once you run out of your initial minutes on your phone you will want to recharge or topup your SIM card with more minutes. These topup cards can be purchased at most convenience stores like 7-11 and Family Mart which are everywhere in Thailand.

You purchase a card by the baht amount, 100 baht for instance. Your receipt will have your activation number. The directions are usually in Thai, but the code to input the numbers is in English. You input the code and the activation number into your phone and top-up. Very Easy.

Can You Recharge Your Thai SIM from Home?

With the advent of the internet, most likely yes, with one exception. Your Thai phone has to get reception where you are located. This hasn't been a problem for many Europeans, but in the U.S. it has been a challenge. My Thai Phone has just started working in the U.S. last year. So if it works - how do I recharge it? My 7-11 doesn't carry Thai SIM Topups!

This is where the Internet comes in. I went on ebay and did a search for 12call and some sellers popped up. More than I realized. I found one couple who were based in Phuket that would scratch off the back of the card, take a photo and email me the code. It wasn't a lot of money so I gave it a try. I had my email in 24 hours and it worked like a charm! Buyer beware with Ebay - but this couple was top shelf.

Well there you have it. If you have any questions leave me a comment below and I'll do my best to answer them.


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