Mobile Data Roaming: What Are Your Cheapest Options When Travelling?

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Data Roaming Overseas

Let’s face it: we’d be helpless without our phones, especially when travelling.

Imagine wandering the streets of a foreign land without Google Maps, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Trip Advisor, without any way of looking up information or hailing a cab.

But without an internet connection, you might as well not have your phone — and the last thing you want to do is scurry around from place to place praying for a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

So mobile data is crucial when you travel. Unfortunately, horror stories abound of people who used their phones abroad and realised the resulting phone bill cost more than their vacation. To help you avoid bill shock, here are some smarter ways to stay connected on the road.

Option 1: Buy a local SIM Card

One simple way of saving on data roaming costs is to purchase a local SIM card. Data packs on prepaid plans are usually affordable, and there’s the added benefit of having a local phone number to make and receive calls if needed.

However, SIM cards may not be available at every airport, or you might arrive at an odd hour when all the shops are closed. You could probably buy one outside the airport at a convenience store, but this may be tricky in a country where English is not widely spoken. Moreover, it’s a bad idea to explore a foreign country without data, so do your research carefully if you intend to take this option.

Option 2: Subscribe to a data roaming plan from your telco

Your regular Singapore telco is likely to offer a data roaming plan which allows you to use your Singapore SIM card overseas for a fixed price. This means you can remain contactable at your local number, and although you won’t want to be answering too many calls overseas, it’s convenient to be able to receive SMS messages (e.g OTPs) for free.

Here are the plans offered by the Big 3 telcos:

Singtel ReadyRoam

Singtel ReadyRoam

Singtel offers four different ReadyRoam packages, offering between 1-3GB of data valid for 7 or 30 days.The multi-destination plans allow you to use your data in more than one country, making them ideal if you’re traveling to more than one place in a 30 day period.

Countries Costs Validity
Single Destination Plans
Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
$5/GB 7 days
9 Destinations
Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand
$12/GB 30 days
18 Destinations
Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam
$20 for 2GB 30 days
81 Destinations
Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic (Slovakia), South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkey, UAE, UK, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
$40 for 3GB 30 days

M1 Data Passport

M1 Data Passport

M1’s Data Passport works a bit differently from other providers. Instead of giving you additional data to use overseas, it instead allows you to utilise your local data allowance overseas for a 30-day period.

In other words, if my mobile plan comes with 6GB of data, I’ll be able to use 6GB overseas with the Data Passport. You can activate the service in a single destination for $10-25, or pay $25-50 to cover multiple destinations (particularly useful when traveling in Europe).

Countries Costs Validity
Single Destination
Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates
$10 30 days
Single Destination
Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom, USA
$25 30 days
Multiple Destination
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam
$25 30 days
Multiple Destination
Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam
$50 30 days
Multiple Destination
Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jersey, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom
$50 30 days

StarHub DataTravel

StarHub DataTravel

StarHub’s DataTravel plans come in two flavours – Asia Pacific, or Global. Validity can be as short as 3 days (ideal for day trips or quick getaways) or up to 30 days for longer vacations.

Countries Costs Validity
DataTravel Asia Pacific
Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
$5 – 1GB
$15- 2GB
$20- 3GB
3 days
30 days
30 days
DataTravel Global
Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
Albania, Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jersey, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK, Ukraine, Uruguay
$40- 2GB
$50- 3GB
30 days
30 days

Option 3: Rent a Wi-Fi router

Changi Wi-Fi

Instead of buying a separate SIM card or activating a special data plan, you can opt to rent a Wi-Fi router instead. The main benefit is that the connection can be shared with multiple users, and you can stay contactable on your Singapore number while overseas. The downside is that whoever carries the router effectively becomes the anchor- it’s hard to split up and wander independently.

Changi Recommends offers the most convenient rental option, because you can pick up and return your router at the airport itself.

Countries Costs Validity
Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam $5/day N/A
Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, China (no VPN), Sri Lanka $8/day N/A
China (VPN), India $10/day N/A
Australia, USA, UK, Europe, Brazil, Oman, Canada, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Qatar, Israel, Russia, Laos, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates $12/day N/A

Changi Recommends runs frequent sales, so pricing is subject to change. Always refer to changirecommends.com for the latest pricing

However, there are also alternative providers like Yourwifi or Y5Buddy, so it’s always worth comparison shopping. These companies do not have airport locations, so you’ll need to arrange for separate pickup and drop-off of your device.

Option 4: Buy a special roaming SIM card

It’s possible to purchase a “roaming SIM” with generous data allowances and have it delivered to your home before you travel. Upon reaching your destination, simply pop it into your phone and enjoy data from the moment you land.

A simple search on Qoo10 will throw up numerous options, including WeFly and ICC.

ICC

Prices change frequently due to sales, so always check for the most updated prices.

ICC cards, for example, start as low as $5 for 7 days of unlimited data in Thailand, $12.90 for 3.5GB/7 days in Europe, and $26.90 for 10 days of unlimited data in the USA.

Other popular destinations like Korea, Australia and New Zealand are also available, as well as more exotic places like South and Central America.

Happy Roam

Starhub also offers a prepaid SIM called Happy Roam, which can be bought at the airport money changer outlets before flying. Coverage is limited to 17 countries, although most major Singaporean holiday destinations are available. Plans range from a $3 1GB/1 day option to a $25 4GB/4 week option with free data on Sundays.

Happy Roam 2

Conclusion

Options Pros Cons
Buy local SIM card – No pre-planning required
– Affordable rates
– Not all airports offer SIM cards
– Activation and top ups may be hard in non-English speaking countries
Subscribe to M1/StarHub/Singtel data roaming – Convenient – More expensive than other alternatives
Rent Wi-Fi router – Allows multiple people to tap on a single connection – Requires physical collection/return
– If group splits up, only one person has internet
Buy roaming SIM card – Cost effective
– Flexible range of packages/durations
– Requires pre-planning and research
– Delivery takes a few days

In general, the most convenient option would be to subscribe for a data package with your existing telco. This convenience comes at a price, however, as it can be expensive to roam in countries where your telco has less preferential rates.

Renting a Wi-Fi router is cheap and allows for multiple connections, but you could always do that with the hotspot function on your phone anyway, plus it limits the mobility of your group.

A roaming SIM can offer fantastic rates, but you’ll need to invest some time doing research to find the best deal for your location.

Finally, buying a SIM card at the airport upon arrival needs no prior planning, but just be careful to check if it’s even possible at your destination.

Roaming costs keep on falling, which can only be good news for travellers. With the options available, there’s no reason to ever be off the grid… unless that’s your intention!

Read these next:
Best SIM-only mobile plans in Singapore
Best Money Changers in Singapore
Best 6 Credit Cards For Overseas Spending
Should I Use my Credit Cards Overseas To Earn Miles?
Amex, Visa or MasterCard: Which Is Better for Travel?


By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.