I’ve long talked about the benefits of having a local SIM card when visiting another country. Staying connected lets you easily keep in touch with family and friends at home, helps you make hotel, flight and other purchases without needing to use insecure WiFi networks, and gives you the confidence to better navigate the place you’re visiting – which can often lead to more local and “off the beaten path” experiences.
Today, I look back on my mobile experience while visiting Vietnam in February of this year.
Vietnam Mobile Basics
Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone and Vietnamobile are the four mobile companies which offer GSM networks in Vietnam.
Viettel and Vinaphone are both state-owned companies (Viettel is run by the Ministry of Defence, Vinaphone is run by Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group), while Mobifone and Vietnamobile are held by private interests. All four companies offer reasonably priced plans which foreign visitors can make use of.
For my stay in Vietnam, I used Viettel as my service provider.
Finding a SIM card in Vietnam is not a difficult task. To be honest, you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who has a stack of SIM cards for sale. From small neighbourhood stores to big flashy mobile stores to the front desk at your hostel or hotel – everyone is in the business of getting you connected.
Typically, you’ll pay about C$10-15 to get set up with a card and an initial package of data (usually about 1GB).
I bought my SIM card from the hostel I stayed at in Ho Chi Minh City. Sunny – the hostel owner – took my phone, popped in the card, and keyed in some codes to activate it and the data package. After a few minutes, I was connected.
Topping up in Vietnam is relatively simple. Many of the same small stores which sell SIM cards also offer top-up/recharge vouchers (called tien ich). These usually look like a scratch-and-win ticket, and contain a code which you then text to the mobile company to add credit to your account.
Vouchers come in a number of denominations – typically 50,000d, 100,000d, 200,000d, 300,000d and 500,000d.
One money saving tip on buying mobile recharge vouchers is to look for the a store called TheGioididong (it’s hard to miss in many major city centres, with its bright yellow sign and exterior). There, recharge cards are sold for 2% less than what you’d pay at a neighbourhood store. It’s not much of a savings, but it’s worth noting.
On Viettel, there are a number of different top-up packages you can choose from. These prices and data volumes have a one month validity period, and are accurate as of this writing (April 2016) :
- 30,000VND (US$1.35/C$1.70) for 200MB
- 50,000VND (US$2.25/C$2.85) for 500MB
- 70,000VND (US$3.15/C$4.00) for 600MB
- 90,000VND (US$4.05/C$5.10) for 1.2GB
- 120,000VND (US$5.40/C$6.80) for 1.5GB
- 200,000VND (US$9.00/C$11.40) for 3GB
Of note – aside from the first two packages (200MB/500MB), once you reach your data cap for the package you’ve purchased, you’ll have your speed throttled until you purchase a new package.
On both recharges I purchased while in Vietnam, I opted for the 200,000VND/3GB package.
Quality of Service
One thing you’ll notice travelling in Vietnam (like so much of Southeast Asia) is that everyone has a cell phone. And many people have smartphones. It’s actually quite a fascinating part of culture in Vietnam. Phones are somewhat of a status symbol. If you see someone with a flashier, brand name phone, that’s a good indication of the type of job they have and how much they make.
Generally speaking, quality of service on Viettel was better than my experience on Maxis in Malaysia. However, there was still an inconsistent speed throughout much of my visit. In some places, I’d have blistering fast connections – fast enough to live stream with Periscope, while in others I’d pull my teeth out waiting for a site to load.
Overall, I found Viettel’s infrastructure to be acceptable for most basic communication needs, although it proved unreliable at times when trying to make VoIP calls.
While it’s not on the same level as “The Great Firewall of China,” Internet communications are subject to government censorship and sanitation in Vietnam. Sites can be turned on and off on a whim. This kind of intrusion – and generally just a desire to be more secure while using public WiFi networks – prompted me to invest in VPN before heading to Vietnam.
A VPN creates a secure connection between your computer a server located somewhere else in the world. That server then connects you to the Internet. The data sent over this secure connection can be (and often is) encrypted – which means prying eyes can’t peek in on the contents of your communications.
My VPN of choice while travelling through Asia was a Canadian company called Tunnelbear. They offer unlimited data transfer on up to five devices (I had my laptop, phone and tablet all using the service) for a price of US$6.99 a month.
Tunnelbear worked very well during my stay in Vietnam, and left me feeling secure that the data I was transferring – banking information, credit card numbers, and even messages with family at home – were being sent securely and privately.
Mobile service is affordable and accessible in Vietnam, and given the benefits of being connected (communication with home, access to Google Maps and other travel information) it’s an inexpensive add-on to your travel experience while visiting the country.
Too Long, Didn’t Read
For the short notes on my experience with Viettel, here they are :
- SIM cards and top-ups can be purchased practically anywhere in Vietnam – from dedicated mobile shops to mom-and-pop shops operating out the front of someone’s home.
- Total to get started – roughly 200,000VND (or about US$9) will get you a SIM card and a basic allotment of data.
- Connection speeds can be unreliable in high-density areas due to an increasing number of smartphone users
- Add a VPN to your device to ensure access to sites you reply upon and to keep communications secure.
Have you used mobile service in Vietnam? If you’ve been on Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone or Vietnamobile, how was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’re looking for more information about SIM cards in other countries, be sure to check out the fantastic Prepaid Data SIM Card Wikia site. There, you’ll find details on SIM cards for countries across the globe.