Prepaid SIM Card Guide for Visitors

Update November 8, 2017: 2017 Top HK SIM Card Guide

Prepaid SIM cards are prevalent in Hong Kong and other countries throughout Asia. Here is a quick primer on what you need to know when visiting HK, Asia, or any other country utilizing prepaid SIMs. The SIM cards are really handy for tourists, business travelers, or even people moving to HK.

  • Where to buy
  • Compatible phones
  • SIM sizes
  • Prepaid card selection
  • Adding value / reloads

Where to buy

Prepaid SIM cards are readily available in HK at the mobile carrier’s stores, or convenience stores such as 7-11, VanGo, or Circle K. You can also purchase SIM cards online at HKsimcard.com which will actually deliver the SIM cards to your home anywhere in the world. The cost is a little higher but it may be worth it to have access to make calls and access data upon arriving. You can also avoid any hassle of finding the SIM cards when you get here.

Identification is not required in HK to purchase a SIM card. Some countries such as Singapore require a copy of your passport.

Compatible Phones

Hong Kong is on the GSM network and all phones require a SIM card. Most phones sold in the past 5+ years are “world phones.” As long as it supposed one of the bands listed below you’ll be fine.

Phones must be “unlocked.” Many phones sold in Western countries are locked to the local carrier only, be sure to get an unlock code before you reach HK so that you can use it with the local mobile carriers. If you cannot get it unlocked before you arrive, many times you can go to a mobile phone store and pay a nominal fee to unlock it. Perhaps $150-200 HKD.

2G, and 3G are well established and reliable in HK. 4G LTE is new to the HK market and most carriers are now offering services in 4G LTE.

2G capabilities

GSM 900, GSM 1800

3G capabilities

UMTS 850, UMTS 900, UMTS 2100

4G capabilities

LTE 1800, LTE 2300, LTE 2600

SIM Sizes

SIM cards come in primarily three sizes, be sure to select the correct size upon purchase.

SIM card sizes

 

The electrical components are the same in each card. So you could just cut a larger Standard SIM card into a micro or nano SIM. Or a micro-SIM into a nano SIM.

Vice versa, you can also use a smaller SIM card such as a micro-SIM in a standard SIM slot. I have an older phone where I just slide the micro SIM into the standard SIM slot and keep it in place using tape. This won’t work on newer phones where the SIM card “pops” out of the phone and you need the exact size.

Prepaid Card Selection

Here at Hong Kong Travel Blog we regularly review various prepaid SIM cards on the market. You can take a look at the reviews here, or you can also look at the selection on HKsimcard.com. There is no ideal card, each situation is different.

We can make a quick recommendation from the selection at our partner site Hong Kong SIM Card:

Voice only: Smartone –  low cost for voice only usage
Voice and data: Discover HK Tourist – unlimited calling and 1.5 GB data
Data primarily: one2free mobile broadband – voice and  unlimited data for 7 days
Roaming: Cross border King – China, Taiwan, Macau roaming for cheap
Roaming data: China Unicom – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan data only.

Adding value / reloading

The amount of value on most SIM cards can be added using various methods. The easiest is usually adding value online. You can also go to a convenience store or the mobile carrier’s own stores to add value as well. This can be useful if you have used up your credit and want to add value without getting a new SIM card and phone number. Also, it’s good if you decide to add on data or roaming plans and didn’t buy enough credit to begin with.

You can usually extend the validity of the SIM cards upon each recharge as well, usually ny 90 or 180 days.

Any other questions? 

Write a comment below and our readers can try to help.

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3 Responses

  1. Nicholas Fong says:

    Very nice and concise guide, thanks.

    Just a small comment about the new and very confusing LTE technology and handsets globally.
    Most operators use FDD (Frequency Division Duplexing) [such as PCCW, Hutchison, SmarTone, SingTel, Bouygues Telstra, AT&T, Rogers Wireless etc].
    Operators in China use TDD (Time Division Duplexing).

    FDD and TDD radios are not compatible with each other.

    Because LTE technologies are in the early phase of deployment, error, confusion and changes will happen. Use these as a general guide only. I admit I am as confused as everyone else. Here is what I can find, feel free to correct.

    LTE-1800 (band 3) FDD-LTE is used by Asian and European operators, and China Mobile Hong Kong.

    LTE-2300 (band 40) TDD-LTE is used by China Mobile Hong Kong and Australia’s Optus.

    LTE-2300 (band 30) FDD-LTE is reserved by AT&T USA for future ground to airplane cabin WiFi internet service. I don’t expect to see phones using this band. If deployed, US airlines may install equipment (don’t hold your breath!) for in-flight high speed Internet.

    LTE-2600 (Band 7) FDD-LTE is used by PCCW, Hutchinson 3, One2Free, Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility, SingTel and many European operators.

    however,

    LTE-2600 (Band 38) TDD-LTE overlapped with LTE-2500 (Band 41) TDD-LTE is used by China Unicom, China Mobile Mainland, China Telecom. There could be confusion in the handset labeling, it could be called LTE-2500 or LTE-2600.

  2. Greg says:

    Hi, great blog.

    Hope you can help:

    I’m in Australia, and my son will be going to China and HK on a school trip in December (almost 3 weeks in China, then a few days in HK). I would like him to have a prepaid voice/data SIM to use.

    My wife will visit HK at the end of November, so she can buy it in HK and activate it there.

    What would you recommend?

    I believe China Unicom has a 3G network compatible with international phones, but not China Mobile. Is that right?

    I found the Cross Border King SIM, but it seems the longest day package is only 7 days. I would prefer to load the SIM with enough value to last the whole trip, rather than my son having to recharge it.

    Thanks.

  3. Nicholas Fong says:

    An update to LTE-2300 (band 30) reserved by AT&T USA for future ground to airplane cabin WiFi internet service.
    Near the end of November 2014, AT&T has abandoned the plan to deploy ground to air LTE.
    The airline industry is leaning more towards satellites (again) in the Ku band for cabin WiFi.
    Don’t hold your breath, things move slowly when it comes to in-flight WiFi on international routes.

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