Reduce your roaming rates by using a local SIM card.
If you’re planning a trip to Laos, a top tip for keeping down costs is to switch to a local SIM card. Take advantage of better tariffs, plans and deals to reduce your roaming rates. Laos has some good SIM card options, but the coverage can sometimes be questionable. You can get 1GB of data from the top telco provider in Laos for just LAK5,000 ($2.10). So, whether you’re a short-term visitor or long-term traveler, you can save money by comparing your SIM card options.
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Telco providers in Laos
There are four main telco providers in Laos: Unitel, Laotel, Beeline and ETL. Locals and travelers use SIM cards from all four networks, and they can be trusted whatever plan you choose. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, the signal can vary between providers depending on what province you are situated. All four networks tend to have stronger network coverage around the main towns and cities. It’s advisable to carry several different SIM cards (cheap to purchase) especially for the northern provinces.
All four telco operators are partially or fully-owned by the government. Voice and data rates are similar and within agreed price caps, to encourage lower prices. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers. A starter pack costs around LAK5,000, and comes with preloaded credit. There’s no ID needed when purchasing a SIM card. Credit can also be purchased from official stores, approved resellers or at supermarkets right across the country. Below, we have broken down each telco provider and highlighted exactly what they can offer you during your visit to Laos.
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Unitel (or StarPhone) is the largest provider in the country with the best overall coverage. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services and the prices and packages are relatively good compared to other providers. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK10,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit. Once you have registered your personal information to activate the SIM card, a further LAK10,000 credit will be activated on the phone.
The standard default data rate is charged at LAK800 per MB on 2G and 3G, and LAK300 per MB on 4G. The following data packs are also available by dialing the appropriate code in the right-hand column.
|2G and 3G:|
|Until midnight||Unlimited data||LAK10,000||*209*6#|
|30 days||270MB||LAK 10,000||*209*4#|
|Unlimited data||LAK 120,000||*209*9#|
|24 hours||150MB||LAK 5,000||*299*5#|
|7 days||450MB||LAK 15,000||*299*15#|
|30 days||1.3GB||LAK 50,000||*299*50#|
Packs automatically renew unless cancelled. Dial *209*01# to cancel 2G and 3G plans . Dial *299*0# to cancel 4G/LTE options.
There’s also a data-only SIM card available called Sim Net, which can be purchased for LAK10,000 and comes with 300MB of data. Once you register your personal information with the provider you will receive an extra 300MB data. The following packs can be added by dialing the code in the right-hand column:
Packs auto-renew unless cancelled, so dial *209*01# to cancel 2G and 3G plans. Dial *299*4*0# to cancel 4G/LTE packages.
Unitel’s APN: unitel3g, and website:http://unitel.com.la
Lao Telecom (LaoTel)
LaoTel is the second largest provider in the country with good overall coverage. It offers customers 3G and 4G/LTE services and the prices and packages are relatively good. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK5,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit. The standard default data rate is charged at LAK300 perMB. Lao Telecom also offers good Wi-Fi hotspots in Vientiane and other key areas.
Voice and data SIM cards are also available for LAK5,000 and come with varying options, so check with the retailer at time of purchase. The following packs can also be added by dialing the relevant code:
Dial *123# to check data usage.
Lao Tel’s APN: ltcnet, and website:http://www.laotel.com
Beeline has the third largest market share in Laos, but offers the fastest speeds. There is a 4G/LTE network in the pipeline, however, their 3G service is good. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers and so can credit, which can also be purchased at supermarkets or corner stores. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK10,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit. The following packs can also be added by texting the relevant activation code to 234.
- Unlimited Internet for one calendar day: LAK6,500. Text code: AD1 to 234
- Unlimited Internet for a month: LAK150,000. Text code: AM1 to 234
- 1.2GB per day: LAK5,000. Overuse is charged at LAK300 perMB. Text code: BD1 to 234
Beeline’s APN: beelinenet, and website:http://www.beeline.la
ETL is the smallest provider and has the worst coverage out of all four networks. Their 3G platform is extremely limited and they can’t offer a 4G/LTE platform yet. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and credit can also be picked up from supermarkets and corner stores.
The standard default data rate is charged at LAK300 perMB. The following “eNet” packages can also be added:
Text the relevant eN code to 333 to activate.
ETL’s APN:telnet, and website:http://www.etllao.com
- Lao is the language spoken in Laos. It’s unique to the locals, so if you aren’t familiar with Lao you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. However, because tourism is so popular, English is also widely spoken.
- Locals call a SIM card a “Chip” or “SIM”.
- Ask the sellers to set up the SIM for you, since they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions we have highlighted above or go to the official operator website to seek advice.
- Get to the shops early to receive better assistance and to avoid the crowds.
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through the SIM cards that have been tried and tested in Laos.
“We were in Laos last january and we purchased an ETL SIM card. It cost us LAK10.000 and was very cheap to call Europe (France) and to top up ( and so easy). We had no coverage problem and we called north to south, absolutely perfect.”
“We found that cell phone coverage was fine in Vientiane; our phones immediately connected with the network in Thailand across the river.”
“You will be able to buy SIM cards at nearly every shop. If needed for Nano sim cards they will cut it accordingly.”
“Just buy a cheap 'dumb' phone at home to have as your permanent 2nd travel phone. I put my home SIM in my dumb phone when travelling to receive calls and a local SIM in my smartphone for local calls and more importantly data for maps, navigation, email and social networking.”
Pros and cons of top Laos telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible phone. To double check you have this phone, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- Some areas can suffer from bad coverage
- No phone devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones