How to find the best prepaid SIM card when visiting Nepal
Two major providers can help you cut down on roaming charges.
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Home to 8 of the world’s 10 tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, Nepal is no stranger to foreign visitors. If you are visiting this South Asian country, you can cut down your expenses by investing in a local prepaid SIM card during your stay. You can get a starter pack with 60 texts, 40 domestic minutes and 20MB of data for NPR99 (AUD$1.21).
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SIM card regulations in Nepal
Nepal is one of a growing number of countries taking extra steps to prevent prepaid SIM cards from being used in criminal activities. You must have your passport with you when you visit a store to buy a SIM card. The company will make a copy of your passport and take your photo as well. The office equipment in these stores is not always up to par, so if you want to ensure you’ll get everything done properly the first time, consider bringing a photo of yourself roughly the size of your passport, as well as a photocopy of the face side of your passport.
There are three principal smartphone network operators in Nepal. They are:
- Nepal Telecom
- Smart Telecom
All three operate on 900 MHz for 2G and on 1800 MHz for 3G. In 2016, the country’s government began the conversion process of 3G to 900 MHz to free up 1800 MHz for new 4G/LTE offerings. In 2017, both Nepal Telecom and Ncell launched 4G/LTE services.
To help you compare the three major telcos, we’ve provided details of their offerings below.
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Formerly Mero Mobile, Ncell was sold to Malaysia’s Axiata Group in 2015 and given a new logo and name. Its 2G network reaches 90% of the population while its 3G is mainly available in the top 20 most populated towns. As the site’s coverage map shows, a lot of Nepal gets no coverage at all because of the prodigious mountain ranges. Its 4G network launched in June 2017 in the Kathmandu Valley region, which includes the cities of Dhulikhel, Banepa and Nagarkot.
The Ncell starter package costs NPR99 and comes with NPR50 in credit, along with 60 domestic texts, 40 domestic minutes and 20MB of data. There are top-up scratch cards available for purchase starting at NPR10. If you spend more than NPR100 on a top-up, you’ll get a bonus credit of 5-12%. Because of Nepalese tax rates, you don’t actually get the whole amount of your top-up. For instance, a NPR50 top-up only gains you NPR49.02 of credit.
Ncell data bundles
Since the Ncell default rate for data is NPR3.39 per MB, it makes sense to seek out a better deal. All the packages listed below included free trips to both Twitter and Wikipedia.
|Price||Anytime data||Daytime data|
To activate, dial *123#. To check your balance, dial *901#.
Ncell also offers three “unlimited” data packages, although they are throttled when you hit the maximum. They are:
One more option is a data-only SIM that connects to a USB dongle. This package is called Ncell Connect. The dongle goes for NPR2,699 (plus 13% tax) and has 500MB included. There are three monthly packages available:
|500MB||NPR450.87||Activation: Text “500MB” to 9009|
|1GB||NPR789.87||Activation: Text “1GB” to 9009|
|5GB||NPR2,258.87||Activation: Text “5GB” to 9009|
This is Nepal’s state-owned provider. It has the country’s monopoly on landlines and broadband connections. It’s a decided second behind Ncell when it comes to coverage, with 3G only partially available in Kathmandu and Pokhara. It started Nepal’s first 4G/LTE network on 1800 MHz in 2017 in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara. At present, iPhones 6 and 7 do not work with Nepal Telecom’s 1800 MHz LTE network. Make sure you call ahead to see if this has been remedied before your visit.
Its prepaid card is called “Namaste” and is available throughout its stores and other retailers. It costs NPR90 and includes NPR50 airtime. Your account activates when you make your first call or by dialing 1414.
You can recharge your card in five different denominations: NPR50, NPR100, NPR200, NPR500 and NPR1,000.
Nepal Telecom data bundles
Nepal Telecom’s standard data rate is NPR1 per MB (plus 13% taxes). The following packages offer better deals. The activation text code number is 1415 and prices do not include a 13% tax rate.
Smart Telecom got a licence in Nepal in 2013 but its coverage is sporadic and only in 2G. It got a licence for 4G in 2017 and indications are that it will come online at the end of the year. Check out a coverage map to see where Smart Telecom is hoping to deploy its 4G network. If you can’t acquire one of the other options, Smart’s starter package costs NPR99 with NPR25 credit. There are no bundles for sale. The data rate is NPR2 per MB in the daytime and NPR1 per MB from 10pm to 6am.
APN: not available
Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Nepal
“I can say that NCell coverage will be poor to zero. Thus, Namaste (Nepal Telecom) is really your only choice, with little guarantee of decent coverage.”
“The Namaste card is the best choice among others. You can buy a Namaste card at the airport itself. You will need a photocopy of your passport, visas and a passport-size photograph. The process is quite simple and the SIM activates instantly. For top-ups, you can buy recharge cards anywhere.”
“There are two Sim card booths inside the arrival Building in Tribhuvan International Airport; Nepal Telecom and Ncell. I personally use Nepal Telecom which has pretty good coverage in ABC Trek.”
Pros and cons of Nepal’s top SIM card operators
Nepal has two major SIM card providers battling for customers while a third is trying to expand its market. Here are some of the positives and negatives about these companies.
- Ncell has flexible data rates for daytime versus nighttime usage.
- Fledgling 4G networks should only get better as time goes on.
- Coverage outside the major cities is almost impossible given the high mountain ranges.
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