Biometric scan required to purchase SIMs in Pakistan.
Pakistan is the fifth-most populated country in the world with 207.7 million inhabitants, and many more Pakistanis can be found across the globe, making Pakistan a popular tourist destination for nationals going home to visit family and friends. If you are travelling to Pakistan, consider investing in a local prepaid SIM card to reduce the costs of your trip. A domestic SIM card can cut down on your roaming charges and data expenses. You can purchase a SIM card with 700MB of data for seven days for PKR75(AUD$0.91).
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SIM card regulations in Pakistan
Following the Peshawar School shooting in late 2014, the Pakistani government upgraded security on prepaid SIM cards. In order to purchase them, foreign nationals must give a copy of their passport to store operators, have their picture taken and allow their fingerprints to be scanned. The biometrics (finger and thumb prints) have to be confirmed by the National Database and Registration Authority before a store can sell you a SIM card.
Pakistani network coverage and speed
The last few years have seen an upheaval in Pakistani mobile coverage. Until 2014, only 2G networks existed in the country. There have been upgrades since then, with Mobilink and Telenor covering cities across the country with 3G. Zong and Jazz offer 4G/LTE in the biggest cities. Coverage is still catching up in the large rural areas of Pakistan, as well as the mountains in the north of the country. If you are travelling within Pakistan or will be staying in different regions for a period of time, you might consider following the example of the locals and purchasing more than one brand of SIM card, to see which one works better in which region.
Pakistani network providers
There are four major mobile operators in Pakistan:
We’ve provided some details of all four providers below in order to help you compare them.
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Zong is owned by China’s Mobile Pakistan and has about one-fifth of the market share. Its 3G coverage is limited, but it started a 4G network in 2014 in seven major cities. As of 2017, it had accrued 2.3 million 4G subscribers, the most of any company in the country.
A Zong SIM can be purchased at any Zong customer service center. The initial cost is PKR500, which includes a call credit of PKR300.
The standard rate for data is PKR1 per MB. The following data packages are available at the prices listed below, regardless of whether the service is 2G, 3G or 4G.
Activation can occur one of two ways: By dialling *6464# for the menu or by visiting the company website.
Jazz, formerly Mobilink, is run by Russia’s Vimpelcom. It appears to have fallen behind Telenor in 3G but in the past two years has become a solid 4G choice after taking over Warid’s network. It has a convenient shop locator on its website to point you to places where you can buy your SIM card and get verification through the biometric system.
Once you have your card, you can activate it by dialling *443*3# or texting the word SUB to 7003. The following data packages are available for 2G and 3G. Without a package, the standard rate for data is PKR2.39 per MB. In the following table, FB denotes Facebook and WA denotes WhatsApp.
Bundles do not auto-renew.
This Norwegian product has a faster 3G network and the most 3G customers, although it’s limited to just the cities. Telenor began a 4G/LTE network in August of 2016 that includes Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Swat and Islamabad.
Telenor data bundles
Without bundles, data is charged at PKR15 per 10KB. This makes buying a data bundle essential to save money when you’re travelling in Pakistan. The following packages are all available on 3G.
There is also a data-only SIM known as Telenor 3G Connect that includes two months of Internet at 20GB per month for PKR2,200. To activate this plan, dial *345*4005#. This also comes with a 3G dongle.
You can migrate your existing Telenor prepaid SIM to the Connect by dialling *345*4006#. This will block voice calls and allow you to pick one of the following data plans:
Ufone is the smallest of the big four operators in Pakistan. It doesn’t have 4G/LTE as of October 2017. Its prepaid packages go under the name “Talkshawk” and are available at its own retail outlets.
To activate the 3G service, dial *7701#.
Ufone data bundles
Ufone has data packages ranging from an eight-hour night window to a full month. To activate one of the following packages, dial *3# followed by the activation code. In all of the following packages, bandwidth used on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Line is free of charge.
Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Pakistan
“It’s very much possible to buy Pakistani Sim (just need photocopy of your passport). The best and cheapest for international calls is Telenor. Besides that, Jazz, Ufone and Zong have networks all around Pakistan.”
“I'd suggest making sure you get your phone 'unlocked' before you arrive if it is currently locked to a provider in your country. Getting foreign phones unlocked in Pakistan isn't as easy - or quick - as it is in Europe for example.”
“Zong gives brilliant Internet packages. They have also introduced 4G. You can buy the SIM card from the Zong office or from a nearby franchise. I think you can't buy it in the airport these days. You have to give your CNIC/ passport copy and go through the biometric system It is easy when you buy the SIM card and then cut it into smaller IPhone size and use it.”
Pros and cons of Pakistan’s top SIM card operators
Pakistan has several SIM card operators to choose from when visiting. Most of them are fairly new and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the positives and negatives about these companies.
- Zong is focusing solely on the 4G market and offering customers a stronger product.
- Jazz, the merger of Mobilink and Warid, honors top-up cards from all three companies.
- Coverage outside of the major cities is spotty and may leave you without any signal at all.