When traveling in Asia, it’s vital to understand how you will be able to receive cell service. Without data or the ability to make an emergency call, you could easily find yourself lost, stranded, or even worse — unable to post that picture of you surfing on Facebook.
How can you use your cell phone in Bali? If your phone is unlocked, the easiest way to get cell service in Bali and Indonesia is to purchase a SIM card at the airport. This will run you about $25 for the card and data. If not, AT&T, Verizon, and T-mobile all offer international services at various rates.
If one wants to purchase a SIM card in the United States, it’s complicated. If one wants to purchase a SIM card in Bali, it’s easy to dismiss the idea as overwhelmingly complicated. To many, it can seem daunting if you have never done this before. Surprisingly, the process is very simple – I believe it’s even easier than the U.S. equivalent.
Where do I get a SIM card?
If you fly into Bali, you will be able to find booths for all three cell companies just outside the baggage claim section. From the second you turn the corner, there are multiple companies vying for your attention. They all offer tourist packages, which are convenient for those visiting the country for a few weeks.
However, like most items sold at the airport, they’re not cheap here. $20 can purchase you unlimited data for your week or two in Bali. To many Westerners, this is a great price. A SIM card can help you navigate your way to the hotel and message family to inform them of your landing. That being said, one can find much cheaper prices elsewhere in Bali.
Simply ask your taxi driver where to go, and he’ll take you to one of the many phone service providers located around Bali. You can even purchase a SIM card that is already loaded with data from any convenience store (Circle K or Alfamart). Just look for the word ‘pulsa’ (credit) on shop signs and ask the attendant for help – they’ll take care of it for you.
To be frank, If you are staying in Bali for a week or less and you are only planning on surfing the web and using Google Maps, the carrier that you choose with will not matter much. All the providers offer similar levels of service (although they are a tad different – we’ll cover that in the next section). Unless you are planning on moving to Bali, a pre-paid option is the simplest way to check Instagram during your taxi ride.
What is the best network in Bali?
Bali has a countless number of data providers for you to choose between. It may seem confusing at first – but they aren’t too different so you shouldn’t worry about making the wrong decision.
The two most common SIM card providers at Telkomsel and XL Axiata.
The most common and most popular SIM card is Telkomsel’s simPATI. The price is a little bit more expensive than other SIM cards but it is widely renowned to be the fastest, as well. These connections will provide you with 3G/4G data almost anywhere in Bali. However, one should recognize that they won’t work in more remote regions of the island.
XL Axiata is another popular SIM card provider. Their most popular option is the ‘XL Baru’. They offer cheap domestic calls which can be very helpful for those booking massages or dinner reservations.
Both providers offer packages that are less than $10 for 4GB of data. They also offer 8GB packages for under $20. They might be priced a dollar or two different but if you’re worried about that, you might be splitting hairs.
Telkomsel is considered the most accessible as it pertains to signal coverage. XL is great if you plan to stay in Kuta, Uluwatu, Canggu, or Seminyak. When you reach the jungle of Ubud, XL is slightly less reliable. Vice versa is true for Telkomsel, however, it’s truly hard to find bad cell service in areas like Canggu or Kuta.
What if I have a locked phone?
There are several options for you if you have a “locked” phone. If you have purchased your phone on a payment plan from any of the large US carriers (Verizon, T-mobile, ATT, or Sprint), then your phone is likely locked.
However, due to a change in recent laws, you can now request your carrier to “unlock” your phone for you if have paid the phone off in full. If you own your phone outright and want to use a SIM card while in Bali, you can ask your carrier to unlock your phone for you before you leave on your trip.
If you do not own your phone outright and it is locked, then you have a few different options. The easiest option (albeit, maybe more expensive), would be to purchase international cell service through your provider.
T-mobile has an unlimited plan that they call T-mobile One, which costs around $80/month and gets you unlimited data and calling in the US and abroad. From personal experience, I have found this plan to be quite weak and do not believe it is worth your money.
The last option is more for long-term travelers, but is thrifty, nonetheless. Many people, needing an unlocked phone for cell service, have purchased a phone upon arrival in Bali. This solution is elegant and might not cost as much as you think. Buying a simple Nokia can cost as little as $30, while an old iPhone might run you about $70. This option proves to be much cheaper than the various costs associated with your Western provider.
How can I communicate with people back home while I am in Bali?
There are many ways to communicate with people from all over the globe while you are traveling internationally. The most-used app for global communication is “WhatsApp”. With WhatsApp, you can call and text with anyone, simply by using the wi-fi in your hotel, Airbnb or local cafe. Using the available wi-fi will not charge you or the recipient international rates.
If you purchase a SIM card on arrival, you will be able to call and text using your phone. Unlike WhatsApp though, this method may charge the recipients of your calls or texts international rates. The only exception to this is iMessage (from an iPhone to another iPhone), which also uses wi-fi to send the messages.
If you do wish to make an international call to the US, make sure to add a “+1” to the phone number. If both participants have iPhones, you can get some face-to-face action using FaceTime. This video-chat option also uses wi-fi, and will not rack up an inordinate international bill.
Beyond using WhatsApp or old-fashioned calling and texting, you can easily communicate with friends and family using other websites/apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, and Skype. Most of these applications allow for messaging, calling and video-chatting services.
All in all, you shouldn’t worry about cell phone usage in Bali. There are countless cafes that offer wi-fi. From my experience, wi-fi access is better in Bali than it is in much of the United States. It is widely considered to be the digital nomad capital of the world, after all.
You’ll probably be spending so much time at the beach, you won’t even remember that you have a phone or friends to call back home. Bali is truly enjoyable.
How do I make a call to Bali?
If you want to make a call to Bali, I recommend using any of the wi-fi based applications. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great for making free calls to Bali. If you plan to call a Balinese number without either of these apps, type ‘+62’ before entering the phone number.
Will my cell phone work in Indonesia?
If you have an unlocked phone, your cell phone will work with a new Indonesian SIM card. If you do not have an unlocked phone, your cell phone will work when connected to wi-fi, which is abundant throughout the island.