Azerbaijan has been my favorite country name forever for some reason. I do not know why, but I LOVE saying Azerbaijan – try it yourself. I just like it as much as I like the medieval town in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the ancient ruins in Ganja, and the palaces in Sheki. If you love history, you will not be bored when visiting this lovely country.
What may not be lovely, however, is roaming with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers who go to the Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, want to buy a local SIM card. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Azerbaijan. Let's go.
Telecom Providers in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has 4 telecom providers: Azercell, Bakcell, Nar Mobile, and Aztrank. Aztrank uses a CDMA network, which is not compatible with most phones out there. As a result, they will not be discussed in this article.
Nakhtel, also known as Naxtel, used to operate in Nakhchivan with a CDMA network only. They started a GSM network in 2014, but not much is known about this operator. Therefore, they will not be discussed in this article either.
All operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. Coverage and speeds with all providers are extensive. However, 4G/LTE is still being developed throughout Azerbaijan, so you will not be able to find it all over the country.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Azerbaijan? If you want to buy a SIM card in Azerbaijan, I would recommend going with Azercell because they have the best network and fastest speeds in the country.
I will also discuss Karabakh Telecom (KT), which operators in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is part of Azerbaijan, but they declared independence a while ago. KT is the only operator that operates in this region and uses a different currency than Azerbaijan itself. KT will briefly be analyzed in this article.
Just like other countries in the Caucasus, you have to show your passport when buying an Azerbaijani SIM card. Do not buy SIM cards from street vendors because they will either give you a SIM card registered to someone else (and have a package activated you may not like) or an unregistered SIM that can be shut down at any time. Additionally, every individual, including visitors, can have up to 5 SIM cards to their name. This should not be an issue for most travelers.
Azerbaijan introduced an IMEI registration scheme, which forces everyone who wants to use an Azerbaijani SIM card for more than 30 days to register with the authorities. Although the government says this will help reduce phone theft, it is also a surveillance tool.
If you are visiting Azerbaijan for less than 30 days, then you do not have to register. The same counts for those who roam with their provider for more than 30 days. If you are staying for more than a month and want to use an Azerbaijani SIM card, then you can register your phone online (if you understand Azerbaijani) for 5 AZN ($2.95) or go to a post office for 5.5 AZN ($3.25).
If you fail to register within 30 days and keep using an Azerbaijani SIM card, then your phone will be shut off from any network. It is unclear whether you can get the ban reversed or if your device will be barred from Azerbaijan indefinitely. If so, then you would need to use a different device for using an Azerbaijani SIM card.
With all of that said, let’s see what Azerbaijan has to offer.
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Azercell is the largest provider in Azerbaijan and has the best network and speeds. The company is operated by Telia and Turkcell. You may have seen the logo in other countries where Telia is active. Azercell covers 99% of the population, meaning that you will be covered throughout Azerbaijan.
Azercell SIM cards are sold for 5 AZN in Azercell stores. Top-up vouchers are sold from 1 AZN to 100 AZN. The following data packs can be added:
- 0.25 AZN: 50 MB for 24 hours
- 0.40 AZN: Unlimited data for 1 hour
- 1 AZN: Unlimited data for 3 hours
- 1 AZN: 50 MB for 30 days
- 1.20 AZN: 500 MB for 24 hours
- 3 AZN: 500 MB for 30 days
- 5 AZN: 1 GB for 30 days
- 10 AZN: 5 GB for 30 days
- 15 AZN: 10 GB for 30 days
- 50 AZN: 50 GB (“unlimited”), throttled to 128 kbps after full use, for 30 days
Bakcell was the first Azerbaijani operator and is partially state-owned. They are now the second-largest operator with a market share of more than 30%. Their coverage is good, which makes them a good option for those on a budget.
Bakcell SIM cards are sold for 5 AZN in Bakcell stores. Recharge vouchers can be bought from 1 AZN to 50 AZN. The following monthly data packs are available, which also entitles you to use the Bakcell WIFI network for free:
- 0.99 AZN: 1 GB (per day – auto-renews daily)
- 1 AZN: 50 MB (for 15 days)
- 2 AZN: 150 MB
- 3 AZN: 500 MB
- 4 AZN: 750 MB
- 5 AZN: 1 GB
- 7 AZN: 1.5 GB
- 9 AZN: 3 GB
- 10 AZN: 5 GB
- 15 AZN: 10 GB
- 22 AZN: 20 GB
Bakcell also sells data-only SIMs for tablets and modems, but they can be used for phones too. You can get a lot more data. Be sure to mention that you are getting this SIM card for a tablet. Else, they may not sell it to you. The following monthly data packages are available for the data-only SIM cards:
- 12 AZN: 10 GB
- 20 AZN: 30 GB
- 30 AZN: 50 GB
A bit more about the Balcell WIFI network. Bakcell hotspots can be found in many locations throughout the country in restaurants, hotels, and parks. When connecting to your hotspot, you have to fill in your number to retrieve your password that will be sent via SMS. Then you can log in and use the hotspot for an hour. You can use the same passport multiple times throughout the day, but you will automatically be disconnected every hour.
Nar Mobile by Azerfon
Nar Mobile by Azerfon is the third operator in Azerbaijan. They have the “worst” coverage, but they may be the only operator in some remote areas. They claim that they cover 98% of the population with their 3G network and 92% with their 4G/LTE network.
Nar Mobile SIM cards are sold for 5 AZN in Nar Mobile stores. Top-up vouchers can be obtained from 2 AZN to 50 AZN in credit. The following data packs are available:
- 0.10 AZN: 30 MB until midnight
- 0.40 AZN: 200 MB until midnight
- 0.59 AZN: 100 MB (and 25 minutes) until midnight
- 1 AZN: 60 MB for 15 days
- 2 AZN: 200 MB for 20 days
- 3 AZN: 600 MB for 30 days
- 6 AZN: 1.5 GB for 30 days
- 12 AZN: 7 GB for 30 days
- 20 AZN: 20 GB for 30 days
- 30 AZN: 40 GB for 30 days
Karabakh Telecom, also known as K-Telecom and KT, is the only operator that operates in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The region is also known as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh but is often referred to be part of Azerbaijan. In this region, they use the Armenian Dram (AMD) instead of the Azerbaijani Manat (AZN). Therefore, the prices will be listed in AMD. 1 AMD is around 0.20 USD.
None of the previously mentioned operators have a roaming agreement with KT or work in Nagorno-Karabakh. You can use an Armenian SIM card and roam in this region. However, I assume it is cheaper to buy a SIM card from KT than to roam here.
Karabakh Telecom SIM cards can be bought for 1200 AMD in KT stores. Recharge cards are sold from 500 AMD to 9000 AMD. The following data packs can be added:
- 500 AMD: 25 MB for 10 days
- 750 AMD: 50 MB for 20 days
- 1250 AMD: 100 MB for 20 days
- 1900 AMD: 200 MB for 30 days
- 2300 AMD: 300 MB for 30 days
- 6500 AMD: 1 GB for 30 days
- 7800 AMD: 3 GB for 30 days
- 9800 AMD: 5 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Azerbaijan
I have discussed the relevant providers in Azerbaijan in this article because using an Azerbaijani SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Azerbaijan. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Azerbaijan.
Roaming in Azerbaijan with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is MagtiCom from Georgia, then you would be roaming with MagtiCom in Azerbaijan.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Azerbaijan, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Azerbaijan and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Azerbaijan.
Using an International SIM Card in Azerbaijan
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, and Surfroam.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Azerbaijan. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. All countries in the Caucasus require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Azerbaijan
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Azerbaijan
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Azerbaijan which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Azerbaijan, you can find many hotspots in the capital, Baku. Besides that, it may be harder to find hotspots.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Azerbaijan
Getting a SIM card from Azercell would do you well when considering an Azerbaijani SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other places in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States)? Check out my CIS SIM card buying guide, covering the CIS with nations like Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
What about other places in Europe? My Europe SIM card buying guide covers all destinations in Europe, including those not part of the European Union/EEA, such as Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my SIM card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
What is next?
Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!
Book Your Flight for Azerbaijan
It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Azerbaijan. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Azerbaijan drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Azerbaijan
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Azerbaijan. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in an Azerbaijani hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Azerbaijan
You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Azerbaijan, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.
Get a Travel Debit Card
Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the currency of your destination for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.
Enjoy your trip!