Do yourself a favor and visit the breathtakingly beautiful Hong Kong, home to a unique cuisine, peaceful nature and wildlife, and lively traditions. In 2017, over 58 million tourists made their way to East Asia to visit this spectacular place. That many people cannot be wrong about the magnetism of this bustling city, so make sure you can share all of your memorable experiences with your friends and family with proper mobile coverage!
But you probably know that roaming with your provider is often expensive. You do not want to go back home and face an expensive roaming bill. That is why you want to buy a Hong Kong SIM card so that you can stay connected while paying local prices. In this article, we will explore the options we have while visiting Hong Kong.
Telecom Providers in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has four big telecom providers: CMHK, HKT (CSL), 3 Hong Kong, and SmarTone. There are many Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), but the bigger ones are CUniq HK, Hong Kong Broadband Network, SUN Mobile, and Birdie Mobile. The MVNOs will not be discussed in this article.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Hong Kong? If you want to buy a SIM card in Hong Kong, I would recommend going with the csl. Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card. The 5-day SIM card is sold for 88 HKD with 1.5 GB of local mobile data. The 8-day pass can be bought for 118 HKD and comes with 5 GB, unlimited calling, and CSL WiFi.
As many who visit Hong Kong are stopover tourists, one of these tourist SIM cards will be more than enough. The other providers sell visitor SIM cards too, but I believe the one from csl. is the best.
Unlike many other East Asian countries, you do not have to bring your passport with you when buying a SIM card. SIM cards can be bought in official stores or resellers like 7-Eleven.
You can even buy a SIM card at the airport after leaving customs at a 7-Eleven.
Many providers offer SIM cards that can be used in Macau as well. In this article, I will only focus on SIM cards that solely focus on cards that target Hong Kong only, as they are cheaper than the combo cards. Additionally, Macau has its own providers, meaning they deserve their own article.
Speaking of Macau, 3 is active in Macau as well. If you are planning on buying SIM cards at the market, which is often cheaper than in stores, make sure you look closely at the type of card you buy. These sellers often sell SIM cards for Macau, as many who buy SIM cards at the market are interested in the ones for Macau. However, they will be rather useless if you want one for Hong Kong (only). When reviewing the packages, look at the web address. If it says three.com.hk, you are good. If it says three.com.mo, well… wrong SIM card.
All providers in this article offer roaming options to China or other (South)East Asian countries. Although affordable, I always recommend getting a local SIM card of the destination you are visiting. If you plan on visiting China with your Hong Kong SIM card, you will not be subjected to the internet censorship you will normally face in China, which is why you should use a VPN when China.
Finally, all providers charge an administration fee ranging from 2 HKD to 3 HKD monthly. This is done to subsidize the license fee of the provider and other administrative costs. Some providers will charge this fee when you activate your SIM, while others will charge it after 30 days of use.
With that out of the way, let’s see what options we have in Hong Kong.
Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!
CMHK, also known as China Mobile Hong Kong, is the largest operator in Hong Kong with more than 8 million subscribers. They sell tourist SIM cards and many plans you can take advantage of. If you buy your SIM card at the market, make sure to buy one with “4G/3G” on it. Else, you may accidentally buy one of their discontinued 2G SIM cards, which will be useless for normal data usage.
You can buy a CMHK SIM card for 80 HKD, but you will get 78 HKD in credit that can be used for 180 days. You will pay a monthly administration fee of 2 HKD, which will be charged once you activate your SIM card (which is why you miss 2 HKD when you buy your SIM card).
Topping your account up with more than 50 HKD will extend the validity of your SIM card for 180 days, which is good to know if you are planning on staying in Hong Kong for an extended period. Recharging with less than 50 HKD will extend your account with 30 days. Recharging can be done online or with vouchers.
Although 4G/LTE is available all over Hong Kong (although it may be spotty in some areas), you may not be able to take advantage of full 4G/LTE speeds depending on the data package you select. Let’s see our options:
- 30 HKD: Unlimited data usage at 384 Kbit/s for 10 days (tethering and P2P access is not allowed – the speeds would be to slow for tethering anyway)
- 48 HKD: 3GB at full 4G/LTE speed for 5 days
- 50 HKD: 200 MB at full 4G/LTE speed, which will last as long as your SIM card is valid
- 68 HKD: 1 GB at max. 14.4 Mbit/s for 10 days
- 68 HKD: 3 GB at max. 7.2 Mbit/s for 30 days
- 148 HKD: 1 GB at full 4G/LTE speed, which will last as long as your SIM card is valid
If you are staying in Hong Kong for less than 5 days, you should go for the 4G/3G Individual Traveler SIM card, which will get you 3 GB of data to be used for 5 days and is sold for 68 HKD. You will also get 18 HKD in credit for calls and SMS, and the account will stay valid for 90 days (if bought and activated at a CMHK store). Just like the regular SIM card, you will pay a monthly administration fee of 2 HKD. The first installment will be charged upon activation.
Hong Kong Telecom merged with two other companies and became csl. They have become the second-largest telecom provider since then with more than 4 million subscribers. csl. has two types of SIM cards: the csl. Local Prepaid SIM card and the csl. All-in-one Prepaid SIM card. The former can be bought for 48 HKD or 78 HKD with the same amount in credit, while the latter can be purchased for 100 HKD or 180 HKD with the same face value as well.
The SIM cards can be bought in official csl. and HKT stores, various kiosks, and authorized dealers. csl. SIM cards are valid for 180 days. The validity gets extended with each top-up. The administration fee with csl. is 2.50 HKD or 3 HKD depending on the type of card you have.
What is the difference between csl. Local and csl. All-in-one? The Local SIM cards have lower call rates for numbers in Hong Kong, while the All-in-one SIM cards have lower international call rates for 30 countries, such as Canada, China, the United States, and many European countries.
Below are some of the data packages you can buy:
- 8 HKD: 500 MB for 1 hour
- 18 HKD: 1.2 GB for 1 day
- 38 HKD: 2 GB for 3 days
- 48 HKD: 1 GB for 30 days
- 68 HKD: 3 GB for 7 days
The csl. Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card is ideal for those who are hopping between countries or on a spontaneous trip across the sea, as it is only a 5-day SIM card for 88 HKD with 1.5GB of local mobile data. Although this is the most popular option, CSL does recommend the 8-day pass, also with a 5GB allowance for 118 HKD. This SIM card offers unlimited calling, CSL WiFi, and data at 1.5GB at 4G.
There is also a 30 HKD or 48 HKD credit included for overseas phone calls – so you can keep your loved ones up-to-date even if they are back at home! You can order your CSL SIM card ahead of your trip, even at the last minute: with their fast shipping to North America, you will receive your card within 7 business days.
3 Hong Kong
3 is active in various countries, including Hong Kong. They are the third-largest provider with more than 3 million subscribers. They are also the ones who installed the WiFI service on the MTR (metro/subway) in Hong Kong. The administration fee with 3 is 2.50 HKD per month on all cards.
3 Hong Kong has a large variety of SIM card types and package offers. Almost too many to write about. Their Hong Kong Visitor Prepaid SIM costs 128 HKD and comes with the same amount in credit. The SIM card, however, does not allow you to use the 4G/LTE network. You cannot buy any of the data packages, except for the 3-day pass for 88 HKD, which gives you unlimited local calls and internet for 3 days.
The HK Local Prepaid SIM card is, just like the visitor card, for 2G and 3G only. The SIM card can be bought for either 48 HKD or 98 HKD. You can buy 1 GB of data for 48 HKD, 2 GB for 78 HKD, or 5 GB for 188 HKD.
The All-in-One SIM cards do come with 4G coverage. These SIM cards can be bought for38 HKD when bought at a self-service kiosk (Live Box), or 88 HKD or 138 HKD in 3 stores or resellers. Below are a few of their data packages:
- 18 HKD: 1.5 GB for 1 day
- 38 HKD: 3 GB for 3 days
- 38 HKD: 500 MB for 30 days
- 48 HKD: 1 GB for 30 days
- 68 HKD: 4 GB for 7 days
- 88 HKD: 5 GB for 14 days
As mentioned earlier, there are many other 3 SIM cards you can choose from. So far, I have mentioned the most interesting ones for travelers like us.
SmarTone Hong Kong
SmarTone is the smallest operator in Hong Kong with more than 2.5 million subscribers. SmarTone SIM cards can be bought in many stores like 7-Eleven and Circle K. They even have vending machines selling these cards. The administration fee is 2.50 HKD on all cards.
You can choose from the following three SmarTone SIM cards:
- 48 HKD: Data and voice (for those not wanting to use a lot of data)
- 68 HKD: Data and voice (standard)
- 98 HKD: Data and voice with Macau data as well
With the 48 HKD card, you can get unlimited data for 8 HKD per hour. After spending 24 HKD, 3 hours of usage, you will get the rest of the day until midnight access to unlimited data. Besides that, you can get 300 MB to be used in a month for 38 HKD and 1 GB for 168 HKD – also to be used in a month.
The 68 HKD card comes with 2 GB of data for 30 days at max. 7.2 Mbps. After that, speeds get throttled to 384 kbps unless you add one of the following packages:
- The packages offered with the 48 HKD card (8 HKD per hour and 24 HKD for unlimited data)
- 20 HKD: 300 MB for 30 days
- 38 HKD: 2 GB for 3 days
- 58 HKD: 1 GB for 30 days
- 68 HKD: 3 GB for 7 days
- 148 HKD: 5 GB for 30 days
- 248 HKD: 10 GB for 30 days
- 398 HKD: 20 GB for days
The 98 HKD card comes with the following data packages, which are valid in Macau too:
- The unlimited data packages mentioned earlier with the same prices
- 38 HKD: 2 GB for 3 days
- 68 HKD: unlimited data at max. 384 kbps for 7 days
- 68 HKD: 3 GB for 7 days
- 168 HKD: 300 MB for 30 days
- 248 HKD: 3 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Hong Kong
Besides getting a Hong Kong SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring Hong Kong, such as using an international SIM card, roaming with your provider, using pocket WIFI, or WIFI networks.
International SIM Cards
There are many international SIM cards out there, such as OneSimCard and SIM cards from SimOptions. These SIM cards with the same as roaming with your provider, but the charges are often way less than actually roaming because they have been set up for international travel.
International SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. As in, not having to get numerous SIM cards, you will not use again, and being reachable on one number instead of multiple. In most cases, you can use your international SIM when back home, but their rates will be high compared to using your carrier.
Do note that using an international SIM card is often more expensive than using a local SIM card but cheaper than roaming with your provider. International SIM cards are appealing for those who travel frequently and cannot be bothered with the hassle of purchasing a SIM card each time they arrive at a new destination. Additionally, constantly having to switch SIM cards and using different phone numbers may discourage seasoned travelers from buying local SIM cards.
If you are visiting only one destination for a short period, get a local SIM card (or roam with your provider if they have attractive roaming rates or plans). If you travel often and want to be able to be contacted on one phone number when visiting multiple destinations, international SIM cards could be attractive. Check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyzed the top 10 leading international SIM cards out there.
Roaming 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. If you use your phone in Hong Kong without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Hong Kong.
You have probably read numerous horror stories of travelers who went abroad for a while and came back home to a phone bill in the thousands because they were roaming. An example of such a story is this individual who received a bill of £8,348.41 for data roaming for 40 minutes. I also found the reason why roaming is so expensive.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Roaming can be convenient because you do not have to wait in line to get a local SIM card, go through the whole SIM card registration process, and can easily be reached when friends and family who are in your home country want to call or text you.
However, this convenience comes at a cost – a high cost if you do not watch out. But this does not always have to be the case.
Some carriers allow you to roam for free in select countries, such as Three. Three operates in multiple countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong (obviously), and a few others. They have a program called Roam Like Home or a slight variation of that depending on where you are from.
Three Denmark includes free roaming in more than 60 destinations around the world – Hong Kong is included. This means that Three customers can use their plan's data, voice, and text allowance in Hong Kong at no additional cost, although certain restrictions apply (such as the hard cap of a maximum of 20 GB of roaming data regardless of whether you have a higher data cap in your plan or not).
Other carriers allow you to use your plan's allowance if you pay a fixed daily fee. For example, Koodo, a Canadian provider, allows you to use your plan's allowance with their program called Koodo Easy Roam International for $12 a day, which can be used in Hong Kong as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Hong Kong as well.
However, you should take caution with such plans. They are convenient and inexpensive when done for a few days, but not when going abroad for a week or more. I often argue that one can use these plans if you are staying abroad for a maximum of three days. If longer, than you are better off with a local SIM card, which will give you more bang for your buck. Check out my articles to see if your provider offers roaming bundles.
Finally, you can roam on Pay As You Go roaming rates. With standard roaming rates, you get charged per action on the go. In other words, you get charged per minute, SMS, or KB/MB. Often, Pay As You Go roaming rates are insanely high (which leads to those stories where people got charged into the thousands), and should be avoided in most cases. However, some providers do have reasonable standard roaming rates, especially to neighboring countries.
In general, I would discourage you from roaming on Pay As You Go roaming rates when visiting Hong Kong, but it is still an option to explore. If you want to see what your carrier would charge you, check out my roaming with your provider articles with my analysis and verdicts.
If you do not want to get a local SIM card or an international SIM card and do not feel like roaming either, then you can get pocket WIFI. A portable hotspot is a device that acts as your personal router that you can take with you. This hotspot connects to the cellular networks of your destination – just like your phone would do but without the roaming costs.
There are many portable hotspots out there. Two reputable pocket WIFI companies I know are Skyroam (use coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ) and Vision Global Wireless. WIFI access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day. Using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
A pocket WIFI device is ideal for those who are traveling with families or multiple individuals. This way, everyone can connect to the device and enjoy the WIFI network on the go. Some companies will charge you per GB while others will give you unlimited data. Be aware of the data restrictions of your device so that you will not receive a high bill after your travels.
Using Free WIFI Connections
If you do not want to pay anything extra for staying connected while in Hong Kong, then you can choose to connect to WIFI networks instead of cellular networks.
Although using WIFI hotspots may save you money, it may not be convenient as using a SIM card. First, you would have to find WIFI hotspots. WIFI hotspots can be found all over Hong Kong, which is neat.
Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. I would recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to an unfamiliar network. The VPN will encrypt your data and will keep your data private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get yours today or find out more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Hong Kong
Getting the visitor SIM card from csl. would do you well when considering a Hong Kong 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 countries in East Asia? Check out my East Asian SIM card buying guide, covering other East Asia countries, such as China, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, and Taiwan. 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 Hong Kong
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 Hong Kong. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Hong Kong drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Hong Kong
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 Hong Kong. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Hong Kong
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 Hong Kong, 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 Hong Kong Dollars 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!