Kyrgyzstan may be one of the most mispronounced countries in the world, but that does not make it an uninteresting travel destination. From a ski resort in Karakol to museums and monuments in Osh, there are plenty of things to do in Kyrgyzstan.
What you may not want to do, however, is roaming with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers want to buy a local SIM card so that they can enjoy domestic rates. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Kyrgyzstan. Let's go.
Telecom Providers in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has 3 telecom providers: Beeline Kyrgyzstan by Sky Mobile, MegaCom by JSC Alpha Telecom, and O! by Nur Telecom. All providers have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. All operators have good speeds and coverage in the cities. However, as soon as you go to the countryside, you will barely find any connections – be aware of that.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Kyrgyzstan? If you want to buy a SIM card in Kyrgyzstan, I would recommend going with MegaCom Kyrgyzstan. Not only do they have the best coverage in the country, but they also have the most choice in terms of data packs.
Just like other countries in Central Asia, you have to show your passport when buying a SIM card. SIM cards can be bought in stores from the operators themselves or in kiosks. You can even get them from self-service terminals, though they are only in Russian.
Do note that every vendor will charge you a small fee of max. 15 KGS ($0.20) for topping up your card.
There is not much else to say about telecom providers in Kyrgyzstan, so let’s see what the three operators have to offer to us.
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MegaCom Kyrgyzstan, just MegaCom, is the largest operator in Kyrgyzstan with a market share of more than 40%. They have the best coverage with 98% of the population being covered with 2G and around 70% with 3G. 4G/LTE is still being rolled out to the rest of the country.
MegaCom SIM cards are sold for 10 KGS, even at Manas International Airport.
MegaCom sells several packages, which will be discussed below.
The MegaCom Standard Plan costs 40 KGS. The following daily packages are available. Add a 10 KGS connection fee to the prices listed below:
- 2.5 KGS: Unlimited data from midnight to 8 AM
- 55 KGS: 1 GB high-speed data throttled to 1 Mbps after using 1 GB. After using 5 GB, throttled to 256 kbit/s.
Want more high-speed data? You can add more for the following prices:
- 15 KGS: 500 MB
- 30 KGS: 1 GB
- 90 KGS: 5 GB
You can also add the following monthly packs, which gets you the same amount in 4G allowance. For example, the 25 KGS plan gets you 200 MB and 200 MB for 4G/LTE, even though only 200 MB will be listed below:
- 20 KGS: 200 MB
- 45 KGS: 500 MB
- 180 KGS: 3 GB
- 350 KGS: 8 GB
From 12:30 AM until 8 AM, you can use unlimited data.
The MegaCom Popular (Internet) plans are weekly combo plans. The plans are outlined below:
- 50 KGS: 1 GB, 300 minutes, and 500 SMS
- 80 KGS: 2.1 GB, 500 minutes, and 1000 SMS
- 90 KGS: 6 GB and 100 minutes/SMS
- 120 KGS: 3.5 GB, 950 minutes, 1500 SMS
- 130 KGS: 8 GB and 200 minutes/SMS
- 160 KGS: 5.25 GB, 1300 minutes, and 2000 SMS
- 210 KGS: 7.35 GB, 1500 minutes, and 2500 SMS
- 270 KGS: 12 GB and 300 minutes/SMS
The minutes and SMS are for on-net use only (so to other MegaCom numbers). If you call to Beeline or O! numbers, you pay standard rates.
More data can be added for the following prices:
- 50 KGS: 2 GB
- 100 KGS: 5 GB
- 150 KGS: 10 GB
Finally, you have the MegaCom 4G unlimited plan that gives you unlimited data on 4G/LTE. If 4G/LTE is not available, then you will be throttled to 512 kbit/s on 2G and 3G networks. This makes this plan only useful if you are sure you will have 4G/LTE connectivity where you are. The MegaCom 4G Unlimited Plan costs 1290 KGS for a month, which does not include any calls or SMS.
Beeline Kyrgyzstan, just Beeline, covers a large portion of the population. With a market share of close to 40%, it is MegaCom’s biggest competitor. A Beeline SIM card will cost you 200 KGS ($2.90), but you can get it cheaper from some kiosks. The following weekly data packages can be added:
- 30 KGS: 1 GB
- 40 KGS: 2 GB
- 80 KGS: 5 GB
- 95 KGS: 6 GB
You can also get a data-only SIM that is sold for 600 KGS. You get 15 GB and 20 GB for 4G/LTE for 30 days. Using your SIM card from midnight and 6 AM is free.
O! is the smallest operator in Kyrgyzstan with more than 1 million subscribers. They were the first Kyrgyzstani provider to have a 4G/LTE network in Kyrgyzstan. O! SIM cards are sold for 200 KGS in O! stores. The following weekly combo packs can be added:
- 95 KGS: 10 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 5 domestic minutes
- 135 KGS: 16 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 15 domestic minutes
- 290 kGS: 20 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 60 domestic minutes
O! also has a data-only SIM card that gets you 8 GB per day (unlimited use from 1 AM to 8 AM) for 390 KGS. For 850 KGS per month, you can get 20 GB per day and 20 GB at night (not unlimited).
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Kyrgyzstan
So far, you have been informed about the SIM card options in Kyrgyzstan. However, that is not the only way to be online in Kyrgyzstan I have already briefly mentioned that you can roam with your provider, although it can be expensive in most cases. Besides that, you can use free WIFI connections, mobile hotspots, or international SIM cards.
Roaming in Kyrgyzstan 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 Ucell from Uzbekistan, then you would be roaming with Entel in Kyrgyzstan.
You may have read horror stories of people coming back from a lovely holiday, only to be confronted with a roaming bill in the thousands. This can still be the case if you do not review your roaming options before going on a holiday. Luckily for you, I have written about the roaming options you have with various providers around the world, which you can read here.
Some operators offer roaming plans. Others allow you to roam for free in Kyrgyzstan, while several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee. As you can see, roaming does not have to be a horrific experience. If your provider is generous and lets you roam for free in Kyrgyzstan, then you do not even need a local SIM card (although I would still recommend doing so, as your connection speed will be much slower as a roamer than someone who is a customer of the network).
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Pay As You Go roaming should be avoided, as that is how travelers get high roaming bills. One provider charges you about 1000 USD per GB in certain destinations, which is insane. If you really want to roam, check whether your provider has attractive roaming plans. Else, you will be better off with buying a local SIM card.
Using Free WIFI connections in Kyrgyzstan
This does not require a lot of explanation, but using free WIFI connections is the cheapest way to connect to the internet because you do not have to pay anything. Nothing beats free stuff, right? Well, not so fast.
First, you need to find hotspots in Kyrgyzstan. In some countries of cities, you will find so many hotspots that you can try them out one by one and find the one with the fastest speeds. In other places, however, WIFI connections do not seem to exist.
In the case of Kyrgyzstan, you can find some hotspots. If you manage to find one, it will most likely be slow.
Additionally, 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.
Using a Pocket WIFI (Mobile Hotspot) in Kyrgyzstan
Pocket WIFI is a portable, battery-powered wireless router that allows 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.
Many companies have created mobile hotspots (just have a quick search on Amazon, for example, you will find many). Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers I know. 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.
I often recommend mobile hotspots to those who are traveling in groups or with families. They can save groups a lot of money if they are visiting destinations where buying multiple SIM cards would become an expensive endeavor.
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.
Getting an International SIM card for Traveling in Kyrgyzstan
International SIM cards are, as the name implies, SIM cards for international use. Well, that does not explain anything. Although most providers allow you to use your card abroad, some actually restrict this possibility. An international SIM card lets you go abroad without having to change SIM cards when visiting multiple destinations. They have been made with the traveler in mind.
All of this sounds lovely, but international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Kyrgyzstan. Not only that, some offer poor service as well for high rates. Some reputable companies I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, and Surfroam.
International SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in Central Asia 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.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Kyrgyzstan
Getting a SIM card from MegaCom would do you well when considering a Kyrgyzstani 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, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
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 Kyrgyzstan
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 Kyrgyzstan. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Kyrgyzstan drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Kyrgyzstan
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 Kyrgyzstan. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Kyrgyzstani hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Kyrgyzstan
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 Kyrgyzstan, 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!