What is not popular, however, are expensive roaming charges. Roaming with your provider can be expensive, which is why you would want to buy a Laos SIM card to save on mobile costs. In this article, I will go through everything you need to know about SIM cards in Laos. Let's go
Telecom Providers in Laos
Laos has 4 telecom providers: Unitel, Lao Telecom, TPlus (Beeline), and ETL. Unitel is the largest provider with close to 3 million subscribers. Lao Telecom has more than 1 million subscribers. Beeline has around 300 000 thousand customers. The numbers of ETL is not available at the moment.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Laos? If you want to buy a SIM card in Laos, I would recommend going with Unitel because they cover most of Laos and is the fastest provider in Laos. However, speeds and coverage can vary greatly depending on the province you are, which is why many locals have SIM cards of multiple operators so that they can stay connected at all times.
In Laos, all providers are fully or partially owned by the Lao government. As a result, rates are almost the same among the providers. Moreover, unlike most Southeast Asian countries, you do not need to show your passport when buying a SIM card.
Data speeds are slow in Laos. With most providers, in excellent conditions, you can get up to 5 Mbps. It is fast enough to do most things with your phone but is embarrassingly slow compared to providers in other Southeast Asian countries, like Singapore.
Let’s see what Laos has to offer to us.
Unitel is the largest provider in Laos, as established in the introduction. It is also the provider that suffers from the most congestion in the cities, meaning that your speeds or connection can be subpar at times. Unitel claims that it covers 97% of the population, and 4G/LTE can be found in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Champasak, Savannakhet, and other major towns and provinces.
Do note that you need to buy a 4G SIM card if you want to use Unitel’s 4G network, as they sell 3G SIM cards that, as the name implies, only works on their 3G network (and 2G too).
Unitel SIM cards are sold for 10 000 LAK ($1.60) and come with 5000 LAK in credit and 200 MB. You can choose to register yourself to get another 10000 LAK. Not sure if that would be worth it, though.
The following Unitel data packs are available:
- 2000 LAK: 60 MB for 24 hours
- 5000 LAK: 125 MB for 24 hours
- 10 000 LAK: 270 MB for 30 days
- 15 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 30 days
- 100 000 LAK: 3 GB for 30 days
- 120 000 LAK: 4 GB for 30 days
You can also buy Unitel’s data-only SIM card called Net SIM for 10 000 LAK at Unitel offices – it comes with 300 MB and allows you to SMS as well. No calls can be made with this SIM card. You can register yourself and get 300 MB for free. A handful of Unitel data-only packs are listed below:
- 10 000 LAK: 6 GB for 2 days
- 10 000 LAK: 5 GB for 3 days
- 10 000 LAK: 2 GB for 5 days
- 10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
- 50 000 LAK: 5 GB for 30 days
- 120 000 LAK: 12 GB for 30 days
Note: the 4 times 10 000 LAK pricing is not a mistake. I thought so too when I was updating this article, but it is correct.
Do note that the 30-day plan expires at the end of the current month. If you start your plan on the 15th of November, for example, then your plan will expire on the 1st of December, 12 AM. Luckily, you do not have to pay the full price if you buy the plan in the middle of the month. In this example, you would pay 50% and get 50% of the listed data allowance.
Lao Telecom (LTC/LaoTel)
Lao Telecom is the second largest provider and offers 3G access in most provinces in Laos. They also offer 4G/LTE in Vientiane and some other cities. Lao Telecom’s SIM cards, called M phone, are sold for 5000 LAK and can be used for both 3G and 4G/LTE – you do not need to buy a 4G SIM card to use 4G/LTE.
Below are the M phone data packs:
- 5000 LAK: 125 MB for 24 hours
- 10 000 LAK: 250 MB for 30 days
- 50 000 LAK: 1.25 GB for 30 days
- 100 000 LAK: 2.5 GB for 30 days
You can also buy a Lao Telecom data-only SIM card called SIM Net for 10000 LAK. The following packages can be used for 3G and 4G/LTE access:
- 5000 LAK: 1 GB for 24 hours
- 10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
- 50 000 LAK: 7 GB for 30 days
You can also get one of their “unlimited” packs, which get throttled to 512 Kbps after using your allowance. They are, however, expensive, and 512 kbps is slow:
- 150 000 LAK: 15 GB for 30 days
- 250 000 LAK: 30 GB for 30 days
- 50 000 LAK: Extra 5 GB of high-speed data
TPlus, previously known as Beeline, is a small player in Laos. Depending on where you are, Beeline can be the fastest provider in the region. Even then, speeds are slow at up to 5 Mbps. TPlus SIM cards can be bought for 10000 LAK and come with 5000 LAK in credit. The following TPLus packages can be added:
- 1000 LAK: 50 MB for 1 day
- 6000 LAK: 200 MB for 3 days
- 10 000 LAK: 500 MB for 7 days
- 10 000 LAK: 300 MB for 30 days
- 50 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 30 days
- 80 000 LAK: 2 GB for 30 days
- 100 000 LAK: 3 GB for 30 days
Just like with the other providers, data-only SIM cards called Net SIM can be bought as well. The following TPlus data-only packages are available:
- 5000 LAK: 2 GB for per day
- 10 000 LAK: 3 GB for 7 days
- 50 000 LAK: 10 GB for 30 days
ETL, or Enterprise of Communications Laos, has a small 3G network in Laos, which makes them unsuitable for those who want to explore more of Laos instead of solely the capital. SIM cards are sold for 5000 LAK and their data packs, called eNet, can be added, which are listed below:
- 1000 LAK: 240 MB for 1 day
- 5000 LAK: 800 MB for 1 day
- 10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
- 50 000 LAK: 5.5 GB for 30 days
- 100 000 LAK: 12 GB for 30 days
- 200 000 LAK: 30 GB for 30 days
Looking for unlimited data? ETL sells eNet 2Teen data plans that come with unlimited data for a day for 4000 LAK.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Laos
Some travelers do not want to get a Laos SIM card for various reasons. Some prefer to roam with their providers while others would prefer an international SIM card. Then we have those who like portable WIFI devices, and others who will connect to WIFI networks instead.
Roaming in Laos 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 Laos without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Laos.
Roaming can be expensive. This person received an £8,348.41 data roaming bill. I also found out why roaming is so expensive. However, it does not always have to be costly.
Many providers offer roaming plans where you can roam for free in select destinations like Laos. Others may offer bundles that give you some minutes, SMS, and data. You also have providers that allow you to use your plan's allowance for a daily fee. Every carrier is different, so it is recommended to explore your roaming options before you go out and experience bill shock (which is not fun). Luckily, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers so that you do not have to.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
You can also Roam As You Go, meaning that you will pay per minute, text, and MB. In most cases, this is not recommended, as these rates are insanely high (that is how people get bills in the thousands). There are some providers, however, that do have attractive Pay As You Go roaming rates. Do not get too excited, though, as the number of carriers that have decent standard roaming rates is rare.
International SIM Cards
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
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
International SIM cards are, however, more expensive than using a local SIM card, such as a Laos one. On the other hand, they are often cheaper than roaming with your provider. International SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or those who are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. If you are only visiting Laos, stick to a local SIM as discussed in this article.
If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my comparison post where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers.
Portable hotspots, or pocket WIFI, are devices small enough that they should fit into your pocket. These devices turn into your on-the-go WIFI hotspot while they connect to the cellular networks in the country.
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.
Free WIFI connections
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected: Free WIFI hotspots.
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. Laos has some WIFI networks around the country, but some are slow and useless.
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 Laos
Getting a SIM card from Unitel would do you well when considering a Laos 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 Southeast Asia? Check out my Southeast Asian SIM card buying guide, covering other Southeast Asian countries, such as Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 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 Laos
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 Laos. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Laos drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Laos
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 Laos. 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 Laos
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 Laos, 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 local currency 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!