Planning on visiting the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur? What about enjoying the sun and beach at Langkawi? Do not forget about enjoying the Malaysian cuisine. Whatever the purpose of your trip to Malaysia, there are many things to do, and you will certainly find something that fits your budget and taste.
What you are probably not looking forward to is coming back home and looking at a high phone bill because you accidentally forgot to turn data roaming off. Roaming can be expensive, which is why many travelers want to buy a Malaysian SIM card so that they can pay local prices while enjoying the phone network as a local. As a result, you will have more money to spend on traveling instead of phone bills. Let’s see what our options are in Malaysia, shall we?
Telecom Providers in Malaysia
Malaysia has four big providers: Digi, Maxis, Celcom, and U Mobile. The providers have a 26%, 22%, 22%, and 15% market share, respectively. Their 3G and 4G/LTE coverage is almost the same between 90% and 92%. However, the coverage can be noticeable different depending on the island you are on.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Malaysia? If you want to buy a SIM card in Malaysia, I would recommend going with either Maxis because they have the highest speeds, according to OpenSignal, or Celcom because they have the best 4G/LTE availability in Malaysia.
Other notable telecom providers are Yes, UniFi, and Altel. Additionally, there are many Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) out there, and I will mention a few of them in this article.
Throughout Malaysia, you will mostly find good coverage. The most reliable signals are in the cities, while more rural sections of the country can have weaker ones. You may struggle in rural areas, but for the most part, you can feel confident using your phone from one of the big four providers.
Just like many other Southeast Asian countries, you need to register your SIM card before you can use it. Luckily, unlike most other Southeast Asian destinations, the process is quick and will be done at the point of purchase. Make sure to bring your passport with you.
Keep in mind that the locals refer to SIM cards as ‘SIM’ or ‘SIM Kaa.’ Retailers will be able to help set up the SIM card so that you do not have to figure it out on your own.
Let’s analyze our options.
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!
Digi is the largest company founded in Malaysia that offers SIM cards. They have good coverage and a fair amount of packages and deals to choose from. However, there are two main prepaid SIM card deals offered by Digi: Digi Prepaid Live and Digi Prepaid Best.
Each of the data packs available by Digi comes complete with free WhatsApp use as well as free internet service for social media platforms, which is one of the significant benefits of opting for Digi service.
Data packs are available for a wide variety of prices ranging from 100 MB for 24 hours at 1 MYR to 10GB for 30 days at 48 MYR.
For reference, 1 MYR is about $0.24 and is also known as RM (Malaysian ringgit).
You can also buy one of the two Digi tourist SIM cards at various international airports (Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Senai, Penang, Kota Kinabalu, and Kuching). They sell for 20 MYR and 40 MYR.
For 20 MYR, you get the following benefits that will last you for 7 days:
- 2 GB of regular data
- 7 GB for WhatsApp, Facebook, and WeChat (1 GB per day)
- 10 local minutes for all Malaysian networks
- 10 international minutes for China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand)
- 5 MYR credit from Digi Prepaid Best
For 40 MYR, you will get the following perks that are valid for 15 days:
- 10 GB of regular data
- 15 GB for WhatsApp, Facebook, and WeChat (1 GB per day)
- 30 local minutes for all Malaysian networks
- 30 international minutes for China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand)
- 5 MYR credit from Digi Prepaid Best
I do have to say that the tourist SIM offers are not a bad deal at all. In 2020, I will get the 20 MYR one for review purposes. Stay tuned for that!
Maxis is the second largest company that provides SIM cards in Malaysia. They market their prepaid services under the Hotlink brand. They have many features and deals that can be applied after the original purchase of your SIM card.
When it comes to data packs, there are several different options to suit your needs.
- 1 day, 2 GB for 3 MYR
- 7 days, 1.5 GB for 7 MYR
- 30 days, 6 GB for 35 MYR
- 30 days, 8 GB for 45 MYR
Want unlimited calls too? For 60 MYR, you get 8 GB and unlimited domestic minutes. For 70 MYR, you get unlimited calls too and 10 GB – both plans are valid for 30 days.
Aside from these cost-effective data packs, other options to help you save money include the Happy Hour bonus, which provides for 1 GB internet for an hour every day and Free Weekend bonus that allows for 1 GB of use on Saturday and Sunday.
Celcom is the third-largest company in Malaysia, providing its customers with top-quality coverage in 2G, 3G, and 4G. The prepaid SIM cards are known as ‘Xpax’ and are free of charge. However, you will need to add credit with one of the plans or packages before the SIM card can be used.
You have the option of adding data, ranging from 2 GB for 3 MYR (1-day validity) to 15 GB for 79 MYR (30-day validity). To increase your data, you can also purchase specialty Facebook data packages and Nighttime Use packages that range from 1 MYR to 7 MYR.
There are several packages available for purchase:
- 1 day, 2 GB for 3 MYR
- 7 days, 2 GB for 10 MYR
- 7 days, 5 GB for 19 MYR
- 30 days, 5 GB for 30 MYR
- 30 days, 15 GB for 79 MYR
U Mobile is the last and smallest company of the big four in Malaysia that offers great deals with their SIM cards. Although the company is small, they still have some fairly great coverage in Malaysia. There are tons of data packs and packages available for purchase with U Mobile. You can find the following deals:
- 1 day, 100 MB for 2 MYR
- 1 day, 1.5 GB for 5 MYR
- 7 days, 1 GB for 9 MYR
- 15 days, 500 MB for 15 MYR
- 30 days, 1.5 GB for 20 MYR
- 30 days, 7.5 GB for 30 MYR (+30 domestic minutes)
- 30 days, 12 GB for 50 MYR (+50 domestic minutes)
Unifi has its own 4G network in several areas, including but not limited to, Kedah, Melaka, Sembilan, Perak, Sarawak, and Selangor. To get a Unifi SIM card, you need to download the mobile@unifi app and order a card for 10 MYR. It will be ready for pick up at a local TM store. Once you get the SIM card, you can enjoy 2 GB of 4G/LTE data, 10 minutes, and 10 SMS to all local networks.
On Unifi’s own network, you can purchase data packs that come with unlimited data:
- 2 hours of unlimited data for 3 MYR
- 24 hours of unlimited data for 5 MYR
- 7 days of unlimited data for 20 MYR
Unifi has a roaming agreement with Celcom for its 2G and 3G network, which is free to use for Unifi customers. On those networks, you can get the following data packs:
- 1 GB for 13 MYR (2G/3G/4G)
- 1 GB 4G/LTE and 1 GB 2G/3G for 15 MYR
- 2 GB 4G/LTE and 2 GB 2G/3G for 30 MYR
- 4 GB 4G/LTE and 4 GB 2G/3G for 50 MYR
As you have noticed, these plans do not have an expiry. You can use all your data in whatever time frame you want, as long as you reload your card every 90 days.
Yes 4G, just Yes, is a 4G/LTE-only provider that is only active in Western Malaysia, and it covers 85% of the Western Malaysian Peninsula. Normally, I do not mention talk about the frequencies and bands of telecom providers because they are not that interesting to talk about. However, in the case of Yes, they only use the uncommon TD-LTE 2300 and 2600 MHz frequency on bands 38 and 40. As a result, only the latest and high-end smartphones will be able to use the Yes network.
You can get a Yes SIM card for 10 MYR, which will immediately come with 1 GB of data that is valid for 7 days and 5 MYR in credit. You can pick from the following data packages:
- Daily MYR 5: 2 GB valid for 1 day
- Weekly MYR 15: 4 GB valid for 7 days
- Monthly MYR 25:16 GB valid for 30 days
- Monthly MYR 30: 20 GB valid for 30 days
Altel has its own 4G/LTE network in various places. In other areas where Altel has no antennas, it works together with Celcom acting as an MVNO for Celcom’s 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE network (national roaming agreement). You can get a SIM card for 7 MYR, which comes with 5 MYR (valid for 30 days) in credit and 200 MB (valid for 15 days).
You can choose from the following data packages:
- 1 day, 1 GB for 3 MYR
- 7 days: 1 GB for 5 MYR
- 7 days: 2 GB for 10 MYR
- 30 days: 5 GB for 30 MYR
- 30 days: 10 GB for 50 MYR
- 30 days: 20 GB for 90 MYR
Tune Talk, XOX Mobile, SpeakOut & redONE
Tune Talk, XOX Mobile, SpeakOut, and redONE are all MVNOs. Tune Talk is a brand related to the budget carrier AirAsia. AirAsia offers its AirAsia Traveler Plan SIM cards on inbound AirAsia flights to Malaysia. The Lite Plan comes with 5 GB and 5 MYR in airtime for 25 MYR and is valid for 7 days. The Power Plan gets you 10 GB and 10 MYR in airtime and can be used for 14 days.
redONE SIM cards can be bought in various stores but require an initial 30 MYR top-up. It does immediately come with 500 MB of high-speed data and 1 GB of max. 64 kbps slow speed data that is valid for a month. Data packages range from 1 GB for 3 MYR to 10 GB for 50 MYR with validities ranging from 1 day to 30 days.
SpeakOut offers an attractive tourist pack for 50 MYR that comes with 100 GB of high-speed data, 5 MYR in talk time, and low rate international call rates, 15 sen per 30 seconds, to the following destinations:
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
They also offer many unlimited data plans, although those speeds get throttled to 64 kbps after reaching a quota.
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Malaysia
Besides getting a Malaysian SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring Malaysia, 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 Malaysia without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Malaysia.
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 Sprint (American provider). They have a program called Sprint Global Roam, which allows its customers to roam in 205 destinations, including Malaysia, for free at reduced speeds.
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 Malaysia as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Malaysia 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 Malaysia, 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 Malaysia, 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. You can find them relatively easily in the big cities, but they may not be super fast.
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 Malaysia
Getting a SIM card from Maxis or Celcom would do you well when considering a Malaysian 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, Laos, 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 Malaysia
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 Malaysia. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Malaysia drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Malaysia
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 Malaysia. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Malaysian hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Malaysia
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 Malaysia, 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 Malaysian Ringgit 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!