Nepal is a small country and recently reached a million yearly tourists, something the country has been trying to achieve since 2011. It is an incredibly mountainous country located between India and Tibet. Nepal is known for its magnificent temples and the towering Himalayan mountains, in fact, extreme travelers who want to conquer Everest can do so in Nepal. The locals are kind and peaceful people with a rich and relatively diverse culture and religion.
All of this sounds lovely. What is not lovely is the potential roaming charges you would have to pay if you decide to roam with your provider in Nepal. Roaming can be expensive, which is why those traveling to Nepal want to buy a Nepalese SIM card. Today, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Nepal. Shall we?
Telecom Providers in Nepal
Nepal has three telecom providers: Nepal Telecom (NTC), Ncell, and Smart Cell. According to the latest figures, Ncell and Nepal Telecom have almost the same market share. In 2017, Ncell had a slight upper-hand, but that may have changed. Even if it did, the difference would be small.
Ncell also has better 3G coverage than Nepal Telecom. 4G is being rolled out by all providers, including Smart Cell, and is available in select cities (which will be discussed with each provider individually). Ncell is the only provider that sells traveler SIM cards.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Nepal? If you want to buy a SIM card in Nepal, I would recommend going with Ncell because they have better coverage. If you are planning on going into the mountains, however, you should go with Nepal Telecom, as they have better coverage in the mountains, although coverage can still be spotty and slow.
In general, coverage and speeds in Nepal are subpar because of its mountainous territory. You should experience better service in Kathmandu Central Valley and Pokhara.
Just like most other countries in South Asia, you need to register your SIM card upon purchase. You have to bring your SIM card with you when visiting the operator’s store. They will also take a photo of you. If you, by any chance, walk around with passport-sized photos, you can speed things up.
With that being said, let’s see how we can stay connected in Nepal.
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Ncell is the preferred operator when visiting Nepal because of better speeds and coverage. However, speeds may not be as great as other South Asian countries (and certainly not as fast as Southeast Asian or East Asian countries).
Ncell’s 2G network covers 90% of the population. 2G is too slow for most data activities. Even sending or opening emails will be slow. 3G is found in 20 of the biggest towns in Nepal, while 4G/LTE can be found in more than 20 cities (covering 15% of the population).
SIM cards can be bought in official stores or from street vendors for 99 NPR ($0.87) and comes with 50 NPR in credit, 60 SMS, 40 minutes, and 20 MB, all to be used within 7 days. Recharge cards can be bought from 50 NPR up to 500 NPR.
Do note that for tax reasons, you cannot use the full amount of the recharge. For example, if you top-up with 50 NPR, you get 49.** in credit.
Various data packages are available. There are even unlimited packages… that have a limit. You will get throttled to 32 Kbps if you go over your “unlimited” limit. You would be better off not using your phone at all after going over your limit or buy a new package because 32 Kbps is frustratingly slow.
Below are all the data packages you can choose from. These do not include the packages for the traveler SIM card – they will be mentioned separately.
Ramro data packs, which are the cheapest Ncell data packs. You get the same data for 4G/LTE use. For example, the NPR 11.49 plan comes with 35 MB and 35 MB on the 4G/LTE network for 1 day. I will just mention the data allowance once:
- 11.49 NPR: 35 MB for 1 day
- 32.03 NPR: 120 MB for 3 days
- 88.11 NPR: 300 MB for 7 days
- 343.49 NPR: 1.3 GB for 30 days
Gajjabko data packs:
- 19.15 NPR: 75 MB for 1 day
- 44.69 NPR: 200 MB for 3 days
- 95.77 NPR: 500 MB for 7 days
- 453.30 NPR: 3 GB for 30 days
Daami data packs:
- 24.26 NPR: 220 MB for 1 day
- 62.57 NPR: 500 MB for 3 days
- 113.64 NPR: 1 GB for 7 days
- 573.33 NPR: 5 GB for 30 days
Sahi data packages, which all come with 60 minutes of YouTube streaming per day:
- 49.80 NPR: 750 MB for 1 day
- 126.41 NPR: 2 GB for 3 days
- 254.10 NPR: 4 GB for 7 days
- 1020.24 NPR: 16 GB for 30 days
Unlimited internet packages (with limited – overuse gets throttled to 32 Kbps). All valid for 30 days:
- 892.55 NPR for 1 GB high-speed data
- 2552.52 NPR for 5 GB high-speed data
- 3829.42 NPR for 10 GB high-speed data
The traveler SIM card can be bought for 110 NPR at the airport, Ncell stores, or other stores near tourist attractions. The SIM comes with 30 NPR in credit and 300 MB to be used in 3 days. The following packages can be added:
- 490 NPR: 20 minutes and 7 GB for 7 days
- 980 NPR: 30 minutes and 14 GB for 14 days
- 1470 NPR: 40 minutes and 21 GB for 21 days
- 1960 NPR: 50 minutes and 28 GB for 28 days
As you can see, the packages for the traveler SIM cards seem more expensive than regular packs, but you get more data for almost the same price (or for less).
Nepal Telecom (NTC)
Nepal Telecom is the first provider in Nepal because it is state-owned. It has more 3G antennas than Ncell, more than 60, and 4G is still being deployed throughout the country. The Prepaid SIM card, Namaste (which means welcome), can be bought for 90 NPR in official stores and from resellers. You get 50 NPR in airtime as well.
Recharge cards are available from 50 NPR to 1000 NPR. The more you add to your account, the longer your account will be valid (from 30 days to 2 years). This is not a big concern if you are visiting Nepal for a short period.
Various data packs are available, including packs for data use at night (not discussed in this article), for social media use, and for YouTube.
Below are some of the standard data packs:
- 9 NPR: 55 MB for 24 hours
- 20 NPR: unlimited data for 1 hour
- 25 NPR: 100 MB for 1 day
- 30 NPR: 30 MB for 3 days
- 60 NPR: 190 MB for 7 days
- 100 NPR: 500 MB for 7 days
- 140 NPR: 1.5 GB for 28 days
- 250 NPR: 7 GB for 7 days
Are you a real social media fan? Then you should consider these social media packs, which are for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter:
- 6 NPR: 36 MB for 1 day
- 30 NPR: 150 MB for 3 days
- 60 NPR: 325 MB for 7 days
Like to watch many YouTube videos? Special YouTube data packs are offered:
- 12 NPR: 150 MB for 1 day
- 30 NPR: 400 MB for 3 days
- 60 NPR: 900 MB for 7 days
Smart Cell deserved an honorable mention, even though they are a small provider in Nepal. They have a decent 2G network in 26 districts and a limited 4G/LTE network. If you are in an area without 4G/LTE coverage, you will experience awfully slow 2G speeds, which is why it is not a recommended provider for travelers. 4G/LTE coverage can be found in 19 districts.
Smart Cell SIM cards, Sath Sath Smart Cell Packs, are sold for 99 NPR and come with 90 NPR in credit, 10 minutes, 10 SMS, and 200 MB, all to be used within 30 days. Buy their 4G SIM card if you want to experience the 4G network (which you want, trust me). Recharge cards are sold from 20 NPR all the way up to 1000 NPR. When you recharge with at least 100 NPR, you get the following bonuses:
- 100 NPR: 98.08 in credit, 400 MB, 10 minutes, and 10 SMS – bonuses to be used within 7 days
- 200 NPR: 196.08 in credit, 800 MB, 20 minutes, and 20 SMS – bonuses to be used within 15 days
- 500 NPR: 490.20 in credit, 3 GB, 100 minutes, and 100 SMS – bonuses to be used within 30 minutes
- 1000 NPR: 980 in credit, 6 GB, 200 minutes, and 200 SMS – bonuses to be used in 30 days
If the data bonuses are not enough, the following data packs are available:
- 11.49 NPR: 200 MB for 1 day
- 37.03 NPR: 1 GB for 1 day
- 88.11 NPR: 2 GB for 7 days
- 113.64 NPR: 2 GB for 15 days
- 254.10 NPR: 4 GB for 30 days
- 407.33 NPR: 10 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Nepal
Besides getting a Nepalese SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring Nepal, such as using an international SIM card, roaming with your provider, using pocket WIFI, or WIFI networks.
International SIM Cards
You can consider purchasing an international SIM card. International SIM cards are SIM cards that can be used internationally without the roaming charges.
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 Nepal without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Nepal.
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 (Canadian provider). They have a program called Sprint Global Roam, which allows its customers to roam in 205 destinations, including Nepal, 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 Nepal as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Nepal 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 Nepal, 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 Nepal, 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, which can be difficult in Nepal.
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 Nepal
Getting a SIM card from Ncell would do you well when considering a Nepalese 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 South Asia? Check out my South Asian SIM card buying guide, covering other South Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 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 Nepal
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 Nepal. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Nepal drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Nepal
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 Nepal. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Nepalese hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Nepal
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 Nepal, 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!