Saudi Arabia recently opened up itself for tourism by offering tourist visas to more than 50 countries in 2019. By doing this, the country hopes to diversify its economy instead of mainly relying on oil. Although these tourist visas are new, Hajj visas have been issued for years for pilgrim activities.
What about using your phone in Saudi Arabia? Roaming with your provider can be expensive, which is not something you want to deal with after coming back from your trip in Saudi Arabia. That is why many travelers buy a Saudi SIM card so that they can still use their phones while paying local rates. In this article, I will explore all the options you are in Saudi Arabi. Let’s go on this journey together.
Telecom Providers in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has three major telecom providers: STC (with Jawwy), Mobily, and Zain. Coverage and speeds are great in populated areas and highways, but it can be awful in remote places, although STC has the best coverage and speed around the country. Zain is the only provider to offer tourist SIM cards.
There are also three Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which are Friendi mobile, Virgin Mobile KSA, and Lebara. They run on the networks of the major providers.
Some providers are running 5G trials in various cities across Saudi Arabia. Prepaid customers can try the 5G networks as well, but you need to have a 5G compatible phone to take advantage of it. Do not worry, you are not missing out on much, as 5G coverage around the world is still small.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Saudi Arabia? If you want to buy a SIM card in Saudi Arabia, I would recommend going with STC or Jawwy (owned by STC) because they have the best speeds and coverage in the country. If you are on a budget, go with Zain, but expect bad coverage when leaving populated areas.
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To buy a SIM card, you have to visit a store with your passport and visa. Fingerprints will be taken too as of 2015. Foreigners can have a maximum of 2 prepaid SIM cards on their names, which should not be a problem for most visitors.
All of the internet in Saudi Arabia is filtered, although most social media apps and messaging sites are not restricted. It is, however, still recommended to use a VPN when browsing the web in Saudi Arabia.
With that cover, let's explore our options in Saudi Arabia.
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!
Video Guide for Buying a SIM Card in Saudi Arabia
STC, or Saudi Telecom Company, is the market leader in Saudi Arabia. It is mostly state-owned but has the best coverage and speed throughout the country. STC plans on shutting down its 3G services in 2020, meaning that you need a 4G compatible phone if you want to get an STC SIM card.
STC SIM cards can be bought for SAR 31.5 ($8.40) in various stores. The cards come with 25 SAR in credit. You can recharge your card with vouches starting at 10 SAR up to 300 SAR. The more credit you add to your card, the longer the validity of your SIM card will be extended. 10 SAR gives you 5 days of service, while 300 SAR gives you 300 days.
You can add various combo packages. Some of them are highlighted below:
- 10 SAR: Daily pack – 200 MB and 200 minutes valid for 1 day
- 15 SAR: 15 pack – 400 MB and 400 minutes for 1 day
- 65 SAR: Like pack – 2 GB, 2GB STC WIFI, 5GB for social media, and 500 minutes, all valid for 28 days
- 90 SAR: Flex pack – 8 GB and 200 minutes valid for 28 days
- 110 SAR: Share pack – 5 GB, 5 GB STC WIFI, 10 GB for social media, and unlimited minutes, all valid for 28 days
- 160 SAR: Post pack – 10 GB, 10 GB STC WIFI, unlimited data for social media, and unlimited minutes, all valid for 28 days
- 220 SAR: Star pack – 100 GB, unlimited data for social media, and unlimited minutes, all valid for 28 days
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and YouTube count towards the social media quota, if any, and not your normal data allowance.
Only need data? STC has several data-only packages. These packages go all the way up to 500 GB for 6 months (for a whopping 730 SAR). Most travelers stay in Saudi Arabia for less than a month, so the following packages will be interesting (although more can be found on the STC website):
- 15 SAR: 1 GB for 1 week
- 20 SAR: Unlimited data for 1 day
- 30 SAR: 1 GB for 1 month
- 50 SAR: 2 GB for 1 month
- 80 SAR: 5 GB for 1 month
- 100 SAR: Unlimited data for 1 week.
- 110 SAR: 10 GB for 1 month
- 340 SAR: Unlimited data for 1 month.
As of 2016, STC launched Jawwy, which is its brand that focuses on prepaid plans. Almost everything has to be done through the app. You can buy a Jawwy SIM card online or in a Click & Collect store.
The following Jawwy starter packs are available:
- 30 SAR: SAR 25 in credit and 100 minutes for 1 month
- 70 SAR: 10 GB, 500 domestic minutes, and unlimited Jawwy WiFi for 1 month
- 150 SAR: 10 GB, unlimited apps data, and 1500 minutes for 1 month
Just interested in data? Check out their data plans, which all come with 100 minutes and 3000 on-net minutes. All packs are valid for 30 days:
- 30 SAR: 1 GB
- 60 SAR: 3 GB
- 75 SAR: 5 GB
- 100 SAR: 10 GB
- 110 SAR: 15 GB
- 120 SAR: 20 GB
- 150 SAR: 50 GB
Mobily provides good coverage and speeds in populated areas. 4G/LTE services can only be found in city centers. You can buy SIM cards for 30 SAR that come with 25 SAR in credit.
The following Mobily packages are available, which are all valid for 28 days:
- 30 SAR: 1 GB, 1 GB social media data, and 100 minutes
- 75 SAR: 5 GB, 5 GB social media data, and 500 minutes
- 150 SAR: 15 GB, unlimited social media data, and 2250 minutes
- 220 SAR: 100 GB, unlimited social media data, and unlimited minutes
- 360 SAR: unlimited standard and social media data, and unlimited minutes
YouTube, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are social media apps that are counted against your social media quota.
Need more data? Add the following (a selection of the many to choose from):
- 5 SAR: 150 MB valid for 14 days
- 20 SAR: 500 MB valid for 30 days
- 30 SAR: 1 GB valid for 30 days
- 50 SAR: 2 GB valid for 30 days
- 75 SAR: 5 GB valid for 30 days
- 95 SAR: 15 GB valid for 30 days
Only need data? eLife Connect is Mobily’s data-only plan:
- 175 SAR: 30 GB for 3 months
- 220 SAR: 50 GB for 2 months
- 230 SAR: 40 GB for 3 months
- 335 SAR: 150 GB for 3 months
- 450 SAR: 300 GB for 3 months
Zain is the smallest operator of the three but still provides decent coverage in populated areas and offers the lowest rates. Zain is active in more countries in the Middle East and Africa. Zain SIM cards can be bought at official Zain stores.
Zain sells two tourist SIM cards:
- For 55 SAR, you get 2 GB of data, unlimited on-net minutes, 30 minutes to other domestic networks, and SAR 20 international credits for 28 days
- For 99 SAR, you get 4 GB of data, unlimited on-net minutes, 60 minutes to other domestic networks, and SAR 50 international credits for 28 days
Not interested in tourist SIM cards? You can get Shabab plans, which are plans that offer data and minutes for 28 days:
- SAR 59: 4 GB, 5 GB social media data, and 500 minutes
- SAR 140: 10 GB, unlimited social media data, and 1500 minutes
- SAR 199: 100 GB, and unlimited social media data and minutes
WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram count against your social media quota.
Zain has data-only plans too. Below are a few of them:
- 1.5 SAR: 50 MB for 1 day
- 5 SAR: 200 MB for 7 days
- 12 SAR: 500 MB for 7 days
- 29 SAR: 2 GB for 30 days
- 50 SAR: 5 GB for 30 days
- 95 SAR: 15 GB for 30 days
Friendi mobile is an MVNO using the Zain network. Their SIM cards are sold for 25 SAR and come with 20 SAR in credit. Many packs are available, but a few are mentioned below:
- 2 SAR: 30 MB for 1 day
- 5 SAR: 100 MB for 3 days
- 9 SAR: 300 MB for 7 days
- 19 SAR: 750 MB for 30 days
- 28.50 SAR: 1.5 GB for 30 days
- 45 SAR: 3 GB for 30 days
- 60 SAR: 5 GB for 30 days
- 95 SAR: 15 GB for 30 days
Going for a data-only SIM card? The following packs are then available;
- 50 SAR: 2 GB
- 70 SAR: 3 GB
- 110 SAR: 5 GB
Virgin Mobile KSA
Virgin Mobile Saudi Arabia is an MVNO using the STC network. A SIM card can be bought for 30 SAR and comes with 25 SAR in credit to be used in 21 days.
The following combo packs are available, which are all valid for 30 days:
- 15 SAR: 300 MB and 50 minutes
- 30 SAR: 1 GB and 100 minutes
- 45 SAR: 2 GB, 100 minutes, and 200 SMS
- 70 SAR: 10 GB, 500 minutes, and 1000 SMS
- 165 SAR: 40 GB, 500 minutes, and 1000 SMS
Want more data? Add one of the following data packages, all valid for 30 days:
- 15 SAR: 500 MB
- 24 SAR: 1 GB
- 45 SAR: 2 GB
- 75 SAR: 4 GB
- 90 SAR: 8 GB
- 100 SAR: 10 GB
- 120 SAR: 20 GB
- 140 SAR: 40 GB
- 170 SAR: 80 GB
- 180 SAR: 100 GB
Lebara Saudi Arabia
Lebara is a well-known MVNO operating in many countries in Europe and Asia. With each top-up, you get free data. For example, a 50 SAR recharge gets you 500 MB for free, while a 100 SAR top-up gets you 1 GB.
Mobile Net Savers are the data packages Lebara sells. Below are a few of them:
- 5 SAR: 100 MB for 7 days
- 9 SAR: 300 MB for 7 days
- 19 SAR: 700 MB for 30 days
- 25 SAR: 1.5 GB for 30 days
- 45 SAR: 3 GB for 30 days
- 65 SAR: 7 GB for 30 days
- 110 SAR: 10 GB for 30 days
- 189 SAR: 20 GB for 30 days
- 260 SAR: 50 GB for 30 days
You can also buy data-only SIM cards. For those, the following data packs are available:
- 25 SAR: 1 GB for 30 days
- 40 SAR: 2 GB for 30 days
- 50 SAR: 3 GB for 45 days
- 125 SAR: 10 GB for 120 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Saudi Arabia
Besides getting a Saudi SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring Saudi Arabia, 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 Saudi Arabia without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in Saudi Arabia.
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 Saudi Arabia, 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 Saudi Arabia as well. This means that if you get 10 GB a month, you can use those 10 GB in Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia, 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 Saudi, 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 networks can be found in the cities, especially malls.
Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. I would recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) (especially in Saudi Arabia) 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 Saudi Arabia
Getting a SIM card from STC or Jawwy would do you well when considering a Saudi 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 the Middle East? Check out my Middle Eastern SIM card buying guide, covering other Middle Eastern countries, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. 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 Saudi Arabia
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 Saudi Arabia. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Saudi Arabia drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Saudi Arabia
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 Saudi Arabia. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Saudi hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Saudi Arabia
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 Saudi Arabia, 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!