Traveling in the Middle East and staying connected is often a lesson in costly frustration. Steep roaming charges hamper everything you want to do, and that is if your phone works in your destination. The trick is to use a prepaid SIM designed for the region.
But which is the best SIM card for the Middle East? The best SIM for the Middle East depends on the country. Typically, you want a local SIM, but in places that are considered to be warzones, you would need to use an international SIM card.
Local SIM cards offer numerous benefits and cost savings over other forms of mobile communication. Though, you may still want to use an international SIM regardless of where you want to go in the Middle East. As with anything, it comes down to how and why you want to use your phone while traveling.
What is a SIM card?
A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card identifies you to the cellular network. It is located in the back of your phone near the battery. This little card holds your phone number and other subscription information. Your phone is worthless without one.
Every SIM card also comes with a phone number. This number will be local to the region associated with the card. For instance, an American SIM will have a number that starts with a +1 and the area code of purchase. French SIM numbers start with +33. The same goes for Middle Eastern SIMs.
Some phones even allow Dual SIM options, where you use two SIM cards at once, each with a separate number. While not common, you may want to use a Dual SIM phone if you need to keep your home number while abroad along with your travel number.
How to Use a SIM card in the Middle East?
Generally, the SIM you need comes down to four different factors:
- Price – how much you can afford?
- Size – SIM cards come in Standard, Nano, and Micro
- Data – The bandwidth provided by the subscription
- Type – either local or international
While there are some variations, all SIM cards slide right into a small metal casing in the back of your phone. Sometimes, this SIM slot is under or below the battery. Other times, you find it on a side edge of the phone. Either way, the SIM clicks right into place and works immediately.
While you can insert the card yourself, you should have the salesperson do it for you. This will ensure that you have the card properly set up and activated for use. Please note, you can always call the card's helpline and have the customer service representatives walk you through it remotely.
Just note that you will need to present your passport to verify your identity to obtain and use a SIM card almost anywhere in the Middle East.
Use Local Middle Eastern SIM Cards When Available
While price, size, and data factors are universal and up to personal preference, the type of SIM you get is not. You need a SIM that works in the region where you will use it, and this limits the types of SIM you can use.
Generally, you want a local SIM card from the regions you will travel to or through.
Local SIM cards give you a local phone number, letting you reap the benefits of a local caller. Otherwise, you must deal with costly roaming charges. If you have a phone that is ready for international travel, local SIM cards can reduce your travel phone expenses down to just $10 per month.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Sure, getting a local SIM card varies from country to country. You must also understand the language of the nation along with where they typically sell mobile devices and cards.
Even if you do understand Arabic, you may still have issues picking up a local SIM card in the Middle East. You also must know if the country let tourists have local SIMs.
I will help you through the most common procedure for each country. I will show you which SIM card to use, where you can get them, and the price you will pay for them. Additionally, I will even show you the hassles most tourists will face in these regions.
Bahrain SIM Cards
Those visiting Bahrain can choose from three network providers, which are Batelco (Bahrain Telecom), Zain Bahrain, and STC Bahrain (formerly VIVA). Although all providers cover 99% of the country already (4G/LTE), I recommend going with STC because they have the lowest rates of them all.
STC is a telecom provider from Saudi Arabia that entered Bahrain in 2010. They used to be called VIVA (Bahrain), but they changed their name to STC (Bahrain) in December 2019. You may still see the VIVA branding when visiting Bahrain.
You can buy an STC SIM card, or SimSim as they call it, for BHD 1($2.65) in STC stores, from authorized dealers, and at Bahrain International Airport.
Since 2010, tourists visiting Bahrain have to register their personal details by showing their passport to the service provider. If you fail to do so, then the SIM card will be deactivated. Moreover, fingerprints will be taken when buying a SIM card. Finally, individuals in Bahrain may not buy more than 10 prepaid SIM cards from a single operator, but that should not be a problem for you… I hope.
Internet censorship is prevalent in Bahrain, meaning that you need to use a VPN if you want to access all of your favorite sites.
Once you have bought your STC SimSim, you will need to top it up, as it comes without credit. You can buy recharge cards starting from 1 BHD to 30 BHD. You get bonuses if you recharge for 10 BHD or more.
You can buy a weekly or monthly starter plan for BHD and BHD 6, respectively. The weekly plan comes with 100 domestic minutes and 1 GB of data for 7 days. Although the initial price of this plan starts at BHD 3, you can renew it for BHD 1.5. The monthly plan offers 500 domestic minutes and 6 GB of data for 30 days. Unlike the weekly plan, you have to pay another BHD 6 if you wish to renew the monthly plan.
The following data packs are available:
- 1 GB for BHD 1
- 3 GB for BHD 3
- 8 GB for BHD 5
- 20 GB for BHD 10
STC has two starter packs for its data-only SIM cards:
- 3 GB for BHD 4, which is valid for 7 days
- 10 GB for BHD 7, which is valid for 30 days
If 10 GB is not enough, you can top up your data-only SIM card with up to BHD 30, which will give you 60 GB of data for 30 days. If you go over the allowance, the speed will be reduced, meaning you will still be able to browse the web, although slowly.
Egypt SIM Cards
Egypt has four telecom providers: Vodafone Egypt, Orange Egypt, Etisalat Egypt, and WE (by Telecom Egypt).
I would not recommend going with WE because their service is not so reliable. WE has 2G and 3G roaming agreements with Orange and Etisalas, so their reliability has improved.
Each provider has its pros and cons, but there is no clear best provider. You can buy SIM cards at airports, official stores, authorized dealers, malls, and souvenir stores.
It may be difficult to make calls through VoIP, such as Whatsapp, Messenger, and FaceTime, because operators have blocked this option. A VPN can help you circumvent this block.
Vodafone is the largest provider with the best coverage but has higher rates than the others. Orange is a bit cheaper than Vodafone, is smaller than Vodafone, but has good coverage too. Etisalat’s 4G/LTE network is still being developed and can be used in major towns and cities.
The good thing about Vodaphone in Egypt is that it has tourist packages. The packages are for 4G services even though half the time, 4G service does not work.
The two packages that are available to tourists are:
- 5 GB, 200 local mins, 20 international mins: $18.60
- 30 GB, 200 local mins, 30 international mins: $31
Similar to Vodafone, this one also provides just tourist packages. They are a little bit pricier but can be expected since they are not the majority service provider.
The two packages include:
- 5 GB, 200 local mins, 20 international mins: $12.40
- 30 GB, 200 local mins, 30 international mins: $31
Just like the first two, this one also offers tourist packages. Even though it is a smaller provider compared to the first 2, the plan is better for Etisalat.
Their plan options are:
- Traveler 175: 5 GB, 500 local mins, 10 international mins, 500 local SMS- $10.85
- Traveler 350: 10 GB, 1500 local mins, 25 international mins, 1000 local SMS – $21.70
- Traveler 525: 20 GB, 3500 local mins, 50 international mins, 2000 local SMS – $32.55
Iran SIM Cards
Iran has three major telecom providers: Hamrah-e-Aval, Irancell, and RighTel. I recommend going with Irancell because they are the easiest to get a SIM card from as a tourist and offer the best rates. Haram-e-Aval is more expensive and challenging to get a SIM Card from, and RighTel has the worst coverage of them all.
Before discussing SIM card options with Irancell more in-depth, several things have to be discussed. As of 2017, all phones have to be registered, as per the National Mobile Registry Scheme. Otherwise, the phone will not be eligible to use an Iranian SIM Card. This does not apply to visitors who are roaming with their provider in Iran. This rule does not apply to expats, tourists, and businesspeople if they do not intend to use the SIM card for more than 30 days. Otherwise, they have to register their phones too.
If you plan on using an Iranian SIM card for more than 30 days, you have to register your phone at the customs office at the airport and have to pay an import tax. The tax will be determined by the customs officials.
In terms of prices, the Rial was replaced with the Toman in 2016. 1 Toman is 10 Rials. Although prices are advertised in Toman, the bank notes are still listed in Rail. This may be confusing when buying things in Iran, but the prices listed in this section will be in Toman. Multiply the price by 10 to get the price in Rial (or simply add a zero at the end).
Moreover, the internet is under close surveillance in Iran. Some websites, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have been blocked by the government. To access those websites and apps and to protect your identity, it is recommended to use a VPN.
Irancell sells tourist SIM cards at Teheran (Imam Khomeini) International Airport. As to be expected, tourist SIM cards are more expensive than regular SIM cards but only slightly. All tourist SIM cards are valid for a month and cannot be extended. You need your passport to buy any of these cards.
- 1.5 GB of data and 2000 Toman in airtime for 20000 Toman
- 3 GB of data and 14000 Toman in airtime for 35000 Toman
- 5 GB of data 22000 Toman in airtime for 50000 Toman
Iraq SIM Cards
I have not been to Iraq, and it is currently considered to be a warzone by many countries. Iraq has two big providers, which are Zain Iraw and Asiacell. I am sure that you can buy SIM cards from these providers. However, as infrastructure gets damaged by the ongoing conflict, and prices may change quickly because of hyperinflation, information about getting a SIM card in Iraq is unreliable. If you are visiting Iraq, you could roam with your provider or use an international SIM card, which will be discussed later in this article.
Israel SIM Cards
The three big providers in Israel are Cellcom, Partner, and Pelephone. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, Israeli prepaid SIM cards are anonymous, meaning that you do not need to register your card, have to get your passport checked, or give away your fingerprints.
If you are flying into Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, you will see a booth selling SIM cards. These SIM cards are tourist SIM cards that are not sold anywhere else in Israel. It is recommended to avoid buying these cards because they are overpriced and not worth your money.
Moreover, some shops may sell postpaid SIM cards as prepaid ones because those cards are cheaper than prepaid ones. The issue with accidentally buying a postpaid SIM card is that the seller could disconnect your line after a while when they suspect you not to come back, leaving you out of your money and no working SIM card. Therefore, it is recommended to buy your Israeli SIM card in official shops and post offices.
Cellcom is the largest telecom provider in Israel in terms of customers, but the other two providers are not far behind. Once you have bought your Cellcom SIM Card, you have to recharge it with credit, as it comes with no credit after purchase. Cellcom offers data-only plans and all-inclusive plans. All data-only plans are valid for 30 days, while the all-inclusive plans are valid for up to 30 days.
Below are some of Cellcom’s all-inclusive plans
- NIS 29: 150 MB, unlimited domestic calls and SMS valid for 2 days
- NIS 49: 3 GB, 1000 domestic minutes and SMS valid for 7 days
- NIS 59: 30 GB, 5000 domestic minutes and SMS for 30 days
Below you can find the data-only plans Cellcom offers
- NIS 99: 15 GB
- NIS 129: 20 GB
- NIS 149: 100 GB
Partner is the second-largest operator in Isreal and was known as Orange until 2016. You can a Partner SIM card for around NIS 30 to 40 with no credit on it. Initially, the SIM cards will only work on Partner’s 2G and 3G networks. To activate 4G/LTE, you have to dial *454 and follow the instructions.
Just like Cellcom, Partner offers all-inclusive packages and data-only packages. The validity of the all-inclusive packages range from 2 days up till 30 days, and the validity of the data-only plans start from 7 days up till 30 days.
Below are a few of Partner’s all-inclusive packages:
- NIS 29: 1 GB, 1000 domestic minutes and SMS for 2 days
- NIS 45: 5 GB and 50 on-net minutes for 7 days
- NIS 59: 35 GB, 3000 domestic minutes and SMS for 30 days
- NIS 140: 150 GB, 5000 domestic minutes and SMS for 30 days. Unlimited data usage for Whatsapp, Waze, Google Maps, Facebook, and Instagram
Partner’s data-only plans:
- NIS 39: 30 GB for 7 days
- NIS 69: 25 GB for 30 days
- NIS 149: Unlimited data for 30 days, although the speed will be reduced if using more than 200 GB
Pelephone is the smallest provider of the three and is the only provider without a 2G network. It used to have a 2G network, but it used the CDMA technology before it was shut down in 2017.
Below are some of the all-inclusive packages Pelephone offers:
- NIS 25: 300 MB, 300 domestic minutes and SMS for 3 days
- NIS 59: 35 GB, 3000 minutes and SMS for 30 days. Unlimited data usage for Whatsapp, Waze, Google Maps, Facebook, and Instagram
- NIS 99: 85 GB, 3000 minutes and SMS for 30 days. Unlimited data usage for Whatsapp, Waze, Google Maps, Facebook, and Instagram
The data-only plans Pelephone offers are:
- NIS 39: 5 GB for 30 days
- NIS 70: 50 GB for 30 days
- Nis 150: 200 GB for 30 days. Unlimited data usage for Whatsapp, Waze, Google Maps, Facebook, and Instagram
Jordan SIM Cards
While Jordan has three mobile providers (Zain Jordan, Umniah, and Orange Jordan), you want to stick with Zain Jordan, just Zain from now on.. Zain is the most popular network in the nation and has the best speeds, coverages, and prepaid packages for travelers.
Getting Azin's cards is simple. You can find their prepaid cards at the airport in Amman or at any of the local Zain shops in the city. Zain is the first retailer you see entering the town as well. Only a few places speak English, but Zain salespeople are friendly, and there is always someone around to help.
If you cannot find a Zain shop, you can even pick up their SIM cards at any mobile device store in the country.
Most Zain stores will also give you an unlocked phone, or they will gladly unlock one if they do not have one already in stock. You may need to provide your passport as proof of your identity, but you will not find any issues.
Regardless of where you go, Zain has all the standard mobile plans available, and you can get prepaid SIM cards for as little as 5 JOD (~ $7). The company even sells international SIM cards starting around 3.50 JOD for 50 text messages.
Zain even has data-only prepaid cards if you need them. While more expensive than the call/text/data bundle packs, you can still get them,
Zain sells monthly data-only SIM cards for:
- 1 GB for 5 JOD
- 2 GB for 8 JOD
- 4 GB for 12 JOD
- 10 GB for 20 JOD
Finally, Zain offers a tourist SIM package they call the Visitor's Line. It costs 29 JOD (~$40), but you get 50 international minutes, 50 GB of data, and more domestic calls than you typically get with a standard Jordan SIM card. The card remains active for up to three months as well.
Kuwait SIM Cards
In Kuwait, you can choose from three telecom providers: Zain Kuwait, Ooredoo Kuwait, and STC Kuwait (formerly VIVA). Zain Kuwait and Ooredoo Kuwait have the best service and coverage, while STC Kuwait is not as reliable as the other two. However, STC Kuwait can be cheaper at times. Once again, as there is no clear “best” provider in Kuwait, all providers will be listed.
You will notice that the allowance, especially the data allowance, is high with providers in Kuwait for reasonable prices. Apparently, Kuwait is connected to several international submarine cables that allow for high-speed internet. As the number of phone users has grown lately, the providers have been investing heavily in mobile, which is why the data allowance is much higher than you will see in other Middle Eastern countries or providers around the world.
You can buy a SIM card for KWD 5 ($16.45). You can buy these cards at booths at the international airport or in stores around the country. You do not have to register your card once you buy it.
Zain Kuwait, just Zain, has a leading position in terms of coverage, speed, and subscribers. Zain’s prepaid product is called eeZee, which can be bought for KWD 5 and comes with 5 KWD in credit. You can buy recharge cards for KWD 1.5 all the way up to KWD 25.
You can choose from the following data bundles, although some of them offer calls as well, and all bundles are valid for 30 days:
- KWD 5: 10 GB
- KWD 9: 50 GB and unlimited on-net calls
- KWD 12: 100 GB
- KWD 14: 100 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 500 local minutes
- KWD 18: 400 GB, unlimited domestic calls
You can also buy the data-only sim, which can get you 60 GB valid for 30 days for KWD 7. If that is not enough, you can top it up with 15 GB for KWD 3.
Ooredoo Kuwait, just Ooredoo, rivals Zain by providing as soon coverage and speed as Zain, but it is lacking behind in subscriber numbers. Ooredoo’s prepaid starter SIM card is called Xpress, which can be bought for KWD 5 and comes with KWD 5 in credit. Recharge cards with the values between KWD 1.5 to KWD 25 can be bought in numerous stores across Kuwait.
Below are Ooredoo’s packs, which are all valid for 30 days:
- KWD 5: 10 GB with 100 local minutes
- KWD 8: 25 GB with 150 local minutes
- KWD 12: 50 GB with 300 local minutes and unlimited on-net minutes
- KWD 16: 100 GB with 3000 local minutes and unlimited on-net minutes
Used up all of your data before the 30 days are over? You can add 15 GB for KWD 3.
STC Bahrain (formerly VIVA)
STC Bahrain, just STC, is a newcomer in Kuwait. They have the lowest prices of them all, but their coverage is not as robust as the other providers. STC was known as VIVA until December 2019, which is when they changed names.
STC starter SIM card is called allo and can be bought for KWD 5. Just like with the other providers, you get KWD 5 in credit. Recharge vouchers randing from KWD 1.5 to KWD 20 can be bought.
When buying an allo card, make sure to buy the local version because it comes with local calls and data allowance. The international version only allows you to make international calls.
The following STC packs are available:
- KWD 5: 5 GB with 100 local minutes
- KWD 8: 25 GB with 150 local minutes
- KWD 12: 50 GB with 300 local minutes
- KWD 18: 200 GB with unlimited local minutes
Extra data can be bought for KWD 3 and gives you 15 GB.
Just want data? The STC data-only plan offers 30 GB for KWD 7 and is valid for 30 days. It can be topped up with KWD 3 to get 15 GB more.
Lebanon SIM Cards
Lebanon has two telecom providers: Touch (by Zain) and Alfa (by Orascom). Both providers are stated-owned but run by foreign companies (Zaim and Orascom). The 4G/LTE network in Lebanon has coverage all over the country, but there are still some spotty locations, which is normal. Service in Lebanon is good, fast, and reliable.
However, just like in Iran and Turkey, the Lebanese government introduced a whitelist IMEI registration process, meaning that individuals have to register their phones with the local authorities. This process has been established to combat tax evasion (apparently, dealers were smuggling phones into the country without paying import duties, which is about 15% of the phone’s price). Luckily for visitors, the IMEI registration will not apply to them unless they are planning on staying in Lebanon for more than 90 days. Those who are roaming with their providers do not have to register their phones either.
Mobile phone usage is expensive in Lebanon compared to other countries in the region, mainly because of state regulations. Until 2017, it would cost you $25 to buy a starter SIM card. Now, it costs $3.30 after the minister of telecommunications adjusted the prices.
Lebanon uses the Lebanese Pound (LBP), which is pegged to the US Dollar. USD 1 is LBP 1507.5 at all times. As a result, all prices are listed in USD.
You can buy a Touch tourist SIM card, called the Visitor Line, at Beirut International Airport that comes with 10 GB of data, 100 local and international minutes, and 100 local and international SMS for $39. The allowance is valid for 14 days, but the card itself is valid for 365 days. You cannot use any other packages with the visitor line, meaning that you would have to spend another $39 for the same allowance. You need a valid passport and entry stamp that is not older than 3 months to buy the SIM card. If you just arrive in Lebanon, it should be easy to satisfy these requirements.
Both Touch and Alfa sell regular SIM cards as well. However, it may be challenging to buy them because of the IMEI registration requirement. It is also recommended to buy the tourist SIM card if you stay in Lebanon for more than 90 days, as it is not required to register tourist SIM card.
Oman SIM Cards
While rarely a destination for most, Oman does have a robust, tourist-friendly mobile network. The nation has several providers, but most of the time, you will deal with either Omantell or Ooredoo Oman while traveling though the Arabic state. Some travelers may run into a few Renna SIM resellers as well.
As a state-own entity and the largest provider in the nation, Omantell offers the best packages for short international trips. They have a large coverage area as well. Though, if your trip will expand beyond the borders of Oman, you should seek plans from Qatar's Ooredoo.
You will find shops and 24-hour booths for Ooredoo Oman, Ormantel, and Renna all over Muscat’s international airport. Therefore, you can get your SIM and phone all set up before you head into the country. Some of these places even speak English.
Regardless of where you get your SIM, you will need to present your passport and a method of payment. Most travels will not need an address, but some retailers will require you to register a local place. Fortunately, most hotels work in all situations.
Most places will accept cash or international credit cards for payment, and you can present your identity documentation digitally in many cases.
As for SIM pricing, most travelers should go with the Tourist Pack, which gives you 50 domestic minutes and texts, 2GB of data, and free WhatsApp usage. The pack works for up to 10 days after purchase and will only set you back OMR 5 ($13).
If you need more, Omantel offers the following 30-day packages:
- 1GB of data costs OMR 7 (~$18)
- 2GB of data costs OMR 10 ($26)
- 4GB of data costs OMR 15 ($39)
They have an international roaming plan (“Jawazak”) as well, but you are better off going elsewhere if your trip will take you outside of Oman. For instance, Ooredoo Oman has a one-day 1GB pass for OMR 4, and a 1GB, one-week worldwide pass for OMR 15.
Palestine SIM Cards
The Palestine territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have two providers: Jawwal and Ooredoo Palestine. Because of conflicts and disagreements between Palestine and Israel, it took years before Palestine had a 3G network. This network started to be developed in the West Bank since 2018 – the Gaza Strip has no 3G or 4G services because of security concerns by Israel.
It is possible to use an Israeli SIM card bought in Israel in Palestine. However, importing or selling Israeli SIM cards is a crime in Palestine, and those who import or sell them can be put in jail for that. As a tourist, you do not have to worry about that (unless you planned on selling SIM cards, then you should be worried), but you should not buy an Israeli SIM card on the black market because they are overpriced. If you are in the West Bank, you can use a Palestinian provider for faster speeds.
You can buy a Jawwal SIM card for NIS 29, which comes with NIS 1 of credit – you certainly want to top that up. The SIM card can be bought at any of Jawwal’s stores, while recharge cards can be bought in many sales outlets.
The following Jawwal data packs are available:
- NIS 5: 500 MB valid for 1 day
- NIS 18: 2 GB valid for 7 days
- NIS 25: 3 GB valid for 30 days
- NIS 40: 5 GB valid for 30 days
Ooredoo Palestine, formerly known as Wataniya Mobile and just Ooredoo from now on, sells its SIM cards at authorized dealers for NIS 20. Just like with Jawwal, you get 1 NIS of credit, meaning that you would want to top it up if you want to use it.
You can buy the following Ooredoo data packages, which are the same as Jawwal:
- NIS 5: 500 MB valid for 1 day
- NIS 18: 2 GB valid for 7 days
- NIS 25: 3 GB valid for 30 days
- NIS 40: 5 GB valid for 30 days
Qatar SIM Cards
Qatar has two mobile network operators: Ooredoo Qatar and Vodafone Qatar. Ooredoo Qatar, just Ooredoo, has better coverage and higher speeds than Vodafone Qatar, just Vodafone. However, it is also more expensive than Vodafone. If you are on a budget and stay around busy places, Vodafone will do. Planning on going to not-so-populated places? Ooredoo will serve you well.
Note that you do need to buy your SIM card at the airport or at the store of the network provider. You need to show your passport to register your card. You can only have 2 numbers assigned to your name and passport numbers (compared to the 5 residents get), but that should not be a problem as a visitor (or if you are like me and want a SIM card from both providers to that you can test them out).
Qatar censors part of the internet. Although Qatar has its guidelines for what sites get blocked, many users have complained that normal websites that do not meet the censor requirements got blocked too. These websites can be accessed with a VPN.
Ooredoo is the market leader in Qatar with 2/3 of all customers in the country. Ooredoo has the best coverage and provides the best service. Their prepaid line is called Hala, and you can buy the Hala starter set for QR 35 ($9.60). The set comes with 250 domestic minutes and 250 MB of data, all valid for 7 days. You can recharge your card with vouchers between QAR 10 and QAR 500.
The following data packs are available with Ooredoo:
- QAR 10: 500 MB valid until midnight
- QAR 30: 1 GB valid for 14 days
- QAR 60: 2.5 GB valid for 28 days
- QAR 80: 4 GB valid for 28 days
- QAR 100: 7 GB valid for 28 days
You can buy a Vodafone welcome pack for QR 25, which comes with local minutes. You can top it up at Vodafone stores or online from QAR 20 up to QAR 500.
If you have a 5G smartphone, you are in luck. You can test out Vodafone’s 5G network with those devices. The 5G network is live in some locations across Qatar, such as Al Waab, Al Azizya, and Khartiyat.
The following Vodafone data packs are available:
- Weekly Pack (QAR) 6: 75 MB valid for 7 days
- Weekly Pack (QAR) 20: 150 MB valid for 7 days
- Weekly Pack (QAR) 125: unlimited data valid for 7 days
- Internet (QAR) 30: 500 MB valid for 15 days
- Internet (QAR) 60: 2.5 GB valid for 28 days
- Internet (QAR) 80: 4 GB valid for 28 days
Saudi Arabia SIM Cards
Saudi Arabia has three major telecom providers: STC, Mobily, and Zain Saudi Arabia. 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 Saudia Arabia, just Zain, is the only provider to offer tourist SIM cards.
To buy a SIM card, you have to visit a store with your passport and your 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.
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, meaning that you need a 4G compatible phone if you want to get an STC SIM card.
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:
- SAR 30 comes with SAR 25 of credit and 100 minutes for 1 month
- SAR 70 comes with 10 GB with 500 domestic minutes and unlimited Jawwy WiFi for 1 month
- SAR 150 comes with 10 GB, unlimited apps, and 1500 minutes for 1 month
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 SAR 30 that come with SAR 25 in credit.
The following Mobily packages are available, which are all valid for 28 days:
- SAR 30: 1 GB of regular data, 1 GB of social media data, and 100 minutes
- SAR 75: 5 GB of regular data, 5 GB of social media data, and 500 minutes
- SAR 150: 15 GB of regular data, unlimited social media data, and 2250 minutes
- SAR 220: 100 GB of regular data, unlimited social media data, and unlimited minutes
- SAR 360: unlimited regular 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.
If you are interested in Mobily data-only plans, you can pick any of these:
- SAR 5: 150 MB valid for 14 days
- SAR 20: 500 MB valid for 30 days
- SAR 30: 1 GB valid for 30 days
- SAR 50: 2 GB valid for 30 days
- SAR 75: 5 GB valid for 30 days
Zain is the smallest operator of the three but still provides decent coverage in populated areas. Zain SIM cards can be bought at official Zain stores.
Zain sells two tourist SIM cards:
- For SAR 55, 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 SAR 99, 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 of regular data, 5 GB of social media data, and 500 minutes
- SAR 140: 10 GB of regular data, unlimited social media data, and 1500 minutes
- SAR 199: 100 GB of regular data, and unlimited social media data and minutes
Syria SIM Cards
Just like Iraq, Syria is considered to be a warzone by many countries, more than Iraq. Syra has two providers: MTN Syria and Syriatel. Due to the ongoing conflict, I am not sure how many would be interested in visiting the country. You can probably buy SIM cards in Syria, although it may be challenging to find stores and the registration process could be tough. I have not been to Syria, so I have no first-hand information about Syrian SIM card options. The prices listed online are outdated. If you are going to Syria, you may want to roam with your provider or use an international SIM card, which is discussed further down this article.
Turkey SIM Cards
A combination of European and Middle Eastern cultures, Turkey is a popular travel spot not just in the Middle East but also around the world. It is also one of the few places in the Middle East that lets foreigners have Turkish SIM cards and phones.
Having access to SIM cards from Turkey helps any travel with a budget. The nation may be very inexpensive as a destination, but it has one of the highest international phone rates in the world. Even local prepaid SIM cards will eat your money if you let them.
The main problem with Turkish SIM cards is the lack of availability. Most phone vendors in Turkey are not prepared to sell cards to foreigners, especially at the “official” price. At least, your cellular and data coverage will be fast and reliable across the nation, but especially in the cities and tourist towns.
Either way, I recommend that you pick up SIM cards from Turkcell.
Turkey has three mobile operators as of this article:
- Vodafone Turkey
- Türk Telekom
Out of these three, only Turkcell is tourist-friendly. They have the most extensive coverage area with more customers than the other providers. Vodafone Turkey, just Vodafone, is an excellent alternative if you need something data-heavy, but Turkcell has the best overall packages, which range from 8GB of data on the low end and 50GB on the high.
Generally, you can expect to pay around 185 TRY ($31) for the 8GB plan with SIM cans in all packages. You will find smaller prices if you venture away from the tourist traps and find a local mobile store.
All three companies will push you to their international cards, though. So, prepare to pay even higher prices if you cannot speak Turkish or haggle them down to a more local plan. Some vendors will even block your phone if you fail to let them set your phone and SIM up for you as well.
Just note that every foreign phone will stop functioning after 120 days while in Turkey under Turkish law. If you need a longer stay, you must first register your phone with a tax office and pay the high registration fee. Fortunately, it is effortless to find a SIM card vendor in all the tourist destinations.
United Arab Emirates SIM Cards
As one of the wealthier nations in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an expensive destination. If you go there, you should plan on spending big bucks on everything, including a local UAE SIM card.
Called “SIMs” or “Chips” by the locals, these UAE SIM cards are significantly cheaper than using your own phone while in the Arab nation despite their high costs.
Fortunately, the UAE has a foreigner-friendly mobile network with a bunch of excellent prepaid SIM cards available. However, unlike the other nations on the list, the UAE does not have a clearly defined “best SIM card” provider.
The UAE has two leading cellular operators: Etisalat UAE and Du Mobile. Both companies offer tourist-friendly mobile plans that are highly rated by both locals and travelers. They have strict approval processes, but both companies are legitimate and trustworthy with extensive coverage maps and good signal quality.
Bother operators have reasonable roaming rates and a wide range of prepared packages. They both offer the same GSM 2G, 3G, and 4G service. You can also buy these packages with just a passport. You must file a registration form, but both companies will give you an already activated SIM with your purchase.
Just note the UAE has some strict internet rules and regulations and does censor content. You will need a VPN before entering the country, such as NordVPN (which you can get with up to 70% off), and even then, you may want to watch what you type. You can find prepaid SIM card everywhere, and in every store and supermarket, though.
As the larger operator, Etisalat has the best coverage and speeds, but you can only get their SIM cards from their official retailers. Though, you can find credit reloading cards in most stores in the UAE with the standard rate of AED1 per MB ($0.27).
These “Wasel” prepaid SIM cards cost only AED55 for any size and come with AED1 in extra bonuses. They are only good for the day of purchase, but you can get credit vouchers for AED25, AED50, AED100, AED200, and AED500. Regardless, Etisalat plans to expire after 9 months after your last credit purchase.
The company also offers a “Visitor Line” for AED100 with 30 minutes, 20 SMS texts, and 500MB of mobile data. You can add 1GB of mobile data and 5 additional talking hours through booster packs. Both the packs and the main package remain active for 14 days.
Du Mobile also provides the same level of service throughout the UAE as Etisalat. They also have the same restrictions on Internet use and where you can buy their SIM card. That is, you can only get them from Du Mobile stores, but you can find their booster packs everywhere.
However, while Etisalat offers all their mobile plans to travelers, Du Mobile restricts international users to just two packages:
- Pay as you go for AED55 – Valid for 9 months, this plan gives you 20 minutes of international call time, plus credit bonus, per day
- Tourist Plan for AED75 – 200MB data and 20 minutes international calls for every 7 days, active for 90 days
You can get credit-recharging booster packs for both plans in AED20, AED50, AED100, AED200, and AED500 denominations, with a standard data rate of AED1 per MB.
RELATED: Want to learn more about SIM cards in the United Arab Emirates? Check out my United Arab Emirates SIM card buying guide with up-to-date and detailed information regarding prices and packages.
Yemen SIM Cards
Yemen is like Iraq and Syria considered to be a warzone by many countries. Yemen has three big providers: Spacetel, Sabafon, and Yemen Mobile. Yemen Mobile, however, uses CDMA technology, meaning that they are out of reach for most people who have a GSM phone (which is almost everyone). You can certainly buy SIM cards from these providers. As I have not been to Yemen yet, I do not know anything about the prices or the options. You can roam with your provider in Yemen or buy an international SIM card, which is discussed below.
When to Use an International SIM Card in the Middle East
Generally, you always want to grab a local SIM card and mobile plan wherever your travels take you. A local SIM card will give you the best coverage and rates. You also get a local phone number, which might be a good thing if you find yourself in a place where you want to hide that you are a foreigner.
Sometimes called travel SIM cards, international SIMs do offer several benefits over local cards, which may make you want to use them even if you have local options. For one, they let you use a single phone number that will not change regardless of how many times you cross a border.
For another, they offer the most cost-efficient rates if you are an infrequent traveler, allowing you to not spend unnecessary money on new SIM cards and mobile packages every time you step off a plane. For instance, business travelers should strongly consider a travel SIM for convenience.
Another good reason to use International SIMs is that they rarely expire. Thus, you can use them for several trips without worrying if you will have mobile service at your destinations. Any leftover credit will roll over into your next trip.
You may also want an international SIM card if your trip will quickly pass through several nations before you reach for your final destination. In these situations, the cost benefits of local SIM cards become irrelevant.
You also must use a travel SIM card if your Middle East trip ventures into nations other than the five we mentioned above.
Best International SIM cards for the Middle East
If you do need a travel SIM card, you may be wondering which international SIM card works best in the Middle East. The correct answer tends to correspond with the best overall travel SIM cards, which we will present below.
Please note that even a travel SIM card will not protect you from local rules, regulations, and internet censorship. We recommend that you get a VPN, like NordVPN, whenever you enter the Middle East and be careful of what you do online.
OneSimCard comes from the US carrier Belmont Telecom, and you can find it in the following three packages.
- Plus SIM – unlimited international calls and messages, but limited data service
- Data & Roam – unlimited international calls, messages, and data
- Europe – unlimited international calls, messages, and data but only in Europe
Each of these plans gives you two different phone numbers to use. One of these numbers is set in Europe, typically for Estonia. The other is from either the USA, Canada, UK, or Australia, though you can choose any nation for this second number.
All plans are prepaid and come with free incoming calls and messages and reduced rates for outgoing calls to over 200 countries. Though, only the Plus and Data & Roam packs will work in the Middle East.
They also have dedicated data SIM plans that start at $0.05 per MB in several denominations.
WorldSIM is another great international option for Middle Eastern trips. Available in over 200 countries, they can reduce your travel roaming rates by as much as 95%.
WorldSIM plans come in four packages:
- Infinity – voice plans with automatic Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity
- Data – data-only
- International – voice, messages, and data
- UK Travel – voice, messages, and data, but only for UK residents
Each plan comes with a number from both the UK and the US, and you can add additional numbers as you need them. Either way, WorldSIM provides free incoming calls from over 95 countries with rates that start at $0.10 per MB or minute.
Available in 64 countries around the world, including in the Middle East, KeepGo plans start at $19 for 500MB and go up to $219 for 10GB. They also offer a Lifetime Data SIM Card which provides an additional 1GB every year. Plus, everything rolls over to your next trip, if you buy a plan once a year,
GoSIM offers four different travel SIM plans:
- International – their standard international voice, messaging and data plan
- Data – data only: $0.25 per MB, $29 for 250MB, 500MB, 1GB, or 2GB.
- Europe – voice, messaging and data but only within Europe
- US – international calls from the US
You can only use their International and Data plans in the Middle East, but you do get a UK number you can use globally. Also, GoSIM provides free incoming calls, but you must pay a 9 cents surcharge for each incoming message. Their outgoing rate is $0.25 per minute.
KnowRoaming provides physical SIM cards, an eSIM service, and a special sticker adapter you can apply to your phone’s current SIM card. Regardless of which plan you get, the company will switch you to a local network for voice, messages, and data whenever possible.
Their plans include:
- Unlimited – $3.99 per day in eligible countries, valid for 15-30 days
- Pay-as-you-go – $0.15 per MB, $0.11 per minute for outgoing calls
Similar to KeepGo, GigSky is a data-only travel SIM provider with data packagers ranging from 50MB to 5GB. Their service works with all devices, but iPad users may get extra coverage in some places.
Their rates also vary from region to region. We recommend checking with them first to get their current Middle East rates before you buy one of their cards.
Speaking of which, you can buy GigSky SIM cards and boosters from Amazon.
Surfroam is yet another data-only travel SIM provider, though they have no restriction on compatible devices. You can even use eSIM cards with them. All of their plans also have a single per-megabyte rate that starts at 0.01€/MB (10€ per gigabyte). Though, you must pay 15-20€ for the SIM card.
Final Tips for Traveling to the Middle East
Despite modern advancements in technology, many Middle Eastern countries still pose several restrictions on what people can view and do within their borders. That is if they allow foreigners and locals to have internet access in the first place. These restrictions may make choosing the right SIM card to use difficult. Here are a few tips to deal with them or to get around them
- Use a VPN when possible
- Understand the restrictions and allowed apps for your destination places.
- Make note which places will let you use a local SIM and those which will require you have an international one.
- Use a local SIM card whenever possible. This will save you money for other things on your trip.
- Use a travel SIM if your trip will cross several countries, especially if you will head into regions that do not allow foreigners to have local mobile plans
- Have local currency on hand at all times
- Buy travel insurance before you head out on your Middle East trip.
- Let the salesperson install and activate your SIM as you buy them. This will ensure that everything is correctly setup when you need them.
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