The Philippines is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia. As it consists of many islands, more than 7600, you can find the coast easily and enjoy your time at the beach. Moreover, Filipinos are friendly, and the cost of living is relatively cheap when compared to other Southeast Asian countries.
Although prices are low in the Philippines, roaming with your provider can be expensive if you do not watch out. That is why many travelers want to buy a Filipino SIM card when exploring the Philippines. That way, they can pay local rates instead of coming back home with an expensive roaming bill. In this article, I will explore the phone options you have in this lovely country. Let’s go.
Telecom Providers in the Philippines
The Philippines has two telecom providers: Globe and SMART. Globe has the most subscribers with more than 74 million subscribers, while SMART has more than 60 million subscribers. Normally, the largest provider has the best coverage or speeds. In the case of the Philippines, however, that is not the case. Let me explain.
Coverage and speed with both Globe and SMART are bad. Like really bad. Various speed tests even claim that the Philippines has one of the slowest mobile internet speeds in the world. When I was in the Philippines in 2015, I went with Globe because my employer bought a Globe SIM card for me. My connection and speeds were awful, almost embarrassing. Apparently, SMART is not much better.
It is so bad that many locals have a SIM card from both Globe and SMART so that they can pick the “best” one depending on the area they are in. I cannot tell you what SIM works the best in a specific area, but you could ask a local what provider they use before buying a card. Of course, you should not ask a Globe or SMART salesperson, as they will say their provider is the best.
So what SIM card should you buy when visiting the Philippines? If you want to buy a SIM card in the Philippines, I would recommend going with both Smart and Globe is you are traveling throughout the country. If you are staying in one area, ask a few locals what SIM card they use in that area and take their advice. That way, you will get the “best” experience.
2G coverage is good for both providers. However, it is useless for actual data usege. Mainly because 2G is slow and because of network congestion. 3G coverage is alright, but speeds may be subpar. 4G/LTE is not nationwide yet (I am not sure if 4G was even a thing in the Philippines back in 2015. I do know that if it was, I did not experience it).
In 2015, one did not need to show their ID to buy a SIM card. That changed from 2018, meaning that you need to bring your passport when buying a Filipino SIM card.
With that out of the way, let’s see what both providers have to offer to us.
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!
Globe is the largest telecom provider in the Philippines. It offers some unique deals and specials to their customers. The Traveler SIM card is free (at select international airports and on Philippine Airlines flights) for travelers. It comes with 300 MB and unlimited calls to Globe numbers, all valid for a day. The following 2 packages can be added:
- 350 PHP: 4GB, unlimited on-net calls, and unlimited all-net SMS for 7 days
- 700 PHP: 8 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and unlimited all-net SMS for 15 days
Not interest in a tourist SIM card and want to live like a local? You can buy a standard Globe SIM card for 40 PHP everywhere around the Philippines (make sure the SIM card is 4G-enabled, as some stores may sell older cards).
All freshly bought SIM cards come with 70 MB to be used within 7 days.
The data packages are called GoSURF with a number. The number represents the price in PHP.
- GoSURF15: 100 MB for 2 days
- GoSURF50: 1 GB for 3 days
- GoSURF299: 2 GB for 30 days
- GoSURF599: 5 GB for 30 days
- GoSURF999: 10 GB for 30 days
All GoSURF packages come with unlimited SMS.
Want minutes as well? Consider the GoSAKTO packages that include unlimited minutes to Globe numbers in select plans. You also get unlimited SMS to all Filipino networks. Just like GoSURF, the numbers represent the price.
- GoSAKTO70: 1 GB
- GoSAKTO90: 2 GB
- GoSAKTO120: 1 GB with unlimited on-net minutes
- GoSAKTO140: 2 GB with unlimited on-net minutes
SMART is the other Filipino provider. Just like Globe, they hand out tourist SIM cards for free at international airports and on select Cebu Pacific flights. If you buy a SIM card in town, you will pay 40 PHP, which will get you 300 MB instantly.
The following data packages are available. Just like with Globe, the numbers represent the price for the package:
- BigBytes 5: 15 MB for 1 day
- BigBytes 10: 40 MB for 1 day
- BigBytes 15: 40 MB for 2 days
- BigBytes 30: 100 MB for 1 day
- GigaSurf 50: 1 GB for 3 days
- GigaSurf 99 1.5 GB for 7 days
- GigaSurf 299: 2 GB for 30 days
- GigaSurf 599: 5 GB for 30 days
- GigaSurf 899: 8 GB for 30 days
SMART also offers packages that come with bonus data, 1 GB, for select social media apps or games, like Instagram, Facebook, Clash Royale, and Clash of Clans. These GIGA plans start from 50 PHP with at least 1 GB to 399 PHP with max. 8 GB, valid for 3 days to 30 days. The most expensive plan for the games packages costs 499 PHP with 8 GB and 1 GB of game data, also valid for 30 days.
SMART has combo packages, which include data, voice, and SMS. As there are so many, I will mention the most expensive ones for each category. You can find the prices on the SMART website.
- UCT 350 – 50 PHP: 1 GB, free WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, unlimited on-net calls, and unlimited SMS to all Filipino networks, all valid for 30 days
- All Out Surf 99 – 99 PHP: 1 GB, 100 MB for Facebook, 100 on-net minutes, and unlimited SMS to all Filipino networks, all valid for 7 days
- Giga+ – 649 PHP: 8 GB, 1 GB a day for YouTube and a few other video-streaming sites, unlimited on-net minutes, and unlimited SMS to all Filipino networks, all valid for 30 days
- Giga All-IN 849 – 849 PHP: 8 GB, 1 GB a day for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and a few other video-streaming sites, unlimited minutes and SMS to all Filipino networks, all valid for 30 days
The SMART Bro packages are perhaps the most interesting out there. You get 800 MB per day extending to the validity of the package. For example, SurfMax 200 (PHP) is valid for 5 days. As you get 800 MB per day, you can use max. 4000 MB with this plan.
- SurfMax 50: 1 day (max. 800 MB)
- SurfMax 85: 2 days (max. 1600 MB)
- SurfMax 200: 5 days (max. 4000 MB)
- SurfMax 250: 7 days (max. 5600 MB)
- SurfMax 500: 15 days (max. 12000 MB)
- SurfMax 995: 30 days (max. 24000 MB)
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in the Philipines
Besides getting a Filipino SIM card, there are different ways of staying connected when exploring the Philippines, such as using an international SIM card, roaming with your provider, using pocket WIFI, or WIFI networks.
Roaming in the Philippines 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 the Philippines without changing SIM cards, you would be roaming in the Philippines.
Roaming can be expensive. This person received an £8,348.41 data roaming bill. I also found out why roaming is so expensive. However, it does not always have to be costly.
Many providers offer roaming plans where you can roam for free in select destinations likethe Philippines. Others may offer bundles that give you some minutes, SMS, and data. You also have providers that allow you to use your plan's allowance for a daily fee. Every carrier is different, so it is recommended to explore your roaming options before you go out and experience bill shock (which is not fun). Luckily, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers so that you do not have to.
You can also Roam As You Go, meaning that you will pay per minute, text, and MB. In most cases, this is not recommended, as these rates are insanely high (that is how people get bills in the thousands). There are some providers, however, that do have attractive Pay As You Go roaming rates. Do not get too excited though, as the number of carriers that have decent standard roaming rates are rare.
International SIM Cards
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
There are many international SIM cards out there, such as OneSimCard and SIM cards from SimOptions. These SIM cards with the same as roaming with your provider, but the charges are often way less than actually roaming because they have been set up for international travel.
International SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. As in, not having to get numerous SIM cards, you will not use again, and being reachable on one number instead of multiple
International SIM cards are, however, more expensive than using a local SIM card, such as a Filipino one. On the other hand, they are often cheaper than roaming with your provider. International SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or those who are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. In the Philippines, you have to show your passport to get a SIM card. Other countries may demand more, which will waste your valuable holiday time. If you are only visiting the Philippines, stick to a local SIM. Check out my comparison post where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers.
Portable hotspots, or pocket WIFI, are devices small enough that they should fit into your pocket. These devices turn into your on-the-go WIFI hotspot while they connect to the cellular networks in the country.
There are many portable hotspots out there. Two reputable pocket WIFI companies I know are Skyroam (use coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ) and Vision Global Wireless. WIFI access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day. Using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
A pocket WIFI device is ideal for those who are traveling with families or multiple individuals. This way, everyone can connect to the device and enjoy the WIFI network on the go. Some companies will charge you per GB while others will give you unlimited data. Be aware of the data restrictions of your device so that you will not receive a high bill after your travels.
Free WIFI connections
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected: Free WIFI hotspots.
Although using WIFI hotspots may save you money, it may not be convenient as using a SIM card. First, you would have to find WIFI hotspots. Unlike North America and Europe, the Philippines does not prevalently use WIFI, meaning it may be a challenge to find a hotspot. Once you have found one, they may not even work or are extremely slow.
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 the Philippines
Getting a SIM card from both Globe and Smart would do you well when considering Filipino SIM cards. If you are only staying in one, ask the locals which one has the best reception in your area. 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, Malaysia, Myanmar, 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 the Philippines
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 the Philippines. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to the Philippines drop.
Book Your Accommodation for the Philippines
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 the Philippines. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Filipino hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for the Philippines
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 the Philippines, 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!