Tonga is another beautiful island in Oceania. With blue waters and beautiful beaches, it is certainly a great destination to relax.
From swimming with humpback whales in Vava'u to being at “romantic places” – 😉 – in Nuku'alofa, you will certainly enjoy your time in Tonga.
What you may not enjoy dealing with an expensive roaming bill after roaming with your provider in Tonga. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers want to buy a Tongan SIM card.
In this article, I will go over everything you need to buy in Tonga. Let's have a look.
Telecom Providers in Tonga
Tonga has 2 telecom providers: Digicel Tonga and TCC U-Call. Both operators have 2G and 3G networks. Digicel started with 4G/LTE in 2017.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Tonga? If you want to buy a SIM card in Tonga, I would recommend going with Digicel if you are staying in populated areas and want high speeds. If you want to explore remote Tonga, then you should go with TCC U-Call.
Unlike most countries in Oceania, you do have to show your passport when buying a Tongan SIM card.
There is not that much more to say about Tonga, so let’s see what Digicel Tonga and TCC U-Call.
Digicel Tonga, just Digicel, is the biggest operator on the archipelago. Although Digicel has surpassed TCC U-Call in terms of subscribers, they are only active on the main islands of Tonga. As a result, Digicel should not be considered if planning on going to inhabited islands.
Just like in other countries in Oceania, the Caribbean, and Central America, Digicel used to advertise its 3G network, HSPA+, in Tonga as 4G/LTE, which was misleading. They started building their 4G/LTE network in 2017, so they do have real 4G/LTE in Tonga now.
You can get a Digicel SIM card for free at Fua’amotu International Airport, or you can buy one at a Digicel store for 5 TOP ($2.20). Top-up cards are sold from 2 TOP to 50 TOP, and you can also recharge online with a credit card or with PayPal.
The following Digicel data packages can be added:
- 1 TOP: 100 MB for 1 hour
- 2 TOP: 200 MB for 24 hours
- 5 TOP: 500 MB for 7 days
- 10 TOP: 1 GB for 14 days
- 20 TOP: 2 GB for 30 days
You can also get one of Digicel’s unlimited data packs, which have an undisclosed fair-use policy. Using these plans will get your speed reduced to slower speeds after hitting an allowance, but it is unclear what your allowance is. Below are Digicel’s unlimited packs:
- 2 TOP: Unlimited data for 24 hours
- 5 TOP: Unlimited data for 5 hours from 12 AM until 5 AM
- 10 TOP: Unlimited data for 10 hours
TCC U-Call, simply U-Call, is the mobile brand of the state-owned company called TCC. Unlike Digicel, they do not have a 4G/LTE network. Instead, they only have 2G and 3G networks.
TCC U-Call SIM cards are sold for 5 TOP in TCC stores, from vendors, or at Fua’amotu International Airport. The starter pack comes with 500 MB, 500 minutes, and 500 SMS. Recharge cards are sold from 10 TOP to 20 TOP. The following data packs can be added:
- 1 TOP: 300 MB for 1 hour
- 1.5 TOP: 40 MB and 100 MB for Facebook for 24 hours
- 2 TOP: 100 MB for 24 hours
- 3 TOP: 200 MB for 3 days
- 5 TOP: 140 MB and 600 MB for Facebook for 7 days
- 7 TOP: 500 MB for 7 days
- 13 TOP: 1 GB for 15 days
- 20 TOP: 500 MB and 2 GB for Facebook for 30 days
- 25 TOP: 2 GB for 25 days
- 33 TOP: 4 GB for 30 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Tonga
I have discussed the relevant providers in Tonga in this article because using a Tongan SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Tonga. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Tonga.
Roaming in Tonga 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. Let’s say your provider is Digicel Nauru, then you would be roaming with Digicel Nauru in Tonga.
The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.
Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Tonga, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.
As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Tonga and can roam for free there.
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Tonga.
Using an International SIM Card in Tonga
International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.
The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, and Surfroam.
They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.
Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Tonga. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in Africa require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
Using Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Tonga
Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!
I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.
That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Tonga
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Tonga which is using free WIFI networks.
Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.
First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.
In the case of Tonga, you will not find many hotspots throughout the country.
Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Tonga
Getting a SIM card from either Digicel or TCC U-Call would do you well when considering a Tongan 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 Oceania? Check out my Oceanian SIM card buying guide covering the other Oceanian destinations, such as American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna. 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 Tonga
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 Tonga. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Tonga drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Tonga
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 Tonga. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Tongan hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Tonga
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 Tonga, 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!