It is quite a challenge to get a visa for Turkmenistan. The country has a strict visa policy, which makes it a relatively unpopular travel destination. If you manage to get a visa, however, you will have to see the capital, Ashgabat where you can see the Wedding Palace. Mary has ancient ruins, and you can find nature reserves in Turkmenbashi.
There are not many providers that have a roaming agreement with telecom providers in Turkmenistan. If they do, then the roaming rates will be high. Roaming with your provider can be expensive in many cases, especially in Turkmenistan. Therefore, if you want to stay connected when exploring this country, you would want to buy a Turkman SIM card.
In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Turkmenistan. Let's go.
Original publication: 10th of January 2020. Last updated: 13th of November 2022.
Table of Contents
Telecom Providers in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan has 2 telecom providers: TM Cell by Altyn Asyr and Ay Nazar by ASTU. Ay Nazar runs on CMDA, which is incompatible with most phones in the world. Therefore, they will not be discussed any further in this article. The country used to have a third provider called MTS, but it discontinued for some reason. Other sites may still recommend MTS because they had good service. Unfortunately, they are not around anymore.
It is quite a challenge to get a SIM card in Turkmenistan. Just like in other Central Asian countries, you have to show your passport when buying a SIM card. However, it used to be almost impossible to get a SIM card as a visitor, just like how difficult it is to get a visa for Turkmenistan.
According to reports, the best place to get a Turkman SIM card is at the Altyn Asyr office in Ashgabat. You will be asked about your visa and proof of address when buying a SIM card. You can try other stores, but the chance of succeeding there is limited.
As a visitor, you can only have 2 SIM cards on your name. As there is currently only one useful operator in Turkmenistan, it should not be a problem. However, you used to be able to get 5 SIM cards when MTS was still operating.
Censorship is prevalent in Turkmenistan. The internet is heavily censored and regulated by the authorities. Moreover, the internet is not fully accessible to the Turkman population. Those who use the web are closely watched by the government.
Turkmenistan is not connected to the World Wide Web. Instead, the country uses Turkmenet, which is a censored version of the internet. Social media sites and most websites are blocked. They do not have a firewall like China – Turkmenistan has its own internet, like North Korea.
Because of the censorship, I would normally recommend getting a VPN to browse the web freely. However, that does not seem to be a good idea in Turkmenistan because using VPNs can have severe consequences. They can find you easily because your SIM card is registered to you and your address and because they use Turkmenet, which allows its users to connect to a handful of websites and IP addresses.
As soon as the service notices that you are trying to use Open VPN (the protocol most VPN providers use), your connection will be shut down… and you may get a visit from some “friendly” people wondering what you were doing.
Once your service has been shut down, you would need a new SIM card. I am not sure if you would get a new one after the operator has found out that you were trying to use a VPN, so I would not recommend trying it.
Typically, I would also recommend using WiFI connections if you can. In this case, WiFi is slow, expensive, and rare. The WiFi hotspots are also heavily censored. With all of that, they are not recommended to travelers.
With this in mind, you would think that roaming with your provider may be a good idea. However, as mentioned earlier, not many operators have a roaming agreement with TM Cell. If they do, the roaming rates are insanely high. The same counts for using an international SIM card. Surfroam allows you to data roam for €12/MB (or €12 288/GB), which is expensive. OneSimCard allows you to make calls and send SMS, but not use data. A handful of other international SIM card providers may cover Turkmenistan but be prepared to pay a hefty price for data.
If you plan on visiting Russia before going to Turkmenistan, then using MegaFon may be interesting. You will get 80 MB for 400 RUB ($7). It is not much, but it is something. Other Central Asian countries will charge you several dollars per MB, which is not worth it.
With all of that out of the way, let’s see what TM Cell has to offer.
TM Cell is the sole operator in Turkmenistan. Their 2G and 3G coverage is extensive throughout the country, while 4G/LTE is still being expended.
Unlike other countries where you can buy SIM cards from vendors, you can only buy a TM Cell SIM card from official TM Cell offices. Remember, bring your passport and proof of address (hotel) with you. SIM TM Cell SIM cards are sold for 10 TMT ($2.80) and come with 5 TMT in credit. The following monthly data packs can be added:
- 3 TMT: 50 MB
- 55 TMT: 1 GB
- 160 TMT: 4 GB
- 350 TMT: 10 GB
As you can see, there is not much choice in Turkmenistan.
The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Turkmenistan
Using a SIM card from TM Cell is probably your only option when visiting Turkmenistan. All other options are impractical, expensive, not accessible.
Local Prepaid SIM Card in Other Asian Countries
Visiting other countries in Asia? Check out my region-specific SIM card buying guides:
- Central Asia
- East Asia
- (Middle East)
- South Asia
- Southeast Asia (revamped in September 2022)
- West Asia
Or check out my SIM card buying guides for individual Asian countries:
Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
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