Ukraine is such a lovely country. From Kyiv with its history and architecture to Lviv with its churches. Pripyat' has a popular amusement park, and Kharkiv is known for its Opera and Ballet theater. If you are a daredevil, you can also get a tour through Chornobyl.
What is also scary are the high roaming bills you get from roaming with your provider in Ukraine. Ukraine is not part of the EU, so European citizens cannot roam for free in Ukraine. That is why I decided to write this article about everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Ukraine. Of course, this information is also relevant for non-EU citizens. Let's do this.
Telecom Providers in Ukraine
Ukraine has 6 telecom providers: Kyivstar, Vodafone Ukraine, Lifecell, Intertelecom, TriMob, and PEOPLEnet. Intertelecom and PEOPLEnet use the CDMA technology. I will not go in-depth on how CDMA works. However, what you should know that most phones use GSM, rendering both providers useless. As a result, I will not discuss them any further.
Kyivstar, Vodafone Ukraine, and Lifecell have full 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. 3mob has a 3G network and has a roaming agreement with Vodafone Ukraine so that their customers can roam for free on Vodafone Ukraine’s 2G network. 2G is too slow for general web browsing.
Besides Ukraine’s 6 operators, there are also 1 Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which is Lycamobile. There are also two region-specific operators: Phoenix and Lugacom. Phoenix only operators in the Donetsk region, while Lugacom is active in the Luhansk region only.
What SIM card should you buy when visiting Ukraine? If you want to buy a SIM card in Ukraine, I would recommend going with Kyivstar because they have the best coverage in Ukraine.
Both the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are relatively unstable because of tensions between Eastern Ukraine and Russia. Phoenix and Lugacom, together with Vodafone Ukraine, are the only operators active in these regions because they are Russian-owned companies (including Vodafone Ukraine), which are, for some reason, allowed to operate in Eastern Ukraine. As a result, they will not be discussed any further in this article.
Furthermore, Crimea has not been part of Ukraine since 2014. The region has its own operators (Win Mobile, Volna Mobile, Crimeatelecom, and Sevmobile), which is why they will not be discussed in this article.
Because of this annexation, Ukraine has banned a few Russian internet services, like Mail.ru, Yandex, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki. You can use a VPN to access these services. I have been using NordVPN for years. NordVPN has servers in Ukraine that are not subject to this censorship. However, you can also connect to servers in Moldova, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, and Estonia (NordVPN has 5500+ servers in 60 countries, but the ones mentioned before are the closest countries to Ukraine). You can get up to 70% when you get your NordVPN subscription today!
Unlike most countries in Eastern Europe, you do not have to register your SIM card. However, this can change at any time because of ongoing conflicts.
Lastly, this is important for those with a SIM card from the European Union: Ukraine is not part of the EU or EEA, which means that the Roam like Home rule does not apply in Ukraine. Therefore, it is recommended that European citizens with EU SIM cards buy a Ukrainian SIM card instead of roaming with their providers. Many providers, however, offer free roaming in Ukraine, but this is not the case for all. Be sure to check your provider’s site to learn whether you can roam for free or not.
With that out of the way, let’s see what Ukraine has 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!
Kyivstar is Ukraine’s largest telecom operator. It is owned by Vimpelcom, a Russian company, and has extensive coverage throughout the country. Their 4G/LTE network covers around 70% of the population. Kyivstar SIM cards are sold for 25 UAH ($1.10) and can be bought in official stores, resellers, and international airports. Top-up vouchers start from 50 UAH.
Kyivstar sells the following monthly packages:
- 75 UAH: 3 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 50 domestic minutes, and free Facebook and Twitter
- 100 UAH: 6 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 60 domestic minutes, and free social media and messenger apps
- 150 UAH: 9 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 150 domestic minutes, and free social media and messenger apps
- 225 UAH: unlimited data, unlimited minutes (all networks), and free Facebook and Twitter
If you go over your data allowance, your speed will be reduced to 128 kbps, which is extremely slow. You would be better off getting a new package.
Vodafone Ukraine, just Vodafone, was taken over by the Russian company called MTN before Bakcell from Azerbaijan bought Vodafone. 4G/LTE covers around 40% of the population.
Vodafone SIM cards can be bought in many shops around the country. You can even buy SIM cards at the main train station in Odessa. The agent will help you set up your phone for you. However, make sure you are dealing with someone wearing a Vodafone uniform instead of a “concerned citizen” who may be out to scam you.
The following Vodafone plans can be added. All packs are valid for 28 days:
- 55 UAH: 2 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 60 domestic minutes
- 65 UAH: 5 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 75 domestic minutes, 25 international minutes, 50 SMS; unlimited Telegram, WhatsApp, and Facebook
- 90 UAH: unlimited data, unlimited on-net calls, 100 domestic minutes, unlimited Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Twitter, and Instagram.
Lifecell is Ukraine’s third operator and owned by a Turkish company called Astelit. While offering the lowest rates, Lifecell has worse coverage compared to Vodafone and Kyivstar. 4G/LTE can be found in various areas. Lifecell SIM cards are sold for 15 UAH.
Lifecell sells various starter packs, all with different pricing.
The Bomb plan is sold for 150 UAH and comes with 20 GB, 00 minutes, and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, and Telegram. The plan is valid for 30 days.
The Lifehack plans come in various variants, which are all valid for 28 days:
- 175 UAH: 20 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 150 domestic minutes and SMS
- 225 UAH: 30 GB and 350 domestic minutes and SMS
- 249 UAH: 40 GB, unlimited on-net calls, 600 domestic minutes and SMS
The Absolute Freedom plans are sold in 3 variants. They all come with 750 domestic minutes and the selected data allowance, all to be used within 28 days:
- 85 UAH: 7 GB
- 135 UAH: 15 GB and unlimited data from 12 AM until 8 AM
- 185 UAH: 20 GB and unlimited data from 12 AM until 8 AM
The Hype plan is sold for 100 UAH and comes with 10 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 75 domestic minutes for 28 days
The Shaker plan is sold for 135 UAH and comes with 20 GB (max. 2 GB per day), unlimited on-net calls, and 100 domestic minutes
The Self Made plan is perhaps the most interesting of them all. It allows you to make your own plan. From 0 to 400 minutes, 0 to 10 GB, and 0 to 250 SMS for 30 days. It is cheaper if you go for data only.
The last plan is the Premium plan that comes in two versions:
- 400 UAH: 15 GB, unlimited on-net calls and 1500 domestic minutes and SMS
- 800 UAH: 40 GB, unlimited on-net calls and 3000 domestic minutes and SMS
Interested in data-only plans? The following 30-day plans are available (except for the 15 UAH 500 MB plan – that is valid for 7 days):
- 15 UAH: 500 MB (for 7 days)
- 25 UAH: 500 MB
- 29 UAH: 1 GB
- 49 UAH: 2 GB
- 79 UAH: 4 GB
- 129 UAH: 8 GB
3mob is the smallest player in Ukraine. With a limited 3G network, 3mob decided to strike an agreement with Vodafone so that 3mob customers can use Vodafone’s 2G network. 3mob SIM cards are sold for 35 UAH around the country.
The following 3mob plans can be added:
- 15 UAH: Unlimited data for 24 hours
- 20 UAH: 1 GB for 30 days
- 50 UAH: 5 GB for 30 days
- 120 UAH: 10 GB for 180 days
- 250 UAH: 2.5 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and 1000 domestic minutes and SMS every 30 days – 250 UAH is charged annually
- 382 UAH: Unlimited data, unlimited on-net calls, and 1000 domestic minutes SMS for 20 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Ukraine
I have discussed the relevant providers in Ukraine in this article because using a Ukrainian 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 Ukraine. 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 Ukraine.
Roaming in Ukraine 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 Orange Egypt, then you would be roaming with Orange Egypt in Ukraine.
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 Ukraine, 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 Ukraine 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 Ukraine.
Using an International SIM Card in Ukraine
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 and SimOptions.
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 Ukraine. 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 the Middle East 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 Ukraine
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 Ukraine
Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Ukraine 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 Ukraine, you can find hotspots here and there. Some are good, some are slow.
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 Ukraine
Getting a SIM card from Kyivstar would do you well when considering a Ukrainian 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 Europe? Check out my Europe SIM card buying guide, covering other European countries, such as Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. 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 Ukraine
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 Ukraine. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Ukraine drop.
Book Your Accommodation for Ukraine
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 Ukraine. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Ukrainian hotel.
Get Your Travel Insurance for Ukraine
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 Ukraine, 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 currency of your destination 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!