Buying a SIM Card in Malaysia

Malaysia offers many tourist attractions.

The good news is that you can easily purchase a local SIM Card to stay connected no matter where you are. Data speeds can be surprisingly fast if you select the right provider. You will also get great coverage anywhere you are likely to go.

Here’s the scoop.

You don’t have travel insurance yet for Malaysia. An excellent policy will cover you for everything, from medical emergencies to cancellations, theft, loss of luggage, and many other situations. We’ve been using World Nomads for over a decade.

Companies

  • Maxis or Celcom are recommended for most travelers
  • If you are flying on AirAsia, you might want to consider Tune Talk for short trips

Three other providers mainly offer limited services in certain areas. Maxis, Cellcom, Digi, and U Mobile are the four main cell service providers in Malaysia.

Celcom and Digi follow closely after Maxis as the provider of the best coverage among all four major carriers.

In addition, a lot of companies will resell the service of one of the major providers, such as Tune Talk, which is available on Celcom’s network.

It is associated with AirAsia. You can buy a SIM onboard Malaysia Airlines flights. Even though the packages can only be used for two weeks, the convenience of the package is great for shorter trips.

I was primarily traveling in Malaysian Borneo during this trip. It has poorer cellular service than the peninsular region.

Maxis seemed the best option for me, so I used that SIM to check the coverage maps of the major providers. My travel partner purchased a SIM from Celcom to compare.

How to purchase a prepaid SIM card in Malaysia

Malaysia is a very connected country, and nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to buying SIM cards.

Maxis refers to its prepaid plan as “Hotlink,” and Celcom prefers “Xpax.” You can’t walk more than a few blocks without coming across a sign for one of these services in any major city or town.

Kiosks may also be seen in the arrivals section of most international airports.

You don’t have to visit an official retailer. Many places that sell top ups can sell SIM cards for you. Born in Brunei and arriving overland, my first stop was Kota Kinabalu.

I saw about half a dozen Hotlink/Xpax signs in the five minute walk to my hotel. I purchased it from a Centre Point Mall electronics store.

A staff member gave me a brochure containing all the options available. After selecting the one that I liked, he took my passport copy and spent five minutes registering and setting up the SIM. All sizes of SIM cards were available and data worked right away.

My APN settings were automatically added and I only had to choose them. They are available here if you want to manually add them:

  • APN: max4g
  • Username is maxis
  • Password
  • Authentication Type: PAP

My partner had a similar experience purchasing her Celcom SIM at another place in the mall, which looked to be an official retailer.

Do you not want to bother with the hassles of purchasing a SIM in Malaysia? OneSIM was our top international SIM card choice.

It allows you to get SIM cards or phones in 200 different countries. Read more

If you own a new iPhone or other supported device, a prepaid SIM is an excellent alternative. Often, these rates are surprisingly low.

Prepaid SIM Costs

While Maxis is usually the most expensive provider, cell service (and data in particular) is relatively cheap in Malaysia no matter which company you choose.

Hotlink SIM cards start at 10 MYR ($2.50), including 5MYR credit for five days. After that you can just add one or more of the half dozen “RED” prepaid packages.

If you are visiting the country only for a few hours, a 10 MYR Package is available that includes 1.5GB of data as well as unlimited access to many chat or social media applications.

I decided to go for the 35MYR6GB plan as I was going to be in Malaysia for over a month. The plan is valid for 30 day. Like other RED plans it included unlimited access to social and chat apps.

I chose to pay 50 MYR ($13), which paid for the SIM and data package. It also included credit for local calls, texts, and local calls. Download the Android/ iOS App to get an additional 1GB of data.

Prices were almost identical to Celcom prices, though with slightly higher values. Before making a decision on which package you want to buy, make sure to check out any current promotions. Bonus data can sometimes be included.

The SIM was 10MYR. This included 6 MYR credit. For 5GB, you can add 30 MYR ($8) while for 10GB you will need 50 MYR or $13. Both packs come with lots of bonus data allowances, including video and social media.

Topping Up

Unsurprisingly given the number of outlets around the country, topping up isn’t difficult unless you’re really in the middle of nowhere.

To make it easy, you can simply buy top-up vouchers anywhere that have the right branding. Then follow the printed instructions and add the credit on your phone. If you ask nicely, there’s a good chance that the person behind you will help you.

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Coverage and Data Speeds

Coverage was generally very good in cities and towns of any size, in both Borneo and peninsular Malaysia.

Coverage didn’t stop for more than a minute on either network, even when traveling along Route 22 between Kota Kinabalu (and Sandakan) and down to Sukau by the Kinabatangan river.

Both providers were extremely fast in terms of 3G/HSPA+ speeds, even in smaller cities and rural areas. Celcom sometimes had a slight edge but there wasn’t much to it.

You will find that the speeds of both networks are faster than sufficient for general browsing, maps, social networking, etc. Video calling should be possible almost everywhere. LTE upload speeds were noticeably faster, but download speeds remained approximately the same.

The only issue I experienced was occasional slow or no internet at all, despite having full signal on my phone. Problem solved by moving slightly further up or lower.

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