Getting A SIM Card in The Philippines (No Affiliate, No Bull Guide)

sim card philippines

Do you need the most up-to-date buying guide for SIM cards in the Philippines? Look no further. This is the most honest, straightforward guide you’ll get from a native Filipino about SIM cards in the Philippines.

Why should you trust me? I’ve lived in the Philippines for more than 20 years and have tried multiple SIM card providers. I travel across the country regularly and know which SIM cards work best in each region. Whether your priority when buying a SIM card is to have the most coverage, to find the cheapest prepaid plans, or both – I’ll tell you everything you need to know so you can choose the BEST Philippines SIM card for your needs.

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly which SIM card to buy and WHERE to buy it. Travel to my beautiful country and its 7,641 islands with peace of mind, knowing you have the SIM card that perfectly fits your needs.

Getting a SIM Card in the Philippines (Quick Didn’t Read Guide)

Here’s the simplest way to get a SIM card in the Philippines:

  • Steer clear of buying a SIM card at the airport – they tend to be more expensive there!
  • Get a Grab, Angkas or meter taxi, and ask the driver for directions to the nearest mall, preferably an SM Mall.
  • You’ll often find SIM card kiosks conveniently located near the main entrances of SM Malls.
  • In the rare case that there’s no mall near the airport, request the driver to take you to the closest convenience store – this can be a 7/11, Ministop, or a local Sari-Sari Store.
  • Choosing Your SIM Card:
    • Opt for a Smart 5G SIM Card for the best cheapest prepaid promos.
    • Choose a Globe 5G SIM Card if you’re looking for the best coverage in Metro Manila.
  • Then purchase a prepaid load card. You can buy a prepaid load card at the same kiosk or store where you get your SIM.
  • Finally register your SIM. It’s mandatory to register your prepaid SIM card as soon as you insert it into your phone. This has been a requirement in the Philippines since April 2023.

Where To Purchase Your SIM

  • You can purchase a SIM at:
    • The airport
    • Mall (preferably SM mall)
    • Sari-Sairi store
    • Convenience shop (such as 7/11 – only Dito, Lawson, Minimart, Familymart)
    • Phone kiosk/counter

We would recommend steering clear of buying a SIM card at the airport – they tend to be more expensive there! So, alternatively, you can get a Grab or Angkasas taxi, and ask the driver for directions to the nearest mall, preferably an SM Mall. You’ll often find SIM card kiosks conveniently located near the main entrances of SM Malls. In the rare case that there’s no mall near the airport, request the driver to take you to the closest convenience store – this can be a 7/11, Ministop, or a local Sari-Sari Store.

What SIM To Get in The Philippines?

Here are the different types of SIM Card you can get in the Philippines:

  • SMART 5G SIM Card (best-prepaid promos and coverage)
  • Globe 5G SIM Card (best coverage on Islands and more rural areas)
  • Dito (awful for coverage speeds on islands and inland, would entirely avoid)
  • SUN SIM Card (decent prices, decent coverage, bad in rural areas)
  • TNT SIM Card (cheapest price, worst service)

Using Dito we had no signal on the more remote Islands such as Romblon. However, SMART had connection here. It was pretty terrible internet and loaded very slowly, only allowing for audio calls, but it works! SMART even worked the entire way on the ferry, so we would recommend SMART.

You initially get 5GB of data with each card, afterwards you have to purchase what is called a pre-paid load card.

How To Activate Your SIM

Here’s how to activate your SIM in the Philippines:

  • Insert the SIM card
  • Connect to WiFi
  • Download the app you need (Dito app for Dito SIM, SMART app for SMART SIM etc.)
  • Upload photo of your passport
  • Take a selfie
  • Upload “proof of address” (simply can screenshot the address pasted in your Gmaps, doesn’t even have to be where you’re actually staying)
  • Send the application off

As of April 2023, you need to register you SIM. For this you need a WiFi connection, your passport and an address for your hotel. Some will ask for proof of address, you can simply put the address in your notes app, screenshot that, and use it as proof – no one checks it. I personally used a hotel I wasn’t even staying at to do this.

This process is very fiddly and annoying, but it has to be done. This is why we recommend going to the SM Malls to find a store where they can do it for you.

How To Add Your Prepaid Load Card Package

I always advise visitors to opt for a local SIM card purchased at a mall. Why? Because, unlike smaller convenience stores, mall kiosks often offer the best deals, thanks to their contractual agreements with various network providers. Let’s break down the cost advantage: In a typical convenience store in Manila, you might pay 200 Pesos (about $3.52) for a load card, with the SIM card priced separately at around 40-50 Pesos. This means you’re spending a total of 240-250 Pesos for both.

In contrast, at a kiosk in an SM Mall, you can get a much better deal. Here, a 200 Pesos load card, which includes a local SIM card and a free prepaid promo valid for 3 days, is also priced at just 200 Pesos. This bundle saves you at least 40 Pesos, making it a more economical choice.

How to build your own package using a Globe prepaid load card:

  • Dial *143#
  • Choose from the list of options (unlimited calls, texts, and mobile data) to build your package
  • Review the summary of the package you built and press Confirm.
  • Wait for a text message confirmation from Globe (8080).
  • Alternatively, download the Globe mobile app and follow the instructions on how to build a package.

How to build your own package using a SMART prepaid load card:

  • Dial *123#
  • Choose a promo from the list of options (unlimited calls, texts, and mobile data)
  • Review the summary of the promo you chose and press Confirm.
  • Wait for a text message confirmation from SMART.
  • Alternatively, download the SMART mobile app and follow the instructions on how to choose a promo.

Understanding the value of the Peso in terms of mobile load is quite straightforward – just think of it as a 1:1 ratio. In simple terms, 1 Peso of load equates to sending one short text message. Therefore, with a 200 Peso load card, you can send up to 200 single text messages (note that this excludes texts with emojis).

Typically, if you’re buying a 200 Peso load card, you’d expect to pay exactly 200 Pesos. But here’s where smart shopping at SM Malls comes into play. At any SM Mall, you can often find better deals because they regularly offer bundle promos. This means you might get the same 200 Peso prepaid load for less, making it a more cost-effective option for staying connected in the Philippines

You need to register your local SIM card before using it. It’s not possible to use it without completing this important step first. Don’t worry! Registering your Philippines SIM card is easy. Just follow the prompts of your SIM card on how to register it, or ask for the salesperson’s help. Keep in mind that you will need to submit an ID photo (it can be a selfie taken on the spot) when you register a SIM card in the Philippines. You also need to verify your identity, so having a passport is a must.

Which is the Best Philippines SIM Card?

Some locals will tell you that there is really not much difference between the two major network providers in the Philippines–Smart and Globe. While this is true, I find that SMART has better coverage in regions outside Metro Manila. This is why SMART is the most popular choice in provinces. Globe, meanwhile, tends to have a stronger brand presence in Metro Manila. I personally have a Globe SIM card since I live in Manila.

To simplify your decision-making process, focus on the two major network providers in the Philippines – Globe and Smart. While there are smaller SIM card providers like TNT or TM, they are actually owned by either Globe or Smart. These two companies have monopolized the network industry in the Philippines, growing large enough to acquire any small competitor that might pose a potential threat.

So, the key takeaway here is: DON’T waste your time considering other SIM cards. Stick with either Globe or Smart. These providers offer the best value for money and the best coverage.

Any store or kiosk that sells a Globe SIM card will also sell SMART, and vice versa. However, be aware that if you visit a convenience store and request a specific SIM card, they might not have it in stock due to their typically small inventory. In contrast, malls are a reliable choice as they always have both Globe and SMART SIM cards available.

If you opt for a Globe SIM card, here’s a useful tip:

  • Download the GCash Mobile App: This app is a game-changer for managing your prepaid loads. Connect it to your bank account, and you can easily buy prepaid loads without the hassle of constantly visiting a convenience store.
  • GCash – The Venmo of the Philippines: GCash isn’t just for loading your phone; it’s widely used across the Philippines for various transactions. From big malls to the smallest sari-sari (convenience) stores, you can pay for almost any product or service with GCash.
  • Register for Promos: Before using your prepaid load, make sure to register for a promo. Simply dial *143# or use the GCash app to explore available promos. This step lets you choose a plan that aligns with your needs, whether that’s more data or text/call options.

If you get a SMART SIM card:

  • Download the SMART App: This app is your one-stop solution for managing your prepaid needs. It allows you to explore various prepaid promos and easily load your mobile number.
  • Link Your Debit/Credit Card: For added convenience, link your debit or credit card to the SMART App. This feature saves you the hassle of having to visit a convenience store every time your load runs low.

Getting a SIM Card at the Philippines Airport

SIM cards are readily available at all terminals in the two major airports of the Philippines – Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and Mactan-Cebu International Airport. As you exit customs, you’ll easily spot the kiosks. Just look for signages that display “Mobile SIM Cards”, “Globe SIM Card”, and “SMART SIM Card”. These kiosks are strategically placed to be noticeable to arriving passengers.

There are 10 airports in the Philippines. However, the smaller airports may not have SIM cards available for sale when you arrive. Domestic airports may have a few selections of SIM cards for sale, but don’t expect a wide variety. If you really want to get a SIM Card at the airport, your best bet is to purchase a Globe or Smart SIM card at the first major international airport you land in.

It may be convenient to purchase a SIM card at the airport. You won’t have to worry about looking for one for the rest of your trip. However, like most airports, these kiosks put a high markup on whatever they sell – whether it’s physical SIM cards, prepaid load cards, or portable WiFi. They are overpriced compared to how much you could buy them for outside.

As mentioned, it’s easy to buy SIM cards outside the airport. Just ask a local where the nearest mall or convenience store is. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven, MiniStop, and Alfa Mart are typically located on the ground floor lobby of condominiums or just a few minutes’ walk from hotels.

Where are the SIM Card Stands Located?

Arrivals Hall

There are 3 airport terminals in Manila Airport (Ninoy Aquino Airport). Terminal 1 is mostly for domestic flights, while Terminals 2 and 3 are for international flights. You won’t find any other SIM cards at the airport aside from Globe and SMART, the two major networks in the Philippines. The SIM card shops for Globe and SMART are located in the arrivals hall. They are usually open 24/7 and are hard to miss as the signage literally says ‘Globe/SMART.’

Manila airport terminals are not as big compared to other major airports in other countries. The hallways that you will be passing by upon arrival are also typically just one way, so the chances of getting lost are little to none.

This is the first SIM card shop that you will see upon arrival in the Philippines. As tempting as it is to buy a SIM card here, especially because there’s a sign that says ‘FREE SIM CARD’, try to hold out if you can. As with most airports, products have a higher markup, including SIM cards.

Baggage Claim

There used to be SIM card shops just before baggage arrivals. However, as per my last arrival in the Philippines using Terminal 3, it was no longer there. In the event that it comes back, the kiosk should be beside Duty-Free. You will not miss it since the one-way hallway is the only route to the customs and arrivals hall.

How Much Do They Cost?

PHP 1,000 45GB + UNLI Calls & Texts to All NetworksPHP 1,050 73GB + UNLI Calls & Texts to All Networks
PHP 1,500 100GB + UNLI Calls & Texts to All NetworksPHP 1,550 122GB + UNLI Calls & Texts to All Networks

If you’re only staying in the Philippines for two weeks or so, I doubt you’ll need a data plan this much, especially if you’re planning to stay in hotels. Most 3-star hotels in the Philippines usually offer free WiFi. Smaller data plans and SIM card packages are available outside the airport, which might be more suitable for short visits.

Shops That Sell SIM Cards in the Philippines

If you’re in Metro Manila, buying a SIM card won’t be hard. Most malls and convenience stores along the roadside sell Globe and SMART SIM cards.

SM Mall is the dominant mall in Metro Manila. It has several branches in nearly every city. Inside these malls, you will typically find stores of the two major network providers.

You can also find SIM cards in the following shops:

  • 7/11 convenience store
  • MiniStop
  • Alfa Mart
  • Lawson
  • Family Mart

If you’re in rural areas outside Metro Manila, you’ll find smaller family-owned convenience stores that sell SIM cards. These are often called sari-sari stores and are typically part of a residential house. True to the word ‘sari-sari,’ which means ‘variety,’ these small stores sell a little bit of everything – including toiletries, instant noodles, soda, and SIM cards.

Getting a SIM Card Before Arriving in the Philippines – What Are My Options?

If you want to get a SIM before entering the Philippines, you have several options:

  • Prepaid SIMs – can be ordered online and sent to your door
  • E-SIMs – any iPhone newer than 2018, and any Samsung or Google Pixel newer than 2020 can use e-SIM cards.

Globe and SMART both offer a tourist SIM package, which is available for purchase through their official websites. You can order a pre-loaded SIM card and then pick it up at any of the terminals in Manila Airport or other major international airports around the Philippines.

How About E-Sim Cards?

The main providers for e-sims in the Philippines are:

  • Airalo
  • Holafly

Although there are other global e-SIM cards available, they tend to be more expensive. I’ve found that even if you’re planning to travel to other countries, it’s generally much cheaper to just purchase prepaid SIM cards in the country you’re visiting.

Smart E-Sim Plan

SMART’s prepaid e-SIM is the best choice if you’re only planning to travel to the Philippines. Just for 99 Pesos ($1.77), you will receive an e-sim topped up with 21 GB FREE Data + FREE calls and texts to all networks. Upon purchase, you will receive more details about your e-sim and how to activate it.

Airalo E-Sim Plan

Airalo offers e-SIM plans in over 200 countries. Their minimum purchase is USD 4.50, which provides you with 1 GB of mobile data valid for 7 days. Clearly, this isn’t the most cost-effective choice when compared to purchasing a SMART prepaid e-SIM. I also heard from friends who’ve used this that the mobile data signal is weaker in provinces, where you will most likely visit if you want to see the best beaches and nature.

Holafly E-Sim Plan

Holafly is another popular option for travelers hopping between countries in Asia. Their plans start at $27, which provides unlimited data for 5 days. The most expensive plan, at $79, offers an unlimited data plan for 30 days. This can be a good option for couples who plan to share mobile data via a personal hotspot. My boyfriend and I often do this when we anticipate high data usage together.

If you want to avoid the hassle and expect to use a lot of mobile data during your month-long or week-long travels around Asia, I recommend opting for a Holafly e-SIM. This saves you the trouble of switching SIM cards every time you enter a different country. Plus, it allows you to keep your local SIM card in your phone, which is handy if you don’t have an extra phone.

E-SIM cards are also the go-to choice for people whose phones are locked to a specific network provider. However, it’s important to note that only certain phone models, usually some of the latest ones, are compatible with an e-SIM.

What’s the Benefit of an E-SIM?

An e-SIM is a virtual SIM card that allows you to keep your current card in your phone. As a result, you won’t risk losing it, and you’ll also be able to receive verification texts for logins such as PayPal, Mobile Banking, etc.

E-SIMs are worth it if you’re traveling to various countries. You won’t have to switch to different SIM cards, saving you the hassle of looking for prepaid SIM cards whenever you arrive in another country.

Pre-Paid Sims

Prepaid SIM cards are the norm in the Philippines. You can purchase them at the airport, malls, and convenience stores – practically everywhere. Your local SIM card will most likely be associated with either Globe or SMART. If you activate roaming, you will likely receive a message informing you about this partnership.

Which SIM Provider is Best?

The best SIM providers in the Philippines are:

  • SMART – slightly cheaper packages with stronger coverage outside Metro Manila
  • Globe – stronger coverage in Metro Manila

After using both Globe and SMART, I’ve found that each of these network providers has its own strengths. My friends, family and I mostly use Globe SIM cards, as they tend to have stronger coverage in Metro Manila. But while Globe still provides a signal in rural areas, there are spots where SMART demonstrates a stronger signal.

Below is a speed test screenshot of Globe’s signal in Metro Manila (Taguig/BGC specifically)

Summary – The Best Pre-Paid SIM Cards for the Philippines

Overall, first-time travelers to the Philippines often explore the country to experience our beautiful scenery and outdoor activities. For such visitors, I recommend getting a SMART prepaid SIM card at an SM Mall or any convenience store for the best prices and a variety of prepaid packages. The best package typically includes at least 50GB of mobile data, plus unlimited calls and texts to all networks.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that WhatsApp isn’t the most popular messaging app in the Philippines. So, even with ample mobile data, you might still need the ability to call or text a local Philippine number to contact your tour guide, shops, etc. This is particularly true in the provinces, where most Filipinos continue to use traditional text messaging or calling for communication.

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