Using a Cell Phone in Thailand

If you are staying in Thailand for more than just a few days, it often pays to pick up a Thai cell phone with prepaid mobile service within the country.  The cost can less than ten bucks US for the phone and just a few bucks more for service, and you could save yourself a lot of money and aggrivation.

Mobile phones (we call the cell phones back in the US) have become an essential tool in the US and in Thailand to keep contact with the family and the job.  In Thailand, the mobile phone is also a status symbol.  Thais are very status oriented and classify others into different levels of society.  Women’s Designer Handbags, Gold Jewelry and expensive clothes are important indicators of status, and the Mobile Phone is at the same level.  By not having these symbols of status, you can lose respect with Thai people.  This may not be important for a retiree, but it is very important to a business person in Thailand, and a great deal of attention has to be paid to the level of respect and status in dealing with Thais.  You will be judged by the mobile you use.

Consequently, many Thais will invest an inordinate amount of their income in order to have the newest and best mobile phone available.  The newest I-Phone from Apple is right at the top of the list, and Thais pay a premium for the most prestigious mobile equipment.  An I-Phone and other top models will cost more in Thailand than in the US.

However, iIf you are in a position not to worry about status (like being a retiree), this system makes simple mobile phones very cheap.  There is a big market for second hand cell phones as well, which can be picked for 500 or 600 baht ($16-$19).  On the bottom level of most shopping malls are usually where there are lots of small shops selling lower quality or lower priced goods.  That is where you will find scads of small mobile phone retailers that sell cheap and second hand cell phones.  And as you wander around town you will see many, many independent mobile phone shops.  Just stop in and see the hundreds they have available and pick up the one that works best for you.

Using Your US cell phone

For most carrier programs, you can use your US phone easily in Thailand.  I am familiar with AT&T in the US, and they absolutely work in Thailand.  You just simply dial out, and then the company kicks in  the “Roaming Plan” to connect you directly to the US, the same as if you were calling from State to State in the US EXCEPT you need to be aware of one important thing:  IT IS EXPENSIVE!  The price is usually around $2 per minute, and sometimes substially more. One somewhat short call on your American cell phone from Thailand to the US could easily cost more than your hotel for the night.   Certainly it is much more than the cost of eating in Thailand.  My strong advise is to turn off your American cell phone and not use it till go back to the US.

In the US, cell phone plans usually require a commitment to being with the company for two years, and you are obligated to a minimum charge (which in my mind is not cheap) every month for that two years.  Then the US cell phone systems will try and trick you into needing to pay extra for additional services.  I don’t like the US system because it makes us slaves to the system provider for a couple of years.

In Thailand, they have programs similar to the US system with their phone carriers, but it is extremely difficult for a foreign national to sign up for them.  To get into these plans, you must have a Work Permit in Thailand plus a Thai National that will sign up as the Guarantor for payment of your plan should you skip out.  My advise here is to Forget About It.  Most Thais, and close to 100% of the expats living in Thailand work on a prepaid basisIT IS VERY CHEAP TO DO PREPAID on your mobile phone in Thailand.  There is virtually no paperwork required for a prepaid SIM card for your mobile phone, and you can get the prepaid SIM cards everywhere in the country easily.  Mobile Phone shops, 7-11 stores and every other kind of convenience store, plus book shops some gasoline stations or even some ATMs will sell you replenishment of the SIM cards.  I have seen young ladies selling SIM cards to the crowds at the airport, or have a table at some special entertainment event.  The price is extremely low, and the SIM card companies are very competitive, and many times you will be offered a lot of free time in order for you to pick up their card.   In getting a new card, you simply take out the old one in the back of your phone and plop the new card in its place.  You can also extend the value of your old card instead of buying a new one by entering codes, a credit card number and your mobile phone number.

The cost for time is usually about one baht (about 3 cents US) per minute, and sometimes substantially lower.  It is at a level that will be too low for you to give it much thought at all.  This is the cost for calling anywhere within the country.  You can also call back to the US on your Thai phone/SIM card and it will be more money, but still a lot less than if you used your US cell phone with Roaming.

Because mobile phone usage in Thailand is so cheap, you  will see all of Thai people around you on the phone.  Everybody and everywhere, to the point where you may get a little irritated by all Thais seemingly on the mobile phone all the time.  But that’s what we live with in the early 21st century, so don’t let it get to you too much.  Everyone has a mobile phone in Thailand.  Last year, the Thailand Business News wrote that there were 66 million mobile phones operating in the country,  and the population is 69 million.  Take away the kids that are too young to be talking, and you can see the market is totally saturated.

Most Thais don’t have a land line phone in their home any more, and I am sure Land Lines will eventually go away everywhere in the world.  All phone numbers in Thailand that begin with an “8” are mobile phones, and nowadays it seems all advertising that lists a company phone number are in this category.

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