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Vietnam is one of my favourite travel destinations in the world, where the crazy chaos of its major cities exist alongside beautiful country landscapes, unspoiled beaches and even the odd desert. It's also home to some of the best street food in the world, much of which is extremely difficult to find outside of the country - or even outside of certain cities. The absence of Hanoi's "bun cha" makes me sad every time I walk into a Vietnamese restaurant in Europe... but I digress.
Like a lot of other countries in recent years, buying a SIM card in Vietnam has become slightly more difficult in recent years. While it's still possible to buy a SIM card from corner stores and the makeshift stalls you can find at the airports, these aren't officially sanctioned and you run the risk of having your SIM card being cancelled or deactivated after a few days.
The only "proper" way to get a SIM card is to buy yours from an official company store. You can spot these by the company logo on the front of the store and uniformed sales assistants (and sometimes by the loud electronic music coming out of huge speakers in front of the store - don't ask why).
Also see: Best Dual SIM Android Phones for Work & Travel
In this article, we'll run through the three main service providers in Vietnam (plus the fourth, much smaller provider), how to choose, and of course, the registration process.
There are three main SIM card providers in Vietnam, which are Viettel, Vinaphone and Mobifone. There's also a fourth provider called Vietnamobile, but I personally wouldn't recommend them at this point in time as their coverage isn't quite up to scratch outside of major cities.
Here's a quick summary:
|Best coverage||Great coverage||Good coverage|
|Fast speeds||Fast speeds||Fast speeds|
|Very cheap||Very cheap||Very cheap|
|Roaming in Laos/Cambodia||No free roaming||No free roaming|
The short version summary is that Viettel and Vinaphone are about the same in terms of coverage and speeds, but Viettel takes the edge in terms of rural areas. These two providers are what I'd suggest you stick with. Mobifone has patchy coverage in rural areas, and Vietnamobile's mobile internet is unusable if you leave major city centres.
Viettel is the market leader in Vietnam, owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence. This also the network of choice for the Vietnamese Army, which is a great endorsement for anyone thinking of buying a SIM card in Vietnam. If you plan to travel around the country, this should be your first choice.
Viettel has the best 3G coverage in Vietnam, even in extremely rural areas. To top it off, they’ve covered 95% of the country with 4G/LTE towers – making it the market leader in terms of both customer share and coverage.
Vinaphone is also government-operated, this time by the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group. They’re the second largest carrier and the local partner of Vodafone in Vietnam, holding 30% market share of the country. While Viettel still has the edge, Vinaphone has good network coverage and speeds across most of Vietnam.
If you can’t find a Viettel store, Vinaphone is a reasonably good second choice.
Mobifone holds around 20% market share of the country and is currently in the process of becoming privatised, which may mean improvements in the future. It was possible to roam onto the Vinaphone networks up until early-2018, but this appears to have been shut down. This makes Mobifone the third-place provider in Vietnam with somewhat patchy coverage across regional areas.
Note: if you’re staying in Vietnam for a shorter period of time (less than a week or two), special tourist SIM packages are available. I personally think the regular packages are still better value, but be sure to ask if you’d like to get more details.
As of November 2016, the Vietnamese government started enforcing registration rules for SIM cards more seriously, which resulted in tens of millions of numbers being deactivated.
This means that any SIM cards that the airport vendors and corner stores might sell are at risk of being deactivated a few days after you’ve handed over your money. The only people who can legally register a SIM card to your name are the official company stores operated by Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone, and so on.
Also see: Best Dual SIM Android Phone for Work & Travel
That being said, a large number of people that I know that are living in Vietnam have not had an issue with their number being deactivated, so it’s up to you whether you want to take the risk of buying a SIM card off the first person you see.
To find an official company store, simply head to Google Maps and type in the provider of your choice.
Once you’ve found a store that’s close by to your location, make sure you’ve packed your passport before heading over, as this is a requirement for the registration process.
My experience has been that all shop assistants are very helpful and speak English quite well, regardless of where you are – so you shouldn’t have any major issues with asking questions about which SIM card package to get.
The monthly SIM cards typically offer far better value and more data, especially when compared to the “tourist” packages. Be sure to ask questions if you’re not sure what you’re getting into.
Once you have your SIM card, all you need to do is open up the SIM card slot (usually located on the side or under the battery) and pop in the new one.
Since Vietnam’s networks are typically owned and operated by the government, there’s very little price competition between the three major carriers. Since this is the case, I’d suggest going with Viettel as they have the best coverage and speeds. Vietnamobile is cheaper option, but I wouldn’t recommend it as you’re seriously sacrificing quality – and SIM cards in Vietnam are very cheap to begin with.
So, how cheap is cheap?
At the time of this article, Viettel’s 5GB data plan with 4G/LTE costs 125,000 VND. That’s about US$5-7. The same 5GB with 3G only costs the equivalent US$3.
The SIM card itself sometimes have a fee too, usually to the equivalent of a dollar or two. This means you get 5GB of 4G/LTE data per month for under 10 dollars.
So – very cheap.
To get more data credit (or to get phone calls as well), simply head into a company store. Some kiosks and corner stores might be able to help you out as well, but I prefer going to an official store to get mine directly from the company.
If you buy a top-up off the street, they’ll give you a receipt with instructions on how to recharge your SIM card – in Vietnamese, of course. But if you ask, most sales assistants should be happy to do it for you.