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SIM Cards and Mobile Phones in Singapore

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The first thing many new arrivals will want to do is get set up with a phone and SIM card. Singapore is one of the most connected cities in the world and is a major electronic communications hub for the Asia region. Mobile phone penetration is very high and service coverage excellent.

The three big players in the market are SingTel, MobileOne and StarHub. All three operate the GSM system and so are compatible with phones and SIM cards from most other countries. The W-CDMA system is in an advanced stage of development.

If you're bringing your own phone with you and it is GSM, it will almost certainly work if you throw a Singapore SIM card into it (although some foreign networks may have locked your phone to it's home network). Most phones manufactured in recent years will already be dual/tri/quad band.

It's worth noting before we go any further that Singapore network operators often charge a small fee for incoming calls (even if they originate in Singapore). This is most likely on Pre-paid services, although you can pay a fixed fee to get unlimited free incoming calls. Post-paid customers are less likely to be charged an incoming rate.

There are two fundamental options to consider first... do you want pre-paid, or post paid?...

Pre-Paid

For a very rapid set up, You can purchase a pre-paid SIM and they are available everywhere, including 7-Elevens and other convenience stores, or the retail outlets of the network operators themselves. This frees you from a binding contract if you are only in Singapore for a few months, or if you prefer the freedom of a pre-paid account. Only a minimum of documentation is needed for the activation of the SIM.

Topping up is easy of course. Vouchers are available in every corner of Singapore... and you can top up via ATMs and your online banking service. Furthermore, post-paid subscribers (people with a pay monthly contract) can send credit to your pre-paid SIM (only on the same network) and the amount will appear on their monthly bill.

Data services may or may not be available on pre-paid cards, as is the case with roaming capability (although they will almost certainly have these services). Any credit you have will be forfeited if you don't use the card for six months, when the number will be recycled.

Post-Paid

For those who are in Singapore long term, a post-pay mobile phone account usually makes more sense. You have a broader range of services available to you and the packages usually comes with some free minutes, or free SMS messages etc.

There is fierce competition between the big three operators and prices are very competitive. If you sign a long contract (one or two years) you will likely qualify for a brand new phone at a heavily discounted price, sometimes even free. They make the money back over time from your subscription charges. Naturally, there will be a fee if you want to break the contract early.

Obviously, getting set up with post-paid isn't as simple as buying a pre-paid card. You will need the following (sometimes, not all of these will be asked for):

The promotions are changing all the time, so best to refer you to the network operator's websites for the latest deals...

In Singapore, it is possible to choose from a list of numbers when you set up your mobile service, so you can choose a number that fits your personality, or one that you think will be easy to remember. You can also pay a one-off fee to have the choice of a premium number (ones that are very easy to remember).

Numbers are portable, so you won't lose your number if you change service providers.