Using data roaming on your phone while traveling can harm your hard-saved budget pretty hard. You want to keep in touch with your friends and family. You want them to be able to contact you in case something happens, so you probably don’t want to change your phone number. We had the same dilemma when we arrived in Nepal, the first country of our open-ended world trip. But guess what… you can stay in touch with everyone using your own phone number, even when you buy a SIM card in Nepal (or any other country)! This immediately introduced our next dilemma: which SIM card in Nepal should we buy?
A lot of people from abroad have roaming facility enabled in their home SIM card. Some of them prefer to use the same SIM card with their own number. But using international roaming can get pretty expensive. After we found out we could stay in touch with everyone from our own phone number, even when using a Nepali SIM card, we started looking for the right SIM card to use. We saved a huge amount of money doing so!
Your options to choose from
At this moment, Nepal has three nationwide mobile network operators to choose from: Nepal Telecom (NTC) also know as Namaste Mobile, Ncell and Smart Telecom. NTC is the oldest and pioneer telecom operator in Nepal and it is owned by the government. They offer many services, including 2G, 3G, and 4G. Another popular mobile network operator, especially for travelers, is Ncell, the leading private mobile operator offering 2G, 3G, and 4G. Then there is also Smart Telecom, a less known operator which offers 2G and 4G.
So, which Nepalese SIM card should I pick?
NTC and Ncell have similar coverage. Ncell does a better job with their 4G coverage and speed than NTC, but when you’re traveling to more remote areas NTC has better 3G coverage. You will have more internet access with NTC, where Ncell will completely lose signal. So if you’re planning to head out into the Himalayas en want to share that awesome experience with everyone at home, than NTC can be the right operator for you! This is also why trekking guides mostly use NTC. On the other hand, most of the teahouses offer Wi-Fi nowadays. So if you just want to keep your phone in your pocket en enjoy the breathtaking sceneries, you might as well pick Ncell, which is also well known for being very easy to use.
Depending on which mobile network operator you have, you can get a decent phone signal in more remote areas and villages
Where to buy a SIM card in Nepal?
When you arrive at Kathmandu airport, you can buy your SIM card over there. You will find and NTC and Ncell counter just outside the arrival terminal. The queue can be pretty long sometimes. So if you prefer to just go to your hotel and settle down first, please do. Just go to your hostel or hotel (assuming you’re heading to Thamel). In Thamel, there are plenty of stores where you can get your hands on a SIM card. You will see Ncell signs everywhere. If you’re looking for an NTC SIM card, don’t forget it can also be called Nepal Telecom or Namaste Mobile. We used an Ncell SIM card, so we knew there would always be plenty of shops offering the top-up cards. But trusting on the information found on the internet, you should also be able to find NTC SIM cards.
Make sure you have your passport or a copy with you and a passport photo when buying a SIM card. Besides that, you’ll also need to fill out a form in the shop. You won’t be able to get a SIM card when you don’t have (a copy of) your passport with you. And if you don’t have a passport photo with you, they’re probably happy to make one and charge you for that.
Thamel, the place where you easily should be able to find SIM cards
Don’t get fooled!
Buying a SIM card is an easy way to get ripped off. They’re being sold for all different prices and they can try to make you believe that you’ll need to buy a data package with your SIM card. NOT TRUE! Just buy a prepaid SIM card and manage your balance with prepaid cards. As I mentioned before, we bought a Ncell SIM card, which should cost you 200 NPR (around €1,60 or 1,80 USD), including 50 NPR balance. Just ask the person at the counter to activate it for you, he should be doing that for free, just like adding some balance if you buy that as well. After activating (and adding balance), the person should be able to show you that your new SIM card works, what your current balance is and give you the package of the SIM card or the part of it which has your new phone number on it. Don’t forget to take your old SIM card with you as well and keep it in a safe place.
Our own experience
Like I mentioned before, we used an Ncell SIM card after reading several reviews and after recommendations of a Nepali friend. Ncell is the most popular and easy to use one for tourists and it is very easy to buy new balance wherever you are. We had great coverage everywhere we were, except when we were in trekking in the mountains. The first couple of days were fine, but when we went more remote, we quickly lost signal. That’s a small downside of Ncell. Besides that, it is very easy to use, check balance and recharge. You can manage everything with the Ncell app, which you can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. You just buy credit on a small scratch card, enter the code in the app and it will be added to your balance. With that balance, you can buy all sorts of data packages. You can have a look at this overview for all their packages and prices.
We were very happy with Ncell: great speeds and very easy to use
What about my own phone number?
You can easily stay in touch with whoever you want from your own phone number, thanks to WhatsApp! Once your Nepali SIM card is configured and you start using WhatsApp, the app will ask you which phone number you want to use. Just tell the app to keep using your original phone number and you’re good to go. You don’t need to let anyone know you’ve changed your phone number (again)!
Hopefully this blog will help you decide if you need to buy a SIM card in Nepal. And if so, which one to pick. Feel free to add any more suggestions or info in the comment section!