Australian Business Traveller reader Rick Ramsey has contributed this fantastic write-up, explaining a cheap and easy-to-buy prepaid SIM card to save money on roaming costs while in Hong Kong.
If you're a frequent traveller in Asia, it really pays to avoid global roaming with your Australian telco -- and even global/travel SIM type cards with cut price global roaming can get expensive.
I travel frequently to Hong Kong, and have found the prepaid SIM cards from mobile phone network "3" to be great value. The starter kit costs HKD $98 (AUD $12.50).
The starter kits are available through many retail outlets, including the 3 shop at Hong Kong airport's departure level -- so if you are arriving in Hong Kong, you just need to go upstairs to the departure level and you can be up and running within a few minutes.
Recharge vouchers are available at thousands of outlets throughout Hong Kong. You can also recharge online with a credit card, but the voucher method seems to be faster anyway, given how easily they can be purchased on any street corner.
Here's a scan of the packaging of one of the 3 prepaid SIM card starter packs:
Activating the SIM card
As soon as you put the SIM in the phone, it automatically registers with the network and sends you an SMS with your mobile number, expiry date, and so on, so there are no problems with language issues when getting your phone up and running.
The default language for any operator messages can also be set to default to English, which is great.
Data costs HKD$2 (AUD 0.25c) per MB for data, but there's a maximum charge of HKD $28 (AUD $3.50) per day, as well as a monthly maximum of HKD $280 (AUD $35) for data no matter how much you use.
Local call charges (received calls or calls you place) are HKD 0.30c (AUD 0.04c) per minute.
Local SMS is HKD 0.80c (AUD 0.10c)
International SMS is HKD $3 (AUD 0.38c)
Checking balances and recharging
There's a six month expiry on activation, and adding HKD $100 (AUD $12.70) adds 6 months to the expiry each time.
Dialling ##107# will SMS you back your balance and expiry
Dialling ##105*[your16digitrechargecode]# will do a recharge via voucher.
Balance enquiry and recharge can also be done internationally so you can keep your same number active if visiting regularly, I generally pick up a HKD $100 (AUD $12.70) recharge voucher as I’m leaving in case I need to top up my SIM while I’m back home.
The 3 prepaid SIM can also roam in China. I use a different service for China as I’m there a lot, but the 3 SIM does have unlimited data for use in China via the China Unicom 3G network at HKD $98 (AUD $12.50) per day, which may be a cost effective solution for anyone that needed to travel across the border for short periods.
Tricks to keep costs down even lower
The 3 SIM card provides you with a Hong Kong number you can use for any local calls, but I also use an internet phone (VoIP) app on the iPhone for international calls I need to make back home.
My experience with the 3 network in Hong Kong is that it is more than capable of allowing good quality VoIP calls over the mobile internet connection.
I also have an Australian VoIP number diverted to this 3 Hong Kong mobile number so I can have people call me at local Australian rates.
It therefore only costs me AUD 0.02c per minute for incoming calls via VoIP plus the local charges of HKD 0.03c (AUD 0.04c) so AUD 0.06c total and just a local call for the person calling me.
I also divert my regular Australian mobile number to this VoIP number so anyone that calls me on my Australian mobile gets redirected to my Hong Kong mobile number. It's a regular Australian mobile call cost to them, and I just pay for the diverted mobile call (AUD 0.10c per minute) plus VoIP calls (AUD 0.02c per minute) for me plus HKD 0.30c (AUD 0.04c) for the HK local call charges, so AUD 16c per minute total to receive incoming calls from anyone that called me on my regular Australian mobile number. Very cost-effective for me!
The only limitation to this system is that you can't divert SMSes from one number to another, so I carry another handset that has a normal Australian SIM on it in global roaming mode, on which I can receive any SMSes. I generally respond to the SMSes via the Hong Kong SIM as it is half the price of a roaming SMS.
Of course, receiving SMSes on an Australian SIM while roaming doesn't cost anything, so carrying the extra phone and SIM doesn't cost me anything at all.
Using an iPhone in Hong Kong
3 is an official iPhone supplier in Hong Kong, so if you put a prepaid SIM card into an iPhone, the iPhone will automatically use 3's iPhone APN settings.
Unfortunately, the prepaid SIM is not activated for iPhone use, which means the automatic settings the iPhone picks won't work.
However, you simply need to manually change the APN in the iPhone settings to get it working.
Once you have put the 3 SIM in your phone, go to:
Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network
and change the APN field to:
Using an iPad in Hong Kong
3 Hong Kong also now offers an iPad starter kit which obviously has a micro-SIM. Interestingly, it also allows incoming and outgoing calls, even though the iPad doesn't, so 3 must also be expecting people to use the SIM in the iPhone 4 as well.
Call rates are a bit cheaper in the iPad plans than the plan detailed above, however, the initial startup cost is twice the price at HK$198 (AU$25.20), and there's also an HK$18 (AU$2.30) monthly usage fee, so your credit will gradually get used up whether you’re in HK or not.
About Rick Ramsey
Australian Business Traveller reader Rick Ramsey travels 60 to 180 days per year, between his offices in China and Sydney, and around Hong Kong for his electronics retail/wholesale business. He has been exporting from China for the last seven years and supplies to Australia, Europe, Japan and the USA. He is "self employed, so always looking for the best way to travel and do business economically, while still maintaining professional levels of service."