Hong Kong is all about choice — whether it be food, shopping or the score of local mobile operators offering prepaid voice and data SIM cards for your iPhone, Android or Windows smartphone, iPad or other tablet, or even a pocket 3G-wifi device.
Forget the rapacious roaming fees of your home carrier and pick up one of AusBT's roadtested SIM card recommendations for your next business trip to Hong Kong.
Prepaid HK SIMs made simple
It’s easy to pick up a prepaid SIM card in Hong Kong – you’ll find them at dedicated stores run by each network plus resellers, as well as convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Circle K.
Regular SIMs, microSIMs and the newer iPhone 5 nanoSIMs are all on offer, and recharging your account can be done online or buy purchasing commonly-available ‘recharge vouchers’ .
You should also know a few of the grounds rules for using prepaid SIMs in Hong Kong.
Both incoming and outgoing calls are charged at per-minute blocks.
SMS messages are charged at different rates depending on who you’re texting. Texts to numbers on the same network are cheapest (typically HK10c, which is an insanely low one Aussie cent!), with HK70c for messages to other networks in Hong Kong and HK$1.80 for texts sent overseas.
So-called ‘unlimited’ plans typically limit you to 5GB under the carrier’s fair use policy, after which speeds will slow down.
Using ‘Internet tethering’ to turn your iPhone into a mobile wi-fi hotspot is usually permitted unless otherwise stated
Certain value-added services (or ‘VAS’) such as voicemail are available on prepaid SIM accounts for an additional fee.
Most prepaid SIM cards in Hong Kong are valid for 180 days from the date of their first activation or the last recharge.
An administration fee of HK$2.50 is automatically deducted from your account when you first activate your prepaid SIM card, and will continue to be deducted every month.
Now that you're up to speed, we’ve done the legwork to narrow the field down to the two top candidates for Hong Kong's best value prepaid SIM card.
PCCW Mobile All-In-One Rechargeable SIM Card
PCCW’s prepaid 3G service is built around a range of flexible ‘data passes’ sold on top of the HK$98 and HK$198 SIM packages.
Each pass expires when the time limit is reached (the cut-off is 11:59pm) or you’ve used up all the data in the pack.
A one-day data pass sells for HK$18 and is good for up to 300MB. The three-day HK$38 pass covers you for 500MB, with seven days (1GB) for HK$68 and a 30-day 2.5GB pass for HK$188.
Make sure you sign up for a data pass, because the pay-as-you-go rate is a relatively hefty HK$3 per MB. Yes, that’s only A40c/MB, but you’re still better off loading up with a data pass.
A welcome perk included with each data pass is free access to PCCW’s network of wi-fi hotspots, of which there are over 10,000 scattered throughout Hong Kong including cafes, MRT stations and convenience stores.
SmarTone Voice/Data Stored-Value SIM card
At the time of writing, SmarTone offers Hong Kong’s only prepaid 4G service, with coverage that’s both extensive and fast (SmarTone also has a solid 3G network, of course.)
Our testing on an iPhone 5 yielded average download speeds of 30Mbps with uploads at 20Mbps.
SmarTone calculates mobile Internet usage by time rather than data, with pricing from HK$8 per hour.
But there’s a maximum charge of HK$24 per day, so once you’ve notched up a total three hours of use (and it needn’t be three hours in a single session) you won’t pay any more until after midnight.
That trait plus zippy 4G speeds is handy for business travellers. You can forget about paying for a hotel’s in-room Internet connection and just use your smartphone as a personal wi-fi hotspot.
SmartOne sells prepaid SIM packs of HK$48 and HK$80 – just be sure you’re getting the right size SIM card and it’s a 4G pack.
Unlocking your smartphone
Whichever carrier you choose, don’t forget to ensure your phone, tablet or 3G-wifi device isn’t locked to your Australian mobile carrier.
This is a common practice with smartphones bought on a contract – they’ll work only using the SIM card of your chosen carrier.
Contact your carrier or local mobile phone store to check on the locked-or-not status of your device. If it is locked, they’ll advise how it can be unlocked so that any overseas SIM card can be used.
It’s best to do this a few days before you travel, rather than leave it to the last minute, because the unlocking process can take a bit of time.
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About Kinny Cheng
An aviation enthusiast with his eye on the passenger experience space, Kinny is an avid air traveller and photographer who also loves dining at packed eateries and squeezing into crowded computer/phone malls.