When travelling abroad, it’s always cheaper to buy a local card and mobile internet data, rather than pay outrageous roaming fees from your usual provider back home. Fortunately, it’s an easy, relatively straightforward process (after you cut through the noise!) to buy a local prepaid SIM card in Indonesia, and even the most “expensive” cards and data are extremely affordable. I’ll lead you through the steps below.
Where to get a prepaid SIM card in Indonesia
The first thing you need to do is find a place that sells SIM cards! Since practically everyone in Indonesia owns a mobile phone, and a huge majority change numbers on a regular basis (thanks to the cheap promos), one is usually not much more than a stone’s throw away from a seller.
The most obvious place to find a SIM card in Indonesia is at a major airport, like in Jakarta or Bali. A number of cell phone companies will have little booths as you’re making your way out, and it’s easy to pick up cards here. They might be slightly more expensive than typical, but no more than a few dozen rupiah, and it’s certainly convenient as you can usually register the card on the spot (more on that later). Some even come preloaded with data, which will help simplify the process. Although, unless you plan on staying put in the location you buy the card, you need to be careful that advertised data is not just “Local Data,” which is only good in the specific area where it’s sold. If you plan to travel around, you’ll want “Flash.”
If you’re travelling more off-the-beaten path, like to us here in Kerinci, and there aren’t any SIM cards for sale at the airport, then look for shops that sell mobile phones. Many little neighborhood warung stores will also sell them, and it’s not uncommon to see booths set up on roadsides with a selection of cards as well. If you really are having a hard time finding one, ask a local. “Saya cari kartu SIM” (I’m looking for a SIM card). Remember that the letter “c” is always pronounced like “ch” in English, so “cari” sounds like “chari.” And don’t forget to roll that r.
Choosing a mobile phone provider
While considered slightly more expensive, Telkomsel has by far the best coverage across Indonesia, and generally the fastest speeds. This can vary slightly by region or the exact spot you’re in, but in general, Telkomsel’s your best bet. Their simPATI and Loop cards are popular choices.
The second most popular provider would be XL (which could be a good second choice, if you have a dual SIM phone). There’s also Smartfren, 3/Tri, Axis, Indosat/IM3, and a few others. If you plan on settling down in one spot for a while, ask the locals what’s best, or check out coverage maps by clicking the links of each of the providers. An overall coverage map can also be found on the Open Signal website, which should be more or less accurate.
Buying a prepaid SIM card in Indonesia
No matter the provider, a SIM card in Indonesia is generally pretty cheap, sometimes starting as low as 10,000 IDR. Prices can vary depending on how much data is preloaded onto them, where you’re buying them, or even if the number is considered cantik – “beautiful.” Some people are willing to pay millions of rupiah for a simple, easy to remember, or “lucky” number!
It’s important to make sure the advertised data is useful to you. Sometimes there will be big signs advertising 30GB or more of data, but these often are useful for just a single area (“Local Data”), are good for only one day, can only be used after midnight, are for video streaming services like HOOQ, or only work with 4G (which, is useless if you’re in an area that doesn’t yet have 4G coverage, or if you only have a 3G phone). As mentioned above, make sure the data is “Flash,” useful throughout Indonesia at any time. Try to confirm with the seller if you’re not sure. If in doubt, just buy a cheap card and top it up later in the manner I’ll show you below.
Don’t forget to make note of your phone’s new number (although, if you forget it, dial *808# and it’ll be sent to you). Also, Indonesian numbers all start with 0 when used locally, but if giving your number to someone back in your home country, you’d replace it with the country code of +62. For example, the number 081260173651 becomes +6281260173651
Registering the Indonesian SIM card
As of 1 May, 2018, a new regulation has fully come into effect, requiring all foreigners to register their cards with either their Passport, or KITAS, or KITAP (the last two being long-term visas which the regular visitor doesn’t need to worry about). Unfortunately, this registration can not always be done at the point of sale, and if that’s the case when you buy it, you’ll have to go to an official Telkomsel gerai or GraPARI office. It’s quite inconvenient to say the least! Thankfully, these GraPARI offices are never too far of a drive away, so between driving and waiting in line, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours, hopefully much less. All you need to do it bring your passport to the office, tell the greeter at the door that you want to registrasi kartu, then wait for your turn. They’ll take down your info, punch it in to the computer, and you should be good to go. There are varying reports about the length of time it takes to get the SMS confirmation that you’ve successfully registered – sometimes pretty much instantly (as it was for me), sometimes a few hours, and sometimes as long as a day. Anything more than that, then it’s likely that for some reason it wasn’t successful, and you’ll have to return to the office and try again.
In the press, there have been reports that foreign guests will be able to register straight away at one of the Telkomsel kiosks in the airports, and it seems as though that has turned out to be true in some areas. But it’s hit and miss. Major international airports like in Denpasar and Jakarta have official Telkomsel stands and shops, so this is often the best, most convenient place to buy a card and register these days. If you have been able to register in a regular mobile phone shop outside of the official GraPARI offices, please let us know where in the comments.
When buying the card, if you like you can also ask them to add more data or pulsa (phone credit) onto the phone at this time. Generally, pulsa is purchased in sizes of 5,000 IDR up to 100,000 IDR. Sometimes in smaller shops and warungs, 100,000 IDR packets will be kosong, or all used up, so try for 50,000 or 25,000 instead if that’s the case. Most shops will charge around 2,000 IDR in addition to the amount of pulsa you’re loading on.
If your phone requires a nano or micro SIM, either snap out the appropriate size of the card, or ask the shop owner to cut it with their tool. Make sure it all works, and check your pulsa and data amount before you leave the store.
Checking the amount of pulsa and internet data on your phone
With Telkomsel (which I’m focusing on), there are two relatively easy ways to check this, one requiring some free messaging, the other requiring downloading the My Telkomsel App. The App is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll describe the other way below.
1. Dial *888#
You’ll get the result below telling you the amount of pulsa you have left, as well as the date it expires. There will also usually be some sort of promo advertisement underneath, which you can ignore.
2. Choose “3. Cek Kuota”
This will help you see what kind of data/calling/sms packages you currently have running. You’ll get something like the result below.
3. Choose “2. Cek Kuota Internet”
Here you’ll see how much data you have left. There may also be some extra numbers having to do with data available after midnight or other special times, as well as data related to the HOOQ video streaming service that Telkomsel keeps pushing. But those first numbers are what’s most important.
Topping up pulsa (credit)
As mentioned before, pulsa is the credit used when calling or sending SMS messages. You also need it when you want to buy data packages – if you use data outside of a data package, the rates are extremely high, and by using just a few MBs of data, you’ll quickly eat through all of your pulsa. So, if you do plan on using mobile data, make sure you purchase enough pulsa to then be able to purchase a data package (which I’ll get to in the next section), with enough pulsa left over to make calls or send text messages.
1. Like when purchasing the SIM card, find a cell phone shop or small warung advertising that it can isi (fill up) pulsa, or pulsa dijual (pulsa is sold here). Look for banners with logos of the various mobile phone providers as well.
2. Walk up to the attendant and request to “isi pulsa.” If there isn’t already a notebook filled with numbers on the counter, they’ll pull it out.
3. Write down your number (dial *808# if you’ve forgotten), and the amount of pulsa you want to buy. The attendant will type your number into their phone, and add the requested amount. You should almost immediately get a notification message from Telkomsel on your phone informing that you successfully added pulsa, although this can sometimes take a few minutes.
4. Expect to pay the attendant around 2,000 IDR on top of the amount of pulsa you purchased.
***Another way to top up credits on a prepaid SIM card in Indonesia is through the Traveloka app or website. This is especially nice when you’ve run out in the middle of the night, when you’re out of the country, when you need to pay by credit card for some reason, or if you just like contributing to modern society’s continued obsession with automation and human isolation (ok, I’ll stop ranting now). The app is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into detail. Just download it and open Top-Up & Data Packages and follow the steps.***
Topping up your mobile data | Purchasing a data package
Now that you have enough pulsa on your phone, you can purchase a mobile data package to go along with it.
1. Dial *363#
You’ll get something like the results below. You can read through the Promos for ones that might jump out at you, but you’ll probably want to just go with either Flash Bulanan (which lasts a month, unless you use up all your data before that), Flash Mingguan (good for a week), or Flash Harian (just one day).
2. For this example I’m choosing number 3, Flash Mingguan (good for a week), at which point I get the results below.
3. Now, choose the amount of data you want to purchase. I’m going with option #1, 1.5GB.
You won’t need that much because you’ll be enjoying this beautiful country, and not playing around on the internet all the time, right? RIGHT?? You’ll get something like the results below. This is also where you can see the price of the chosen package- 30,000 Rupiah in this case.
4. Make sure you still have that amount of pulsa left on your phone, otherwise it won’t work. Choose 2. Sekali Beli (One-time purchase).
You probably don’t want Langganan, which would make you auto-repurchase when the week is up. You’ll get the following message telling you that your order is processing, and to wait for a confirmation notification before using the internet.
4. You’ll receive the confirmation SMS below from Telkomsel, telling you that your data package is active, and the date your data expires. Now you’re good to go. FYI – if you haven’t already used up your purchased data, and you buy a new data package before that expiration date, then the data will stack and you’ll be able to continue using your previously purchased data.
***As above with filling pulsa, it’s also possible to bypass this whole process and buy data for your Indonesian SIM card directly through the Traveloka app.***
Oh, one final tip. If calling overseas with your Telkomsel number, add 01017 at the beginning of the number you want to call to get a greatly discounted rate. I’m not sure why anyone would do that these days with the ease of making calls over the internet, but to each their own!
Alright, so that’s pretty much it, you should now be a pro at using a local SIM card in Indonesia. Now, put down that phone, flee those pesky 4G signals, and get away from it all on a pristine beach or somewhere deep in the Sumatran wilderness!
If you have any questions, I can try to answer them in the comments below. Or join the Travel Indonesia Facebook group if you have other questions on travelling through this lovely archipelago.