In this day and age, even when you are unplugged and on vacation, there seem to be times when you unavoidably need to use the internet or contact a friend or family member back home. However, using your mobile phone abroad can mean a big bill once you get back. Of course there is always the option to stick to free Wi-Fi; however, let’s face it, no one wants to stay in the hotel or resort – which in remote areas is often the only place with a free connection – to be able to check in with friends, family or work (though sometimes that actually isn’t that bad, see the stunning lobby of the Westin Langkawi below).
Luckily, in big cities in Malaysia there are coffee places and restaurants at every corner, all offering free Wi-Fi services (actually, local restaurants in Kuala Lumpur are required by law to offer free Wi-Fi). Same goes for most of the popular tourist destinations within Malaysia; everywhere you go you can connect to free Wi-Fi. However, you may want to look into the safety of this method of using the internet abroad. Especially on a tablet or notebook, chances are that that free connection is all but secure. Not to mention that if you are out and about and need to look up bus times in order to travel into the city, or if you need directions to a restaurant or to a remote attraction, you really need to have access to the internet.
So how can you relay your climb up Mount Kinabalu on Twitter or share your breathtaking pictures of Kuala Lumpur on Instagram without racking up a bill?
Buy a travel data package
This is convenient since it is a package deal. Of course most phone providers will offer an international data package, or you can buy a local SIM card from your travel destination. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to unlock your phone to do this, if you do not already have an unlocked smart phone. Within Malaysia, some of the bigger companies offering travel data packages are Celcom, Hotlink, TuneTalk, Umobile and Digi. We would recommend Hotlink by main celcom operator Maxis because unlike Celcom and the others, Maxis has by far the best coverage and often the fastest and most stable 3G data connection. If you are only staying in the bigger cities, TuneTalk and Umobile are your best affordable choices.
Do your research before you go, though, with something like TripAdvisor, so that you know the best options for your budget, instead of ending up with a more expensive monthly package that you don’t need. The Guardian has a detailed article offering further tips on keeping mobile phone charges down while abroad, which you can see here.
If you are visiting many other foreign countries besides Malaysia, it may be a better option to buy a World Wide Sim Card, that you can use in every country with similar prices for calling and data usage.
Use online telephony and messaging services
To make the most of whatever data plan you choose, you will want to opt for online telephony and messaging services like Whatsapp, Viber, or Facebook Messenger for messaging or apps like Skype, or VOIP options like Bria or Joxko for calling. Obviously using these within a free Wi-Fi zone is still the most optimal, but they are a better option than paying per SMS or phone call on your prepaid data plan.
Out of these options, we would recommend Joxko, because it works off of a phone account that is easy to top up from anywhere, and allows you to call local landlines instead of only between accounts, like BBM Voice. Plus, a nice feature is that it can be paid for through a number of options, so if you are trying to limit risky purchasing practices on your trip, you can top up your account through something like paysafecard instead of entering sensitive payment information over free Wi-Fi.
For more information on travel costs, covering everything from customs and import regulations to accommodations, food, transportation, and even health insurance and vaccinations, check out our article Travel Cost for Malaysia.