Best SIM Cards for Backpacking in East Timor (Timor Leste)

A volcano in Timor Leste  

Located closer to Australia than any other Southeast Asian country, Timor Leste is strangely, almost untouched by tourism and offers an authentic view of Southeast Asian life. 

Thanks to it being a long way off the beaten track, Timor Leste is lagging behind when it comes to mobile phone networks. Most of the country is covered by 2G but outside of major population centres, you are unlikely to come across 3G and 4G is virtually unheard of outside of the main cities.  

SIM cards can be purchased on almost every street corner but be aware that those bought on the street will cost upwards of 10X the amount you would pay in an official store. An official store will register the SIM card and take a copy of your passport but this won’t happen when buying on the street.

Across the country, you can find top up cards available from any street vendor or shop. It is not uncommon to get sold a top up card that is past is expiry date but don’t worry, these still work fine.

From our research, the best SIM for backpacking in East Timor is Telemor. Read about what you get with a Telemor SIM and the other options below!

Best Timor Leste SIM Cards:

Telemor

  • Where to get a SIM: Available in official stores for $1USD. Also available from street vendors for up to $10USD.
  • Where to top up: Any shop or street vendor. 
  • Cell network: 2G/3G/4G
  • ID Required: In official stores only. 
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz (2G), 1800Mhz (3G), Band 3 (4G)

Owned and operated by the Vietnamese company Viettel, Telemor is the most popular network within Timor Leste. Their 2G and 3G networks cover over 90% of the country and they claim their 4G network has a 70% coverage, although there is some speculation among travellers as to whether this is just marketing hype. 

Data packages are expensive when compared to other Southeast Asian countries but make sure you get one. Using the internet without having a package is even more costly and will tear through your credit in minutes!

Timor Telecom

  • Where to get a SIM: Available in official stores and from some street vendors.
  • Where to top up: Any official store, shop or street vendor. 
  • Cell network: 2G/3G
  • ID Required: In official stores only.
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz (2G), 2100MHz (3G)

Until 2012, Timor Telecom were the only carrier available in the country. As such, they could charge as much as they wanted for what was a pretty trashy service. These days, with the competition from Telemore and Telcomcel, the service has improved dramatically and the prices have dropped. They are still the most expensive of the three operators but also have the most coverage across the country. 

Timor Telecom does have a 4G infrastructure in place but at the time of writing, that is only available on their contract plans, not on their prepaid SIMs. If a 4G connection is what you are after, then this is not the network for you. 

To make up for their higher prices and lack of 4G, it is common to see Timor Telecom offering great deals to their customers. These range from doubling your top up balance, to shed loads of free extra data. Keep an eye on these deals as they change frequently!

They also offer some unlimited data packages which are useful for using maps or booking accommodation but limit the speed to 256kpbs which makes internet browsing tedious and watching videos all but impossible. 

Telkomcel 

  • Where to get a SIM: Available in official stores and from some street vendors.
  • Where to top up: Available from official stores and most other shops and vendors. 
  • Cell network: 2G/3G/4G.
  • ID Required: In official stores only.
  • Bands/Frequencies: 850MHz (2G&3G), Band 3 (4G)

Telkomcel is the smallest of the phone networks in Timor Leste but they offer coverage comparable to the other two. Their internet speeds are not great but they offer some WiFi hotspots within cities, that customers get priority access to. 

The cost of using data with Telkomcel is comparable to Telemor but you must be aware that they operate both their 2G and 3G networks on the 850MHz frequency. This is one of the rarer frequencies, so make sure your phone is capable of receiving the signal before you head out to buy a SIM. 

The 4G network offered by Telkomcel is so new that there is no accurate information on it yet although the company is clear to state that it is as fast, if not faster than its competitors. We will be sure to update this information as more travellers start using the service. 

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since the incident, he has travelled in South East Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and is currently backpacking around South America. His first book 'From Paralysis to Santiago' chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident that changed his life and will be released later this year.