Best SIM Cards for Backpacking in Myanmar

Pagodas in Bagan  

There was a time when entering Myanmar without having your phone confiscated at the border was all but impossible. Even if you managed to sneak in your phone, the only operator was used solely by the military and for those rich enough, had to pay a bribe of over $1000USD for a SIM!

As a general rule, the internet in Myanmar sucks. The years of military control and isolation from the outside world had a huge part to play in this. Mobile data isn’t much better than WiFi but with foreign operators like Ooreedo and Telenor building massive infrastructures and challenging the old military-run MPT, things are progressing. 

Still, they are a long way behind the rest of the region when it comes to coverage, speed and reliability. 4G is available in major cities but in rural areas, there is very little coverage at all. An interesting quirk of Myanmar’s isolation is that it has almost skipped hard-wired internet connections, instead the country is much more reliant on 4G modems to get them online. Many 4G only networks operate solely to get homes and businesses online and do not provide deals for mobile phones. 

These days, getting a SIM card for your phone in Myanmar is a relatively simple task. They are available from most shops or vendors but as they need to be registered, it is often best to seek out an official store where there may be an English speaking member of staff who can help you out. You will need your passport for the registration process. 

With coverage so spotty throughout Myanmar, a good bet is to choose the SIM you see being offered the most in the specific area you are in. This is usually the best way to choose a SIM but there is often an unscrupulous salesman or two trying to sell SIMs that will not work in that area. If in doubt, just visit an official store or check the Open Signal app to check coverage before you head out shopping. Top ups are also easy to find, with most street vendors and shops selling them.

Backpackers wanting a quick answer to the best SIM question will want to pick up an Ooredoo SIM. For more information on both Ooredoo and the other network providers in Myanmar, please see below. 

Best Myanmar SIM Cards:

Telenor 

  • Where to get a SIM: Available on almost every street corner but it is best to visit an official store for registration.
  • Where to top up: Available anywhere displaying the Telenor logo.
  • Cell network: 2G/3G/4G.
  • ID Required: Yes.
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz (2G & 3G), Band 1 (4G)

Telenor is said to have the best internet speed in Myanmar but that is not a great claim when the general speeds across the country are already so poor. Whilst the network is potentially the most powerful, it can easily get congested in cities so you can expect the speeds to be significantly lower than advertised. 

The data packages available from Telenor are competitively priced, which does make up for the slower speeds and they offer a decent tourist SIM that includes 5GB of data, valid for 14 days. These SIMs will only set you back 15,000 Kyats (approx $10USD) but only appear to be available in airports. 

Ooredoo 

  • Where to get a SIM: Available anywhere displaying the Ooredoo logo, which will be almost every shop or vendor.
  • Where to top up: Anywhere displaying the logo.
  • Cell network: 3G/4G
  • ID Required: Yes
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz (3G), Band 1 (4G).

Ooredoo where the first foreign company to start operating within Myanmar and as such got an initial leg up on their competition. Within just a short period, starting in 2014, they had gained a massive market share but thanks to their 3G and 4G only coverage, with no fallback to 2G, they have slipped back to the third-largest network in the country.

Whilst starting a network without 2G seemed like a good idea at the time, for a country with such poor connectivity, whose citizens earn very little, 2G has proved to be a vital part of the other companies more steady growth. 

Data prices are low and bundles do not automatically renew, making Ooredoo a good choice for those not straying too far from the beaten track. If you are planning to visit more remote parts of the country, then this is not the SIM for you as reception is centred around cities and common tourist destinations. 

MPT 

  • Where to get a SIM: Available in official stores, smaller shops or anywhere displaying the MPT logo.
  • Where to top up: Supermarkets, small shops or any street vendor displaying the MPT logo. 
  • Cell network: 2G/3G/4G.
  • ID Required: Yes.
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz (2G & 3G), Band 1 (4G).

MPT is the state-run carrier within Myanmar and until 2014, were the only option for those wanting a SIM card. This monopoly meant that they charged ridiculous prices, which turned vast swathes of the population against them. 

However, they are the only network providing signal to many of the more remote parts of the country, leaving them as the only option for many users who live outside of the major cities. 

These days, thanks to the competition brought in by the other carriers, their prices have dropped dramatically but they are still a little more pricey than their competitors. They also offer a tourist SIM, which is only available in Yangon airport but the data rates on this are actually more costly than just buying their normal everyday SIM. 

MyTel 

  • Where to get a SIM: Available in official stores.
  • Where to top up: Anywhere displaying the MyTel logo.
  • Cell network: 2G/4G
  • ID Required: Yes.
  • Bands/Frequencies: 900MHz & 2100MHz (2G), Bands 1 & 8 (4G)

MyTel opened its doors to customers in 2018 and is a joint effort between the Vietnamese Viettel and a group of local investors. Whilst the coverage is not great at the moment, the fact they are half owned by Viettel suggests they will be an operator to look out for in the future. 

To not make the same mistakes as Ooredoo but still get their network up and running quickly, MyTel skipped implementing a 3G network. Instead, focusing on building a solid 2G infrastructure and then upgrading it straight to a 4G network. 

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.