If you do a quick search on the Internet, you can probably find some guides on mobile plans in Vietnam – but they’re probably out of date or incredibly confusing to follow. Now that I’ve been stationed in Vietnam for a while, I thought I would contribute a bit to the body of knowledge and share my experiences on Vinaphone, my carrier of choice.
If you plan to travel into the rural parts of Vietnam, Viettel is actually a better choice – it’s the network run by the military and they have good coverage out there. Otherwise, the two better-known carriers in cities are Mobifone and Vinaphone. I find that too many people recommend Mobifone so it has gotten quite congested and slow. Hence, I switched to Vinaphone and have been pretty satisfied with my data speeds ever since.
First, you need to get yourself an unlocked phone and a SIM card. The phone is best brought on your own, but many stores sell cheap unlocked phones all over the place. (Maybe stolen? Who knows!)
You can buy a SIM card from an official store (there’s probably one here) but you’ll need to bring a passport so they can tie your identity with the card. If you don’t want to do that, you can ask around touristy districts (like District 1 in Saigon) and many street vendors will be happy to sell you one without any ID. (Maybe stolen? Who knows!)
Expect to pay around 100,000₫ for a SIM card with no credit.
Checking your balance
Whether you’re travelling for a short time or even staying long-term, it’s easiest to just go with the prepaid plans. This means you keep a balance on your SIM card and use it for purchasing short term plans with set amounts of data and calling. I’m going to assume you don’t really care about calling or texting these days, so I’ll just walk through how to subscribe to data.
You can check the amount of money you have by going to your phone’s dialer and making a “call” to *101# – this triggers a “check balance” action and you should see something like this on your screen:
Most of those numbers don’t actually matter – for data, you just care about the first value in VND (₫). In the screenshot above, it is 71076 VND.
Review the data plans
You can find details about Vinaphone’s current plans here, but it’s incomprehensible so I’ll describe what the deal is.
There are three kinds of plans here (A, B, and C on Vinaphone’s table). “A” is just pay-as-you-go data, 75₫ per 50 kilobytes. That’s a terrible deal and you will easily burn through your money if you stay on that plan — which is the default and what you will be reset to when any other plans expire.
“B” plans are set amounts of data with hard caps – this means that when you use up all the data, you are charged per 50 kilobytes again. These plans can only end badly, so I don’t recommend them.
“C” plans are set amounts of data with soft caps – this means that after you use up all your data, you just get throttled to 2G speeds until the end of a set term (one month). This is effectively unlimited data – I’m not sure why anyone would choose any other type of plan! If only US carriers were this generous…
The last section “D” refers to how you purchase additional ‘data packs’ once you exhaust your high-speed data supply. Keep those handy for when you run out or get throttled.
Once you identify the plan you want, note the code (for example, “MAX100” is my plan of choice) and the amount of money required to subscribe (100,000₫ for “MAX100”).
You can add credit using scratch cards, which are set amounts of value that you purchase and literally scratch to reveal a 14-digit code to redeem. Most convenience stores sell them.
To redeem the code, you go to your phone’s dialer and punch in *100*(14 digits)# where “(14 digits)” is the code you revealed by scratching.
After receiving a success message, go back to your dialer and enter *101# again to verify your new balance.
Sometimes, there will be promotional days where you get a bonus for refilling (only on that day). You’ll get notifications about these promotions in the form of texts:
If you apply a scratch card on the day mentioned, you may see some increases in your other balances — which, by the way, I believe are used for calling and texting.
Subscribing to a plan
You need to know the SMS codes to enable data and subscribe to one of the data plans mentioned above – otherwise, you’ll be stuck with nothing or the default pay-as-you-go plan.
Open up your text messaging app and start a conversation with “888”. Send the following commands:
- GPRS ON — this enables data
- DK XXXXXX — subscribe to the plan “XXXXXX” or add data to an existing plan
- DATA — to check your data balance
After you apply the changes, you might need to restart your phone (or disable/enable Airplane Mode) to have it register correctly with the network.
After you subscribe to a plan, you might start receiving a lot of random text messages in Vietnamese. If you translate these, you’ll find they are mostly spam – often identified with a “(QC)” at the beginning of the message. To stop these, text “HUY” to the number you received the spam from.
That’s it! Hopefully you should be all set to use maps and social media during your trip. Have fun, but take your eyes off your phone once in a while. 😉