How to Buy a Local Prepaid Sim Card in Indonesia, Top Up Phone Credit, and Purchase Mobile Data
When travelling abroad, it’s always cheaper to buy a local card and 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. 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.”
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 SIM card and initial top-up.
Make sure that the card is loaded into your phone and set up before you leave the store. The shop owner will first load the card into their phone to register it before passing it off to you. You can also ask them to add more data or pulsa (phone credit) onto the phone at this time as well. 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.