Traveling to The Philippines With Your Cell Phone

If you’re like most people your phone is one of the most important devices that you own. A phone can make the difference between a good or bad experience in The Philippines and that’s why your phone choice is important to avoid expensive mistakes. I’ve had a few phones here and some are definitely better than others.

While of course, the answer to the best phones for foreigners in The Philippines depends on many factors including your budget and needs there are some choices I recommend you check out. Many people want to know if their phones will work while in The Philippines.

Will My Verizon Phone Work in The Philippines?

If you have an old-school CDMA phone it will not work in The Philippines. This is because the Philippines uses the GSM standard which is incompatible with CDMA. If you have a new LTE Verizon phone that will work in certain places where LTE service is available.

However, please keep in mind The Philippines is a developing country and doesn’t have universal LTE coverage everywhere, even within the cities. In addition to that The Philippines uses different frequencies for their LTE service, some towers use frequencies that coincide with American frequencies while some don’t.

That means there are many places where you won’t have service.  In addition to that if your phone is locked then you will need to buy an additional service plan.  Verizon currently offers a TravelPass plan which will cost you $10 a day for spotty service.

Can I Use My At&t Phone in The Philippines?

If your phone is an AT&T phone good news, it may work. AT&T has a deal with local carrier Globe Telecom to provide service for their customers in The Philippines. But then again you’ll be subject to high roaming rates. AT&T’s passport plan will set you back $60 for 1GB for a single device and $120 for 3GB. YIKES!  In addition to that your American phone may not have all of the frequencies that The Philippines uses.

Can I Use My Straight Talk Phone in The Philippines?

No. Straight Talk’s terms of service explicitly prohibit international roaming. 

From the horse’s mouth:

** Each account is allowed to dial up to 15 unique international telephone numbers during a 30-day plan cycle, which resets each time a new plan is redeemed. Unlimited international calls are available to landline and mobile numbers in select destinations only, which are subject to change at any time. Calls must originate from the US or Puerto Rico. No international roaming allowed. Other terms and conditions apply. For personal use only. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at StraightTalk.com.

Google Fi in The Philippines

I looked into everything when traveling to the Philippines, including eSIMS. If you’re planning on traveling to the Philippines the best American cellphone service to use is Google Fi. I personally use it and it works quite well.  Google Fi works in nearly every country in the world and it’s great for frequent international travelers like myself.

What I really like about it is…

  • Since I get to keep my American number my family can contact me anywhere in the world without incurring international charges
  • I don’t have to worry about getting a new SIM (it’s getting harder and harder to get them registered)
  • I get to use two-step authentication (ex when I log into my bank account)

It’s important to note that Google Fi is not a replacement for a local SIM for several reasons. For one thing,  you can call locals but locals won’t be able to call you since you’ll still have your American number it would count as an uber expensive international call.

Another thing is once you remove the SIM card and try to swap it with a local one you won’t be able to reactive the service until you return to the US. The biggest one is if you stay too long they’ll cut off your data.

Look up prices on Google Fi

The Best Way to Get Phone Service in The Philippines

If you are planning to stay in The Philippines longer than a few days your best bet is to simply get an unlocked phone from Amazon  and buy a SIM card at the airport once you land in The Philippines.

Both NAIA in Manila and Mactan in Cebu have booths in their ‘Arrivals Areas’ where you can buy a local sim card from GLOBE or SMART and an employee will install it and get you set up on a promo. You can also just wait to buy a new phone (they can be pretty cheap) at the mall after you arrive.

Fun Facts About Phone Service in The Philippines

  1. All mobile numbers begin with “9″
  2. In order to dial long distance, you must first dial “0”
  3. The Philippines country code is “63”
  4. Even the ‘5G’ data is slow compared the west

Cell Phone Plans in The Philippines

Don’t be fooled by some of the other websites and various marketing gimmicks. Your choices of cell phone carriers are SMART and GLOBE, and (now DITO)–that’s it! They have different brands such as TM (Touch Mobile) and ABS-CBN mobile under Globe and TNT (Talk n’ Text) and Sun Cellular under Smart but in the end, it’s just Globe and Smart (and now DITO).

Which member of the duopoly is better depends on where you are. In Metro Manila, Smart is the carrier of choice while people in the provinces tend to prefer globe. However, most people avoid this choice by simply buying a dual-sim phone.

Pre-Paid vs Post Paid

Almost everyone here uses pre-paid sim cards. For those of you who live under a rock that just means you pay for your minutes, texts, and data in advance. This is referred to as a ‘load’. If you’re chatting with Filipinas online chances are good you’ll buy a load for her more than once.

Related: New to Manila? Try These Expat Hacks 

Postpaid is generally not available to foreigners because you’ll need to sign a contract and have multiple ID’s ready. Normally, the requirements are: proof of identity (birth certificate, passport), proof of income (e.g., certificate of employment), and proof of billing (e.g., electricity bill named after you)

In addition, the phone they give you will be ‘locked’ meaning you can only use it with that particular provider. It’s just not worth it. With pre-paid you simply pay and walk away.

Pre-paid costs

How much it costs depends on your usage. I spent about $20 (P1000) a month on my pre-paid phone costs. The best way to keep your costs down is to get a promotion (promo) plan.

You do this by texting a promo code to a predetermined number. Promos include various talk times, text messages, and various amounts of data.  Many promos give you unlimited texts and minutes to other network users (another reason to have two sims). Smart tends to have better promos than Globe but Globe supposedly has a larger 5G network.

 

NEW!! SIM CARD REGISTRATION LAW

On October 10th, 2022 Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos signed The SIM Card Registration Act, Republic Act No. 11934 into law.
This new law requires all SIM cards sold in the PH to be registered with a photo ID.

  • You’ll need to show a valid ID in order to buy a SIM card
  • Telcos will be required to give your information to law enforcement if they ask for it
  • People with existing SIM cards already need to register with telcos within a certain time frame. SIM cards will be deactivated if you don’t.

With this law, the Philippines will join Vietnam, Thailand, and many other nations that require the registration of SIM cards. This is to prevent crime so criminals won’t be able to buy SIM cards anonymously.

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