Last updated on February 12th, 2018
Cambodia is your typical case of technological leapfrogging. While the telecommunication infrastructure was destroyed during the war and has never really been repaired to its heydays (potholed roads compared to Sangkum era smooth as baby skin asphalt, unreliable landline calls etc), cellular has truly saved the day to propel Cambodians into social media mainstream.
It’s really easy to get a SIM card from a variety of standard sizes for your phone as you land into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. With a few tips from us, you’ll be able to call home, get on internet and keep posting about your adventures.
What mobile phone company should you use in Cambodia?
The minute you land in Cambodia, you will be presented at the airport with a bevy of SIM cards for local use. There are dozens of cellular providers in Cambodia, some have better coverage in some provinces than others. But as a visitor, you should keep things simple and go for the fattest kid in the neighbourhood.
Cellcard (formerly known as Mobitel) is the local cellular empire in Cambodia. It’s been around for decades, has the widest network and relatively better service quality. Cellcard is not perfect but it has a number of useful features, including English menus and English speaking customer support.
Cellcard is by far the most popular cellular provider and offers 4G internet access, direct international calls and text messaging (www.cellcard.com.kh). You can sign up at the airport or at any phone shop in town with your passport (or national ID card for Cambodians). A local SIM card will cost you less than $2, sometimes it’s even free.
Smarter phone shops in Cambodia
The phone shop is often the hub of the village. Nerdy youngish looking techies in flip flops provide backup support to keep your precious humming smoothly. Need a protective film for your screen (all Cambodians have one), a snazzy cover (most Cambodians have one), plenty of songs and apps you will never use? Can do! System update, new software, more memory? Forgot your phone charger at home? Head of the nearest phone shop!
Be sure to bring your unlocked phones
Right, that’s a key requirement. You have to get your phones unlocked before you leave your home country. Of course, there are all kinds of hole in the walls smart phone shops across Cambodia (even in small villages), who will try to unlock your phone for a few dollars. But it’s going to take some time, and success is not guaranteed (you might end up with a bricked or jailbroken Iphone…).
Your average Cambodian phone technician can work wonders with Samsung phones (the most popular), and some LG models. Iphones are notoriously trickier and less popular in Cambodia because of the steep prices. Sure if you’ve recently cut down a few hectares of virgin forest in Cambodia, you have the cash to buy the latest Apple products that go well with your big Lexus SUV.
You could also get a second hand phone at the local phone shop. A basic non descript 3G model shouldn’t cost you more than $30-$50.
Phone and status in Cambodian society
Forget your Gucci shoes… but show off your cool phone. Cambodians love to caress their smartphones. They don’t use phones for anything more than a bit of surfing, soppy songs listening, casual gaming, audio chit chatting and big time Facebook. So a model from 5 years ago would be fine, but a phone is seen a bit as a status symbol.
A whole segment of the population is always on the lookout for the latest gizmos and continuously upgrading their wares. Of course, there are also plenty of people who don’t care and who’ll be glad to get a second hand phone at bargain prices that the trendsetters have just discarded.
Topping up your phone in Cambodia
As a visitor to Cambodia, you’ll be using a prepaid plan. Your SIM usually comes with a few minutes of complementary calling time, but this won’t get you very far so you should immediately top up your phone at the shop with $10 or $20.
You don’t need to go to a phone shop for top ups. There are plenty of stalls around town that sell little top up cards that you scratch to reveal a PIN code to key in. They usually come in denominations of $1 to $50. You get a better deal per minute if you top up at least $10 at a time.
How much do international phone calls cost in Cambodia?
Rates for international phone calls from Cambodia range from affordable to expensive. Calling another phone a in the US, Canada, China, Singapore is cheap using a VOIP pack (about $2 for 60 minutes or about 3 cents per minute). France, India, South Korea are a reasonable 4.5 cents per minute. Europe is usually more expensive at about 15 cents, and the rest of the world may be as high as 35 cents.
Dial 177 (the VOIP code) followed by the country code and the number you’re calling, and Mommy will be delighted to hear your voice!
Slightly slow and slightly expensive internet
Internet in Cambodia is barely suitable for streaming anything more than songs. It gets pretty expensive, pretty quickly, so forget about accessing Netflix through your VPN from Cambodia. You’re better off getting the DVDs of the latest films at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh or the Old Market in Siem Reap.
If your tablet or your Ipad has a SIM slot, then you’re all set, just pop in a local SIM card.
Your hotel might have a public wifi network, but in our experience they’re usually not very good either. If you want to do some serious work with your laptop, you’ll need a 3G or 4G modem. They usually look like your average USB stick, but you pop in a SIM card to surf internet with your Macbook or your PC.
Just bring your laptop to any PC shop, and they should be able to get you surfing in no time. The online instructions are relatively straightforward too so if you’ve used a stick modem in another country, you’re already familiar with the process. A 4 GB internet pack costs about $2 and lasts for 7 days, or you can opt for the 8 GB plan for $5 for 30 days. You can easily top up your phone and add internet options as necessary.
Go on, call your loved ones or your business associates, and get online to give updates of your discoveries in Cambodia!