Will my existing cell phone work in Thailand? The simple answer is probably not, but if you have an unlocked quad-band GSM phone it will work if you insert a Thai sim card. If your phone is carrier locked, doesn’t receive GSM signals or it isn’t a quad-band GSM phone, your existing phone will not work in Thailand. If you don’t understand this terminology, go through the following checklist.
Is your phone carrier locked?
If your phone is carrier-locked, the carrier lock will prevent the Thai sim card from activating. Generally, phones are carrier locked when you buy them directly from your service provider or when you buy them from a retailer for activation on a particular carrier. If your phone is locked, you can call your carrier and tell them you are traveling to Thailand. Request that they take the lock off for the duration of your trip. In some cases, they will do this and in some cases, they will not. You will have to call your carrier to get the specifics of how and if that will work on your particular account.
Even if your phone is unlocked or your carrier unlocks it for you, your phone may still not work in Thailand if your carrier utilizes CDMA technology rather than GSM.
Does your phone use a GSM or CDMA network?
Don’t worry if you don’t know what type of network your phone uses. Practically, it means if you get your cell service from AT&T or T-Mobile your existing phone uses a GSM network. Verizon and Sprint phones use CDMA networks which are not compatible with the major phone carriers in Thailand. In other words, there is no CDMA service in Thailand.
Keep in mind if you get your cell service from a company other than one of the big four, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, your smaller provider will utilize one of the big four’s networks to provide you service. Here is a list of some of the smaller carriers and the type of networks they utilize.
- Metro – GSM via T-Mobile
- Cricket – GSM via AT&T
- Virgin Mobile CDMA via Sprint
- Boost Mobile CDMA via Sprint
Even though Sprint and Verizon use CDMA networks, some of their newer and more expensive phones can work in Thailand as they have radios built-in that can receive signals from both CDMA and GSM networks.
Can your phone receive signals from the right GSM bands?
If your GSM phone is more than a couple of years old or a lower to mid-range model, there is a good chance it will not work in Thailand. Your phone needs to be able to receive signals from the specific GSM bands used in Thailand. To work in Thailand, the phone needs to be what is known as a quad-band phone. That is one that has access to all four GSM frequencies. More specifically, you need to have access to the GSM 900 and GSM 1800 frequencies used in Thailand. This is in addition to the two GSM frequencies that are used in the U.S.
What if my phone does not work in Thailand?
What should you do if you have come to the conclusion your phone will not work in Thailand after reading this article and consulting with your carrier? Your best course of action is to buy an unlocked GSM quad-band phone for use in Thailand. You can typically find these at Amazon starting in the $100 to $150 range. Make sure you read the description of any phone you are considering so you know that it has everything you need to work in Thailand. Again, you are shopping for an unlocked GSM quad-band phone. Often these are sold on Amazon as international versions with no U.S. warranty. Alternatively, you can buy a phone in Thailand once you get there.
Will My Cell Phone Work In Thailand Final Considerations:
Sometimes your carrier will tell you that your phone will work in Thailand without a Thai sim card via agreements with carriers in Thailand. Do not take their word for it as your calling and SMS signal will likely be poor. Your access to data will be nonexistent. If you need dependable voice, text and data while in Thailand, you need a Thai sim card.
Other helpful information on using mobile phones in Thailand:
- Where to get a Thailand sim card