I thought I was prepared
When I landed at the Chiang Mai Airport, I thought I was prepared. I spent hours reading the best options for cell phone plans and recommendations for communication between Thailand and the United States. It was very important for me to be accessible at all times, as I have clients and coworkers who need to reach me throughout the day.
Lesson: Unlock your phone before you arrive
Update: AT&T won’t let me unlock my phone anyways because it’s on a payment plan
I had packed two phones with me in my carry-on so that I wouldn’t have to wait at baggage claim and promply headed to the AIS Sim Card kiosk at the arrivals area of the Chiang Mai Airport. I had the iPhone 6s which is my everyday phone from the U.S. and an old iPhone 4 I brought, specifically for the purpose of having a backup in case a tuk-tuk runs over my phone and to insert a local SIM card to have data no matter where I was in the city.
At the AIS kiosk at the airport, I was told my iPhone 6 was locked by my carrier (rookie mistake) so I took out the iPhone 4 which was unlocked, but little did I know, the iOS was too old to be compatible. *Major sigh of frustration here*
WELP. OK. So now I am stuck relying on WiFi at cafes and my apartment only. After a few days of just connecting to wifi when it was available I start to think “do I really need a SIM card, anyway? I seem to be getting on fine.”
Getting stranded with no wifi or data
Everything is great until I make plans to meet friends for Wine Night near the Old City (I live in Nimman). When I hop in the Songthaew, I notice language barrier with this particular driver is REAL and the Songtaew driver drops me off at night in an unfamiliar part of town. While trying to find the restaurant, stray dogs are following me angrily barking and since there’s no city-wide WiFi I cannot communicate with my friends or look at Google Maps to route my destination.
Needless to say this situation put a fire in my belly that I needed to find a solution immediately so in the mean time before I can figure out the sim card situation, I hastily decide to download the AT&T Passport package to hold me over.
Pay attention to 1-star reviews
I should have known better when I downloaded the app from iTunes, which is required when you buy the add-on package (which, is most certainly an add-on on to your current package) because the app only had a 1 star rating. *WARNING BELLS RINGING*
I rationalized the bad reviews by saying that nobody is ever satisfied with anything, but I, too, have joined the masses of unsatisfied customers.
The AT&T Passport package is not like data where you can use internet or texting anywhere, but it is a network of hotspots in any given area. So please look on the website and confirm that the country you’re visiting offers the program. And honestly, even if the country does host hotspots where you’ll be, you still might not be able to find solace.
This is a hotspot map of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Look at all the green pins! So many hotspots! This is great!
Well friends, I’ve not been able to connect to ANY hotspot except when I am sitting in the bottom floor of one particular Starbucks. 99% of the time I get this notification:
Do me a favor, skip this expensive, inconvenient package and spend a fraction of the price on new sim cards in each of your destinations if your phone is unlocked.
There is an alternative, though. Throughout my travels there has always been one constant recommendation: Use T-Mobile. For $60 a month you can get unlimited texting and data in over 140 countries.
I plan on switching as soon as I land back in the United States.
If you’re still interested in the AT&T Passport Package, here are their packages that are listed on the website.