Is it expensive to get a local sim in Nepal? What is internet access like in Nepal? Will I have access to internet and power while trekking in the Himalayas?
Not all cell phone providers from around the world work in Nepal and you may want to avoid the costs of roaming services. You have the option in Nepal to get a local sim.
Sim cards in Nepal are cheap and allow you to use your mobile to call (there are limitations with international calls), send and receive SMS messages and data packages give you internet access.
Wifi is readily available at hotels and cafes around the main cities of Nepal and it’s usually free. So if you like to switch off your devices and emails while out on a tour or on a day hike, keeping things simple by putting your phone on aeroplane mode is of course an option!
Network Choices: NTC vs Ncell
There are two main suppliers in Nepal, NTC (Nepal Telecom) and Ncell. Both have similar network areas, there’s always a little variation depending on the exact location of towers compared to where you are, but for the most part they’re comparable.
You can pick up a sim card at the airport, after you’ve collected your luggage you’ll exit through a long corridor and that’s where you’ll find both the NTC and Ncell stores, as well as a couple of other duty free shops.
If the airport stores are closed or there’s a long line and you don’t want to wait, you can alternatively get one in town. Just ask us to help get you to a store in town and to make sure there’s time in your schedule. The stores in town are not super conveniently located, so if it’s important to have maximum connectivity during your trip, do try to get one at the airport first.
It’s recommended to do the paperwork in person, rather than online, to make sure that you walk away with a working phone.
Do make sure you have a couple of passport-style photos on hand (printed) as well as a photocopy of your passport ID page. There are a few forms to complete to get your service registered and activated – in Nepal it’s not just a matter of buying the sim card.
Prepaid vs Postpaid
As a visitor, you’ll only have the option of a pre-paid account.
E-sim services are being rolled out by Nepal Telecom (NTC), but they’re yet to announce the available date for new pre-paid customers.
An esim, also known as an embedded sim, it does not require changing any hardward on your phone.
More information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ESIM
There isn’t cell coverage everywhere and even sometimes on a busy evening in town you’ll find that your phone won’t work because of network overload.
If you’re going trekking, you’ll have very limited cell service and in many areas you won’t have any at all. We recommend putting your phone onto aeroplane mode so your phone isn’t constantly searching for towers and chewing through your battery.
Until recently, Nepal did not have 24 hour power, even in Kathmandu. In the mountains there are still many places that do not have a lot of electricity access. So by putting your phone in aeroplane mode not only will you give yourself the best chance of not being caught short of keeping your devices powered, you’re also keeping resources open for the local communities to use.
Some areas (such as the Everest Khumbu region) have paid wifi services that you can connect to while out in the mountains, which is a separate system to your cell phone sim. You buy credit to use in the tea houses, where there is a wifi connection.
Most small shops and street vendors have recharge cards that you can purchase to top up your balance on your Nepali sim.
Note that plan prices and details are correct at time of writing but are subject to change by the network providers. Use the links to check the most up to date information for each network.
What If I don’t get a local sim? Can I visit Nepal and stay offline?
Absolutely! And in fact you’ll find that a lot of information about Nepal isn’t available online and that the best way to get local information (and maybe make a new friend?) is to ask around. People are always happy to help and this is a great way to connect with someone that you otherwise wouldn’t have met.
Some tips for staying offline:
- Use Google Maps Offline function – in advance, while still connect to the internet, you can download the maps to the places you’ll be visiting. Note that this will only help in the main cities as smaller, less visited places won’t necessarily be mapped or accurate.
- People in Nepal are generally friendly and want to help visitors. You asking them a question isn’t rude or an inconvenience. In fact, they’ll probably even be delighted to help, if they can.
- Do ask multiple people your question, particularly with directions
- If things go pear-shaped and you find yourself lost and not able to get to where you need to go, small taxis are readily available on the streets and you can easily flag one down to get back to your hotel or a landmark you’re familiar with. Your taxi driver will be happy to speak with the hotel reception for the exact location, if they’re not familiar with it*
- You can always ask someone to use their mobile phone to call your hotel or guide. In Nepal calls from mobile phones are cheap and you could always offer to reimburse the person Rs50 (approx US$0.40) for the call and it would well and truly cover their expense.
*Grab your hotel’s card on your way out in the morning so you’ve got a local contact and point of reference. As a card doesn’t require charging, you don’t need to worry about it going flat after a long day out and about.