This article lists the countries and territories in the world where you can run into trouble finding or using a local SIM card for data. This may be due to technical constraints, legal restrictions or other reasons.
These areas have been put into three different categories:
- BLACKLIST - where it's simply impossible to get a local sim card as visitor
- GREYLIST - where there may be major obstacles to get one, but still feasible under certain conditions
- WARZONES - where the political or economical situation is very unstable and dangerous
This category shows countries or territories where it's still impossible to buy a local prepaid SIM card (for data). This can be because of lack of technical infrastructure or legal restrictions which prohibit the purchase of a SIM card by foreigners. As you see, this list, following alpha-order, has become rather short and refers mostly to less traveled and very isolated areas like island countries:
Antarctica utilizes a mix of handheld radio and satellite phone services to provide communications between research stations on the continent. Argentine bases have 2G networks provided by Claro and Movistar, relying on satellite uplink. The only standalone cellular mobile service is operated by the Australian government and Range Networks who operate an 2G service, covering Macquarie Island and several research stations on the Antarctic continent.
Eritrea was the last country in the world to adopt a mobile phone system. Its sole provider Eritel is hardly accessible to foreigners as it requires a resident's permit, a very high connection fee and some weeks to get connected to a network mostly 2G-only with few 3G cells. There is a separate CDMA network covering 85% which is not compatible with most GSM phones.
The two mobile providers SPM Télécom and Globatel only offer 2G without any data in this French Overseas Department. This leaves the area as only territory without own 3G coverage in America, but both ADSL internet access and a widespread public WiFi network are available.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (UK) Edit
There is no publicly available telecom service on those islands. You'll have to rely either on your ship's service or your own satellite link. If you're employed there, you will need to contact your employer for info that applies to you.
Tristan da Cunha (UK) Edit
There is no mobile coverage on Tristan da Cunha. Since 2006 there is an internet café with a VSAT 1 Mbps shared by all users, so it will be slow. The café has a place to use own laptop, but it's unknown whether it's Ethernet or WiFi. Price for visitors is GBP 10 for the duration of the stay, but it's not published online so this number may be outdated.
Uninhabited territories Edit
Obviously, there is mostly no mobile coverage in uninhabited territories. As there are too many of them, it's impossible to enumerate, hence they are grouped in this one entry. Your only way to connect would be to bring your own satellite linked device.
Greylist EditThis category shows countries or territories, where you should think twice of buying a local prepaid SIM card, as it may not be advisable under all circumstances. Because of certain requirements, legal barriers or technical restraints, you may be better off looking for alternatives like local WiFi hotspots or using a roaming SIM card instead. Check articles first to check, what exactly is restricted and how and whether it applies to you and may affect your purposes.
Norfolk Islands, Christmas Islands and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are not served by Australian operators. They used to depend on satellite connections. The situation has somewhat improved by the arrival of the nbn Sky Muster system. But availability and coverage of 4G networks remain very limited and can't be verified.
It's easy to buy a local SIM card from one of the providers as a new centralized registration system for foreigners has been implemented. The country remains greylisted as an additional IMEI registration system is in place for all devices using a local SIM.
Because of the "Great Firewall of China" a.k.a. censorship your internet access can be severely restricted. Facebook, Twitter, many Google sites like Maps, Gmail or its search engine and many others are blocked. Furthermore, they are starting to clamp down on VPNs used to circumvent these blockages.
Cuba opened mobile internet to its own citizens in 2018 and eased restrictions for foreigners to buy a SIM card. Still there are strings attached and users should check alternatives like roaming and WiFi hotspots for a reliable access.
Diego Garcia (UK) Edit
This remote island in the Indian Ocean is served by Sure on 2G only, but there is landline DSL at low speeds too. Lacking a submarine fibre link, prices remain high and speeds low for C-Band satellite connections.
India has a very unforeseeable policy of registration which can take a few minutes, but also more than a week. So you'll never know, when you will actually be connected to the network after having purchased a new SIM card. Special rules apply to Jammu and Kashmir state which are hard to access.
In 2018 Iran implemented a new registry scheme for phones to be used with a local SIM card for more than 30 days. Similar to Turkey you need to import the device paying taxes and add its IMEI number to a whitelist.
Japan is one of the few countries with no 2G/GSM network and much of its 3G is on very own frequencies. Officially, it bans the purchase of voice SIM cards to travelers by law. You can still buy data SIMs (and use VoIP for voice calls) or rent a device or SIM card at many rental agencies.
State-owned provider Koryolink sells very expensive SIM cards to foreign visitors for their 3G network on 2100 MHz. They now contain a data option too, but are restricted by bureaucratic registration, high prices and limited options.
Lebanon has adopted a whitelist IMEI registration scheme similar to Turkey which makes it hard to use a local SIM card for more than 90 days. You are safe for this period, but need to import your device, if you want to use it for longer.
Pakistan has one of the most rigid biometric registration schemes in the world. You'll need to give fingerprints. On top of that your device must be registered with its IMEI number at a different place to avoid being shut-off after only 15 days.
After 12 years of waiting operators in the Palestine Territories were granted permission to launch 3G services in the West Bank in 2018. But the Gaza Strip is excluded so far leaving Gaza as the only million city in the world without an own 3G or 4G coverage.
Pitcairn Island (UK) Edit
In 2017 the British Government funded a new telecommunications system partnering up with Speedcast Comm. to implement a 4G/LTE Mobile Network in Adamstown with shared speeds of 5.0 Mbps. Availability and prices are not known. There is fixed internet service provided in some accommodations, sometimes with a WiFi router, so you can connect through WiFi to it. All data goes through Inmarsat, so latency is high, speed is low and traffic is expensive. There is a tiered tarification to discourage large downloads. Outages lasting weeks are not unheard of.
Tokelau (see New Zealand arcticle) Edit
There is a 4G/LTE network up and running in Tokelau now, but there is no publicly available information on it aside from the fact that it exists and runs on band 28 (700 MHz). Otherwise, Internet is provided through Teletok in free internet cafés and some households offer their own ADSL internet connection.
Turkey has implemented a scheme of paying up to 1500 TL tax for all imported devices to be used with a local SIM card regulated by a whitelist registration system of IMEI numbers. If you don't comply, your device will be blocked after 3 months for all local providers.
Turkmenistan is a very restricted Asian country where they sell SIM cards with data, but for visitors it's hard to get one especially as the second provider has been shut down in 2017.
Ukraine - Luhansk region (see Ukraine article): Edit
Due to the ongoing conflict in the Eastern part of the country, 3G/4G networks have been only been deployed in the Donetsk - but not Luhansk region - where networks are still restricted to 2G/EDGE.
These countries are at war, have major armed conflicts within or go through significant economical turmoil. In all of them travel warnings have been issued for major parts and very few visitors now go there. That's why no reliable information can be given for travelers. The technical infrastructure is often damaged and provision of mobile services severely restricted. In some places extreme inflation prohibits a detailed listing of prices and options too. For each of these following countries a basic article with potential providers and a roundup of the situation will be given soon:
- Somalia (excl. Somaliland)
- South Sudan