Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki

Topping up your SIM card[]

One of the first things you will do with your new SIM card is topping it up with value. This is also referred as recharging, reloading or refilling. Prepaid SIM cards may come with an initial credit, but this is mostly only to be used as an appetizer and good for start-up and a short time only. For your convenience, you can think of topping it up right away at the point of purchase.

To check where top up locations and outlets of the your operator are, is always good idea, even if you are not in need of a top up at this moment. But in case you run out of credit, you will know where to go.

Top up 2

Running down your credit to zero can be an option and is even recommended if you are going to leave the country for an uncertain period of time. With some operators you can even go slightly below zero, but no outgoing calls or texts are possible anymore. Data will be shut-off, sometimes even within packages. Furthermore, in countries where incoming calls are charged like in the US, Russia or China, your phone will be completely dead.

In many countries, the validity of the SIM card account is directly linked to time and amount of your last top-up (see SIM card validity). That’s why you need to top up from time to time to keep the SIM card alive.

Worldwide, prepaid operators offer you a lot of different ways to refill your account. Some of them are very easy to use, others turn out to be quite prohibitive for international visitors.

Recharge by top-up cards[]

In this WIKI topping up by value cards, recharge vouchers, scratch tickets or whatever they are called locally is generally recommended. You buy a special recharge code with a long PIN in a sales outlet of the operator and type this PIN with a command code in your phone to have it confirmed right away. The command line to put in is normally: *<command code>*<PIN code># and pressing <call> button. The command code differs according to operator but is normally written on the top-up card along with the PIN code. This should be confirmed right away by the operator by sending you a message. If you don’t get one, check your balance whether it has been topped up.

Top up 1

While this way is publicly very accessible, you have to be on location and look for an outlet of the operator first. You are confined to a certain top-up amount according to the denominations of the vouchers and need to put in an endless PIN correctly. Furthermore, as a tablet or modem user, you need to have a phone available to put in the numbers and receive the confirmation. Nevertheless, it’s still the most reliable way.

Electronic top-up[]

A variation is called direct or electronic top up. For this you tell your phone number and amount to be topped up to the merchant in the store and they top it up right away. In some countries, the computer system of the sales point is directly linked to the operator, in other countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, or India, this is done through a merchant’s SIM card serving as an intermediary. For this procedure to work, you have to know your phone number. If you or they mix up numbers, a different line will be topped up. So write down the numbers, if you don’t speak the local language. You don’t have to put the SIM in a phone and need to type in a long PIN. As a downside, you can’t determine the time of your top-up or decide to give the credit to another number later.

Credit card top-up[]

Now there are lots of other ways, which can work or work not for international travellers. They are normally very handy for local people but pose barriers for visitors. So don’t rely on them, if you don’t know anybody locally to help.

International debit or credit cards like VISA or Mastercard may work online, but some operators want certain cards, brands, issuing countries, banks or have other restrictions on them. So you never know, unless it’s verified by other users in the article or you have tried it by yourself. They are very convenient for keeping a SIM card alive from abroad, but you should first check out, if they are really an option for you.

PayPal and other special payment systems on the other hand, normally work globally, but are rarely accepted by the operators. So if you see, that your operator accepts e.g. PayPal, you can be pretty sure that you can use this system holding a PayPal account.

Article 5(1) of Regulation (EU) 2018/302 forbids providers in the European Economic Area from discriminating against consumers based on the EEA member state in which the consumer’s debit or credit card is issued. Despite this legislation being in force since 3rd December 2018, many providers breach it by accepting only payment cards issued in their own country. Therefore if a provider in the EEA refuses your payment card issued in another EEA country, then you can report them to the national enforcement body in the EU member state in which you or they are located, whose contact details can be found by clicking on the map here.

ATM top-up[]

ATM top up

In some countries users just do the top-up at a local ATM machine of a bank connected with the provider. While this is very convenient, it has turned out that for security reasons, international debit or credit cards are very rarely accepted. It's sad but true: the same machine which hands out cash to you for a credit card withdrawal, denies you the SIM card top-up from the same credit card.

On the other hand, in some countries, local ticket machines or other electronic dispensers which do top-ups are not so picky about the credit card you use. So you might give it a try.

Recharge by commercial agencies[]

Finally, many top-up agencies have sprung up on the internet and app stores. They are mostly third-party companies and do the top-up as a commercial service for a surcharge. Because of their fees which can amount up to 20% of the face value of the recharge, most of them should be used only as a last resort.

Nevertheless, a few companies attached to some providers don't charge additional fees. So only currency conversion fees will be applicable if you use a different currency. For instance, does it for every Orange network for free and other networks sometimes have local free partners too. When you use 3rd party apps or websites, click all the way through the procedure to be sure of the actual prices (and surcharges) you are charged for the top-ups as some fees may be well hidden.

Sometimes the top-up company will give you a rebate, funded by commission paid by network providers. For example in Brazil will give you BRL 5 on your first top-up and 5% on subsequently top-ups, and it supports not only Brazil, but also some networks in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Spain and the United States.

Another alternative top-up company covers 600 mobile operators in 160 countries. For some destinations they provide local rates, like countries United States, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, in addition to that they charge additional fee ranging from 5% to 10% depending on the amount sent. They accept most payment methods including crypto currencies.

More examples of top-up agencies:

  • - 150+ countries, 550+ operators. Keeps track of data packages offered by operators and allows to top-up just the price of the package.
  • - over 140 countries, many operators

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