You can say I have traveled extensively, but to be quite honest, I never actually know what I am doing. Between social media, blog posts, and a touch of research, my curiosity strikes and I have to visit this destination.

After a two year trip around the world and two years back in the workforce, I started feeling travel-y again. When that feeling strikes, it doesn’t back off and the only cure is…more cowbell…erm…book a flight! Despite all of my travels, both super fast (zipping around from place to place) and slowing it down a bit (for example my two months in Colombia learning Spanish and salsa dancing), I never had a SIM card. I was heavily reliant on WiFi, which is fine, but God forbid I wanted to do a touch of research while I was already out… Let’s just say I was over-caffeinated throughout my travels, dipping into cafes for their free WiFi. While it is nice to be “off-the-grid” and “in-the-moment” while exploring, I swear, the return to a WiFi zone gets people all riled up seeking the precious WiFi password (think Gollum). The SIM card has made my life infinitely easier in Indonesia (and I will continue to get local SIMs in other countries) as I also have access to a few key Apps whenever I need them!

Getting a SIM Card in Indonesia

As I mentioned, this was my first local SIM card in any country. I was a little nervous, so I will break this down piece by piece.

Buying a SIM card is easy, but shockingly it doesn’t just work by putting it in your phone (maybe this isn’t shocking at all to tech-savvy people). All SIM cards in Indonesia must be registered by an official provider. A way to cut out a step is to simply buy your SIM card from an official store as opposed to the small kiosks you can find anywhere. From my limited research I learned Telkomsel is the most highly recommended provider in the country. Upon landing in Surabaya, I went straight to a Telkomsel store. The lost puppy look worked perfectly and a worker quickly helped me check in on the kiosk and I was called up shortly thereafter.

Before You Go to Buy a SIM Card

  • Know if your phone is unlocked: this is the only way you’ll be able to stick a local SIM card in there. If you purchased your phone directly from Apple, it is automatically unlocked. If you purchased your phone from your service provider back home, you will have to double check. Coming from the US, I know that a phone purchased from Verizon is locked for the first 60 days, but becomes unlocked thereafter.
  • SIM card size: I’m an iPhone gal so I can’t speak to all models, but it seems like all new Smartphones use the nano sized SIM card. Or maybe you’re tromping around the world with your Blackberry and require a different size. Be sure to check!
  • Bring your passport!

While you are at the SIM Card Store

In Indonesia, you will need to pay for three separate things: the SIM card itself, data, and credit aka pulsa.

The SIM card itself costs 11,000 IDR (less than 1 USD) though I’ve heard in more touristy areas they will jack that price up.

I was offered data packages of 6GB or 12GB for 30 days. I opted for 6GB for 100,000 IDR (about 7 USD).

Lastly, I added 50,000 IDR worth of credit to my account. This can be used to add calling or texting or to buy more data. Think of this as an additional step. You cannot just pay to add text messages, you pay to add credit to your account. You go into your account and add the text messaging and pay with the credits that you had prepaid initially when buying the SIM card. For reference, I bought 100 text messages good for 7 days for less than 2000 IDR. 50,000 IDR may have been a bit much, though I will likely add some more data before the end of the 30 days and will pay with the credits. Keep in mind, everything has a time limit and will expire, so stay on top of the dates and be sure to top everything up should you be staying longer than the expiry date.

While you are in the store, there are a few questions your should be mindful of given your travel plans:

  • Will the data work all over the country or just the city I am purchasing in?
  • When does this data expire?
  • Has this been registered? (I didn’t have to ask about registration, the associate just did it for me, but make sure your SIM is working before you head out of there!)

And of course, be sure to store your own SIM card in a safe place so you can get your old number back when you return home.

Now that the world is your oyster and you can have data at your fingertips, here are a few key apps to make your Indonesian travels much easier.

What Apps to Download for Travel in Indonesia

Telkomsel: You just got the SIM card, so you might as well get the app. Here you can track your data usage and use your credits to add texts, calls, etc.

Grab: Ah, the Uber of Southeast Asia, but, like, way better. This is an extremely affordable way to get around, particularly in Indonesia. You can choose a car or motorbike. The motorbike drivers have their own “Grab” jackets so you can tell who is part of their biker gang. They also have helmets available for their passengers. And just like Uber, you can order food to be delivered because everybody knows half the fun of traveling is never leaving your accommodation and having food brought to your door…wait. If you haven’t used Grab before, you can sign up with my code: CALIONTHEGO

Traveloka: Ok, I haven’t been so passionate about an app since Tinder…jk. This has simplified my travels so much as you can use this app to book trains, buses, flights, and even private drivers. Only about 25% of travelers I spoke with knew about this app. In fact, one boy I chatted with used a different Indonesian site to book train tickets, but then would have to go to the train station to print the ticket in advance! With Traveloka you pay for your ticket and receive an e-ticket. Upon arriving at the train station just before the departure time, you scan the e-ticket at the check-in kiosk and it prints your boarding pass. Easy peasy.

Tip: Quick insight into Indonesian train travel. For any trip longer than a couple of hours, you may want to consider splurging for the executive class (and by splurging I mean paying the few dollars difference over economy). The executive class has all of the legroom and the seats recline a significant amount. The rows of seats are in pairs with arm rests and all face in the forward direction. My four hours in economy from Probolinggo to Banyuwangi (to hike Ijen crater) was unpleasant at best. The seats are like a school bus, completely upright, without seat distinctions. The seats also face in so half the rows are traveling backwards. They were designed to seat three people across. Did you think I was going to displace the 4′ 5″ elderly Indonesian woman with her legs outstretched in attempt to claim my rightful seat on the bench? Damn right I tried…but the woman across the way, presumably her daughter, scooched over a little for me and my backpack.

executive class seat on indonesian train
Yes, that is a completely outstretched left leg–I’m an executive

Visa on Arrival: Do I Need One?

Lastly, the visa situation is another misstep I both witnessed at the airport and heard about from some other travelers. Did you know that Indonesia allows Visa-free travel for citizens of 169 countries? That is almost every country in the world. Had I not known this prior to arriving in Indonesia, it is very possible that I would have made the mistake of getting in the Visa on Arrival line and paying 35 unnecessary dollars. Provided you are from an eligible country, you can stay up to 30 days without a visa. Provided you are from an eligible country, you can stay up to 30 days with a visa on arrival, but only after paying $35. The benefit of the VoA is that you are eligible to extend it for another 30 days for another $35. Be sure to mention your intention to extend when you are obtaining the initial visa.

Even if you are planning on spending more than 30 days in the country, it may be totally feasible to make a visa run for under the cost of visa and the extension. For me, I am required to leave after thirty days–the immigration officer checked for proof of departure–but I will return! Likely very soon!

Tl;dr–Get a SIM card, get the Traveloka app (and travel in the executive class–you deserve it), don’t pay for a visa on arrival if you are staying less than 30 days!