How to Use Singapore's Starhub GSM Tourist Prepaid Card

Tourist using the internet on her phone in Singapore

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Using your cellphone in Singapore shouldn’t be an expensive proposition; if you have a GSM phone that can access the 900/1800 bands. Make sure to learn about cellphone roaming in Southeast Asia for detailed preconditions. Buy a prepaid SIM card from one of Singapore’s cellphone companies and you’re ready to keep Grandma back home informed on the great shopping deals in Orchard Road.

Singapore is unique among all Southeast Asian countries in having a prepaid SIM card made especially for tourists. StarHub’s “Preferred Tourist Prepaid Card” offers plenty of perks for travelers who pop it into their GSM phones: apart from voice calls, SMS and data, the Tourist Prepaid Card allows access to the Singapore Tourism Board's mobile guide app (for Android and iPhone users only) and free IDD 018 calls to the U.S. and seventeen other countries.

Discounts and special prices at selected merchants and places of interest are also available to Tourist Prepaid Card holders.

All these perks aside, is it worth buying? Do you get unstinting coverage wherever you go in Singapore? Is the data bandwidth good enough? Let’s take a closer look.

Buying the Tourist Prepaid GSM Card, and Topping Up

Finding the Prepaid card is easy enough for travelers coming in through Changi Airport – look for a UOB Foreign Exchange counter upon exiting from the arrival area. These counters sell Tourist Prepaid Cards, and they advertise as much. Your guide purchased a kit for about SGD 33, or about US$26: SGD 15 went to the SIM card and SGD 18 went to a scratch card that tops up the SIM with an equivalent value in credits.

The Tourist Prepaid Card is a breeze to set up. You just pop it into your GSM handset and the phone will automatically set itself up for use. The SIM card is ready to use from the first minute, as the card includes SGD 18 in credits.

If you run out of credits, you can purchase a top up card at any 7-Eleven in Singapore, Starhub stores, and even newsstands. Just scratch the card to figure out the card number and PIN and follow the instructions on the card (handily written in English) to replenish your card credits.

As soon as you start using the Tourist Prepaid Card, calls and texts are available to you; the card comes with SGD 18 value (not including the SGD 17 top-up) and 20 free SMS texts.

SMS messaging: SMS text messages from a Tourist Prepaid Card-powered phone cost SGD 0.15 each (or about US$0.11), outside of the free texts each user is entitled to. If you make five SMS texts in a single day, though, Starhub awards you ten free texts valid only till midnight of that day.

Overseas calls: U.S. visitors calling home can just use the “018” prefix to make free IDD phone calls Stateside, or to the following countries: Australia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. The 018 prefix can also be used to call other countries, but rates apply.

Just dial the following to call the U.S. for free on your Tourist Prepaid Card-powered cellphone: 018 (country code) (area code) (number) (call button)

Surfing on the Internet

The card comes with a 30 MB data bundle that you can use to surf the 'Net with for three days from first use. Unlike texts and calls, you'll need to purchase an additional data plan if you plan to do more than 30 MB worth of Internet use.

Additional data bundles for your Tourist Prepaid Card can be purchased for as low as SGD 2 (for a 30 MB data bundle valid for only 3 days) to SGD 20 (for a 1GB bundle valid for a whopping 30 days). Your guide purchased a 1GB bundle good for only 7 days, which cost only SGD 7.

To purchase a data plan, dial *131 (call button) and follow the text instructions transmitted back to your phone.

The data coverage isn't perfect; about 20 percent of the time, the phone could not log onto the Web despite a uniformly strong signal around the island. In fairness, We'd just wait a few minutes and try again, and it usually got on afterward.

Detailed information on data bundles is available in the literature that comes with your purchase of the Tourist Prepaid Card.

Free YourSingapore Guide

The free YourSingapore Guide app (available only to Android and iPhone users) is perhaps the best thing about the Tourist Prepaid Card. Without using up your data plan, you can log on to the Guide and get information on tourist attractions in Singapore.

The app doesn't only provide information on places to visit around the island, it also offers transport information - route suggestions, maps, and travel fare estimates, all to help you get to where you want to go. The app even lets you call a taxi to your location.

The app also works in conjunction with the Singapore Tourism Board's official website, which permits visitors to customize their journey even before flying into Changi. As Sophia Ng, STB's Executive Director for Brand & Marketing, explains, "Visitors can begin their Singapore journey by designing their itinerary on the YourSingapore website, before arrival in Singapore, and make use of the myriad services found on the YourSingapore Guide app once they arrive."

The app must be downloaded first (using your existing data credits) before you can use it for free.

The Lowdown

There's plenty to like about this prepaid card: you get free calls to the U.S., cheap Internet access wherever you go, and a free app to help you discover Singapore. While data coverage wasn't perfect in your guide's experience, Starhub's phone and text coverage was uniformly strong wherever your guide went.