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 go
- GREYLIST - where there may be major obstacles, but still feasible under certain conditions
- WARZONES - where the political or economical situation is very unstable
This category shows countries or territories where it's impossible to buy a local prepaid SIM card (for data) for now. This can be because of lack of technical infrastructure or legal reasons which prohibits the purchase of a SIM card for foreigners. As you see, this list following alpha-order is rather short and refers mostly to very isolated areas like island countries:
Christmas Island (Australia) Edit
After shutdown the only provider on this island is Telstra on 2G without any data. Australian nbn SkyMuster has started broadband connections to homes via satellite.
There's only one network (IOTT) on 2G without data. Australian nbn SkyMuster satellite has started broadband connections to homes via satellite.
Eritrea was the last country in the world to adopt a mobile phone system. It's 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.
Lord Howe Island (Australia) Edit
On Lord Howe there is no mobile coverage. There are paid WiFi hotspots at the visitor information center, museum and few other places and some hotels provide complimentary WiFi. Australian nbn SkyMuster has started broadband connections to homes via satellite.
Their only operator MINTA is working on installing 4G some time in the future. Meanwhile their network is 2G-only without data. You can use their hotspots as an alternative.
The only provider Telecom Niue has a 2G/GSM network, but not for data, only voice and SMS. Visitors can have internet connection through Niue's extensive WiFi network with hotspots all over the island after paying NZ$ 25 for 5 GB in 14 days (for more info check here).
The only provider Norfolk Telecom has a 2G/GSM network, but not for data, only voice and SMS. Visitors can have internet connections through some WiFi hotspots on the island. Australian nbn SkyMuster has started broadband connections to homes via satellite.
Tokelau (New Zealand) Edit
There are no mobile phone services in Tokelau at present. Internet is provided through Teletok in free internet cafes and some households offer their own ADSL internet connection.
Pitcairn Island (UK) Edit
There's no mobile coverage on Pitcairn Island. There is a 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. The exact prices are not published online. Outages lasting weeks are not unheard of.
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.
Transnistria is the only populated region in Europe without a 2G or 3G GSM coverage as the only provider IDC uses CDMA and EVDO only which is incompatible with GSM-devices. This situation may change as a 4G/LTE network on 800 MHz is being built, but not yet open for prepaid.
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. Internet cafe 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 is likely 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 entry. Your only way to connect would be to bring your own satellite link installation.
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 WiFi hotspots or using a roaming SIM card instead. Check articles first to check what exactly is restricted and how and if it applies to you and may affect your purposes.
To buy a SIM card in Algeria, you need to present a certified copy of your passport to the provider. This needs to be made at a local mairie (town hall) at office hours before you walk into any operator store. This policy seems not to be enforced at the international airport of Algiers.
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 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.
Equatorial Guinea Edit
Foreigners can't buy a prepaid SIM card in usual operator's stores, but only in two special branches of GETESA (Orange) in Malabo and Bata.
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.
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. Furthermore, it bans the purchase of voice SIM cards to travelers by law. You can still buy data SIMs or rent a device or SIM card at many rental agencies.
The 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.
Pakistan has one of the most rigid biometric registration schemes in the world. You'll need to leave fingerprints. On top of that your device must be registered with its IMEI number at a different place to avoid being shut-off after 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.
Turkey has implemented a scheme of paying a TL115 tax for all imported devices to be used with a local SIM card to be added by a whitelist registration system of IMEI numbers. If you don't follow the rules, your device will be blocked after a few months for this SIM. This only bothers you, if you want to stay longer or keep your SIM for another visit.
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 - Donesk and Lugansk regions (see Ukraine article): Edit
Due to the ongoing conflict in the Eastern part of the country, no 3G networks could have been deployed there yet. Mobile internet is only through 2G networks at EDGE speed (max. 150 kbps).
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 travellers. The technical infrastructure is often damaged and provision of mobile services severely restricted. Often 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:
- South Sudan