Turkmenistan is an extremely difficult Asian country and hence blacklisted. Ruled by the Great Serdar Arkadag ("Chief the Protector"), the white-marble Asgabat is like a far oriental tale - practically inaccessible and unachievable.
There are two main operators and both carriers are quite usable:
- TM CELL by Altyn Asyr (state-owned)
- MTS Turkmenistan (Russian-owned) - presumably until the end of 2017
- [Ay Nazar by ASTU (state-owned - scheduled to launch later in 2017)]
2G GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G up to DC-HSPA+ on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE started on TM CELL only on 2600 MHz in 2013.
In 2017 Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Communication is preparing for the launch of a new operator to offer services under the ‘Ay Nazar’ brand over infrastructure owned by TM-Cell (Altyn Asyr), which is a subsidiary of state-owned fixed line incumbent Turkmentelecom. Ay Nazar is being created within the structure of another state-owned telecoms provider Ashgabat Shaher Telefon Ulgamy (ASTU or Ashgabat Urban Telephone Network).
This development comes as the clock runs down on the license belonging to the nation’s only other operator MTS Turkmenistan. With Russian telecoms group MTS most recently having had its Turkmen licence renewed in 2015 for the period to end-2017, this concession cannot be extended again and staff at MTS Turkmenistan have already been advised to begin searching for alternative employment.
Strict registration policies fro SIM cards are applied comparable to their strict visa requirements. Without paperwork it's officially banned to buy a SIM card, But sometimes it may be possible to informally buy it from locals or to ask a dealer to solve the problem by registering it in his personal data (usually works in small shops) which is illegal of course.
Having a short-term (= regular visitor) or transit visa, it proved to be impossible to buy it the official way. As a normal visitor, you will have a registration card from the hotel or tourist office, but you won't any freedom to enter a provider's office! Tourists are under constant surveillance. Guards or guides follow you everywhere like in Northern Korea organized tours.
There is a confirmation from one person, who works as invited foreign professional and has a long-term business visa with registration and work permit to have purchased a SIM card in Altyn Asyr central office in Asgabat (The Ministry of Communications) and uses it now. They asked about visa and registration in Turkmenistan (proof of address) when buying. So, if you have an invitation, a job offer, a long-term visa - you can try it the official way.
Some years ago all satellite TV reception was banned. That's why the internet remains the only accessible media from out of the country. Internet access in Turkmenistan is censored and heavily regulated available only to a small fraction of the population. Censorship is ubiquitous and extensive. Surveillance is significant, and the few citizens who benefit from access to the internet are closely monitored by state agencies.
While there is no 'firewall' like in China or 'blacklist' like in Russia, websites run by human rights organizations and news agencies are blocked. Moreover, ordinary citizens have no access to the WWW and instead are limited to the use of the Turkmenet, an online community in Turkmen language, but effectively a censored version of the internet. Social media and well-known western (and even Chinese) websites and services are blacked out, including LiveJournal, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line etc. are not accessible through the Turkmenet. Note that attempts to get around this censorship by VPNs or proxys can lead to grave consequences.
WiFi as an alternative can be rare too. Internet access is very slow and expensive, but it's not like in North Korea. Since 2013 more than 15 public internet access points have opened in Asgabat alone, but the same rigid rules for censorship apply.
Roaming SIM cards Edit
Instead of getting a local SIM you may consider a roaming SIM card like Russian Megafon who offers 80 MB in Turkmenistan for 400 RUB (around US$ 7.1), no additional activation needed besides enabling roaming in account management. For more details see Russia article. Kyivstar and Lifecell from Ukraine are extremely expensive (several US$ per MB) in Turkmenistan.
TM CELL (by Altyn Asyr)Edit
Altyn Asyr is the biggest operator in Turkmenistan. It's state-owned and works under the TM CELL trademark. Its 2G/3G coverage is pretty good and reliable all over the country,
4G/LTE started in Ashgabat and Türkmenbaşy in 2013, is in active development nowadays, already available for all users including prepaid without any surcharges.
All TM CELL mobile numbers look like +993 6x xxxxxx.
Availability EditSIM cards are not widely sold - you should visit their office in order to become a subscriber. They usually require passport, visa and address confirmation (registration) in Turkmenistan. (List of offices where a SIM card can be purchased).
New prepaid starter packs cost 10 TMT (Turkmen Manats), with 5 TMT cost of the package and 5 TMT as pre-loaded credit. When ordering, you will need to fill an application form with your personal data details, passport and visa details. Only one SIM card can be registered to one passport.
Usually normal (standard) size cards are available only. You can ask the clerk to cut it down to micro or nano size using a special device.
You can choose any available prepaid plan, for example, "Sada" (= plan without any monthly or daily fee). There is also a special data-only plan "3G Internet" (it allows 4G/LTE too) with lower basic data rate, but it has a daily fee of 0.07 TMT. So, better choose another one.
Please note, that incoming calls in Turkmenistan are usually charged too.
Data rates Edit
Basic data price for almost all prepaid plans is 0.15-0.20 TMT per MB. A nightly discount is active from 2:00am to 9:00am when the basic rate is reduced to 0.03 TMT per MB.
If the account balance is lower than 3 TMT, internet access will be blocked until you recharge the account. To reduce the data price, you should add a monthly data pack. All data packs are valid for 30 days:
|Internet-3||50 MB||3 TMT||*0850*3#|
|Internet-55||1 GB||55 TMT||*0850*55#|
|Internet-160||4 GB||160 TMT||*0850*160#|
|Internet-350||10 GB||350 TMT||*0850*350#|
To check the remaining traffic of the purchased bundle, send a blank SMS to 0805.
Unused traffic from the bundle expires after 30 days. Bundles are not self-recurring - you need to activate another bundle for next month by yourself. Bundles are valid for all prepaid plans. After using all of the bundle or after expiration of the bundle, default basic data rate is applied.
There is no way to recharge online. You can pay by cash in TM CELL offices, buy a recharge voucher (refill card) in many shops in Turkmenistan or try to use Turkmen ATMs with your credit card, but it's not guaranteed.
To recharge with the voucher: Dial *0808 and press "call" button. Now you can choose the language: press "1" for Turkmen, "3" for Russian. It was also "2" for English, but it's not working now. After the greetings message, dial the voucher code and press "#" then "1" to finish.
More information Edit
- To check your account balance dial *112# or send an empty SMS to 0800.
- APN: gprs.tmcell.
- Online dashboard (self-service system): https://hyzmat.tmcell.tm/ (English, Russian and Turkmen languages). To get a password, send a blank text message (SMS) to 0831.
- Website in Russian, Turkmen and some English: http://tmcell.tm/
MTS Turkmenistan (MTS TM) - to be discontinued Edit
MTS Turkmenistan (MTS TM) was historically the first mobile operator of Turkmenistan. It's fully owned and controlled by Russian MTS. It has been temporarily shut down in 2010 by the government after a dispute and re-opened again in 2012.
Now it serves near 2 million of subscribers. MTS TM supports Turkmen and Russian languages, no English information is available on the website. Some service messages are in Russian/Turkmen only and no 4G/LTE so far.
In 2017 it was declared by the Government that MTS' license can't be extended anymore beyond 2017 and all of its operations need to stop by the end of 2017. It seems that it will be replaced by another state-owned provider under the Ay Nazar brand.
You need to present your passport and registration document (proof of address in Turkmenistan) in order to register a new SIM card in the official MTS shops: List of MTS own central offices Official dealer shops list. Their default tariff line without base rate is called Köp Gürleş (= tell you much).
Data feature packages Edit
Internet packages are valid for 30 days from activation date. You can use the included data volume at day- and nighttime on two seperate allowances. Nighttime is valid from 1:00am until 7:00am.
|Package name||Daytime Use||Nighttime Use||Price|
|Internet S||50 MB||100 MB||4 TMT|
|Internet M||200 MB||400 MB||10 TMT|
|Internet L||500 MB||1 GB||20 TMT|
|Internet XL||1 GB||10 GB||50 TMT|
|Internet XXL||5 GB||20 GB||150 TMT|
To activate the selected package, dial *120# and choose the desired package in menu. Package price is taken immediately after activation.
To check how much data left from the active package, dial *123#1#7#.
When you use almost all data pack (only 5 MB left), you will receive a service message (SMS). You can activate another pack if you want to continue using it. You can activate several packs, if you need more data (for example, twice Internet Maxi to get 3 GB daytime and 3 GB nighttime).
Night packages Edit
These packages called Internight offer discount data for nighttime users only valid 1:00am - 7:00am for 30 nights;
- 500 MB: 7 TMT
- 1 GB: 10 TMT
- 5 GB: 30 TMT
To activate the selected package, dial *120# and choose the desired package in menu. Package price is taken immediately after activation. To check, how much data left from the active package, dial *123#1#7#.
When you have used up almost all of your data pack (only 10 MB left), you will receive a service message (SMS). You can activate another pack, if you want to continue using it.
There is no way to recharge online. You can use vouchers for recharging or cash-in self-service payment terminals in Turkmenistan.
To redeem a voucher, dial 112#<voucher code>#. To check the balance, dial *111#.