Local SIM: Nepal Edition (Or, A Tale of Two Companies)


here’s the tl;dr version: you want Ncell. bring a passport photo.

here’s the longer version: after arriving at Kathmandu Airport, i saw the booths for two cell phone companies (yes, there are only two) after emerging from baggage claim. i went to the NCell desk first but he said their system was down and pointed me next door to Nepal Telecom.

Kathmandu pictures for a blog post

Nepal Telecom

getting a Nepal Telecom SIM wasn’t hard; they even had nano-SIMs available. i even brought a passport photo just for this (since i read beforehand they require one). i told the guy i wanted 1GB of data, but because they bill by usage, he told me to just add 1000 rupees (about $10 — for all Nepalese rupee prices, add a decimal point 2 places in from the right to approximate US dollars). total charge, 1300 rupees, including the cost of the SIM card itself. activation was almost immediate, but activating 3G turned out to be a hassle. you have to send either “3G” or “3G service activate” to 1400. for the first dozen times we tried (at least a dozen), there was no response. finally at one point i got it to reply with:

“Thank you for subscribing 3G service. You will be connected by 5 PM next working day:Nepal Telecom”

lo and behold, 5 PM the next working day came and went, and no 3G service. i even double-checked the APN settings (ntnet with ntnet as the username, no password) but nada. i should note phone and SMS service was working just fine.


that’s when i decided to just switch to Ncell. i found an Ncell reseller in Thamel that looked like they could handle more than just buying credit. thanks to this guy, you can see where it is on Google Maps — it’s the place that has the “Global Communications” signs in front. since i used up the two passport photos i brought (one for the visa on arrival, one for Nepal Telecom), i was directed to a camera store/photography studio around the corner (there are tons of these all over advertising visa photos). that cost 250 rupees for four; it took about 10 minutes or so to get them printed out.

Kathmandu pictures for a blog post

I look like I just turned 18 or something!!!!

they also require both thumbprints (they provide an ink pad) — the first time i’ve ever had to do that for a prepaid SIM!

Kathmandu pictures for a blog post

after that, it took about 10 minutes for the card to activate (you have to switch your phone off and back on). she added my initial 1000-rupee credit on the computer and dialed a shortcode to activate my 1GB of service. yay!! that was that! note that the amounts don’t really add up because taxes are not included. total cost: 1700 rupees including SIM.

Kathmandu pictures for a blog post

i noticed while using my Twitter app there’s a message at the top saying Twitter is free, although i don’t know if it’s still free since the three month period they’re talking about ended last year. Wikipedia is also free, with no time limitation, at least according to a message i get while browsing their site as well. now if only Foursquare were free, i’d have the perfect trifecta for my travel needs!

UPDATE: I’m currently driving (err, being driven) through the countryside to Pokhara and Ncell 3G service seems to be down. On a whim, I decided to pop in my Nepal Telecom SIM and guess what. Data service is working, and well. :S sigh sometimes winning can feel like not winning!

UPDATE 2: I just asked the driver which provider he uses and he said both–as most people do, because it’s often the case that one works when the other doesn’t.

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