Traveling With An iPhone: My Experience In Bali

My fiancee and I are at month #3 of our travels around South East Asia, and like I did with Australia and New Zealand, I’d like to tell you about my experience traveling with my iPhone in Bali, Indonesia.

Ignorance Will Kill Me

When I first arrived in Bali about 3 weeks ago, I didn’t have much hope to get my iPhone hooked up to a local carrier. Sure my iPhone is jailbroken and unlocked but I thought that Bali would never be able to provide me with what I really wanted: 3G.

I was way too judgemental and didn’t deem necessary looking into a pay-as-you-go plan. I simply assumed that Indonesia didn’t have 3G. How stupid was I!

Then one day I met with the owners of the hotel we were staying at (Villa Bintang in Nusa Dua). It all started with me being curious about their computer set up. After exchanging a few words, I realized that they were French, so we kept chatting in French.

It turned out that Bamboo (the wife) owned an iPhone and couldn’t figure out a few things with it. I told her that I knew my way around an iPhone and in 2 minutes, all her iPhone issues were just gone. I asked her if Indonesia had the iPhone and she said that they don’t, but she had bought hers in France on her last trip back home. She also confessed that she had paid about $30 to unlock it.

So I asked her what service she used and she told me to get XL, one of the many carriers available in Indo. She advised that I’d go get a SIM card in one of these little shops across the street from the hotel.

Getting Hooked Up With 3G and Talk Time

I first went to the shop by myself and I asked the woman about a SIM card and Internet for my phone. She said she could give me a SIM card and talk time, but to get Internet on my iPhone, I would have to go to the company’s headquarter in Denpasar, 30 minutes away. That sounded kinda strange so I asked her again and she confirmed that I needed to “activate” the Internet plan in Denpasar.

I didn’t buy anything and I went back to the hotel to ask Bamboo about this. She explained me that these little stores don’t want to deal with Internet for some reasons I didn’t really understand. But she said that she would walk me through it.

Bamboo then came with me and helped me set up my plan. It just took a few seconds. We walked in the shop (note that there are literally hundreds of these in Bali), I paid about $2.5 for a SIM card and an additional $30 for 3 million pulsas (units).

After doing a quick manipulation on the phone – dialing *123# – and selecting an Internet package, I was all good to go. These 3 million units I bought for $30 actually got me 1.5GB of data.

I was surprised how quick it was. At no time I was asked for an ID or anything. It took about 2 minutes from the time we got in to the time we left, and this included me practicing my “thank you” in Balinese…

I was also suprised by the massive amount of data I had for about $30. 1.5GB is huge! That sure was a change from Australia where every MB costs you a fortune.

The Downside

Getting a SIM card and 3G in Bali sure is easy but I have to admit it’s not as reliable as I would hope. 3G here is pretty slow and I noticed that it just disconnects every few minutes.

I tried tethering my iPhone over 3G on a few occasions but it just didn’t do it. It would work for 2 minutes, then lose connection, then come back for a minute, then break up again, etc… I don’t have the patience for this and when I really want to be productive, I don’t mind paying $1 or $2/hour to access the web in an Internet Cafe (they are everywhere).


All in all, getting a SIM card in Bali was probably the most pleasant experience I had dealing with getting a phone plan. It was fast and cheap. Even though the network is not very reliable and makes me miss AT&T, I am still glad I got my iPhone hooked up with a local carrier. I can now tweet, check emails and read the news from almost anywhere on the island, which to me is priceless. After my lovely fiancee, my iPhone really is my best travel companion!

If you have experiences traveling with your iPhone, please share them in the comments. I always enjoy reading your stories.