There are three main mobile phone operators in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Mobily and Zain. STC is the largest provider and offers the best coverage and internet speed throughout the country. Mobily and Zain both provide good coverage in the main cities but often lose coverage in remote areas. New local and international companies continue to join the market (Friendi Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Lebara) so it’s a good idea to shop around for a provider.
Type of plan
You can choose between two type of plans; a prepaid card or a billed contract. A prepaid SIM card is contract-less; you can recharge your minutes, texts and data whenever you want by buying a credit voucher (from supermarkets), recharging your SIM at a ‘recharging machine’ or recharging it online.
A billed contract is a phone package you pay for monthly. Each month you get a set amount of data, texts and minutes to use. If you don’t use it all, you cannot carry what is left into the next month; what is not used is lost.
A lot of expats in Saudi Arabia opt for a prepaid SIM card because it’s cheaper and offers more flexibility than a billed contract.
If you want to keep using your current mobile phone with a new Saudi Arabian SIM card, you need to make sure your phone is unlocked. If your phone is not unlocked, you can get it unlocked in most phone shops before you move, but it can be quite expensive to do so. If this is the case, it may be less hassle and more cost effective to buy a new mobile from a phone store in Saudi Arabia.
Purchasing a SIM card
You can buy a SIM card at the airport, in most supermarkets and in operators’ official stores. When buying a SIM card, you will need to have:
- your passport
- your residence permit
- your an unlocked GSM
Your SIM card will be activated as soon as you purchase it. Don’t buy a SIM card from a street vendor: these cards are usually stolen and already registered in someone else's name.