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Are prepaid SIM cards the best option when traveling to Turkmenistan?
Local SIM cards come under strict regulations in Turkmenistan
Visiting Turkmenistan is not for everyone, given its struggling economy and the government’s strict policies on media, photography and Internet usage. You can buy a prepaid SIM card, TMT5 credit and 1GB of data good for 30 days for TMT170 (US$48.57). In order to help you make the best selection for your prepaid SIM card needs in Turkmenistan, finder.com offers the following guide to the nation’s mobile operators. SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards let you enjoy local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world.
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Mobile network operators in Turkmenistan
The state of mobile network operators in Turkmenistan is in flux. The only non-state owned operator was suspended in September 2017 when negotiations between the Russian-owned company and the Turkmenistan government were shut down. This came two months after the Turkmenistan Ministry of Communication announced the launch of a new mobile service called Ay Nazar for late 2017/early 2018. That leaves state-owned TM CELL as the only network provider presently active.
It’s the only game in town for the time being, so all local prepaid SIM cards must be bought from them. TM CELL has good 2G/3G coverage throughout the country and it started its 4G/LTE network in 2013. It’s available to prepaid customers and does not have any surcharges. In order to purchase anything, you’ll have to visit a TM CELL office and become a subscriber. Doing this involves showing your passport and visa, and confirming an address that you’ll be staying at in Turkmenistan. Only one SIM card can be bought per customer.
A prepaid starter pack costs TMT10 and it comes with a preloaded credit of TMT5. The only available sizes are normal SIMs, but you should be able to ask your clerk to cut the SIM down to micro or nano size. If you are expecting incoming calls on your phone while in Turkmenistan, be aware that you will be charged a fee for them.
The basic data rate is between TMT0.15 and TMT0.20 per MB for prepaid plans. There is a nighttime discount between 2am and 9am when the rate drops to TMT0.03 per MB. When using a data plan, you need to be vigilant about checking how much you have available. If your account balance drops below TMT3 at any point, TM CELL will block your Internet access until you recharge it. To check your current data balance, send a text to 0805. Also, you cannot recharge online. There are three options to do so, but only two of them are advised.
- Go to a TM CELL office and pay cash for your top-up.
- Buy a recharge voucher at any of a number of stores in Turkmenistan.
The third option involves topping up at an ATM machine with your credit card. However, this practice does not always work, and we’re hesitant to advise you to stick your credit card in a foreign ATM machine without knowing for certain what’s going to happen.
Recharging via voucher can be done by dialing *0808. In past instances, the option to change the menu to English existed, but it seems to have disappeared. The following data packages are available:
Website (in Russian, Turkmen and a bit of English) : http://tmcell.tm/
An additional question about SIM cards in Turkmenistan
Q: What happened to the MTS network?
A: The Russian-owned MTS had a contract with the Turkmenistan government from 2015 to the end of 2017. The two sides were negotiating a new deal when the government suspended the contract and all operations in September 2017. This came one day after a 5-year agreement between the partners on profit-sharing came to an end.
Pros and cons of Turkmenistan’s SIM card operator
Turkmenistan has just one SIM card provider currently. Here are some of the positives and negatives about this company.
- TM CELL has a 4G/LTE network that does not carry any tariffs for prepaid.
- TM CELL’s 2G/3G network reaches most of the country.
- At the time of writing (November 2017), TM CELL is the only provider, meaning comparison shopping is out the window.
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