Buying a Hungarian SIM Card makes sense when visiting Budapest for more weeks or months. Hungarian SIM Cards are available NOT just for Hungarian citizens. There are several mobile phone carriers in Budapest, where having a mobile phone is as default for local residents or expats, foreign students, regular visitors, etc. as in any western country. The top three mobile phone carriers offering Hungarian SIM Cards in Hungary are T-Mobile, Vodafone and Telenor (former Pannon GSM).
These three mobile phone service providers basically rule the telecommunication market in Hungary whether it is about cell phone services or mobile internet services, land line phones / web services, prepaid internet, prepaid phones, etc.
Hungarian SIM Card at Budapest Airport
As you first arrive in Budapest Airport (most tourists at least come to Budapest by air), the logical question arises if you can buy a SIM card right at the airport. The answer is no.
The news agent and the post office in Budapest Airport only sells top up cards (either as a card or through and electronic device), but for topping up a card, first you need to have a Hungarian SIM card.
SIM cards are only sold in mobile phone shops, and often in major electronic retail shops in Budapest (e.g. Media Markt, Euronics). Unfortunately, the airport of Budapest is not a place where mobile phone carriers set up a store. In Relay News Agent (Kiosks) you can buy three types of mobile phone top ups at the Airport, and elsewhere in the citz (for each major telecommunication network in Hungary):
- T Mobile
Can Tourists / Foreigners Buy Hungarian SIM Cards?
Tourists, foreign citizens can buy prepaid (pay as you go) mobile phones and Hungarian SIM cards in Budapest.
- You can buy a local mobile phone with a Hungarian SIM card
- you can buy a stand alone Hungarian SIM card if you have an unlocked cell phone (iphone, android, etc.)
- you can buy a mobile internet service for your laptop / ipad with a Hungarian SIM card. USB dongles as well as inserted SIM cards can let you get access to internet in Budapest, Hungary
Each mobile network operator, like in other countries, has their own special promotions, but tourists can only make use of PAYG services. Understandably, contract services are only available for Hungarian residents, or expats having a permanent Hungarian address (sorry), utility bills etc.. Hungarian addresses are proven with a special Address ID, which is separate from the Identity Card locals or local expats have. That being said, there are lots of great options to choose from even if you are a foreigner who has no permanent address. But alas not contract services, only pay as you go services.
Buying a local pay as you go mobile phone in Budapest
If you stay in Budapest for weeks, it is best to buy a cheap pay as u go phone in Budapest, where using a Hungarian SIM Card can cut costs, especially if you need to make local phone calls (call a Budapest taxi, call other international students in Budapest to get together, make business calls in Budapest, etc.).
T-Mobile Hungary: buying a T Mobile pay as you go mobile phone (in Hungarian called feltolto kartyas mobil, which literally means top up mobile) is a relatively simple process. You will need to go to a T Mobile phone shop, take an electronic ticket, sit down and wait for your turn (15-25 min), show your passport, provide your address, pick a card (better to look up online before you go), pay in cash or by card. The simplest option is to pick a T Mobile Domino Hungarian SIM card.
Telenor Hungary: buying a Telenor cheap Hungarian mobile phone plan is a breeze. Needless to say you will not be able to buy a contract phone as a tourist, but purchasing a local phone with a Hungarian SIM Card is pretty straightforward. You will need to go to a Telenor phone shop, take an electronic ticket, sit down and wait for your turn (15-25 min), show your passport, provide your address, pick a card (better to look up online before you go), pay in cash or by card. The simplest option is to pick a T Mobile Domino Hungarian SIM card. The official website of Telenor is quite complicated when it comes to what documents you need to buy a Hungarian SIM card from them, so we made a phone call to their customer service to find out about options for tourists. It turns out that
Vodafone Hungary: buying a Vodafone pay as you go phone is also an option for a short term stay in Budapest. Vodafone admin requirements can be a hassle though. While buying a Vodafone SIM Card in Hungary is a simple process (passport is enough), activating it can be a little uncertain. According to Vodafone policy, you need to have a residence permit for activating your SIM card in person (less problematic via calling the Vodafone activation number 1270, as suggested by the Vodafone customer service). We also learned from the Vodafone customer service that you can buy a contract Vodafone mobile phone if you have a local friend or relative (with ID, Hungarian Address cards, etc.) who will vouch for you and act like a mobile phone guardian, standing in your place to follow through your mobile phone contract.
Mobile Phone Shops in Budapest
You will find lots of mobile phone carrier offices and shops all around in Budapest, especially in downtown Budapest, and in shopping malls (Westend Mall by Nyugati Train Station, Mammut Mall at the foot of the Buda Castle, Allee, Campona, Polus Center, Arkad Shopping Mall, etc.). Here are some of the Budapest mobile phone shops. There are hundreds of mobile phone stores in Budapest, and the easiest way to compare their offers and pay phone deals is via the internet. Study their offers first on the internet to save you some time and energy.
We think the best option is to head to a mobile phone shop in downtown Budapest where the phone stores are more used to foreign customers, and can communicate more easily in English. That said, the staff in mobile phone shops is usually from the younger generation whose English is quite good in general (under 30 youth speak communicative level English).
Calls Abroad from Hungary
If you wish to make phone calls abroad from Hungary, or phone calls in Hungary, you must expect quite high roaming fees, unless you did your research, and found the best and cheapest ways to communicate for your own needs. Including free calls via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). So before your Budapest visit
- make sure to explore the pricing options of your original mobile carrier (At&T, O2, 3, Vodafone, Telefonica, MegaFon, etc.). There are mobile roaming add on services (roaming bundle), which can considerably cut costs.
Little tricks can also help to reduce your mobile costs, like diverting incoming calls outside Hungary to your automatic voicemail (if you do not need to get calls while in Budapest). Note that checking your voicemail in Budapest is charged as an international call, so you may want to listen to your messages via voicemail when your returned home from Budapest.
- check out some of the latest independent cheap mobile phone services via web (including Skype), advertising their services for cheap mobile calls abroad, or cheap international calls.
- Budapest Wifi cafes are abundant: these days almost all restaurants in Budapest, as well as cafes, or internet cafes have quite good wifi connections. Most of them are password protected. The password is either printed on your cafe bill, or you need to ask the waiting staff to let you in on the secret wifi password. For longer conversations sitting in a wifi cafe can save a lot of money if you make your phone via Skype (you can chat, video chat or make phone calls to mobile or landline phones from Skype, or you can also use Google calls, see Google Voice calling rates) The rates are really cheap, and hopefully will get even cheaper over time.
Checking the Balance of your Hungarian Phone
When buying a pay as you go phone with a Hungarian SIM card, e.g. a Domino Quick Sim Card, or a Telenor Prepaid, which does not require a permanent address in Hungary, ask the sales assistant how you can check your mobile phone balance, so that you can follow your costs. Balance in Hungarian is Egyenleg, and most typically, you can generate an automated balance notification, or call a phone number to get your Egyenleg (to check you phone balance on T-Mobile Domino, for instance, you need to dial *102# and press call to get a Balance text message). Most pay as you go plans will send you a reminder about the remaining balance if they hit a set minimum amount (e.g. HUF 500)
The mobile network providers have English speaking assistants, for instance you can call the Hungarian T Mobile in English here, or you can write them an English email inquiry to the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Top Up your Hungarian SIM Card?
Topping up your mobile in Hungary can be done in the phone shops (buying top up cards), at news agent kiosks (top up cards), post offices (top up cards), petrol stations (top up cards), or in ATMs (e.g. via the ATM machines of OTP Bank, Erste Bank, K&H Bank, Citibank have netbank services)
What do you need to buy a Hungarian SIM Card?
Bring your passport and the address of your accommodation in Budapest. Let’s not forget that you also need to pay for the phone, so get your bank card or some cash before purchasing your SIM Card:
- Money: Card / Cash
- Patience to wait in the slick phone shop, and then speak simple and slower English
Buying a Mobile Internet Plan in Hungary for your Phone / Laptop
“Can I buy prepaid internet for my phone / laptop?” is one of the Budapest FAQ we often get. The short answer is YES, you can. For instance the market leader T Mobile sells prepaid internet services of various packages (100MB, 500MB on T Mobile phones, up to 1GB on Telenor phones, or for laptops, computers 3GB, 7GB. Pay as you go internet on Vodafone for laptops is here.