How to connect to the internet when you’re traveling in the Philippines

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ November 7th, 2009. Updated on March 16th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas » Philippines.
Remote internet access in the Philippines

Remote internet access in the Philippines (click to enlarge)

“How do you connect to the internet so often when traveling?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot from people planning their travel trips. Especially people going away for 3 months plus who want to bring a laptop, upload photos, and blog etc,.

For those who don’t have laptops I wrote up an article here called How to Travel Blog from a Cyber Cafe it’s more specific to connecting without a laptop.

Connecting to the internet in a developing country

For those that do have a laptop, or those who want to know some of the methods I have been using when in the Philippines here they are

The Philippines is a relatively well-connected internet savvy country. And there are several ways to connect online – (this can also apply to many other SEA countries)

1) In any of the malls you will find a cyber cafe. General fees are an average of 30 pesos and hour.

2) Also in many of the Malls there are WIFI zones. Not all are free though. Head to the information desks and ask if there is free WIFI in the Mall, if not they may have scratch cards. But, do check around yourself anyway. I’ve found plenty of businesses in Malls who have WIFI that’s not password protected, and quite fast.There’s usually a place to sit nearby too.

The usb internet solution for travel in the Philippines

The usb internet solution for travel in the Philippines

3) Out on the streets in many towns and city’s you will find plenty of small internet cafes. Some will just be gaming zones with no internet, others might have strange booths with guy’s and girls, and sometimes indistinguishable types using webcam’s. Best to avoid the latter cafes. Prices here are 15 pesos upwards. They don’t always have fast connections here I’ve found.

4) Nation wide roaming internet access with a doogle. This is something I used quite a lot. There are two main telecom company’s in the Philippines offering this method. Globe (philcom) and Smart. I don’t endorse anyone here. But I chose Smart as the queue was shorter! And, the people seemed to actually take an interest in what I was looking for.

For 1,999 pesos I paid for a Smart Bro plan that basically allows me to connect to the internet via my laptop and a usb doogle with up to 2MB/s speeds (in 2012 7MB 4g speeds will be available). I can access the internet anywhere there’s a mobile connection. Which is pretty much nationwide.

A more practical method of connecting to the internet evolved

The phone to laptop method is what I actually ended up using more often as the Smart doogle is a bit big for my USB ports. Again Smart have a package here, which is basically mini cd that has a program that allows an auto connect to their network via your phone.

I avoided the fee for this and just connected using Bluetooth or a cable. Almost like using the phone as a modem, but through Smart’s gprs/Edge/3G/4G network. The only downside here is that it puts a strain on a phone’s battery. But for me this isn’t an issue as I have been using a fake i-phone with a staggering 2 week battery life.

I now connect my phone via bluetooth or cable with no issues.  The mobile billing is quite cheap and works with a regular phone sim. Internet access is sold in blocks of time and not bandwidth here. About 10 pesos a half hour at certain times in certain areas. Otherwise it’s about 30 pesos. And it does have good coverage. There are always promotions running so it pays to log onto your providers homepage every time you go online.

I will admit that the 2MB/s claim is a little generous. But, I can watch youtube videos etc. Though I wouldn’t as it’s a little costly after a while. You top up your account with ordinary telephone scratch cards.

I connect up via my phone and a usb

I connect up via my fake i-phone and a usb

Latest SMART Mobile broadband rates in The Philippines (updated  2013)

Always On 10 P10 5MB 1 day ON 10

Always On 20 P20 45 MB 1 day ON 20

Always On 30 P30 70 MB 1 day ON 30

Always On 199 P199 250 MB 1days ON 300

Always On 299 P300 299 MB 30 days ON 299

Always On 499 P499 1000 MB 30 days ON 499

Always On 995 P995 2000 MB 30 days ON 995

To activate any of these services simply text  “ON 20” or replace 20 with the number in the above list to “2200”. You will then get a confirmation text from smart confirming you data plan.  Example text “On 30” to 2200 and get 70MB of internet access over 24 hours.

Hidden smart unlimited plan. There is also a well hidden smart mobile plan that gives you 24 hours unlimited for 50 pesos. Visit on your mobile phone (not PC) to get access to this service.

Please note, mobile plans change frequently, so please confirm before subscribing to any plan.

How to reload or top up SMART Mobile or GLOBE in The Philippines

“load” cards are available in many corner stores or street vendors.

How to reload or top up your SMART  mobile phone 

  1. Lightly scratch prepaid card to reveal full 14 digit code.
  2. Dial 1510 + 14 digit PIN and press Send/ Call. A voice prompt will confirm your successful reload attempt.
e.g. 1510**************

You may have to try several times due to network signals.

How to reload or top up your GLOBE mobile phone 

  1. Dial 223 and press send or call.
  2. Follow the voice prompts.
  3. Enter your load/top up number then press #
  4. Wait for confirmation

Some tips when using the above method of staying online while traveling:

1) Offline I write blog posts up on a word processor like Open office or MS office. I then get online and paste them in and I’m done. Staying online to write-up posts simply takes too long.

2) Don’t read blogs! Sign up to their RSS feeds through a feedreader like Feedly or FeedDemon. I use several, but I like FeedDemon as it’s fast and it allows me to catch up offline later.

If RSS is too much to handle, another great way to read blogs offline is to subscribe to email updates. If you don’t like getting a lot of mail then create a filter and a new folder in your email account so updates can go there rather than clutter up your inbox.

You can get my own journal sent to your email every week by signing  up here. It’s free, you won’t ever get spam, and can unsubscribe anytime.

3) If you use Twitter, facebook or any other social site use the tabs on your browser and try to multitask as much as possible. It’s not so much about bandwidth here, but time. The less time online, the less you are spending on internet access fees.

4) If you use wordpress to blog try Windows live writer. You can write your posts, attach photos offline. Then when you are online you can just upload everything to WordPress quickly.

5) Use an offline desktop email application like Googlemails or Thunderbird. Download your mail as you are copying and pasting other things online. Get offline, read it. Write replies and then get online again to send them.

6) If you are using the doogle or phone method I mentioned  then set a timer on your phone or watch to go off 3 minutes before that time block of internet access expires. If you are charged 30 pesos an hour and you log off after 61 minutes, then you are charged for 2 hours. So be careful! And check the prices, as they will often change plans!!

7) If your pictures are small, then uploading them through the doogle/phone method is fine. But if they are big I wouldn’t. I prepare two sets of images. One for the website which are re-sized. I can upload them using the phone to laptop method with no problems. For larger 5MB -15MB plus photos I try to find free WIFI at a mall. Sit, have lunch, and maybe dinner while uploading. Or in a hostel with wifi I simply leave the laptop on overnight to upload.

Mobile Travel blogging

Mobile Blogging and emailing is quite easy and cheap in the Philippines as well. Until recently Smart had a 50 peso for 5 hours of internet plan on a ready to go sim pack for your phone (smart bro). There was also a 100 peso for 12 hour option on the same plan. The regular fee is 10 peso for 30 mins. This is by far the cheapest I’ve seen in my travels. Though they tend to turn the promotions off every now and then. At the moment it’s 10 pesos for 30mins.

On Mobile I use an application called Taptu which works great as an all in one RSS reader, Twitter, Facebook and movie review application. Good news for travelers looking for an all in one solution on either Android, iPhone, Blackberry,  Windows mobile. There’s also a really great photo app to view some stunning getty images. There are plenty of others though so do check out my review on the best RSS apps for travel.

I use Worldmate and Psiloc World Traveler on mobile for multi currency conversions, weather reports and time zone checks across the world. But Currency on Android is probably the best for just conversions. With

Skype works well with wifi on mobile but with gprs or Edge only via text.

Opera mini makes browsing 10x faster and great for bandwidth hungry websites! It also supports tabs.

Not to mention google/nokia maps with gps for getting around with ease. I’ll have a feature about this coming up soon.

There are several other ways to connect online and upload that I mention in my article How to Travel Blog from a Cyber Cafe. Not everyone takes advantage of these methods, but I find it allows me to do a lot more than I would be able to otherwise.

Do check out the travel tech section of my travel resources page for the latest updates on mobile apps etc!

So that’s how I am able to travel the Philippines and get online with ease no matter where I am – be it on a ferry, up a mountain, trekking in a jungle or when living on an island!

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in the Philippines?

Looking for the best online rates?

I recommend you try my own hotel search for The Philippines. The best online rates guaranteed!


Coming Soon:

A very big question I have to ask in my journey to find home…

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14 Great responses to How to connect to the internet when you’re traveling in the Philippines

  1. flipnomad says:

    great article! you won’t have any trouble connecting if you’re in the city, there are tons of wireless areas. good to know that you’re enjoying your stay in the Philippines. I’ve been reading your blogs for a couple of weeks now and it’s very inspiring. Keep on traveling!!! I hope you find your home soon!

  2. jessiev says:

    how very interesting! i love that you can connect with your iphone. technology is amazing.

  3. Nora Dunn says:

    Awesome tips! I’m always interested in how people connect while traveling; it’s a constant battle for me. Thank you!

    • -flipnomad- Thanks for the nice words you said about the site. Glad you’ve found some inspiration here. Hope to hear from you again!

      -jessiev- A fake i-phone at that!

      -Nora- It’s sometimes a battle here too ;) Mainly if there’s a power outage. But usually it’s pretty good.

  4. inca says:

    It’s good that I can go back in your blog to find your older information handy. I just arrived to Philippines through Singapore and Sabah. I would have liked to meet up, but you left to Kuala Lumpur when I reached Singapore.

    thanks for the above tips.
    do you still have that fake iPhone? does it have a “model” of its own with which i can find it so I can buy it to use it the way you describe? My current phone doesn’t have the ability. I’ll be here for several weeks and it’ll be useful.

    • Hi inca. No, I no longer have that phone. I sold it before leaving The Philippines. It’s what they call a “china phone” there are so many different versions in the market you will have no problem in finding one. Here’s a link to what mine looked like check out the phone on the right hand side

      You could also check out the USB sticks GLOBE or SMART offer if you have a laptop, its no different to the phone, but might work out cheaper depending on where you go shopping!

  5. john says:

    hi, i’m a little confused with your posting on “Latest SMART Mobile broadband rates in The Philippines”.

    If I get a SMART sim card, then text “on 300” to 2200, does that mean that I have a quota of 250MB that I can use for the next 30 days? I guess that means I have to preload my phone with 300peso’s right?

    Sorry about this stupid questions but I’m very new to this and not very technical minded… how is the coverage in the countryside? I will be travelling to butuan and around the countryside in mindanao.

    Thanks for your help!!!

    • Hi John,

      No, you’re right. Texting “On 300” to 2200 will give you 250mb that should be consumed over 30 days.

      So yes, you should preload you phone with a 300 peso card. But, I’d probably top it up with a bit more, just in case you need it.

      Coverage in the countryside is random, but not all that bad. If there’s a town, there will be coverage throughout The Philippines. Sometimes the signal drops off between towns when you are on a bus. But generally speaking it’s not that bad.

  6. john says:

    sorry… one more stupid question. Which SMART sim card do I buy? I heard that there are different variations, like SMART buddy and SMART Bro etc.

    oh… and is it possible to request a certain phone number?

    • Yes, there are a few cards. And very very subtle differences. Basically all the SMART sim cards are the same. The names are usually just related to promotions they are running.

      Walking up to any vendor and simply asking for a Smart sim card, and they’ll give you one, and help you set it up if you need help. But, generally it’s as simply as putting it into your phone.

      Most vendors won’t know about internet settings etc. But the sim cards some with them ready installed. There are also Smart centers in most towns too, and aside from slow queues, can sort everything out for you quickly.

  7. john says:

    Hi, one of my friends told me to check out Globe SIM cards.
    Do you know much about them?
    Is the signal better than SMART, say in the country side?
    Do They have options like the “on” plans on SMART which are good for the 3G internet, if so what are they?

    PS: I’m so grateful for your answers, are you still in the Philippines now?

    • As best I know, Globe only offer 50 peso unlimited per day. The Philippines is a huge country broken into smaller islands, it’s impossible to say Globe is better than Smart. It is in some areas some of the time, it isn’t in others the rest of the time. Real 3G is a rarity on any of the networks, though they’ll advertise differently.

      By latest blog post will tell you where I am now.

  8. MrTeamRiab says:

    Hi, thanks to your blog post I was able to get my Smart SIM card set up yesterday with the ON 200 plan (180MB over 15 days). I had tried the ON 300 plan, and while I had 301p on my SIM, it said I didn’t have enough.

    Mobile hotspot with my Galaxy Nexus and laptop is working great. The speed is very acceptable.

    My only question is how to add more data if/when I need it? Let’s say I have used about 100MB on my current ON 200 plan, but decide I need more and want to be proactive about it. Can I simply load more onto my SIM and then text a new plan code? Will it add to my current plan or replace it? Or is it better to wait until I’ve used up my first plan, then add more?

    I should add that I got a Smart sim from the local 7-11 for only 40p, and bought a 300p load card at the same time. My 301p balance was reduced to 92p after adding the ON 200 data plan, so perhaps it uses a bit more than they say the plan does.

    • Glad it’s working out for you. Yes, they seem to still be charging for the text you send to add to the plan. Likewise when you login via mobile internet to subscribe.

      Personally I’d only add credit/load once you run out. There have been occasions when credit/load seems to drain very quickly. I’d exercise caution in putting too much load on your account.