I have been coming to Kazakhstan for five years and have been getting SIM cards here for five years. The process was a nightmare the first time, not a nightmare the second time, and has been a bit annoying and cumbersome the last two trips I’ve made here this year. I told myself I would write this guide to getting a Kazakhstan SIM card in Almaty two months ago but I really didn’t want to finalize and publish it until I had done it once more to ensure the process stayed the same. And it finally did!
This post is about how to get a SIM card in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I will give two carrier options and let you know which one I prefer. It will also detail the experience of filling up in the automated machines that don’t have an option for English (rolling eyes because Kyrgyzstan has this option because you know… foreigners and tourists).
I am only listing two certified locations (different carriers) on this post because they are ones I know are legit. Most aren’t or will give you some strange plan that won’t be acknowledged by the legit places once your plan runs out and you try to refill.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Do You Need A Kazakhstan SIM Card?
- Where You Should *Not* Purchase a SIM Card in Almaty
- Where to Buy a Kazakhstan SIM Card in Almaty
- How to Refill Your Tariff at a Qiwi Machine
- What To Bring to Get your SIM Card in Kazakhstan
Do You Need A Kazakhstan SIM Card?
I vote yes. If you visit Almaty, you will find that it is affordable and gives you the freedom of staying connected and being able to get around easily in the country. While I am speaking mostly about Almaty, 4G service is pretty good in other cities and a Kazakh SIM card will only help you. The Wifi works well in most of Kazakhstan… when it works.
There are currently many outages happening in the evenings which I am not going to get into as I disagree with the reasoning behind them, so your SIM card won’t help on certain websites then, but taxi apps and transport apps will still work without an issue and a SIM card will aid you.
Where You Should *Not* Purchase a SIM Card in Almaty
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, your best bet is to get at a certified dealer. I list two locations that I know are the real deal in Almaty on here.
Should You Get a Kazakh SIM Card at the Airport?
No. You risk being sold one that does not have a plan recognized by the actual carriers or one that is no longer used. I can’t even begin to explain this dilemma (I’ve experienced it before), but it is absurd and nothing is being done to combat it. Basically, you buy from a non-certified dealer and they will give you some old SIM cards and place some money on them.
There is an actual Beeline shop at Almaty airport, but it’s rarely open when I am there, so just avoid buying a SIM at the airport altogether.
When you go to renew your plan or add credit to it, the machines won’t recognize that you even have a plan. So, you just start pouring money into the machine and hoping it starts to work (raises hand). Only to find out later what the actual situation was. Just don’t do it.
Unfortunately, by not purchasing a SIM card at the Almaty Airport or whatever Kazakhstan airport you arrive at, you won’t be able to get an affordable taxi? Why? Well, because Almaty Airport does not have a wifi option for foreigners. You can only register for wifi if you have a Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, or CIS number. You’d think they’d hate us. Hopefully, other airports in Kazakhstan are better equipped than Almaty’s.
In order to get a taxi from the airport, just set aside a bit extra or have a local hail you one. I always just pay 3000 tenge (like $10 or slightly less) and deal with it. The normal fare should be 1500 tenge on Yandex app. Or, if roaming is an option on your phone, feel free to use it.
You can find a certified Almaty taxi stand outside the main doors of the airport where the police box is. A lady in a bright yellow vest will be around and can help you there. You can even prepay for it with a credit card if you don’t want to take cash out at the ATMs inside of the airport.
Should You Get a SIM Card at the Kyrgyzstan Border (Kordai Crossing)?
Again, no. These places are not certified and you run the risk of being given some odd SIM card. It may work or it may not. And unless you want to make a trip back to that border to get hasty about losing $3-$4, I wouldn’t bother. Just wait until you’re in Almaty and sort it out then.
Should You Get a SIM Card at the Almaty Bus Station (Sayran Bus Station)?
Another major no. Again, this will hinder you from paying normal rates for transportation. If you’re staying somewhere near Dostyk Avenue, try to get a taxi for around 1000 tenge or less. A taxi from this area on Yandex app will run you about 800 tenge or slightly more anyway, so you’re not losing much. But, after my trips from Bishkek to Almaty, I tend to be too tired to care and sometimes pay 2000 tenge. The guy that charged me that sang Beyonce to me on the ride so I actually got my money’s worth and was content (hey, his voice was tolerable!).
If you don’t feel comfortable taking a taxi from by yourself, see if you can have someone there order you one or have the place you’re staying at in Almaty order you one in advance although you won’t be able to give them a specific time of arrival. Also, please stay away from this bus station after dark.
Where to Buy a Kazakhstan SIM Card in Almaty
While there are a few credible locations for purchasing a SIM card in Almaty, I am only going to give the two options I have successfully used. I have also purchased at places that I thought were legit but weren’t. The first thing you need to consider is the carrier you wish to use. The two best ones, in my opinion, are Beeline and KCell. I used to be a loyal Beeline customer here… but I have switched. And I’ll explain why below.
I have always been super loyal to Beeline. I use them in the Caucasus and I have always used them in Central Asia. But, I no longer use them. It is not really an offense to them, but I have learned that the one office I trust of theirs in Almaty is always busy and my claustrophobic acts up when I am inside of there. Literally, that is my only excuse. But I still recommend them and I, personally, think they have the best coverage in Kazakhstan.
You can find Beeline’s main office at the corner of Furmanov and Tole Bi in Almaty’s city center. Opening hours are 0900-2000 daily. It can be very hectic inside and it stresses me out. But, you take a number and wait your turn. Naturally, English is not present on the number system, so just ask the person walking around in a Beeline vest or shirt or look for the word ‘Contract’ written in Cyrillic (контракт) or something like it on the number machine.
To be honest, when I go there, I track down the person in the vest and tell them I need an English speaker and they have moved me ahead to a specific person that can assist.
Have your passport, cash, and your patience ready to go. They offer a few tariffs (check Beeline.kz for updates and no, it is not currently in English so you will have to use your Russian or Kazakh skills or a browser translator). Their current data tariffs, or plans, are as follows:
8 GB of data and 80 minutes of call time for 1790 KZT (about 4 EUR or 4.70 USD), 12 GB of data and 120 minutes of call time for 2190 KZT (about 5 EUR or 5.75 USD), 20 GB of data and 250 minutes of call time for 2790 KZT (about 6.25 EUR or 7.25 USD), 30 GB of data and 300 minutes of call time for 3990 KZT (about 9 EUR or 10.50 USD), and Unlimited data and 300 minutes of call time for 7490 KZT (about 17 EUR or 19.75 USD).
I feel like a traitor, but I recently switched to KCell. The reason was mainly that I couldn’t be bothered with the Beeline office being so busy and it is a bit of a walk from where I usually stay in Almaty. I decided to make the switch to KCell because I heard they were affordable and they are located inside of Dostyk Plaza Mall right beside where I stay (they have other locations, but I can recommend this one). Their service has been good and the customer service is friendly. But the process is annoying.
The KCell location that I use is the one inside of Dostyk Plaza Mall off of Dostyk Avenue. It is inside across from the Sulpak (electronics store) and Starbucks at the entrance by Cafe Central. When you go in, you must take a number. Again, look for the option that says ‘Contract’ in Cyrillic (контракт) and press that. Then you wait. Do have your passport handy.
Once a customer service representative is available, make sure you ask them if they can speak English. They tend to say ‘a little’, but they are underestimating their ability as most Kazakhs do (they are better than they think). Just explain to him or her that you’d like a SIM card with data. This will likely be the procedure followed:
Step 1: They will ask “Do you need a number?” You say “Yes” and they will tell you to pick a number from the touchscreen. These numbers cost 1000 KZT. Tell them you’d like an “Activ” SIM card that costs only 250 KZT. They should run to the back and grab a small package that has this SIM card in it.
<If they make you choose a number from this- say no! Ask for an Activ card>
Step 2: They will ask for your passport and the address of the place you’re staying. If you’ve been in Kazakhstan before and have used the same address, you’re in their system and just need to verify. But have your address written out.
Step 3: They will ask which tariff, or plan, you want. I get the Comfort Large package because I am usually here for a month at a time and like the peace of mind. The KCell “Activ” plans are as follows: Comfort Large- 20 GB and 200 minutes of talk time for 2790 KZT (about 6.25 EUR or 7.25 USD), Comfort Medium- 15 GB and 150 minutes of talk time for 2390 KZT (5.45 EUR or 6.25 USD), Comfort Small- 10 GB and 80 minutes of talk time for 1890 KZT (4.25 EUR or 5 USD), and Comfort X-Small- 5 GB and 40 minutes of talk time for 1390 KZT (3.15 EUR or 3.60 USD).
Step 4: They will ask for your phone, put in the new SIM card, and type in a bunch of stuff, including the package you are under. This means that this is your package- point blank. You can’t necessarily switch at kiosks or machines.
Step 5: You will pay for the number only. Give them 250 KZT and then they will tell you that you have to pay for the package separately. At the machine.
Step 6: Ask for help here as it is a process for people not familiar with it. Go to the machine and type in your number. Then you must put in the amount for your tariff. For me, since I have the Comfort Large tariff, I needed to insert 2790 KZT. But, beware, this machine is not in English and ONLY takes exact change. And the KCell location may not have exact change. I usually just give up and throw in extra and say screw it because I’m out of patience at this point.
This process seems a bit stressful, but it is easy if you know what to expect, trust me. I have given all the information necessary to obtain a Kazakhstan SIM card above at KCell.
How to Refill Your Tariff at a Qiwi Machine
I am assuming you’re not a native Russian or Kazakh speaker and that is how you landed on this post. Congratulations because refilling your Kazakhstan SIM card just became slightly more annoying for you (just kidding- it is fairly easy once you have a ‘real’ plan associated with your number and you know what to do). Below are the steps of how to refill your SIM card in Kazakhstan at a Qiwi machine, which are completely ubiquitous around Almaty.
Step 1: Find a Qiwi Machine. They are everywhere and you won’t be hard-pressed to locate one. They are more commonplace than ATMs in Almaty.
Step 2: You will see three options. Press the top one that says “Оплата услуг” or ‘Payment for Services”.
Step 3: You will be taken to a screen that has a bunch of mobile carriers listed up top. Press the one that you have. If you press “KCell” you will then have to press either “Activ” or “KCell” after depending on the type of number you have
Step 4: A screen will appear with a place to type in your phone number. Type in the number you have including the +7.
Step 5: Insert the amount of money your tariff requires. You will not receive change so come with the exact amount if possible. Since my phone number is registered to the Comfort Large plan for KCell, I will insert 2790 KZT into the machine. That will then top up my credit.
Step 6: Save your receipt and printouts it gives you just in case you have an issue. If an issue arises, take them to the place you received the phone number. Not saying they will help, but they should be able to assist or tell you why it didn’t work.
What To Bring to Get your SIM Card in Kazakhstan
Bring your passport, several denominations of Kazakh Tenge (usually they will take only exact change), and have handy the address you’re staying at. If you know someone who speaks Russian or Kazakh, bring them with. But you should be able to manage in English without a lot of problems. If I can do it, you certainly can. Also, bring patience. A lot of it.
That is pretty much the best way to get a Kazakhstan SIM card in Almaty. The process varies and has changed over time (I think it has become more complicated, but others may say differently). Just be patient and things will fall into place. You certainly didn’t travel to Central Asia for predictability, now did you?
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