We landed in Baku, Azerbaijan last night, but we decided to skip getting a sim card since we knew it was going to be an ordeal.
However, even though we were fully ready for the hassle, I still can’t believe it took 75 minutes to buy a sim card in Azerbaijan.
This was in ideal conditions, too, since we knew exactly where to go ahead of time, how much it should cost, and what to expect.
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Good to Know: I’ve had one friend tell me that some of these steps have been eliminated but I don’t know for sure since I haven’t seen it firsthand.
Read this to be prepared, and then hopefully it will be easier for you!
My friend Megan put together this amazing post on what to expect before you visit Baku, but still. Even after knowing what we were in for, we couldn’t believe it!
Here’s a step-by-step break down of how we bought our Azerbaijan sim cards in Baku. (You might also like: things to know before renting a car in Azerbaijan).
This story includes buying two sim cards, a cell phone case, and a screen protector, which we were forced to make at three different registers.
I had to sign nearly ten documents for the sim cards, and I spent so long with the sales clerk who sold them to me that I believe she’s naming her first-born child after me.
Getting Sim Card Prices
Megan laid out her ordeal and scams (and if you’re looking to buy an Azerbaijan sim card, make sure to read Megan’s post beforehand), so we knew our price going in.
We decided to take a chance on the Azercell we saw at Fountain Square and walked in to get a quote.
We wanted a package that included 10 GB of data and some cell minutes for 17 manat. The store even had this package printed up on a poster near the front – but that was not enough for us to make sure we’d get it.
We asked a sales clerk for prices, and he quoted us 30 manat. Since we knew going in what to pay, we told him what package we were looking for. He then told us that he couldn’t help us, but that we could take a number and a different clerk could sell us that package.
Take a Number
The clerks who were authorized to sell us the package had a ticketing system in place. We took a number, 43, and sat down to wait it out. There were at least ten people ahead of us.
While I waited for our number to be called, my friend went to the Bakcell across the street to check their prices. They gave her a quote of 35 manat, so she laughed at them and came back to find me still waiting. Then she went and got us coffees, while I waited. And then I drank my entire coffee, while I was still waiting.
Forty-five minutes after we entered the store, my number was called.
The Actual Process of Buying a Sim Card Starts Now
The clerk who called my number was probably the sweetest, friendliest person I’ve met traveling in a long time. And over the course of the half hour I spent with her filling out documents, she gave me amazing restaurant and coffee shop recommendations, told me about some cool things to do, and told me everything she knows about America. She was an angel, and it’s not her fault that it took a half hour to fill out the forms.
Essentially, even in perfect conditions, this part is going to take a while.
The nice thing was, she didn’t seem to care which package she sold me so long as she was happy. So she told me they have another package for ten manat that only has data and no minutes. Great!
We did the first round of forms, and then she told me to go pay at the back window. I went to the window, and the woman there told me to leave. I checked with a few other clerks, who agreed this was the place for me to pay. Again, the woman at this window said no. I went back to my clerk, who walked me back again and personally told the woman what to sell me. I paid with my credit card, and walked back.
Then I filled out more forms. And more forms. And to buy the cell phone case, I had to walk to a different payment station (not the first one). And at that one, my credit card didn’t work, so I paid cash.
Then I signed more forms. And even though I picked out the cell phone case and the protective screen at the same time, from the same place in the store, they needed to be paid for separately. So she told me to go to the front station, where the first guy had quoted me an outrageous price, to pay for the protective screen.
Miraculously, my credit card worked at this station.
Then I went back to the clerk, signed two more documents, and she set up the sim cards for my friend and me.
To recap: three transactions at three different parts of the store with two different forms of payment. So simple, right?
Recovering Your Sanity
After the arduous process was over, we left and ate at her recommended restaurant. And the place was truly delicious. So chalk that one up as a win.
Refilling My Sim Card
I ran out of data after about a week and needed to refill. By this time, I was in Ganja, Azerbaijan. The process was much easier than getting the sim card in the first place. I went into an Azercell, paid 10 manat, and left with 5 GB. The whole refill process only took about ten minutes.
FAQ About Buying a Sim Card in Azerbaijan
What Do I Need to Bring with Me?
Bring three things: your passport (required), your phone so they can set it up for you, and your form of payment.
If you want to pay with a credit card, then you need to bring enough cash to pay for it if your credit card doesn’t work. For my three transactions at Azercell, my credit card worked twice. It wasn’t human error or a scam in this situation, it’s just that American credit cards are wonky in Azerbaijan. If you want to pay with cash in the first place, don’t worry about bringing a credit card.
Do I Need a Passport to Buy a Sim Card in Azerbaijan?
Yes! My friend forgot hers, but I was allowed to buy two cards with my passport. However, the passport is required if you want to get an Azerbaijan sim card.
Can I Buy an Azerbaijan Sim Card for a Week?
A 10 GB package will last most people a week or even two. I am a heavy data user (I am constantly uploading and downloading large audio files while backing up photos to Dropbox and streaming Hulu) but even I find it easy to make 10 GB last about 10 days to 14 days.
What is the Price for a Sim Card in Baku?
We were offered three packages at Azercell: 30 manat for 10 GB, 17 manat for 10GB and minutes, and 10 manat for 10 GB and no minutes. The second two packages were both advertised in the store window display, but were only available at certain sales desks and not at the front sales desk.
Make sure to ask for these two visitor packages to make sure that you get them. It seemed like the first clerk we talked to wasn’t scamming us, per se, but just didn’t care about what he was doing and only told us about the packages authorized at his particular desk.
Can I Buy a Sim Card at Baku Airport
Yes, there are many stands selling them near the exits. My goal was to price them at the airport before trying to buy one in the city, but I managed to miss all of the stands selling sim cards in the airport in Baku. They look more like information desks than cell phone shops.
Considering that we spent about 90 minutes there running around buying plane tickets, I had ample opportunity to spot one but somehow didn’t. From forums, I read that people did buy sim cards at the airport, but they paid over twice what we did. From the Lonely Planet Forum:
We bought AzerCell SIM cards at the airport when we arrived: package with 10GB Internet and 20 minutes international calls for 22 AZN. Local calls were 5 cents and SMSs were 3 cents (of a Manat). We also bought a 5 AZN recharge. The coverage and the Internet speed were good.
Since we paid 10 manat for 10GB, and we were also offered a package of 10GB plus minutes for 17 manat, it looks like purchasing from the same company (Azercell) is more expensive at the airport. If you choose to wait until you get to the city, you can use the decent wifi at the airport to order an Uber or you can negotiate hard with a taxi driver. We negotiated 15 manat for a ride to the city center (the taxi driver’s opening price was 30 manat).
Which Cell Phone Companies have the best Coverage?
I obviously went with Azercell, but Bak Cell and Nar Mobile also offer nationwide coverage in Azerbaijan. This does not include disputed territories. I’m not sure yet whether it includes Nakhichevan. I’ll update this once I get back from there.
So far, I’m really impressed with the actual cell phone speed. After using a Greek sim card and Greek wifi for two weeks last month, Azerbaijani cell phones are proving cheaper and faster. They just also come with a side of bureaucracy. (Although in Greece, I had to put my father’s name on the form like a child, so that also had some weird paperwork).
Go prepared, both mentally and spiritually. Stand up for yourself. Know what the price should be. Be kind to the people you meet working there – most of them are trying their best to help you and the ones who aren’t don’t deserve to zap you of your energy. You’ll get through it and there’s pretty good data on the other side.
More about Azerbaijan Travel
- 75 Epic Reasons You Need to Travel Azerbaijan
- What to Pack for Azerbaijan: an Azerbaijan Packing List for Women and Men
- Things to Know Before You Rent a Car in Baku, Azerbaijan
- 21 Things to Do in Ganja, Azerbaijan Plus Bonus Ganja Travel Guide
- How to Get from Ganja to Sheki and Vice Versa
- How to Get from Sheki to Tbilisi and Vice Versa
More about Traveling the Caucasus
Many people who travel Azerbaijan combine it with a trip to Armenia and Georgia:
Armenia Travel Resources
- Armenia Packing List: Everything You Need to Pack for Armenia for Women and Men
- How to Get an Armenian Sim Card
- How to Visit Geghard Monastery
Georgia Travel Resources
- The Dry Bridge Market: the Funky Tbilisi Flea Market with History on Display
- How to Get from Sheki to Tbilisi and Vice Versa
- What to Pack for Georgia: The Ultimate Georgia Packing List for Women and Men
- How to Buy a Georgia Sim Card During Your Adventure in the Caucasus