Ask Lifehacker: How Do I Get Good SIM Data Deals Overseas?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m soon to be travelling, first to Japan then to Europe (6 weeks in total). I am sick of being stung with stupidly high international roaming rates when overseas, and am looking at a prepaid SIM card option, such as TravelSIM or GOSIM. Call rates seem to be much more reasonable, but data is still stupidly expensive. Are you able to advise what’s the best way to go? As I will be travelling through multiple countries, buying a local SIM card when I’m in that country isn’t really viable unfortunately. Cheers, Steve

Picture by mroach

Hi Steve,

The most useful resource we can point most people towards in this situation is the Pay-As-You-Go SIM With Data Wiki, which we’ve talked about before. No matter what your destination, that can help you identify good data-centric deals. On a purely data level, I suspect that buying a new SIM in multiple countries could still prove cheaper than using one SIM with uber-expensive data options, even if you’re only on the ground for a few days. (Europe has regulations controlling roaming charges between countries, so you won’t necessarily need to switch every time you cross a border.)

Of course, that doesn’t deal with the issue of having to let anyone you want to stay in contact with know a new phone number every time you change SIMs. One way to handle that which I often use is to travel with two devices: a simple phone with a fixed SIM you acquire before your trip and use for calls, and a smart phone for data tasks which works between any data-centric country SIMs you acquire and any free Wi-Fi you can locate. (For that purpose, the Free Wifi Wiki is useful.) It’s not the most completely convenient option, but it is often the cheapest.

Another option is to ditch the phone altogether, take a netbook and rely on Skype combined with whatever free and hotel Wi-Fi you can access for your communication needs. I’m sure readers will have other strategies to suggest in the comments.


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