Ask LH: Which Travel SIM Card Should I Buy?

Ask LH: Which Travel SIM Card Should I Buy?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m about to head to Europe on a short term exchange with my university from Australia, and will be there for two months. What travel sim would you recommend? Or does it make more sense to purchase a SIM in each country? I’ll be spending time in Denmark, Uk, Madrid, and then a Contiki tour throughout Europe! Thanks, Monica

Dear Monica,

When you’re travelling to multiple countries, it usually makes sense to purchase a travel SIM card before you embark on your journey. While this is can be a bit pricier than buying local prepaid cards, the hassle it saves is worth it. This is especially true if you’re only spending a few days at each destination.

We used to recommend the Australian-based mobile virtual network operator Globalgig – but its new per-MB pricing model has made it far less attractive.

For our money, one of the best options you can purchase in Australia is OneSimCard. This works in most countries including all European nations (click here for the full list). The card includes both an Australian and a European phone number and is compatible with 4G speeds, where available. It also allows you to receive free incoming calls and SMS text messages.

While data is charged at 3c/MB, there are daily, weekly and monthly packages available. Crucially, it’s a pre-paid service that doesn’t charge a connection fee and you can cancel at any time. Click here for more information.

We’re also going to throw this one over to our readers. What’s your preferred solution for mobile data when travelling abroad? Let Deb know in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • If you can, get WiFi access at your exchange uni / wherever you stay.
    Then look at the LINE app.

    Result: phone calls via WiFi, no SIM card required.

  • I’d agree with the comment above. Public wifi is so ubiquitous now that, unless spending a lot of time in rural areas, mobile access isn’t really needed.

    While global roaming providers are certainly cheaper than one of the Aus network “packages”, they’re still not that great value for money.

    Our approach has always been to get local pay-as-you-go SIM cards on arrival. For example, when last in Italy 20 euros bought unlimited calls/SMS and 5Gb of data for 30 days. Even if only staying in each country for a few days, this could still wind up less expensive vs other options.

  • I would never buy a travel sim! Did once years ago, never again. Especially after realising how easy it is to just buy a cheap sim when you’re over there.

    It all depends on the countries you’re going to. But if you’re going to spend most of your time in Western Europe for example and would use data a fair bit, you could get a cheap ‘3’ sim which will give you unlimited data in a heap of countries in Europe for about 20-30 pounds for a month. I did that at the start of the year and it was the best decision ever! Never had an issue with it and I went to > 10 countries. I just walked into a ‘3’ store after chatting to one of the contiki organisers prior to starting and she suggested NOT to buy a travel sim as they’re a rip off(which they are in comparison), instead just buy a local sim; she suggested ‘3’. Once I walked into the store all-in-all it took about 5 minutes to purchase and set up.

    You just have to keep in mind that in some countries they don’t allow unlimited data and have different conditions, but I got something like 8Gb for countries outside of the unlimited included in the intial price.

    I would definitely buy a local sim over there which can work in multiple countries.

  • If you’re doing a tour with Contiki, you should be getting a free International ekit SIM card with your ticket wallet (if you haven’t, give them a call to ask about it). This works in all your destinations. I prefer these types of SIM for multi-country trips for three good reasons:
    1. WIFI may be everywhere, but it’s not always free, and not always secure.
    2. A local SIM in each country is the best way to ensure the cheapest rates, but you have to stop and get one in each new country, and there can be waiting periods and registration requirements that you need to deal with.
    3. Local SIMs tend to only work on one network, which is fine most of the time, but I find that I often stray into another network zone while travelling, particularly in bigger countries. The ekit SIM gives you a choice of networks, so you can just manually switch to one with a better signal.

    • The Contiki sim provided is a rip off, this was restated to me in “The Basement” by a couple Contiki employees in London when discussing phone plans. In places like Europe, a single sim from London (which is where most contiki’s begin) such as ‘3’, cover significant proportions of Western Europe with large amounts of data (unlimited in most (>8) countries I visited while on tour). In others it was capped at 8gb which is plenty for a month when most places you stay have wifi.

      I’m not sure how many (‘3’ did), but I would say a lot of telecom companies have partnerships with others abroad so your SIMs can connect on their networks. My ‘3’ sim didn’t work in the Czech Republic and Germany I think, but it did work everywhere else and in between.

  • Jump on eBay and grab a prepaid Vodafone NL (Netherlands) sim. Works in 43 European countries.

    You don’t need any identification to buy it, and it comes with a number activated already. Just got back from 3 months travelling Europe and it worked well. I made sure I bought the sim a good amount of time before I left as it took roughly 3 weeks to arrive in the post.

    In terms of adding credit, simply use Google translate on the Dutch Voda recharge page (they call it ‘upgrade’. The page translates perfectly)

    Also, to conserve data use, make sure Snapchat in the settings is set to ‘travel mode’ so It wont automatically download stuff, limit browsing Instagram when not on wifi and same with Facebook. They are data killers.

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