Before mobile phones, nobody thought twice about travelling around Europe without calling home. With the advent of smartphones and mobiles, our options have significantly increased. Smartphones are a huge asset when travelling abroad, but if you are not careful, they can also be a massive expense. So if you have a trip to Europe booked coming up, here is a quick guide to the best SIM for travel in Europe.
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Global Roaming Costs in Europe
It was once prohibitively expensive to use a UK mobile phone in Europe for anything other than taking photos or timekeeping. Mobile network carriers pretty much charged what they like and it wasn’t unusual to come back to a bill of several thousand pounds if you got carried away uploading photos to Facebook while you sat around the swimming pool on the Costa del Sol. Thankfully there has been a big reduction on the cost of global roaming for UK customers in the last couple of years and there is now legislation in place to prevent networks overcharging their customers.
However, despite this you will still have to pay 18p a minute to make a call and 5.9p a minute to send a text message. Meanwhile data is 19.8p per megabyte. And if you travel to countries outside of the European Union, there are no caps in place, so costs will be a lot higher. Buying a specialist SIM only deal will reduce the cost of travel in Europe and enable you to use a smartphone without fear of coming home to a huge bill. So what are the options?
EE offers a pay as you go SIM only deal for use throughout Europe. Customers can buy the Roaming Data add-on for £3 per day, which provides 50MB of data a day. Extra data bundles can be purchased if you think you are likely to exceed the 50MB limit and if you do go over your limit, it will cost you an extra £3 per 50MB. So for £10, you can use your smartphone in Europe with only calls and texts charged extra at 4.9p and 5.9 respectively.
Vodafone has a similar deal, except that with Vodafone you get 100 megabytes of data for £3 per day. The Vodafone Europe deals are available on a SIM only basis; to take advantage, go to Vodafone and order a free SIM card. Once you have received your free SIM card, opt into the EuroTraveller special offer. This can be done by calling Vodafone’s customer service or texting EURO to 2345.
The O2 Travel offer is available to anyone purchasing a pay as you go SIM card from O2. SIM cards from O2 are free. Once you have received your SIM, put some credit on it (£10 should be enough for about five days of data in Europe) and then choose the Big Talker or International SIM tariff. It costs £1.99 for 50MB of data in the EU; extra 50MB blocks of data can be purchased for the same price. Calls and text messaging are extra. Expect to pay 18p a minute for outgoing calls and 4p a minute for incoming calls. Text messages cost 5p per message.
Three has a great deal for European travel. Their ‘All in One’ SIM only deals start from £10 and give you an amazingly generous 500MB of data, 100 minutes of call time, and 3000 text messages. For an extra £20, you can enjoy 250MB of data, 300 minutes and a further 3000 text messages, which should be enough for most people. These allowances last for up to 30 days, so unless you are backpacking across Europe for the summer, you should be sorted for your trip.
Buy a Local SIM
If you are travelling for longer than a month, it will be more cost effective to buy a SIM card in the country where you are staying. Look for PAYG SIM cards that offer a prepaid data bundle. However, do make sure you have unlocked your mobile before you travel and be prepared to show some ID when you go to a store to buy a SIM. Having a local SIM also means you can make cheap local calls if you have friends or relatives living locally.
Prepaid International SIM
The other option worth considering is a prepaid international SIM card. These will work in many different countries and call, data and text costs are cheaper than standard global roaming prices. It’s a good choice if you are a globe trotter, but not as cheap as some of the other deals.
The all-inclusive SIM only deal from Three offers the best prices for European travel, but O2 comes a close second. However, if you are staying in Europe for more than a month, a local PAYG or prepaid SIM is probably a better deal.