HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SIM CARD FOR EUROPE

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SIM CARD FOR EUROPE


How to Choose the Best SIM Card for Europe

If you have an upcoming trip and are trying to figure out what’s best SIM card for Europe, read this guide!  And if you’re not sure what a SIM card even is, click here to learn more. UPDATED WITH NEW EU ROAMING RULES IMPLEMENTED JUNE 2017.  

There are two types of SIM cards.  Each country has its own “local” SIM cards that is offered by a local provider. Up until June 2017, you would usually be charged roaming fees if you used the SIM card in another country.  There is also a “global” (sometimes called “international” or “travel”) SIM card that can be bought online ahead of time and can be used in multiple countries (such as all of Europe), and you usually buy these ahead of time online.

Is a Global or Local SIM Card the Best SIM Card for Europe?

In June 2017, the EU implemented the “roam like at home” rule, which prohibits providers from charging roaming fees.  If you buy a SIM card in one EU country and travel to another EU country, you cannot be charged a roaming fee.  This has made global SIM cards less appealing, but there may still be reasons to get a global SIM card.  For example, some local SIM card providers have asked for exceptions or stopped offering international roaming all together.  And providers in non-EU countries, like Iceland and Switzerland, are not required to comply.

We’ve set out the pros and cons of local SIM cards and global SIM cards. Our ultimate advice is that a local SIM card is the best SIM card for Europe. But if you can afford it, just use the international plan from your U.S. provider –it’s more convenient and may be cheaper than a global SIM card.  See here for a comparison of the international plans of the big U.S. cell phone carriers.  If you can’t afford to keep your U.S. provider,  generally you should get a local SIM card. Many European countries have a special “tourist” SIM card, which often include a limited number of minutes and texts to the U.S..  This option has become increasingly popular with the new EU “roam like at home rule”, which often allows you to travel to other European countries with the same local SIM card.

infographic-comparing-local-and-global-SIM-cards-when-using-you-cell-phone-in-europe

Is a Global SIM Card the Best SIM Card for Europe?

You can order most global SIM cards online before leaving for your trip; many are available on Amazon.com.

Below are examples of some of the popular European SIM cards and how much it would cost if you use 30 minutes of voice network calls, send and receive 15 texts each and use 500MB of data. For many, these options don’t make economic sense unless you’re using very little amounts of data.

 Upfront Cost of CardTalkTextDataExample: 30 min. calls, 15 sent/15 received texts, 500MB dataExpiration Dates
Telestial (for more popular countries)$19 (includes $10 credit)$.35/min.$0.35/send and $.09/ receive$.25/MB or (or $19/250MB, $69/1GB, or $119/2GB)$9 + $10.50 for calls + $6.60 text + $38 (assuming you bought 250MB packages) = $64.103 months for card; 14 or 30 days for data
Telestial (for more obscure countries)$19 (includes $10 credit)$.95/min.$.95/send and $.09/ receive$.75/MB or (or $19/250MB, $69/1GB, or $119/2GB)$9 + $28.50 for calls + $15.60 text + $38 (assuming you bought 250MB packages) = $91.103 months for card; 14 or 30 days for data
Europe Plus SIM by Mobal $59Free incoming and $.30/outgoing$.50/send and free/receive1GB included (4G where available)$59 (cost of card) + 4.50 (calls assuming half are outgoing) + $7.50 (texts) = $71After one month

Is a Local SIM Cards the Best SIM Card for Europe?

You can either buy a local SIM card at the SIM card provider store (e.g., a Vodafone store to buy a Vodafone SIM card) or in convenience, grocery and tobacco type stores. If you’re new to buying a SIM card, we strongly suggest going to a store of the actual SIM card provider, because they will replace the SIM card for you and answer any questions.

Tips for Buying Local European SIM Cards 

Here are some other helpful tips for buying local SIM cards in Europe when you’re a tourist.

  • If you’re not traveling alone, you could buy one SIM card with more data (data only cards are usually cheaper), and use the phone as a mobile hotspot for the other travelers.  A hotspot is a wireless access point, so your phone becomes the wifi provider to whoever you give access to (some global and local SIM cards do not allow this, so ask before you buy). We suggest that each person at least get some type of data so that they can call each other in an emergency if they are away from the hot spot. We also suggest that at least one person in the party gets a package that includes minutes on a voice network. Although you can use Skype credits to call a local number to call a cab or make a dinner reservation, service may be different for cellular data and network voice calls/texts, so having both ensures that you’ll have access to the best service and that someone from home can always reach you in an emergency.
  • If you’re planning to buy a European SIM card, you should know the difference between mobile network operators (MNOs, e.g. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) and resellers called mobile virtual network operators (MNVOs, e.g. MetroPCS) that pay fees to MNOs to use their networks. You’ll typically find both network operators and resellers selling SIM cards in Europe. The operators usually provide better coverage and faster download/upload speeds (especially in less populated areas), but the resellers are cheaper.
  • If you plan to leave the big cities in any of these European countries, check cell phone coverage here where you’re specifically going.
  • Decide ahead of time whether you’re going to buy the SIM card in the airport when you arrive to Europe. In making that decision, think about what’s offered at the airport (and whether the store will be open when you go) and the price difference between buying at the airport and at your ultimate destination in Europe. A quick Google search should provide those answers. Also know whether there’s wifi at the airport and whether you’ll need to get in touch with anyone between the time you land and when you arrive at your destination.
  • If you plan to travel to more than one country in the EU, double check that the new EU “rome like at home” rule applies.

Local Europe SIM Cards Offerings in Specific European Countries

Below are details about Europe SIM cards available in European countries covered by Travel Honey itineraries.  As noted above, if you buy a SIM card in an EU country, you can use the same SIM card in another EU country at no extra charge.  Some carriers have been granted exceptions or have stopped providing any international roaming, so confirm at the time of purchase.

SIM card providers are constantly changing their offerings, so these prices are meant to give you a general sense of the prices and who has the best coverage. The price estimates are converted from the local currency, so the exchange rate may change. Scroll down or click directly on your country of choice:

Croatia Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Croatia

The three big network operators in Croatia are T-Hrvatski Telekom (T-Com), VIPnet, and Tele2. T-Com has the most users and the largest network, VIPnet is a close second, and Tele2 has fewer users and less coverage but is growing quickly.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Croatia

ll three providers offer “tourist” plans. T-Com and VIP plans are about $13 with unlimited data and limited calls/texts. Tele2 offers a 30-day/10GB plan with limited local calls/texts for a little over $7.  There are a number of resellers (BonBon, Tomato, etc.) with cheaper options, but they may have slower upload and download rates. The network operators have pretty good deals, so we recommend sticking with one of the top three providers.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Croatia

Coverage will vary the most in less populated areas, so if you’re heading out of the cities, research who has the best coverage (T-Com generally has the best rates in the countryside). SIM cards are available at most post offices, supermarkets, gas stations, etc.  There’s 10% tax on all SIM cards. See here for more information about SIM cards in Croatia.

France Flag

SIM Cards in France

The big four network operators in France are Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, and Free Mobile. France’s SIM card options are generally pricier than a lot of other European countries, and many cafes do not have wifi. Also, you’ll find 4G in the bigger cities, but you’ll be limited to 3G in the countryside.

As of January 2017, Orange has the best 4G coverage in 17 cities and 88% of the population, but the others are not far behind: Bouygues has 85%, SFR has 81%, and Free has 80%. All of the network operators allow tethering on their SIM cards.

Your Options for SIM Cards in France

Each of the providers except Bouygues Telecom offers a tourist option that allows you to use the SIM card throughout Europe. The Orange Holiday is the most expensive at 40 EUR, and Free Mobile has the cheapest option at 20 EUR (but you can only buy Free Mobile SIM cards in machines, which can be confusing if you don’t speak French or know how to switch out a SIM card from your phone). There are many Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom shops in Paris. They may try to sell you the more expensive package, so make sure you ask for all your options. You can also get a better deal through one of the MVNOs (Lebara is a popular option), but your coverage and speed may be less – and you’ll only be able to buy the SIM card in a supermarkets, tobacco shops, etc. where you may not find help if there’s an issue.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in France

You’re required to bring your passport to buy a SIM card. And because it needs to process, it takes about an hour to get service as long as you’re buying directly from a provider’s store (e.g, an Orange or SFR store). If you buy the SIM card elsewhere, you may have to wait more than a day to activate your card, so double-check before buying.   See here for more information on SIM cards in France, so you can find out everything you need to know about finding the best SIM card for Europe!

Germany Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Germany

Germany has three big network operators: Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and O2. Deutsche Telekom is generally known to have the best 4G and the most wifi hot spots. Vodafone is a close second, and O2 has the smallest network, but it’s the only network that covers the entire U-Bahn system in Berlin with 3G and 4G speeds.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Germany

Resellers in Germany, unlike in many other European countries, have a large share of the market and offer a ton of options (grocery stores even offer their own branded SIM cards). The resellers offer cheaper SIM cards, but neither Telekom nor Vodafone resellers offer 4G. O2 resellers offer 4G, but as noted above, it has the smallest network. Prices will vary, but a good rule of thumb is about 10 EUR for 1GB of data. Be careful for getting charged a lot more, especially at airports. Some of the SIM card providers also have restrictions on VoIP calls (WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, etc), so if that’s important, make sure you ask when you’re purchasing your SIM card.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Germany

Germany requires you to register your SIM card – if you go to an actual SIM card provider’s store, they will usually register you at the store with your passport and the address where you’re staying. If you buy the SIM card elsewhere, like a grocery store, you’ll usually need to register the SIM card yourself online. The registration is often in German, so unless you speak German or there’s an English registration option, we recommend purchasing SIM card where they can register you in the store (just have your passport and address handy!).  See here for more information on SIM Cards in Germany. See here for more information on SIM Cards in Germany.

Hungary Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Hungary

Hungary has three big network operators: Telekom Magyar, Telenor, and Vodafone and they all offer similar 4G coverage (between 98-92% of the population).  Especially in Budapest, they’ll all have great coverage. Most cafes, restaurants, etc. offer free wifi, so if you’re careful, you won’t need that much data.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Hungary

Telenor offers a starter pack for about with a small call credit and 150 MB of data. You can then add data to that package. The download/upload speed is limited on some options, so ask if that’s a concern for you. Vodaphone MAX L pay as you go SIM gives you 100min local calls and 1GB of data for about $13.50. They will try to sell you additional data at the store – you can get 3GB for about $31. Vodafone is also the only option at the Budapest airport. Telekom offers a number of options and combinations of minutes and data, which can be cheaper than Vodafone depending on which option you get.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Hungary

There are also resellers, but they usually require online registration in Hungarian, so it’s best to buy your SIM card from one of the three Network operators.  You’ll also need  a photo ID.  See here for more information on SIM Cards and Hungary. See here for more information on SIM Cards and Hungary.

Iceland-flag-using-your-cell-phone-in-Europe

Best SIM Card for Europe – Iceland

Iceland has 3 major network providers, Siminn, Vodafone and Nova and all three have good service if you’re staying in populated areas like around Reykjavik. If you’re going to remote areas, Siminn is best but Vodafone is a close second.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Iceland

Iceland’s SIM cards are pricy compared to other countries in Europe. Siminn offers 1GB of data and 100 local calls/texts for a little less than $30. Vodafone and Nova offers about the same for $15 – $20 depending on the offer at the time.  Remember that Iceland is not an EU country, so the new EU “roam like at home” rule doesn’t apply.

Italy Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Italy

There are 4 network operators in Italy, Vodafone, TIM, Wind, and Tre. Vodafone recently surpassed TIM in 4G coverage,
but many still claim TIM’s coverage is best. Wind and Tre recently merged, but they still only cover 64% of the population. Resellers have recently emerged, and like in other countries, the coverage isn’t as good, but the plans are cheaper. If you’re only going to be in a bigger city like Rome or Florence, you’re coverage is going to be relatively good with whatever SIM card you choose.

But as you move outside the major cities, coverage varies (even between TIM and Vodafone, where each performs better in certain areas). Do research on the coverage in the specific areas you’re visiting. Many hotels offer wifi, but it’s usually slow. You can find free wifi inside many cafes and museums, but it’s less frequent outside bigger cities.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Italy

You’ll have to pay an upfront fee for a SIM card, usually 10 EUR with a 5 EUR credit. TIM, Vodafone and Wind offer a tourist package for 30 EUR (19 – 20 EUR if you already have a SIM card), which gets you 4GB of data with TIM and Wind and 2GB with Vodafone. Each offering also includes 300+ of international and domestic minutes and texts. You can also get smaller plans, but you’ll still have to pay the 10 EUR for the SIM card, and stores will usually make you buy a bundle on top of that. Stores may also charge a small activation fee.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Italy

You must bring your passport, and you may also be asked for a tax code. A “codice fiscale” is just an algorithmically created sequence based on birth date, name, etc. It doesn’t register you with the Italian government, but it gives the SIM card providers a valid number to use. They may offer to create on for you, or you can create a codice fiscale online. See here for more details on SIM cards in Italy.

Portugal Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Portugal

Portugal’s major operators are MEO and Vodafone. Vodafone have the best 4G coverage, but 4G coverage is good in Portugal except for unpopulated areas. There’s public wifi, but it’s not super widespread.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Portugal

Vodafone has a 30-day holiday SIM with 5GB of data, 500 min. local calls/texts and 30 min. calls/texts to the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand. You can also use the holiday SIM card in other EU countries with no roaming charges.  There’s also a 1GB option for 10 euros that only includes local calls/texts. An MEO Portugal SIM card is 10 Euros then you have to add data and minutes.  You can buy a week-long combo voice and data package called TOP.  The options are 200MB (2.80 Euros), 1GB (3.30 Euros) or 3GB (4 Euros), which includes 500 min calling or texts.  There’s no option to top-off after the week. MEO also offers a 15-day holiday plan for 15 Euros, which includes 60 minutes and 500 SMS national and international calls to the EU, USA, Canada, Angola, Brazil and Israel and 2 GB of data.  You can top-off, but you have you have to pay another 15 Euros. See here for more details on SIM cards in Portugal, so you can find out everything you need to know about finding the best SIM card for Europe!

 

Spain Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Spain

Spain has four network operators, Movistar, Vodafone, Orange, and Yoigo. As of 2016, Vodafone had 95% 4G coverage, followed by Orange with 89%, and Movistar and Yoigo each cover 86% of the population. Movistar is known to have better coverage overall, but check the areas you specifically plan to visit. Spain has a healthy resellers market, but most don’t offer 4G on prepaid SIM cards.

Your Options for SIM Cards in Spain

Both Vodafone and Orange offer a tourist SIM card. With Vodafone, you can get 2GB of 4G data and 50 minutes of international calls for about $16, and Orange offers 3GB of 4G data and 30 minutes of international calls for about $37. Movistar charges you about $11 for a SIM card, and you can get another 1gb of 4G data for about $10. Yoigo charges you about $21 for SIM card but you get that amount in credit.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Spain

Spain requires you to register your SIM card, so you must bring a photo ID. There are no branded SIM card provider stores in the major airports in Spain and the available SIM card stands are overpriced, so wait to buy a SIM card if possible (there’s free wifi at the Madrid airport). See here for more details on SIM cards in Spain, so you can find out everything you need to know about finding the best SIM card for Europe!

Switzerland Flag

Best SIM Card for Europe – Switzerland

Switzerland has three network operators, Swisscom, Sunrise, and Salt Mobile and they all generally have good coverage (Salt has slightly less 4G coverage).

Your Options for SIM Cards in Switzerland

Both Swisscom and Sunrise sell SIM cards for an upfront fee of about $20, which come with about that same amout in credit. Salt only charges about $10 for a SIM card wit the same amount of credit.

Other Tips for SIM Cards in Switzerland

Remember that Switzerland is not part of the EU, so you’ll likely be charged roaming fees if going to Switzerland with a SIM card from another country. Switzerland requires a photo ID to purchase a SIM card.  See here for more details on SIM cards in Switzerland. See here for more details on SIM cards in Switzerland. Remember that Switzerland is not an EU country, so the new EU “roam like at home” rule doesn’t apply.

Which is the Best European SIM Card for YOU?

A global SIM card may make sense if you’re visiting multiple countries (especially if the first country you visit doesn’t offer SIM cards with free EU roaming) and you value the convenience of being to install your SIM card before you arrive over saving money. Local SIM cards are the better choice if you’re going to one country or if you’re going to multiple countries and you value cost savings over convenience (especially if you use large amounts of data).

Must Have Checklist For Buying A Local Europe SIM Card

If you’ve decided that a local Europe SIM card is the way to go, we’ve put together a must have checklist for making sure you purchase the best SIM card for Europe!

Checklist-Infographic-for-Buying-a-Local-SIM-card-when-using-Your-Cell-Phone-in-Europe

 

We hope you this guide has made you better prepared to choose the best SIM card for your European vacation and give you the information you need for a successful SIM card experience.  Do you want to learn more about using your cell phone in Europe, including whether to get a SIM card, 14 tips for saving data when traveling, what’s the best calling app and how to use offline maps? Then click here for links to all these articles.

Or get the guide in one easy to read PDF.  We just need your email below. You may also like one of our awesome itineraries for Europe, including FranceGermany, BudapestIceland, Italy, PortugalSpain or the United Kingdom.


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