Best SIM Cards For Using Your Smartphone in Europe
March 31st, 2015
With the right SIM card, you can use your smartphone in Europe for as little as £10 for 30 days. We review the best value SIM cards for travelling in Europe.
Smartphones can be a great asset when you’re travelling abroad. It’s incredibly useful to be able to pull out your smartphone and to use Google Maps to find the directions to your hotel. Likewise, having the ability to access online reviews can help you to get the most from your trip. You can find a lesser-known attraction that’s off the beaten tourist trail or you can find the restaurant that the locals can’t stop talking about.
As well as providing you with access to online information, smartphones are also a great tool for staying in touch with friends and family. Whether you’re calling home to say you arrived safely or whether you’re sharing photos with friends on Facebook and Instagram, there are numerous ways to stay in touch when using your smartphone abroad.
The good news is for anyone travelling to a European country, the costs of using your smartphone abroad have dropped substantially. Calls now cost a maximum of 18.8p per minute and text messages shouldn’t cost more than 5.9p each. For accessing the internet, costs can still vary widely depending on your network. With the right tariff, you’ll be able to use your smartphone for as little as £10 for 30 days or £1.99/day. In this article, we look at the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.
The Costs of Using Your Smartphone in Europe
Over the past couple of years, there’s been a major reduction in smartphone roaming costs for UK residents travelling to Europe. Providing you’re visiting another country within the EU, there’s now legislation that sets the maximum amount networks are allowed to charge you for using your smartphone abroad.
If you’re visiting an EU country, the maximum amount you’ll be charged for calls, texts and internet are as follows:
|Text Messages (SMS)||5.9p per message||Free|
|Data (Accessing Internet)||19.8p/MB|
The maximum cost of using your smartphone in the EU. Please note: if you’re travelling outside the EU, roaming charges can be substantially higher. The maximum charges listed in this table have applied in the EU since July 1st, 2014. Prices include UK VAT at 20%.
In practice, most networks choose to charge the maximum amount permitted by EU law (18.8p per minute, 5.9p per text and 19.8p per megabyte of data). Over the course of a one-week trip, there’s still some potential for the charges to add up. The average smartphone user currently consumes around 20MB of data per day. At the maximum permitted EU roaming rates, you’ll currently pay around £4/day to access the internet (around £28 for a one-week trip or £56 for a two-week trip). In addition, you’ll also pay more every time you call or text.
With a specialist SIM card, you can bring the cost down to as little as £10 for 30 days. For a one-week trip, you’d save in the region of £18 per person. For a two-week trip, the savings increase to £46 per person. You’ll also save money when using an appropriate SIM card for calling and texting leading to an even bigger saving in total. In this article, we review the best value SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.
If you’re visiting either Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sweden or Switzerland, our recommended deal is Three’s All in One 10. Used in conjunction with their Feel At Home offer, a £10 top-up will give you 500MB of data abroad, 3000 text messages and 100 minutes for calling back to the UK.
For other European countries (e.g. Belgium, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal), our recommended SIM card is currently from O2. For £1.99/day, you’ll get 50MB of data to use anywhere in Europe.
Best Deal: Three (Selected Countries Only: £10/month for 500MB, 100 minutes & 5000 texts)
At present, the best SIM card for travelling in Europe is Three’s All in One SIM (starting from £10). A £10 top-up will give you 500MB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 text messages (the allowances will last for up to 30 days). A £15 top-up gives you 25GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (once again, the allowances will last for up to 30 days).
The All in One SIM card is a UK-based Pay As You Go tariff. After buying an All in One bundle, you’ll be able to use it in the UK and also in 10 European countries as part of the Feel At Home offer (Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). You can also use the SIM card in some non-EU countries (e.g. the United States, Australia and Hong Kong). See the Three website for a full list of available countries.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £10/month for 500MB, 100 minutes & 5000 texts (selected countries only)
- Overages: 10p/MB once you’ve used 500MB (or choose the £15 bundle for 25GB abroad)
- £10 top-up buys: 30 days of smartphone usage in Europe (selected countries only)
Note: You must buy an All in One bundle if you want to use your allowances abroad (the 321 price plan only applies when you’re in the UK). If you’re a heavy data user, we recommend buying the £15 bundle (this will give you up to 25GB of data to use when abroad).
O2 (£1.99/day for 50MB)
If you’re visiting a country that isn’t covered by the Feel At Home offer*, our recommended deal is an O2 Pay As You Go SIM card with the O2 Travel offer. The Pay As You Go O2 Travel offer gives you 50MB of data to use abroad for a fixed daily fee of £1.99. You can use the data in any EU country. With the average smartphone user normally consuming around 20MB per day, the 50MB allowance should be more than ample.
With an O2 Pay As You Go SIM card, a top-up of £10 should give you enough credit to use your smartphone abroad for a period of five days. You can grab a free SIM card to get started on O2. When ordering your SIM card, avoid choosing the Big Bundles tariff. This is because the Big Bundles tariff will automatically convert your top-up into a bundle. Instead, you’ll need to choose a tariff that allows you to keep your credit. We recommend choosing either the Big Talker or International SIM cards.
Unlike on the offer from Three, calling and texting isn’t included on the offer from O2. You’ll pay 18p/minute for outgoing calls, 4p/minute for incoming calls and 5p for every text message you send. If you want to use the SIM card for calling back to the UK, you should ensure you’ve topped up with a sufficient amount of credit.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £1.99/day for 50MB
- Overages: Option to purchase another 50MB for £1.99
- £10 top-up buys: 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe (excluding calls & texts)
After receiving the SIM card from O2, text TRAVELON to 21300 to opt-in to the offer.
* O2 is our recommended network when visiting one of the following countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. For other EU countries, the tariff from Three will offer much better value.
Vodafone (£3/day for 100MB)
At present, Vodafone is charging £3/day for 100MB of data in Europe. If you exceed the daily limit of 100MB, you’ll be charged for further usage at 19p/MB.
The easiest way to access this offer is to order a free SIM card from Vodafone. Provide your details on their website and they’ll send you a new SIM card free of charge through the post. You can choose any tariff providing your airtime credit doesn’t convert automatically into a bundle. Apart from the Freedom Freebees tariff, any other tariff offered by Vodafone should be suitable for this purpose.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £3/day for 100MB
- Overages: 19p/MB once you’ve used more than 100MB/day
- £10 top-up buys: 3 days of smartphone usage in Europe (excluding calls & texts)
Once you’ve received the SIM card from Vodafone, you’ll need to opt-in to the EuroTraveller offer. You can do this by texting EURO to 2345. Alternatively, you can call 5555 to enable the offer.
EE (£3/day for 50MB)
For £3/day, customers with an EE Pay As You Go SIM card get 50MB of data to use throughout Europe. This is with EE’s Pay As You Go Euro Roaming Data Add-On. If you exceed the limit of 50MB/day, you can buy another 50MB add-on for £3/day extra. Heavy data users can alternatively choose an add-on with more data: either 100MB of data (£5 for 24 hours), 200MB of data (£12 for 7 days) or 500MB of data (£25 for 7 days).
With the £3/day add-on, a £10 top-up would allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for a period of 3 days. It costs 18.8p/minute to call back to the UK and 4.9p/minute to receive a phone call. Text messages costs 5.9p each. You should top-up your phone with extra credit if you’d like to call or text using the SIM card.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £3/day for 50MB
- Overages: £3/day for 50MB extra
- £10 top-up buys: 3 days of smartphone usage in Europe (excluding calls & texts)
How to Enable Data Roaming
By default, most smartphones are configured not to use data when you’re travelling abroad. This is because international roaming is typically very expensive. If you’re using one of the deals mentioned in this article, it’s safe to enable data roaming on your handset. To do so, follow the relevant instructions for your handset:
- iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming and select On.
- Android: Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks and check the box for ‘Data roaming’.
- Windows Phone: Go to the Applications list and select Settings > Mobile > Data roaming options and change the setting to ‘Roam’.
Other Ways To Get Online
As discussed in this article, the easiest way of getting online is to order a UK-based SIM card for use when abroad (you can activate and top up the SIM card before you leave home). Depending on the country you’re visiting, our recommended network is either Three or O2. With Three, a £10 top-up allows you to use your phone in Europe for up to 30 days (selected countries only). On O2, a £10 top-up will allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for up to 5 days.
If you’re looking to save even more money, there are two alternatives:
- Use free wi-fi networks. Your hotel may provide free wi-fi internet. You may need to ask at reception for the login details to the network. Hotel wi-fi is perfect when you’re just looking to check your e-mail in the morning. It’s also great for checking the current day’s weather. The downside of using wi-fi exclusively is you won’t have internet when out and about. Online mapping apps normally require a mobile internet connection. When using wi-fi exclusively, you’ll also miss out on any e-mails and chat messages received during the day.
- Buy a local SIM card in the destination country (around €10). If you’re travelling for a longer period of time (usually more than one month), it might be cheaper to pick up a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. Look for a Pay As You Go SIM card that includes flat-rate data. Depending on the country you visit, obtaining a local SIM card can involve a bit of hassle. Due to security restrictions, many European countries require you to provide ID (e.g. a passport) before you’re able to get a SIM card. You may also need to have a working knowledge of the local language (you’ll need to converse with shop staff in the local language). Expect to pay around €10 for a local SIM card that includes one month of 3G data. You may also need to unlock your phone before leaving the UK. See our in-depth guides to unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy.
For more information, see our in-depth guide to using your phone abroad.
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.