Best SIM Cards For Using Your Smartphone in Europe
May 10th, 2016
If you’re travelling to a European country, you’ll normally pay a surcharge for international roaming. We review the best value SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.
Each year, millions of Brits cross the channel and visit mainland Europe for business and leisure. Whether you’re going to Italy for the history and culture or to Spain for the tapas and sun, many of us like to stay connected through our smartphones when travelling abroad.
Being able to use your smartphone abroad is great for staying in touch with your friends and family back home. It’s also useful for navigating around (e.g. for finding restaurants and attractions in the country you’re visiting).
The good news is it’s now really easy and cheap to use your UK smartphone abroad in other European countries. Recent EU legislation has brought down the costs of roaming quite substantially. Deals are also available to cut the costs even further. In this article, we’ll look at the costs of using your smartphone in Europe. We’ll also compare some of the best value deals that can save you more money when you’re travelling abroad.
The Costs Of Using Your Smartphone In Europe
Over the past few years, there’s been a major reduction in the roaming costs for UK residents when travelling to Europe. As long as you’re visiting an EU country, you’ll be protected by EU legislation that sets the maximum amount your mobile network is able to charge you.
As of April 2016, the maximum charge for using your smartphone in Europe is as follows:
|Outgoing phone call||UK price plus 4.3p/minute (and never more than 16.6p/minute)|
|Incoming phone call||1.0p/minute|
|Text message (per SMS)||UK price plus 1.7p/text (and never more than 5.2p/text)|
|Mobile Internet (per MB)||UK price plus 4.3p/MB (and never more than 17.4p/MB)|
* The maximum charge only applies for calls, texts and browsing within in the EU. If you’re calling or texting a non-EU number, higher charges will normally apply. The figures above include UK VAT at 20%. See the ‘Future Changes’ section for more information.
While the above table shows the maximum possible charges, the actual amount you’ll be charged will depend on your mobile network and tariff. For more information about the roaming charges on your tariff, please select the mobile network you’re currently using:
Through the rest of this article, we’ll highlight some of the best value deals for using your smartphone abroad in other European countries.
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 100MB of data to use anywhere in Europe.
Three’s Feel At Home
An all-round deal: £10/month for 500MB, 100 minutes & 5000 texts (selected EU countries)
At present, the best value SIM card for travelling in Europe is Three’s All in One SIM. A £10 top-up will give you 500MB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 text messages (your allowances will last for up to 30 days). A £20 top-up will give you 12GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (once again, your allowances will last for up to 30 days).
After buying an All in One bundle, you’ll be able to use it in the UK and also in 10 other 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 at no extra charge in some other non-EU countries including the USA and Australia. For more information, see the Three website for a full list of included countries.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £10/month for 500MB, 100 minutes & 5000 texts (selected countries only)
- Overages: 4.3p/MB once you’ve used 500MB (or choose the £20 bundle for 12GB abroad)
- £10 top-up buys: 30 days of smartphone usage in Europe (selected countries only)
You’ll need to buy an All in One bundle if you want to use your allowances abroad (Three’s 321 price plan only applies when you’re in the UK). If you’re a heavy data user, we recommend buying the £20 bundle (this will give you up to 12GB of data to use when abroad).
For heavy data users: £1.99/day for 100MB of EU data
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 offer gives you 100MB of data to use each day in an EU country. This is for a fixed daily fee of £1.99.
With an O2 Pay As You Go SIM card, a £10 top-up should give you enough credit to use your smartphone abroad in the EU for 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 with the offer from Three, calling and texting isn’t included on the offer from O2. Instead, you’ll pay 4p/minute for outgoing calls and 1p for every text message you send.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £1.99/day for 100MB
- Overages: Option to purchase another 100MB 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.
Other EU Roaming Offers
There are a variety of other EU roaming offers also available:
- EE: Euro Roaming Data Add-on
For £3/day, customers with a EE Pay As You Go SIM card can use up to 75MB of data in other EU countries.
- Tesco Mobile: Home from Home
As a special time-limited offer, from the 23rd May 2016 to the 4th September 2016, Tesco Mobile has free roaming in all EU countries. There is a fair usage policy allowing you to benefit from the offer for a maximum of 28 days. The ‘Home from Home’ offer is available to both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers.
- Vodafone: EuroTraveller
For £3/day, customers with a Vodafone Pay As You Go SIM card can use up to 100MB of data in another EU country.
In addition, there are now some Pay Monthly contracts which come with EU roaming included in the price:
- EE: EE Extra Plans
Customers choosing an EE Extra plan will get inclusive minutes and texts when travelling in the EU. Data in the EU is not currently included – you’ll need to pay an additional £3/day for up to 500MB of EU data.
- iD Mobile: TakeAway Plans
iD Mobile, the own-brand mobile network from the Carphone Warehouse, provides free roaming in 29 countries when you buy a TakeAway plan. You’ll need to get either a 12-month or 24-month plan.
- Vodafone: Inclusive Roaming Plans
On selected 12-month and 24-month plans, Vodafone provides inclusive roaming across the EU.
Over the past decade, maximum EU roaming charges have been changed on multiple occasions. The maximum charges are set and published by the European Commission. As the maximum charge is stated in Euros, it may differ each year for UK residents. This is due to changes in the EUR/GBP exchange rate. On the 1st July 2016, maximum charges are likely to increase by around 8% due to differences in the exchange rate (the exchange rate 1EUR=0.7278GBP applies until the 30th June 2016, then 1EUR=0.78661GBP will apply from the 1st July).
On the 15th June 2017, all mobile networks will be required to scrap the surcharge for roaming in the EU. This means anyone with inclusive mobile allowances will be able to use them in Europe at no extra charge. For customers without an inclusive allowance (e.g. for customers on a Pay As You Go tariff), maximum charges will remain at 16.6p/minute, 5.2p/text and 17.4p/MB (with a further adjustment due to exchange rate fluctuations).
Other Ways To Get Online
Roaming, as discussed above, is now the most convenient way of getting online in other EU countries. Typically, you should expect to pay around £10 for a trip of up to one month.
Besides roaming, there are also two other ways of getting online when you’re travelling in Europe:
- Use free wi-fi networks. Your hotel may provide you with free wi-fi internet. This is perfect for odd tasks at the start and end of each day (e.g. for checking your e-mail and the weather). The downside is you won’t have access to the internet when you’re out and about. This means mapping applications may not work properly and you’ll also miss out on e-mails and chat messages received during the day.
- Buy a local SIM card in your destination country. If you’re travelling for more than one month, it may be cheaper and more convenient to pick up a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. Depending on your destination country, this may involve a little bit of hassle (e.g. knowing the local language and providing a copy of your ID). However, you’ll get a local phone number which will be much more convenient for contacting other people and businesses in that country. Expect to pay about €10/month for a local SIM card. You may also need to unlock your smartphone before leaving the UK. See our in-depth guides to unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy.
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+.