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.

EU FlagEach 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 July 2016, the maximum charge for using your smartphone in Europe is as follows:

Activity Maximum Charge*
Outgoing phone call UK price plus 4.7p/minute (and never more than 17.9p/minute)
Incoming phone call 1.0p/minute
Text message (per SMS) UK price plus 1.8p/text (and never more than 5.6p/text)
Mobile Internet (per MB) UK price plus 4.7p/MB (and never more than 18.8p/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.

Recommended Deals

For most people travelling inside of Europe, 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 1GB of data abroad, 3000 text messages and 100 minutes for calling back to the UK.

For heavy users, the All in One 20 deal from Three is also available. This gives you 12GB of data, 3000 texts and 300 minutes.

As an alternative for shorter trips abroad, it may also be worth considering a Pay As You Go SIM card 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 1GB data, 100 minutes & 3000 texts

Three

Three has a ‘Feel At Home’ offer in 34 European 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 1GB 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 you buy an All in One bundle, you’ll be able to use it inside the UK and in 34 other European countries as part of the Feel At Home offer. You can also use the SIM card at no extra charge in some other non-EU countries including the USA and Australia (see the full list of inclusive countries below).

  • EU Roaming Data Price: £10/month for 1GB data, 100 minutes & 5000 texts
  • Overages: 3.9p/MB once you’ve used 1GB (or choose the £20 bundle for 12GB)
  • £10 top-up buys: 30 days of smartphone usage in Europe

Order Three All In One SIM card (£10 for 30 days) »

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).

The following countries are included in the Feel At Home offer: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy (includes Sardinia and Sicily), Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal (includes Azores and Madeira), Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (includes Canary Islands and Balearic Islands), Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America.

For more information about the Feel At Home offer, please see this page on Three’s website. You can also read our full review of the offer.

O2 Travel

For short trips & heavy data usage: £1.99/day for 100MB of EU data

O2 Travel

O2 gives you 100MB of EU data for £1.99/day.

If you’re only travelling for a short amount of time and expect to use a large amount of data, 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 any 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, you should avoid choosing the Big Bundles tariff. This is because the Big Bundles tariff will automatically convert your top-up into a bundle that can only be used in the UK. Instead, you’ll need to choose a tariff that allows you to keep your credit. We recommend choosing either the ‘Simply Pay As You Go’ or International SIM cards.

Unlike with the offer from Three, calling and texting isn’t included in 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)

Order O2 Simply or International SIM card (Free) »

After receiving the SIM card from O2, text TRAVELON to 21300 to opt-in to the offer.

Other EU Roaming Offers

  • EE
  • iD Mobile
  • Vodafone

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.
  • 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.

Future Changes

EU Roaming

Maximum EU roaming charges are set by the European Commission. They’ll be scrapped entirely from the 15th June 2017.

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. The maximum roaming rates were last updated on the 1st July 2016 using the exchange rate of 1EUR=0.78661GBP.

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 17.9p/minute, 5.6p/text and 18.8p/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:

Wifi

It’s free to get online with wi-fi.

  • 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.

More Information

For more information, you can also see our in-depth guide to using your smartphone abroad. We also have in-depth articles on using your smartphone in Spain and the USA.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 180 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Samazama said:

    I would be coming from the US to the UK, with a GSM phone (an LG v20). Are you able to offer any advise about getting a SIM card either before I leave or when I arrive to Gatwick? And then one that could work in Spain?

    Thank you!

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Samazama,
      Thanks for your comment. If you’re travelling before the 15th June 2017, I’d say the best value choice would probably be to get a SIM card from Three. If you’re travelling after the 15th June, you’ll likely to be covered by the new EU legislation that applies to all mobile networks.
      With regards to actually buying the SIM card, I’d strongly recommend doing this when you arrive in town. You can pick up a SIM card from almost any supermarket or mobile phone store, and the upfront cost for this SIM card should normally be minimal (no more than £1, plus your initial top-up). If you like, you can also buy a SIM card at the airport but you’re likely to be paying over the roof for this (normally, you’ll pay about £10 for the SIM card and there won’t be any credit on it).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  2. Cassie said:

    Hi Ken,

    I’m from the US and have what should be an unlocked iPhone. I’m traveling through Italy, Greece, France, Spain, and the Netherlands this summer and pretty much care most about a data plan. I want to be able to send WhatsApp messages from anywhere. What would you suggest?

    Thank you!
    Cassie

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Cassie,
      Thanks for your comment. I presume you’ll be travelling after the 15th June 2017? If so, you should be able to pick up any Pay As You Go SIM card upon arrival in the EU. This is because roaming charges inside the EU are due to be scrapped. Expect to pay about €10 to €15 for a SIM card with one months usage.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  3. MJ said:

    Hi Ken,

    Thank you for providing such helpful information to help people get the best smartphone service possible. I hope you can help my case too. I am from US and doing river cruise in April, first we will fly to Munich airport, then be picked by cruise people to the port. We will travel thru Czech Republic, Austria, slovakia, and Hungary. I need to keep connected to internet while I am on shore excursions and the extended stay in Budapest. What type of sim would you suggest? The only chance for me to get the pre-paid sim or so is at Munich airport. Otherwise, I need to have it delivered to US before I depart. Your advice and input will be appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi MJ,
      Thanks for your comment. Your best bet would be to pick up a SIM card in your country of arrival (therefore, as you say, picking up a SIM card from Munich airport).
      Unfortunately, I can’t advise you on the best German SIM card as I only know about SIM cards in the UK (probably best to check on some German websites or forums). There should certainly be a couple of German SIM cards that will give you good value usage across the EU, particularly with the recent changes to EU roaming legislation.
      Ken

      1. MJ replied:

        Thank you so much for the response. I will then do the search for German sim cards good for EU use.
        Again, many thanks for your time and advice.

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