Best SIM Cards For Using Your Smartphone in Europe
July 3rd, 2013
The costs of using your smartphone in Europe have come down. We look at some of the best SIM cards for roaming in Europe.
Smartphones can be a great asset whilst you’re travelling. It’s incredibly useful to be able to pull out a smartphone and to use Google Maps to find the directions to your hotel. Likewise, having the ability to access online reviews of restaurants, bars and tourist attractions can help you to get the most out of your trip. You could find a lesser-known attraction that’s off the beaten tourist trail and 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 at home. Whether you’re calling home to say you arrived safely or sharing a photo with friends on Facebook, there are many ways to stay in touch using your smartphone. To get the most out of your smartphone, you’ll need to have a data connection when you’re travelling.
For anyone who’s travelling to Europe this summer, there’s some good news. As of July 1st, the costs of using your smartphone in Europe have dropped. Calls will now cost a maximum of 24p per minute and texts will cost no more than 8p each. For data, costs vary widely depending on your operator. With the right tariff, you can use your smartphone abroad for as little as £2/day. This article looks at the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.
The Costs of Using a Smartphone in Europe
Over the past few years, there has been a major reduction in roaming costs throughout Europe. Providing you’re visiting a country within the European Union, there’s now legislation that sets the maximum amount operators are allowed to charge for you to use your smartphone abroad.
If you’re visiting an EU country, the maximum amount you’ll be charged for calls, text and data are as follows:
|Text Messages (SMS)||8p per message||Free|
|Data (Accessing Internet)||46p/MB|
The maximum cost of using your smartphone in the EU. Please note that if you’re travelling outside the EU, roaming charges can be substantially higher. Details are correct as of July 1st, 2013. Prices include UK VAT at 20%.
If you’re calling or texting from abroad, the costs are virtually the same on every network. The UK’s mobile operators have all chosen to charge the maximum amount possible. This is 25p/minute to make a phone call, 7p/minute to receive a phone call and 8p for every text message that’s sent. It’s free to receive a text message wherever you are in the world.
For data services (i.e. browsing the web, reading e-mail, accessing maps and sending instant messages) the costs can still be prohibitive. The average smartphone user consumes around 10MB of data per day. At 46p per megabyte, you should expect to pay an additional £4.60/day for using your smartphone abroad in Europe. Over a five-day trip, you’d pay a total of around £23. By choosing a specialist deal that provides cheaper roaming, you could cut the cost of using your smartphone abroad to as little as £2/day. This would save you £13 whilst giving you extra freedom to browse, surf and text.
Our recommended deal for using your smartphone in Europe is Vodafone’s Data Traveller service. For £2/day, you’ll get a generous download allowance of 25MB.
The following section looks at the best deals for using your smartphone in Europe:
Best Deal: Vodafone (£2/day for 25MB)
In our view, the best value tariff for using your smartphone in Europe comes from Vodafone. They’re offering a Pay As You Go deal called Data Traveller. For £2/day, you can use up to 25MB of internet whilst travelling in Europe.
The average smartphone user consumes around 10MB of data per day.With that in mind, the 25MB allowance should be more than enough for most people. Because of the extra daily allowance, there’s a lot of leeway. As you’re travelling, there’s no doubt you’ll be using online maps more than usual. You’ll probably be sharing a fair number of photos as well. With the 25MB allowance, there’s little to worry about. If you exceed the daily limit of 25MB, you’ll be charged for further usage at 45p/MB.
The easiest way to access this deal 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. You can choose any tariff as long as your airtime credit isn’t converted into a bundle. Apart from the Freedom Freebee, any of the tariffs offered by Vodafone will be fine. We recommend choosing the Text & Web Freebee. Topping up by £10 will allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for 5 days. The Text & Web Freebee also comes with a bonus: you’ll get 300 texts and 500MB of internet to be used whilst in the UK.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £2/day for 25MB
- Overages: 45p/MB once you’ve used more than 25MB/day
- £10 top-up buys: 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe
- Bonus: You’ll get a free allowance of 300 texts & 500MB internet. This can be used in the UK (expires after 30 days).
If you’re a Vodafone Pay Monthly customer, this deal isn’t available to you. Instead, you’ll pay 45.9p per megabyte when accessing the internet from your smartphone. To benefit from the lower rate of £2/day, you’ll need to grab a Vodafone Pay As You Go SIM card. An alternative is to opt in for the Vodafone EuroTraveller service. This allows you to use your UK price plan whilst travelling throughout Europe. You’ll pay an additional £3/day and any data usage will be deducted from your UK price plan.
O2 (£1.99/day for 15MB)
Customers on O2 can benefit from a service called O2 Travel. This gives you 15MB of data for £1.99/day. The allowance of 15MB/day isn’t quite as generous as Vodafone’s offering though 15MB should still be enough for most people. If you’re just looking to access Google Maps and to stay in touch with friends, 15MB should be enough.
If you use up the entirety of your 15MB allowance, you can purchase an extra 15MB by texting moredata to 21300. You’ll be charged an additional £2.07 (£1.99 for the data and 8p for the text message).
With an O2 Pay As You Go SIM card, a single top-up of £10 should give you enough credit to use your smartphone for five days. You can grab your free SIM card here to get started. You should avoid choosing the Pay & Go Go Go tariff. This is because Pay & Go Go Go will automatically convert your top-up into a monthly allowance. Instead, you’ll need to choose a tariff that allows you to keep your credit. We recommend choosing the O2 Unlimited plan.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £1.99/day for 15MB
- Overages: Option to purchase another 15MB for £2.07.
- £10 top-up buys: 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe
If you’re an O2 Pay Monthly customer, you can make use of the same deal on your current tariff. You’ll pay £1.99/day for 15MB of data. Check the O2 Travel web page for more information.
T-Mobile (£10/month for 50MB)
If you’re a T-Mobile customer, you can buy a T-Mobile travel booster when using the internet in Europe. There’s a choice of three boosters: 3MB for £1, 10MB for £2.50 and 50MB for £10. All of the boosters will last for 30 days or until you’ve used up the allowance.
Most people will be better off on the £2/day offer from Vodafone and O2. However, light users could benefit from the T-Mobile deal if they manage to stretch their 50MB allowance over a longer period of time. For instance, a light user who consumes just 5MB of data each day would be able to spread their 50MB booster over a period of 10 days.
Grab a free Pay As You Go SIM card from T-Mobile to take advantage of this deal.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £10/month for 50MB
- Overages: Option of purchasing another 50MB for £10
- £10 top-up buys: Approx. 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe. Will vary depending on your usage pattern.
This offer is also open to T-Mobile Pay Monthly customers.
Orange (42p per MB, approx. £4.20/day)
If you’re accessing the internet from an Orange Pay As You Go SIM card, you’ll be charged 42p per megabyte. For an average smartphone user, this would equate to a charge of around £4.20/day. If you’re looking for a data roaming bundle, Orange has a 10MB bundle for £5. At an effective cost of 50p per megabyte, you’d be better off just paying the standard Pay As You Go rates.
If you’re an Orange Pay Monthly customer, you can use 30MB of data for £3/day. To get this offer, text TRAVEL to 6640. Pay Monthly customers who don’t opt in to this bundle will pay 45.9p per megabyte.
To cut the cost of using your smartphone in Europe, we recommend a Vodafone SIM card and their offer of 25MB for £2/day.
- EU Roaming Data Price: 42p per MB (approx £4.20 per day)
- £10 top-up buys: Approx 2 days of smartphone usage in Europe
Three (45.8p per MB, approx. £4.58/day)
Three charges 45.8p per megabyte when using your smartphone in the EU. A typical smartphone user would spend around £4.58/day when roaming with Three.
Three Pay Monthly customers have the option to pay £5/day for all-you-can-eat internet in Europe. If you’re a heavy data user, you could save a lot of money with this deal. However, most users would be better off on Vodafone’s Data Traveller.
- EU Roaming Data Price: 45.8p per MB (approx £4.58 per day)
- £10 top-up buys: Approx 2 days of smartphone usage in Europe
Please note that you may need to unlock your phone before using a SIM card from another network.
How to Enable Data Roaming
By default, most smartphones are configured to not use data when abroad. This is due to the high amounts normally charged for using your smartphone abroad. If you’re using one of the above deals, you’ll need to enable data roaming before you can access 3G internet from abroad. Please follow the 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’.
- BlackBerry: Go to Device Options > Mobile Network > Data Services and change the setting to ‘On’. Press the menu button and select “Save”.
- 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 above, the easiest way to get online would be to get a UK-based SIM card and to top it up before you leave home. Our recommended plan is Vodafone’s Text & Web. Simply grab a free SIM card from their website and top it up by £10. This will allow you to make full use of your smartphone in Europe for 5 days. The daily allowance of 25MB should be enough for most users.
If you’re looking to save even more money, there are two alternatives:
- Use free wi-fi networks. Your hotel may come with free internet access. To access this, simply connect to their wi-fi network. You may need to ask reception for the login details. 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 is that you can’t use it when out and about. Online mapping applications are unlikely to work. You’ll also miss any e-mails and chat messages sent to you 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 5 days), it may be cheaper to pick up a local SIM card in your country of travel. 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 could involve a bit of hassle. Due to security restrictions, you may need to present ID (e.g. a passport) before you can obtain a SIM card. You might also need a working knowledge of the local language: it could be necessary to converse with shop staff in the local language. Expect to pay €10 for a SIM card that includes one month of 3G internet. You may also need to unlock your phone before leaving the UK. See our in-depth guides to unlocking the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S3, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and BlackBerry devices.
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+.