Best SIM Cards For Using Your Smartphone in Europe
July 1st, 2014
With the right SIM card, your smartphone can roam in Europe for as little as £1/day. We review the best 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 a 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 out of your trip. You can 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. Whether you’re calling home to say you arrived safely or sharing photos with friends on Facebook and Twitter, there are many ways to stay in touch when using your smartphone abroad.
For anyone travelling to Europe later this summer, there’s some good news. As of July 1st 2014, the costs of using your smartphone in Europe have dropped substantially. Calls will now cost a maximum of 18.8p per minute and text messages shouldn’t cost more than 5.9p each. For data, costs vary widely depending on your operator. With the right tariff, you can use your smartphone abroad for as little as £1/day. This article looks at the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.
The Costs of Using a Smartphone in Europe
In the past couple of years, there’s been a major reduction in smartphone roaming costs for UK tourists travelling to Europe. Providing you’re visiting another country in the EU, there’s now legislation setting the maximum amount networks 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 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 that if you’re travelling outside the EU, roaming charges can be substantially higher. Details are correct as of July 1st, 2014. Prices include UK VAT at 20%.
In practice, most networks have chosen to charge the maximum amount permitted (that’s 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 a lot of potential for the charges to add up. The average smartphone user currently consumes around 20MB of data every day. At standard EU roaming rates, you’ll currently pay around £4/day for accessing the internet (around £28 for a one-week trip). In addition, you’d also pay extra for calling and texting.
With a specialist SIM card, you can bring the cost down to as little as £1/day. Over a one-week trip, you can save in the region of £18 per handset. You can also save money when calling and texting home. This article reviews the best deals.
If you’re visiting either Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, 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 gets you 500MB of data abroad, 3000 text messages and 100 minutes for calling back to the UK.
For other EU countries, our recommended network is EE. For £1/day, you get 20MB of data 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 (starts from £10). For a £10 top-up, you get 500MB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 text messages (will last for up to 30 days). A £15 top-up gets you 25GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (once again, lasting for up to 30 days).
Although the tariff is primarily designed for use in the UK, you’re also able to use it abroad by taking advantage of the Feel At Home offer. Your All in One allowances currently work in 9 EU countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland. You can also use it 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)
N.B. The 321 tariff doesn’t offer savings when used internationally. You must buy an ‘All in One’ bundle to use allowances abroad.
EE (£1/day for 20MB data)
If you’re visiting a country that isn’t covered by the Feel At Home offer*, our recommended deal is an EE SIM card with the £1/day Euro Roaming Data Add-On. For £1/day, you get 20MB of data to use throughout Europe (this should be enough for the typical smartphone user). If you exceed the 20MB limit, you can buy another 20MB add-on for £1/day extra. Heavy data users can instead buy the 100MB add-on (£3/day).
With the £1/day add-on, a £10 top-up will allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for a period of 10 days.
Unlike Three, calling and texting isn’t included on the deal from EE. You can either pay £10 for 100 minutes of calling (lasts for up to 30 days) or you can pay as you go (18.8p/minute for outgoing calls, 4.9p/minute for incoming calls and 5.9p for every text sent).
- EU Roaming Data Price: £1/day for 20MB
- Overages: £1/day for 20MB extra
- £10 top-up buys: 10 days of smartphone usage in Europe
* EE 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, Slovenia and Spain. For other EU countries, the tariff from Three offers better value.
O2 (£1.99/day for 50MB)
Customers on O2 can benefit from a service called O2 Travel. This gives you 50MB of data for £1.99/day. It’s more generous than EE’s 20MB offering but you’re also paying double the amount. For anyone looking to access maps very occasionally, EE’s 20MB should easily be enough. However, for anyone regularly sharing photos and posting on social media, O2′s 50MB could work out better value.
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 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 50MB
- Overages: Option to purchase another 50MB for £1.99.
- £10 top-up buys: 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe
Vodafone (£2/day for 25MB)
At present, Vodafone are charging £2/day for 25MB of internet in Europe. If you exceed the daily limit of 25MB, you’ll be charged for further usage at 19p/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 doesn’t convert automatically into a 30-day bundle. Apart from Freedom Freebees, any of the tariffs offered by Vodafone will be fine for this purpose.
- EU Roaming Data Price: £2/day for 25MB
- Overages: 19p/MB once you’ve used more than 25MB/day
- £10 top-up buys: 5 days of smartphone usage in Europe
If you’re a Vodafone Pay Monthly customer, this deal isn’t available to you. Instead, you’ll pay 19.8p 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 (discounted to £2/day until the end of August 2014) and any data usage will be deducted from your UK price plan.
How to Enable Data Roaming
By default, most smartphones aren’t configured to use data 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 order a UK-based SIM card and to top it up before you leave home. Depending on where you’re going, our recommended network is either Three or EE. A £10 top-up will allow you to use your phone in Europe for either a month or a period of 10 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 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 wi-fi is 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 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 10 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 an iPhone or 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+.