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 198 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Jim McNamara said:

    Hi Keith, I’m planning a trip to the UK (1st stop), France, Spain, and Italy in mid-September. I hope to be able to swap the nano sim from my iphone SE (A1662) to enable phone and sms (possibly very limited data, also) throughout these destinations. Will Three’s “all in one” plan work for me during my 30 trip?
    Also, is there any way to get the sim card ahead of time (so as to have a number), and activate on arrival @ Heathrow?
    Thanks for your help.
    Jim

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Jim,
      Many thanks for your comment. Three’s “All in One” plan will certainly work for you. Unfortunately, there’s no official way to get the SIM card sent out to you abroad, but it’s fairly easy to pick one up in almost any supermarket or mobile phone shop when you arrive in the UK. You can also order a SIM card in advance to be sent to your UK address (I’d avoid buying the SIM card at Heathrow if possible, as you’ll need to pay an extortionate amount for it).
      Ken

  2. lynn said:

    Thank you very much Ken for all the helpful information! I will be visiting Europe this summer from US and I will start with London. According to your information, I can buy any prepaid SIM card, top it up and I’ll be ready to go for the rest of my trip and the best plan the moment is the Three’s All in one 20 that offers 12GB?
    Does the prepaid SIM card work on unlocked devices? and is the Three’s All in one 20 plan available for tourists as well or just EU citizens?
    Please let me know, thank you very much!!

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Lynn,
      Many thanks for your comment. From June 15th, you’ll be able to use pretty much any UK Pay As You Go SIM card when travelling in the EU. Three’s All in One 20 is still a great choice however, and it’s fairly straightforward to get a SIM card when you’re in the UK. The SIM card is designed to work in unlocked GSM devices, and is available to everyone (no need to be a EU citizen).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  3. Adriana said:

    Hey Ken,

    I’ll be visiting UK and Amsterdam for a month, mainly in UK and was wondering if the Three £20 deal is a wise option? Is that considered a local SIM card or is that a prepaid sim?

    Or is there a better deal for me as I’m a data-heavy person. I’m looking to purchase the SIM card only when I reach to avoid delays in delivery.

    Sorry as I’m a bit confused with the deals and plans there and I hope you can help.

    Thank you!

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Adriana,
      Yes – I think Three’s All in One 20 is a fine choice, particularly if you’re a heavy data user in the UK & with some usage abroad in the EU. This is a pre-paid SIM card so no need to provide any ID or to undergo anything like a credit check. You just need to walk into a store in the UK and you can get the SIM card in person when you’re there.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

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