Best SIM Cards For Using Your Smartphone in Europe

March 31st, 2015

With the right SIM card, you can use your smartphone in Europe for as little as £10 for 30 days. We review the best value SIM cards for travelling in Europe.

You can use your smartphone abroad in Europe for as little as £10 for 30 days.

Smartphones can be a great asset when you’re travelling abroad. It’s incredibly useful to be able to pull out your 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 from your trip. You can find a lesser-known attraction that’s off the beaten tourist trail or 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 whether you’re sharing photos with friends on Facebook and Instagram, there are numerous ways to stay in touch when using your smartphone abroad.

The good news is for anyone travelling to a European country, the costs of using your smartphone abroad have dropped substantially. Calls now cost a maximum of 18.8p per minute and text messages shouldn’t cost more than 5.9p each. For accessing the internet, costs can still vary widely depending on your network. With the right tariff, you’ll be able to use your smartphone for as little as £10 for 30 days or £1.99/day. In this article, we look at the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.

The Costs of Using Your Smartphone in Europe

Going Abroad

It’s now cheaper to use your smartphone abroad.

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a major reduction in smartphone roaming costs for UK residents travelling to Europe. Providing you’re visiting another country within the EU, there’s now legislation that sets the maximum amount networks are allowed to charge you for using your smartphone abroad.

If you’re visiting an EU country, the maximum amount you’ll be charged for calls, texts and internet are as follows:

Activity Outgoing Incoming
Phone Calls 18.8p/minute 4.9p/minute
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: if you’re travelling outside the EU, roaming charges can be substantially higher. The maximum charges listed in this table have applied in the EU since July 1st, 2014. Prices include UK VAT at 20%.

In practice, most networks choose to charge the maximum amount permitted by EU law (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 still some potential for the charges to add up. The average smartphone user currently consumes around 20MB of data per day. At the maximum permitted EU roaming rates, you’ll currently pay around £4/day to access the internet (around £28 for a one-week trip or £56 for a two-week trip). In addition, you’ll also pay more every time you call or text.

With a specialist SIM card, you can bring the cost down to as little as £10 for 30 days. For a one-week trip, you’d save in the region of £18 per person. For a two-week trip, the savings increase to £46 per person. You’ll also save money when using an appropriate SIM card for calling and texting leading to an even bigger saving in total. In this article, we review the best value SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.

Recommended Deals

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 50MB of data to use anywhere 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 (starting from £10). A £10 top-up will give you 500MB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 text messages (the allowances will last for up to 30 days). A £15 top-up gives you 25GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (once again, the allowances will last for up to 30 days).

The All in One SIM card is a UK-based Pay As You Go tariff. After buying an All in One bundle, you’ll be able to use it in the UK and also in 10 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 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)

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

Note: You must buy an All in One bundle if you want to use your allowances abroad (the 321 price plan only applies when you’re in the UK). If you’re a heavy data user, we recommend buying the £15 bundle (this will give you up to 25GB of data to use when abroad).

Feel at Home European Flags

Three’s Feel at Home offer can currently be used in 10 European countries: Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. It can also be used in some non-European countries (e.g. the USA).

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

O2 (£1.99/day for 50MB)

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 Pay As You Go O2 Travel offer gives you 50MB of data to use abroad for a fixed daily fee of £1.99. You can use the data in any EU country. With the average smartphone user normally consuming around 20MB per day, the 50MB allowance should be more than ample.

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 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 on the offer from Three, calling and texting isn’t included on the offer from O2. You’ll pay 18p/minute for outgoing calls, 4p/minute for incoming calls and 5p for every text message you send. If you want to use the SIM card for calling back to the UK, you should ensure you’ve topped up with a sufficient amount of credit.

  • 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 (excluding calls & texts)

Order O2 Big Talker/O2 International SIM card (Free) »

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.

O2

O2 provides the best value deal in other EU countries such as Belgium, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Vodafone (£3/day for 100MB)

At present, Vodafone is charging £3/day for 100MB of data in Europe. If you exceed the daily limit of 100MB, you’ll be charged for further usage at 19p/MB.

The easiest way to access this offer 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 through the post. You can choose any tariff providing your airtime credit doesn’t convert automatically into a bundle. Apart from the Freedom Freebees tariff, any other tariff offered by Vodafone should be suitable for this purpose.

  • EU Roaming Data Price: £3/day for 100MB
  • Overages: 19p/MB once you’ve used more than 100MB/day
  • £10 top-up buys: 3 days of smartphone usage in Europe (excluding calls & texts)

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) »

Once you’ve received the SIM card from Vodafone, you’ll need to opt-in to the EuroTraveller offer. You can do this by texting EURO to 2345. Alternatively, you can call 5555 to enable the offer.

The EuroTraveller offer is also available on Vodafone Pay Monthly for £3/day.

EE (£3/day for 50MB)

EEFor £3/day, customers with an EE Pay As You Go SIM card get 50MB of data to use throughout Europe. This is with EE’s Pay As You Go Euro Roaming Data Add-On. If you exceed the limit of 50MB/day, you can buy another 50MB add-on for £3/day extra. Heavy data users can alternatively choose an add-on with more data: either 100MB of data (£5 for 24 hours), 200MB of data (£12 for 7 days) or 500MB of data (£25 for 7 days).

With the £3/day add-on, a £10 top-up would allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for a period of 3 days. It costs 18.8p/minute to call back to the UK and 4.9p/minute to receive a phone call. Text messages costs 5.9p each. You should top-up your phone with extra credit if you’d like to call or text using the SIM card.

  • EU Roaming Data Price: £3/day for 50MB
  • Overages: £3/day for 50MB extra
  • £10 top-up buys: 3 days of smartphone usage in Europe (excluding calls & texts)

Order EE SIM card (Free) »

How to Enable Data Roaming

By default, most smartphones are configured not to use data when you’re travelling abroad. This is because international roaming is typically very expensive. If you’re using one of the deals mentioned in this article, it’s safe to enable data roaming on your handset. To do so, follow the relevant 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’.
  • 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 in this article, the easiest way of getting online is to order a UK-based SIM card for use when abroad (you can activate and top up the SIM card before you leave home). Depending on the country you’re visiting, our recommended network is either Three or O2. With Three, a £10 top-up allows you to use your phone in Europe for up to 30 days (selected countries only). On O2, a £10 top-up will allow you to use your smartphone in Europe for up to 5 days.

If you’re looking to save even more money, there are two alternatives:

Wifi

It’s free to get online with wi-fi.

  • Use free wi-fi networks. Your hotel may provide free wi-fi internet. You may need to ask at 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 using wi-fi exclusively is you won’t have internet when out and about. Online mapping apps normally require a mobile internet connection. When using wi-fi exclusively, you’ll also miss out on 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 one month), it might be cheaper to pick up a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting. 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 can involve a bit of hassle. Due to security restrictions, many European countries require you to provide ID (e.g. a passport) before you’re able to get a SIM card. You may also need to have a working knowledge of the local language (you’ll need to converse with shop staff in the local language). Expect to pay around €10 for a local SIM card that includes one month of 3G data. You may also need to unlock your phone before leaving the UK. See our in-depth guides to unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy.

More Information

For more information, see our in-depth guide to using your phone abroad.

Our recommended tariffs for using your smartphone in Europe are Three’s All in One and O2’s Pay As You Go.

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

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+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 25 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Joe said:

    Hi Ken – I’ll be in Europe for 24 days (one week Italy, one week Germany, one week France, and 3 days Czech Rep. I have a Huawei e5787 Mi-Fi. Am I better off getting local sims or paying for a roaming one.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Joe,
      It depends very much on how much data you need in each country… the good news is that EU data roaming is capped at €0.20/MB + VAT on all European SIM cards (this is OK for moderate to light usage but it’s still €200 per gigabyte of data). If you need to use a fair amount of data, a local SIM card probably gives better value (this is unless you’re able to find a SIM card with fairly cheap roaming).
      Ken

  2. Paul Connelly said:

    Hi Ken
    We’re coming over from Australia for 12mths+ and travelling quite extensively thru’ the UK, West & Eastern Europe, including Croatia & Turkey.
    The recommended SIM deals (calls & data) you mention are restricted to just a handful of countries… is there any other option available that covers all “European” countries, incl the UK?
    regards
    Paul

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, at the moment, there aren’t many deals available for long-term travel in the EU (the only deals available are really for short-term trips abroad to another country). For UK residents, the £1.99 deal from O2 is fairly decent as it covers all countries through the EU (unfortunately, it doesn’t cover Turkey as they aren’t a part of the EU). If you’re willing to look at networks from across all the EU countries, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find an even better deal (unfortunately, I’m unable to advise as my knowledge extends only to networks in the UK!).
      Ken

  3. Paul said:

    Hi Ken, just to advise you that after being with three network for years and spending a lot of time in France and Spain, they have suspended my roaming service. Yes their feel at home deal is good, but last week whilst in France I received a text from them saying that I have used this service for more than 3 months in the year and my service will be suspended. Indeed it was and is still suspended which is very a annoying as I have about £50 credit which I cannot use! They say that the service will be reinstated when back in the UK.
    I do not make many calls or use a lot of data, it is mainly for my friends in UK to contact me. Can you suggest another operator?…. bearing in mind that that there is often little or no reception out of the towns abroad. Often no 2G or texts, so its a waste of money paying for something you cannot use.
    Regards, Paul.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that Three have disabled your international roaming for using the Feel At Home offer abroad for more than 3 months. It is a big problem for many people especially as Three doesn’t even allow you to pay their old rates to keep the SIM card active abroad (it would make more sense for them to simply turn off the Feel At Home offer than to turn off roaming entirely). If it helps at all, you’re not the only one to experience this problem: see the comments on my Feel At Home blog post for other reader’s stories of this happening to them too.
      In regards to a best value deal in France/Spain, I’m afraid I don’t know enough to recommend any specific network. What I would suggest is perhaps buying a UK-based Skype Online Number. That way, you’d be able to receive calls on a UK geographical number even when travelling abroad in another country (you’ll need a 3G/4G data plan and the Skype application to receive those incoming calls).
      Ken

  4. Kirsty said:

    Hi Ken

    I have been asked to find a good spanish sim for my employer who lives in Spain but comes back to the UK and Germany every month.

    He’s looking for a Spanish payg sim that offers very cheap calls to UK and also if possible the ability to call Germany and a good amount of data (1GB plus). Can you help? I have been on every website possible and because I’m in the UK i’m finding it really hard to find him the best deal.

    Thanks
    Kirsty

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Kirsty,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on the Spanish mobile market (you’d probably be better off consulting a Spanish website). A reader of this website did recommend the Orange Spain Go Europe deal. I’m not sure whether it meets your exact requirements and how it compares to other tariffs available – that said it’s probably still worth having a look!
      Ken

  5. Marcus Murata said:

    Hi Ken
    Nice service you are providing to help people get the best smartphone service possible. I have a question i’m from Brazil and i’m traveling to europe in march. I have an unlocked iPhone 6. I will arrive in sweden and the i will go to belgium and finish my trip in netherlands. I most interested on data service. Which provider sim card i should buy? And which plan i should get? Thank you for your help

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Marcus,
      Thanks for your comment. Because of EU roaming legislation, anyone with a European SIM card gets access to capped rates when using their phone in another European country (there’s a maximum charge of €0.19/minute, €0.06/text and €0.20/MB for accessing the internet). This will probably be cheaper than roaming on your Brazilian SIM card.
      Upon your arrival in Europe, you might want to pick up a local Pay As You Go SIM card (for you, take a look and see whether any Swedish network offers a particularly good deal when roaming in Europe). The plans I’ve reviewed and suggested on this page are from networks in the UK (so they’re only useful if you visit the UK during your trip).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  6. Terry Ann Crofts said:

    We are going to Lanzarote in January for a week and have a HUAWEI E5330 3G SIM Free Mobile WiFi (unlocked). What would be the best way to get online – not sure whether some of the deals mentioned on here cover the Canary Islands but don’t really want the hassle of buying a SIM card from a phone shop over there!!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Terry,
      Thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. For mobile broadband in a different country, your best bet would normally be to buy a SIM card locally in the country you’re visiting. It would be possible to roam on some UK SIM cards but this is likely to be incredibly expensive (around 19.8p/MB when travelling in Europe). Three’s Feel At Home is a good choice when visiting several countries but unfortunately Lanzarote & Spain aren’t currently included in the Feel At Home offer.
      Ken

  7. Trevor Harris said:

    WARNING about Spanish Go Europe deal.

    I am now in Slovenia SMS and internet works OK. But I can only call Spain and Slovenia on voice. I called customer support and they said that the 1euro for 60 mins only applies to to Spain and the country you are in. You need to get camel roaming activation for standard rate calls. I think you have to go to to an orange shop in Spain for this. Of course you might be able to use Skype but I have not tested this.

  8. Steve Tang said:

    Hi Ken

    I am an eBay reseller of Vodafone and all other UK sim cards. You mention under the Vodafone section above:
    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.How do you distinguish which type of vouchers do not automatically convert to Freedom Freebees 30 day bundles ?

    We top up for customers once they confirm safe receipt of their Vodafone SIM cards, every time we apply the top up using a voucher, it converts to the Freedom Freebee without exception. Vodafone have decided to do this as a default for new SIMs, starting from around the beginning of August 2014. Today their customer services have confirmed this is the case.

    And the worst thing is that, the automated system (dialling 03333 048 048) on topping up does not warn you. Our overseas customers order their SIM cards weeks early, so by the time they arrive to the UK the 30 days bundle would have expired ? Now we are left with no choice but to ask each customer when is their arrival date and top up their SIMs one or two days prior. Vodafone are entirely to blame for this mess ? They call it Freedom Freebee- Where is the freedom to choose ??? Come on Vodafone get your acts together !

    Steve

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comment. I believe Freedom Freebee is now the default tariff on Vodafone SIM cards. However, customers choosing another tariff shouldn’t have their credit turned in to a Freedom Freebee (e.g. if you’re on the Freebee Minutes, Freebee Texts, Freebee Data or Freebee International Minutes tariff). Have you tried this using one of the free SIM cards available via Vodafone’s free SIM website?
      Many thanks,
      Ken

  9. Trevor Harris said:

    Hi Ken

    Feel at home now covers 16 countries. Now includes France, Switzerland, Israel, Switzerland, Finland and Norway.

    The EE deal now starts at £3 for 50 MB per 24 hours.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Trevor,
      Thanks for the heads up! Earlier in this article, I refer to the 9 EU countries as the topic of this article is specifically on travelling to Europe. You’re totally right in saying the Feel At Home offer is actually available in 16 countries across the world.
      Also, thanks for the heads up about the £1/day deal being scrapped by EE (a real disappointment to me personally!). I’ll update the article with the new details soon.
      Thanks so much again!
      Ken

  10. Trevor Harris said:

    Hi

    Just discovered topup.orange.com. I have just topped up my Spanish mundo card while in the UK. If you pay in euros there is no transaction fee for spain but beware of any foreign transaction fees charged by your credit card. I used a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. Cannot use it to topup UK sims. Many topup services don’t accept foreign credit card but this one does.

    Ken what about an article on internet topups.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Trevor,
      This is a really fantastic find (particularly the bit around topup.orange.com). I wasn’t aware of this as a potential way to top-up an Spanish SIM card – your suggested solution is really fantastic for anyone who visits Europe on a regular basis. I’ll be sure to try it out the next time I go on holiday!
      Ken

  11. Trevor Harris said:

    The best deal I have found is Mundo Spanish Mundo Orange Go Europe deal. ! euro per day for 100 MB.
    Can be bought online and topped up. Ironically it is more expensive in spain.

    http://www.simcardspain.es/en/21-orange-mundo-spanish-payg-prepaid-3g-sim-card-internet-spain.html

    http://en.orange.es/mobile-service-plans/roaming/go-europe/

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Trevor,
      Thanks for this – €1/day for 100MB anywhere in Europe (exc. Spain) looks like a pretty good deal to me! It could definitely be an option for our UK-based readers though has a couple of downsides e.g. it’s a little complex to obtain the SIM card itself, it may be harder to top-up the SIM card with extra PAYG credit and the new SIM card will have a Spanish phone number beginning in +34 (it’s more expensive if your friends wanted to call you on the number).
      Aside from that, it looks really good – thanks a lot for sharing the info!
      Ken

    2. SN replied:

      Thank you for this information regarding this Orange option – I will be testing this sim out with the Go Europe deal but sounds like it could be a life saver and even better now with the online top-up. Cheers

  12. tammy said:

    Do you have info about travel to non European locations such as south America, New Zealand? Thanks for any help and your info on EU is extremely helpful. Thx

  13. Jaime said:

    The Vodafone deal is only available if you have a contract- you cannot get it on a pay-as-you go plan

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Jaime,
      Thanks for the heads up! I’ve just re-written the article based on the recent price drops for roaming in the EU. Vodafone is now offering 25MB of data for £2/day (you can verify this by choosing a European country on the Vodafone PAYG page for Travelling Abroad).
      Ken

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