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 £1.99/day. We review the best SIM cards for travelling in Europe.

You can use your smartphone in Europe for as little as £1/day.

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 free or for as little as £1.99/day. This article looks at the best SIM cards for using your smartphone in Europe.

The Costs of Using a Smartphone in Europe

Going Abroad

It’s now cheaper to use your smartphone abroad.

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:

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 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 £1.99/day. Over a one-week trip, you can save in the region of £14 per handset. You can also save money when calling and texting home. This article reviews the best deals.

Recommended 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 O2. For £1.99/day, you get 50MB 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)

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

N.B. The 321 tariff doesn’t offer savings when used internationally. You must buy an ‘All in One’ bundle to use allowances abroad.

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 SIM card with the O2 Travel offer. The Pay As You Go O2 Travel offer gives you 50MB of data for £1.99/day. With the average smartphone user 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 monthly allowance. Instead, you’ll need to choose a tariff that allows you to keep your credit. We recommend choosing the O2 Unlimited plan.

Unlike the offer from Three, calling and texting isn’t included on the deal from O2. You’ll pay 18p/minute for outgoing calls, 4p/minute for incoming calls and 5p for every text message sent.

  • 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

Order O2 Unlimited SIM card (Free) »

* 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, Slovenia and Spain. For other EU countries, the tariff from Three offers better value.

Vodafone (£3/day for 100MB)

At present, Vodafone is charging £3/day for 100MB of internet 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 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: £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

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) »

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 a lower rate of £3/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 on Pay Monthly contracts. This allows you to use your UK price plan whilst travelling in Europe. You’ll pay an additional £3/day with data usage being deducted from your UK price plan.

EE (£3/day for 50MB)

EEFor £3/day, customers with an EE 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. Alternatively, heavy data users could instead buy a 200MB add-on (£12, lasting for up to 7 days) or a 500MB add-on (£25, lasting for up to 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.

  • 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

Order EE SIM card (Free) »

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 O2. A £10 top-up will allow you to use your phone in Europe for either a month or a period of 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 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 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 an iPhone or 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 13 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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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