It seems that it was just yesterday when travellers to Europe had to be huddled around a computer in an internet cafe or buying international phone cards to call back home. These days, one of the first things visitors to the continent wonder is what is the best SIM card for Europe with data to take with them.
While you can certainly debate the various pros and cons that having constant internet access has had on travel, it’s undeniable that having a travel SIM makes the logistic aspects of travel a lot easier. Whether it’s finding directions to your hotel, hunting for a good place to eat or being able to easily stay in touch with family or friends, having a prepaid SIM card for Europe makes all this possible!
Are you wondering what the best travel SIM for Europe is? This article outlines all the best SIM cards to use in Europe to add to your packing list and what you need to check before you leave on your European adventure to ensure you can use your SIM card in Europe without any problems!
Best SIM Card for Europe Comparison
|Three Prepaid SIM Card
Expiry: 30 days
Calls: Unlimited (UK/EU only)
SMS: Unlimited (UK/EU only)
Hotspot Allowed?: No
Countries Covered: 71
|Orange Prepaid SIM Card
Expiry: 14 days
Hotspot Allowed?: Yes
Countries Covered: 30
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|EE Prepaid Data SIM Card
Expiry: 90 days
Hotspot Allowed?: Yes
Countries Covered: 48
|Giffgaff Prepaid SIM Card
Expiry: 12 days
SMS: Local Only
Hotspot Allowed?: Yes
Countries Covered: 37
|Cellhire Prepaid SIM Card
Expiry: 60 days
Hotspot Allowed?: Yes
Countries Covered: 36
Will my Phone Work in Europe?
Before jumping into what the best international SIM Card for Europe with data is, you need to ensure that your phone will actually work when you arrive. Most carriers around the world allow for international roaming, meaning your phone will work as soon as you arrive in Europe. The bad news? This service tends to be outrageously expensive and should be avoided at all costs – particularly if you’re planning on using data abroad.
Some carriers might offer an international data option, however, these plans also tend to be expensive, particularly when compared to prepaid SIM cards that you can buy online.
This means that the best option is to buy a prepaid SIM for Europe. Unfortunately, many phone providers obviously don’t want to make it easy for you to use another carrier abroad. These are, therefore, some things that are essential to consider before purchasing an international SIM card for Europe.
Does Your Phone Use GSM?
Mobile phones around the world use one of two different types of technology: CDMA or GSM. Without getting into the technical differences between the two, it means that you can’t put a SIM card that uses GSM into a mobile phone with CDMA technology or vica-versa.
In most of the world, including Europe, mobile phones use GSM technology. So if you’re travelling to Europe from anywhere except North America, then your phone will be compatiable in Europe.
In North America, whether your phone uses GSM or CDMA will depend on your provider. Out of the major providers in the USA, T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM while Verizon and Sprint have historically used CDMA.
However, Verizon is planning on switching off its CDMA network by 2020 and there is talk of other CDMA providers doing the same. In Canada, the use of GSM or CDMA varies by province.
If your phone uses CDMA, then these travel SIM cards won’t work in your phone. A possible solution is to buy a cheaper unlocked phone to use for your trip to Europe. You should however do the math and compare the cost of a new phone compared to using an international data pack with your existing provider.
If you’re planning on going to Europe for more than a couple weeks you might be surprised that buying a new phone and a prepaid SIM card for Europe actually turns out to be cheaper!
For example, Verizon, charge $10 per day to use your phone in Europe. If travelling for a month, that’s $300 in extra fees — which would add a significant amount to your overall Europe trip cost! Some unlocked phones that I recommend for travellers to Europe are the Samsung J2 Prime or Samsung A50
Another option if you don’t want to buy a new phone is to invest in a mobile WiFi hotspot which is particularly useful if travelling outside of the European Union. You can also rely on public WiFi which is commonly available in Europe, however, make sure you subscribe to a quality VPN such as ExpressVPN.
If you’re unsure which technology your phone uses, call your provider and ask.
Is My Phone Unlocked?
The next thing you need to consider is whether your mobile phone is unlocked or not. Typically, when you go on a mobile phone plan, they lock your mobile phone so it can’t be used with SIM cards that aren’t provided by your carrier.
If your phone is currently locked to your provider and you are not under contract with them, then call them up and ask them to unlock your phone. They are required to do this legally and it shouldn’t cost you anything.
If on the other hand, you are under contract with your mobile phone provider, then they will likely request a huge fee (or deny you all together) to unlock your phone. In this situation, one option is to find a third party to unlock your phone for you. These are often significantly cheaper however it might void your warranty with the mobile phone provider.
If unlocking your phone isn’t possible then you’re left with the same dilemma as if you’re mobile phone uses CDMA technology. You can either opt for an expensive international data pack or buy an unlocked phone online and pick one of the best prepaid SIM cards for Europe outlined below.
Make sure to also check the speed that is offered on international data packs. A number of carriers only offer slow mobile data speeds such as 2G which will make accessing the internet on the go a slow and painful process, particularly if relying on data when driving around Europe!
Best International SIM Card for Europe with Data
These are some of the best SIM cards for Europe travel if you want to ensure you have easy access to data and making phone calls!
This Three Prepaid SIM Card is undoubtedly one of the best SIM cards for travelling Europe. It comes with 12GB Data, unlimited calls and texts that can be used over a 30 day period. This SIM card will work across 71 countries worldwide including all countries within the European Union.
If you’re from one of these 71 countries that include places like the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand & Singapore you can activate your SIM card at home to ensure that it works before travelling to Europe.
This fantastic international SIM card is run by Three UK meaning you can easily recharge online or via the phone while on the road without any language barriers if you speak English.
A couple of things to keep in mind with this SIM card is that you can’t use it as a personal hotspot when abroad and to make sure to switch off data if visiting a country that isn’t included in their 71 countries list as the data roaming costs can be very expensive.
You can also use the minutes included in the pack to only call other UK or European numbers so this SIM card isn’t ideal if you plan to call other international numbers. Though, there is obviously plenty of data to use for Whatsapp or Skype instead!
If you are going on a longer trip to Europe, it’s also possible to purchase a Three SIM Card with 12GB data and 1-year validity or alternatively 24GB data and 2 years validity here. However, there are no calls or SMS credits available with these SIM cards.
This Three Prepaid SIM Card is undoubtedly one of the best international SIM cards for Europe if you’re looking for a large data limit and the ability to call other European numbers when abroad.
The Orange Prepaid SIM is one of the best roaming SIMs for Europe as the plan allows you to use your minutes allowance to call anywhere worldwide. It comes with 2 hours and 1000 texts that can be used to call any number as well as 20GB of data that works across the UK and many European countries.
The prepaid credit is active for 14 days so is ideal for heavy data users who want to call back home and are going on a short European holiday. You can easily top up your credit online with an international credit card and there are several options to choose from.
The Orange Prepaid SIM also allows you to use it as a mobile hotspot making it ideal for travellers who want to have internet access on their laptops or tablets which makes it undoubtedly one of the best SIM cards to use in Europe and the UK.
If you don’t need the ability to make phone calls to other numbers and are simply looking for the best data SIM for Europe then this EE Prepaid Data SIM is a fantastic option.
Coming with 6GB of data it has the advantage of only expiring after 90 days compared to the Three Prepaid SIM which has a larger data limit but expires after 30 days. This makes this SIM card a fantastic option for lighter data issues or if planning multiple shorter trips in Europe over a long period.
Another advantage of the EE Prepaid Data SIM is that you are able to use it as a mobile hotspot though this can obviously quickly use up your data!
If you simply want to get as much data as possible for your European trip, then this Giffgaff Prepaid SIM is a fantastic option.
The SIM card comes with 20GB of data that can be used across the UK and the majority of European countries. The credit expires within 12 days making this one of the best data SIMs for Europe if you’re a heavy user. It also allows you to use the data as a hotspot, making it ideal for situations where you don’t have WiFI access.
You can call and text other numbers within the same country you are in but call credits for back home are not included.
So if you’re travelling with friends this make the GiffGaff Prepaid SIM a great option if each person buys one as you can easily keep in touch. It is possible to call other UK phone numbers however there are additional charges.
This Cellhire Prepaid SIM Card comes with 8GB of data that is valid for 60 days and can be used across 36 European countries. It doesn’t come with any phone call allowance and cannot be recharged after it’s initial use.
This SIM card is a good option for travellers who might not be regular visitors to Europe and just want to buy a single SIM card that they can use once. You are also able to use it as a hotspot to connect other smartphones so can be a good option if travelling with a friend or as a couple and you want to share data access.
The Cellhire Prepaid SIM Card comes in variable data limits so you can choose a card that is suited to your expected data usage!
What About Buying a Local SIM Card?
There are a couple of reasons why I think buying a global SIM card is a better option than purchasing a local SIM card when you first arrive in Europe.
One of the main advantages of buying a global SIM card is that you can ship it your home address and be able to use it as soon as you arrive in Europe.
If you choose to buy a local SIM card, then you won’t have data access when you first arrive (which can be very handy when trying to get to your hotel or hostel jetlagged!) and you need to spend precious time going into a store in Europe to buy a SIM card.
There might also be language barriers in buying and activating a local SIM card. In some countries, you are required to have a passport or local address to buy a local SIM and it can be harder to understand exactly what data or calls are included. This might result is unexpected charges which can easily be avoided when buying a global SIM card!
When travelling to Europe, having access to data on your phone can make your trip infinitely easier. Buying one of these best SIM cards for Europe with data will make it straight forward to have internet access as soon as you land!
Are you wondering what the best international SIM card for Europe is? Which ones do you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!