Getting online while traveling can be frustrating at times as even when hotels, AirBnBs, and other types of accommodation claim to have speedy fast WiFi it can end up being unreliable. It’s also a security risk.
Using public WiFi whilst traveling can be easy, but you are left open to issues such as installing malware on your device, stealing passwords, identity theft, etc. If you’re like me and tend to visit a lot of remote places like the Isle of Mull in Scotland, you may find there’s nowhere offering fast reliable WiFi anyway.
The easiest way to stay connected is by using your phone’s data. But data roaming charges can quickly add up, leaving you with a hefty bill at the end of your trip. Especially if you’re visiting multiple countries. Luckily, international SIM cards can be a lifesaver for those who want to stay connected while traveling without breaking the bank.
An international SIM card (or global sim card) can allow you to make calls, send texts, and use data without having to pay over-the-top fees to your home carrier. With an international SIM card, you can save money on data roaming and stay connected to the internet while you’re on the go.
When purchasing an international sim, it’s important to pay attention to the coverage area. Some SIM cards only work in certain countries or regions, while others offer global coverage. You’ll also want to consider the amount of data, talk time, and text messages included in the plan, as well as the cost per minute or megabyte for any usage outside the sim card’s international roaming limit.
Things to know before buying an international sim card
Before buying an international SIM card, there are a few things to consider.
First, check whether your phone is unlocked. If your phone was purchased in the EU or the UK it’s most likely unlocked but do check as some phone networks still lock phones. If you’re in the USA, your phone is most likely locked to the network. Some will unlock the phone after a certain amount of time or once you’re out of contract but make sure to check if the phones are unlocked and how to get it done.
If you’re in another country, I also recommend checking as each country has different laws surrounding when phones have to be unlocked. If unsure, go to the store where you purchased the phone or contact your network if you’re on a contract.
This issue whenever you buy a sim card other than the network one, so if you choose to buy a prepaid local sim card instead of an international sim card you still need to check your phone is unlocked.
Next, make sure your phone can support the network frequencies for wherever you’ll be visiting. Most phones will work in the majority of countries, especially if you purchased one in the last 5 years. If you have a 5G or 4G phone, you’ll be able to use it in most places although 5G networks may not necessarily always be available (especially in remote areas like The Isle of Mull in Scotland, but if you travel to Amsterdam you’ll be fine.) If you have a much older phone that doesn’t support 4G, you may find some areas won’t have many network options available.
You can easily check network frequencies here, or just google “mobile network frequency in [country name]” and you’ll get the answer.
International sim cards can be expensive, and data rates can vary depending on which country you’re visiting. Make sure to check this before you arrive so you don’t end up with a huge bill.
Also, make sure to consider the cost of an international sim card vs a local prepaid sim card (and eSims and regional cards) as these can be cheaper.
Should I get a Prepaid Local Sim or International Sim Card?
When deciding which type of sim card to get, you should check things like:
- How many countries are you visiting? – If you’re only visiting one or two countries, where you can buy a local sim card then there’s really no need to get an international sim card. Just pick up a prepaid sim card that is either a locally purchased one, an eSim, or a tourist sim card instead. If you’re visiting 3+ countries then this is where the international sim card could become cheaper but it really depends on how long you’ll be in each country.
- How long will you be in each country? – If you’ll be in each country for only 1 or 2 days, quickly hopping from place to place then the international sim card will minimize the time you spend on finding local sim cards and more time enjoying the country. You might also find you don’t get much usage per country to make spending $10-30 per sim card worth it. If you’ll be in a country for more than a few days (I’d normally say 5+ days) then a local prepaid sim card could become much more affordable but it does depend on how much you’re using the sim card.
- How much data, calls, and texts do you plan on using in each country? – Consider how often you’ll need to use the sim card. International sim cards aren’t great for making calls/texts so if you want to call people for more than a few minutes, they can get expensive. If you’re using more than few hundred MB of data then I recommend looking at prepaid local sim cards. They’ll be much cheaper, especially if you can use an eSim as Airalo sells these starting at $5 for 1GB data.
- How easy is it to get a prepaid sim card (some countries have rules in place that make it more difficult)? – Some countries have annoying rules that make it harder to buy sim cards or limit you to basic plans. But thanks to companies like Airalo offering eSims, and also prepaid regional sim cards that can be purchased online before you go you can sometimes get around this.
- How much does a local prepaid sim card cost? – In most countries, you’ll need to spend at least $10 to get a prepaid sim card. Airalo’s eSims start at $5 for 1GB of data.
- Are you only visiting Europe? – If you’re only visiting European Union and EEA countries (e.g. Denmark, Amsterdam or Ireland) then you’ll find that these sim cards work across the whole of the EU+EEA (but not necessarily the UK as it’s no longer in the EU). So you can pick up a prepaid local sim card from a store when you land in your first EU/EEA country, and use some of the plans allowances in other countries as well. Most of these sim cards do have a limit on how much data can be used abroad so make sure to check that when purchasing. If you do hit the limit, you can always pick up another prepaid sim card. If you get an eSim, you can pick up a European regional one that covers the EU & just reload it whenever the plan runs out.
Whatever you do, when choosing a SIM card consider the length of your trip, the amount of data you’ll need, and the cost of the plan. Some cards offer unlimited data, while others have a cap on the amount of data you can use. Some of the sim cards only offer data, so if you do need to make calls/texts make sure to avoid those.
If you buy an eSim, and want to make calls you’ll still need to buy a physical sim card as travel eSims don’t currently support calling/texting. But on the plus side, they do allow you to keep your main sim card in your phone so you can still receive important calls/texts – e.g. bank authentication codes.
The Best International Sim Cards
eSims are a digital sim card, that you can download onto your phone. They’re a great replacement for the normal international data sim cards, which require you to swap out your own sim or have a 2nd sim card slot.
If you have a phone from the last 5 years, chances are it can support an eSim. You can check this list, to see if your phone supports an eSim. eSims are great because they let you keep your physical sim card in your phone, so there’s no risk of losing it and you can still receive calls/texts to your normal sim card. This is handy if you need to receive any verification texts from banks, apps/websites, etc. Many phones do have 2 dual sim card slots now, but still; it just reduces overall hassle.
Airalo is my favorite eSim store. They sell data only eSims for almost every country, and regional eSims + global eSims.
Airalo’s global eSims start at $9 and you’ll get data roaming in 85 countries such as the USA, Australia, Iceland, the UK, Spain, and Japan. Their eSims are data only so if you need to make/receive calls, you’ll need to get one of the global sim cards that can do this instead of, or alongside an eSim.
Here’s a list of the eSim global plans available through Airalo:
- 1GB data, valid for 7 days for $9
- 3GB data, valid for 15 days for $24
- 5GB Data, valid for 30 days for $35
- 10GB data, valid for 60 days for $59
- 20GB data, valid for 180 days for $89
Plus you can top up once you’ve used up your data or hit the end of your time period. It’s really easy to set up and they’re easily one of the best international eSim shops.
If you’re only visiting one region, then you might prefer to get a regional eSim. These are a bit cheaper per GB of data than worldwide eSims.
Airalo has eSims for the following regions:
Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card
If you’re looking for a cheap international sim card the Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card‘s combo deal is a great option. You’ll get 20GB of internet data, 120 minutes of international calls, and 1000 texts. So you can easily stay in touch with friends and family.
Reasons I like this sim card:
- 20GB of internet data on 4G networks in over 30 European countries
- Data tethering and use in hotspots allowed which is great for connecting all my devices (laptop, Remarkable 2 etc).
- Easy to use with a triple-cut SIM card (standard/micro/nano), 1 SIM holder, and 1 PIN
Things I don’t like about this sim card:
- Valid for only 14 days so not great for longer trips
- International calls limited to 2 hours – which is enough for most situations but sometimes calls to family go on for hours!
- Only covers certain European countries, mostly those in the European Union.
Installation is easy and the SIM card connects to the network almost immediately. The cellular data works well and data tethering is allowed, making it easy to use your phone as a hotspot. The triple-cut SIM card makes it easy to use with most devices, and the lack of activation means you can start using it right away. However, keep in mind that the SIM card is only valid for 14 days, and international calls are limited to 2 hours. Additionally, the card only covers certain European countries, so make sure to check if your destination is included.
If you’re looking to save money on data roaming while traveling in Europe, the Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card Combo Deal is definitely worth considering. With 20GB of internet data, 120 minutes of international calls, and 1000 texts, it’s a great option for staying connected while on the go. The easy installation and use make it a hassle-free option, and the data tethering and use in hotspots allowed is a great bonus.
Overall, if you’re traveling to Europe for a short period of time and want to stay connected without breaking the bank, the Orange Holiday Europe Prepaid SIM Card Combo Deal is a solid choice. Just keep in mind the limitations on international calls and the coverage area.
The HAPPY TRAVEL SIM is another one of the best global sim cards, that make roaming whilst traveling much more affordable + easier.
Reasons I like this sim card:
- The daily data cap resets every 24 hours.
- Worldwide coverage – this sim card works in almost every country.
- Simply email them to activate your SIM card, so it’s fairly striaght forward to activate.
Things I don’t like about this sim card:
- Only offers 1GB or 2GB of data per day, which might not be enough for heavy internet users.
- The coverage might not be as good as some other international SIM cards.
- The prices might be higher than some other options on the market.
I personally find that the HAPPY TRAVEL SIM is easily one of the best world sim cards for data roaming as the data resets every 24 hours. It’s aimed more at light internet users as you’ll have either 1 or 2GB data usage per day depending on which plan you pick. But still, the fact it resets is great + you only pay a set fee for the sim card rather than per day or per MB. So you can plan out your budget ahead of time, and won’t get shocked by a huge bill at the end of your tirp.
When it comes to picking a plan, you just pick the duration + overall data limit for the sim card duration – e.g. 10GB for 5 days so 2GB a day.
The sim card is a 3-in-1 so you can pop-out the size needed for your phone.
When you activate the sim card, you just email them and you don’t need ID. So this is a great way to get around the ID requirements in certain countries – e.g. Taiwan.
Pocket WiFi and Portable Hotspots
What is Pocket WiFi? How does it work?
Pocket Wi-Fi devices (also known as Mobile WiFi) work similarly to your wireless router at home. When turned on, it creates a wireless hotspot that anyone in the vicinity can connect to, assuming they have the password.
The device connects to a phone network, just like your smartphone, and then broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal that your devices can connect to.
Most pocket Wi-Fi devices are small and portable, so you can easily slip them into your pocket or bag and take them with you wherever you go. They typically have a battery life of at least 8 hours so you can use them all day without needing to charge them.
One of the biggest advantages of pocket Wi-Fi is that it allows you to connect multiple devices to the internet at once. This means that you can use your laptop, tablet, and smartphone all at the same time, without needing to switch between different networks.
They’re also great for traveling. Many pocket Wi-Fi devices are designed to work with multiple phone networks and in multiple countries, so you can use them wherever you go. This is super useful when traveling to multiple countries on the same trip, as you won’t need to worry about buying a new SIM card or paying for expensive roaming charges.
If you’re looking for a reliable and easy-to-use mobile hotspot router for your travels, RoamWiFi R10 is a great option to consider.
Reasons I liked this pocket wifi:
- Supports both 5GHz and 2.4GHz WiFi frequencies, so you can connect almost any WiFi device.
- Built-in 5000mAh battery that can last up to 18 hours, so you can use it all day then recharge overnight.
- Doesn’t require you to have an unlocked phone so great way of getting around carrier locks in the USA
- Selection of plans available so you cna pick one that meets your needs
What I disliked about this pocket wifi:
- Best for use in cities, I found it struggled to find networks in remote areas
- Refilling data can be a bit of a struggle as their refilling system isn’t that straight forward.
- The initial cost is a bit steep
- Not suitable for gaming as the ping is too high, but its ok for streaming Twitch.
I recently used RoamWiFi R10 on a 7-day trip to Seville and found it a great way of staying connected while on the go. The device was easy to set up, and I had a reliable connection + decent speeds throughout my trip. Although I did find it had too high a ping, for gaming. So if you’re wanting to play online video games, you’re better off using hotel WiFi or a local sim card.
When you first buy your RoamWiFi, there are 3 data plan + device packages available to pick from.
- 10GB of data that you can use in the USA within 30 days, plus another 1GB of international data.
- 100GB USA data for 90 days plus 1GB international data
- 50GB USA data for 60 days plus 1GB international Data
After the initial data plan runs out, you can pick from other plans such as $4.90 for 1GB data that lasts 7 days. So you don’t have to worry about purchasing a travel sim card while traveling within the USA or internationally. I also found the battery life impressive, allowing me to use it throughout the day without having to recharge it constantly. I charged it at night, and it took about 3 hours to recharge.
The only downside I experienced was that it took a while to find a signal in some remote areas, but once it connected, the speed was decent. Refilling data can also be a bit of a struggle, but it’s a minor inconvenience considering the convenience of having a mobile hotspot router while traveling. If you’re looking for a reliable and hassle-free way to stay connected while traveling, RoamWiFi R10 is definitely worth considering. It’s a bit pricey, but the convenience and peace of mind it provides are well worth the investment.
I’ve had the GlocalMe G4 Pro for a while, and I’ve always found it a great way to get data roaming across multiple countries as it doesn’t use a contract or SIM card. This mobile wifi is a great option for frequent travelers who want to stay connected without worrying about roaming fees, or long-term commitments and there’s not hassle of having to purchase a sim card whilst traveling.
One of the best features things about this pocket wifi is its global coverage in 140+ countries. I’ve always found it easy to connect to the internet seamlessly in various locations across Europe and Asia.
The GlocalMe app is also a useful tool for managing your data usage and tracking your connection status. It’s pretty easy to use + the ability to choose from flexible data plans based on your needs helps stick within a budget.
Although I have found that the data plans are somewhat limited compared to other pocket wifi devices on the market. While you can purchase data by the GB, day, or year, the options are still somewhat restricted. Additionally, the battery life could be better – I found that we needed to recharge the device fairly frequently, especially when using it heavily throughout the day. The RoamWifi covered above, offered much better battery life.
There’s also been some reports of issues with AT&T in the USAs network I haven’t used mine in the US so I haven’t experienced the issue myself but whilst the GlocalMe G4 Pro is advertised as being compatible with all major carriers, some reviewers say they have had connectivity issues with AT&T’s newer 4G LTE network.
Overall, this option is great as a sim card isn’t required and you do get good international coverage + a easy to use app. So its worth considering this if you are looking for a pocket wifi.
Things I liked about the GlocalMe
- No contract and no sim card required
- Global coverage in 140+ countries
- User-friendly app and visual interface
Things I didn’t like:
- Limited selection of data plans
- Battery life could be better
- Some compatibility issues with AT&T in the USA
If you’re traveling overseas a lot then you should definitely consider purchasing the SIMO Solis Lite 4G LTE WiFi Mobile Hotspot. It’s a reliable and portable Wi-Fi hotspot that provides fast internet connectivity in 135 countries.
It has multi-carrier access, so you can stay connected domestically or overseas with your personal Wi-Fi hotspot and Solis’ fast, reliable mobile data in over 135 countries around the world. The built-in 4700 mAh Power Bank lets you stay online all day long with 16+ hours of battery life. You don’t need a sim card, so you avoid any hassle of needing to buy a prepaid sim card for the device or different sim cards for each country you visit. The device automatically provides access to multiple carriers, giving you the best available signal with the fastest data whenever you’re visiting one of the supported countries.
You do need a smartphone for setting the device up but the installation process is straightforward. The device is a bit expensive, but it’s worth the investment if you’re a frequent traveler. They have a range of plans available so you can pick the best options for your travels but they can get a bit pricy. Although on the plus side, you can pick local or global data and different durations – day, weekly, or monthly. Plus there are no contracts, and you can cancel at any time.
Things I liked about the SIMO pocket wifi:
- Multi-carrier access so you can connect to the fastest network possible
- Built-in 4700 mAh Power Bank lasts 16+ hours and lets you charge your devices
- No SIM card is needed, so no need to buy sim cards for travel.
Things I didn’t like about it:
- Requires a smartphone for installation
- The device is a bit expensive
- Data plans can be pricey
I hope this guide has helped you understand what prepaid international sim cards, eSims and pocket wifis are available + helped you find which one meets your requirements.
As a frequent traveler that buys a sim card in most countires I visit, I have written plenty of other guides on the best travel sim cards to buy in dozens of countries. Here’s some of my popular guides you might find helpful: