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SIM card for phones in Europe?

Is it necessary to get a SIM card while in Europe? Do I need just one for all the countries? : London, Paris, Belgium, Amsterdam, and Germany.

My Eurail train pass includes a discount offer for $28 through the Eurail company. But they need to ship it to me but we leave in just a few days. So not a lot of time. Does that sound like a good deal? I'm told that I can get a SIM card when we arrive in London? But where can I buy it?


Todd M.

Posted by
27707 posts

What do you get for your $28 (US, Canadian, Australian?)?

For how long?

How many minutes? Which network? How many texts? How much data?

Posted by
1339 posts

If you are headed to London first you can stop by a carphone warehouse shop. Ask for a plan that suits your needs (data, texts, calls, calls to US).

I have used Vodafone for my needs and it has worked fine. I get one of their big value bundles.

The EU has roam like at home regulations which should allow you to use the plan you pick in any of the places you have listed. The only glitch is possibly with Giffgaff as it seems that they require a period of usage in the UK prior to roaming into the EU. This time period is not clearly defined.

The plans are generally for 30 days so if your trip is longer you may need to renew, top up or get a new plan.

Also it is also unknown what will happen to EU roaming post brexit.

Posted by
4923 posts

A SIM with mobile data is cheap and saves me hours of frustration planning time when I travel - free WiFI isn't enough to use my phone to navigate with walking and public transit directions. On my last trip to Italy in May, I spend all of 9 euros for 2GB of mobile data on my Dutch Vodafone SIM, and that was more than enough for my ten day trip. It saved lots of time - e.g. buying local train tickets on the fly on my phone on demand ("ready to head back to the town where I'm staying; buy the ticket for the next train back that leaves in 20 min, no need to wait in a line for tickets at the station"). Can't imagine doing without a SIM just to save 9 euros.

Posted by
109 posts

For what it is worth - check with your carrier about their International plans. I know that both Verizon and At&T have a $10/per 24 hour period plan. You can turn it off/on at will. From what I understand, it is then operational for 24 hours. I am going in October and will which it out myself (I have At&T). A friend of mine has AT&T also and used it all around France last month and said it worked great. Not sure how it compares price-wise to other options, but sure seems easier :-)

Posted by
7572 posts

A friend of mine has AT&T also and used it all around France last month and said it worked great. Not sure how it compares price-wise to other options, but sure seems easier :-)

It is far more expensive. Yes it is convenient but you pay out the nose.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for all the responses.

I currently have Verizon and checked their travel setting recommendation and it costs, like, $10 per day.

Many folks have recommended that I buy a SIM card at Heathrow airport at a phone store once I arrive. I don't want to waste time standing in line there.

So, I found a SIM on Amazon for $18, called "3", with 5 GB data, unlimited texts, unlimited minutes,....for 30 days!

"3" is apparently one of the service providers in Europe. The SIM card got good reviews on Amazon. So we'll see.

Posted by
10051 posts

Do let us know how your “3” SIM works out for you. I have been nervous to purchase in advance of arrival for fear I won't get it set up correctly. Probably baseless fear, but we always pop into an EE store and have them set us up.

Posted by
11286 posts

Note that each country in Europe has their own cell phone plans. Many companies, like 3 or Vodafone, operate in more than one country, but they are still different plans. So, Vodafone in the UK will have different offerings than Vodafone in Spain, and you probably can't get service for a UK Vodafone account in a Spanish Vodafone store (any more than a T-Mobile store in Germany will be able to do anything with a T-Mobile US account).

However, within the EU, there is no longer any extra charge for roaming. Meaning, a SIM bought in London (UK) will not cost any extra to use in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, or Germany. You do have to make sure that the account on the SIM has roaming enabled (it's not always set by default).

You also have to check the terms of the EXACT plan you are getting. How much does it include of texts, data, and calls? Where are the calls to? (some plans have cheap calls to other countries in the EU, but expensive calls to non EU countries such as Switzerland or the US).

You can buy SIM cards at the stores of the various carriers (EE, Vodafone, etc) or can go to a Carphone Warehouse store, which handles SIM cards from multiple carriers. Here's a page from Carphone Warehouse detailing some of their prepaid SIM options; you'll see that for £10-15 you can get a lot of data, along with varying amounts of calls and texts:

Posted by
77 posts

Yesterday in London i purchased an EE month plan with 10GB data and a lot of minutes - more than a will ever use. I splurged the GBP 20 for the 10GB as I don’t know how much data I will use in 28 days for navigating, booking tickets, etc. I bought it at the EE store on Great Marlborough Street.

I brought along an unlocked Moto Android that I use for travel. I also have my US phone which I use on WiFi.

I asked the staff if I could use this SIM to roam in Switzerland, which is not part of the EU. They couldn’t answer.

Posted by
10051 posts

MJ, we have SIMs from EE and they worked in Switzerland last year. Will test them again starting Sunday!

Posted by
77 posts

Thanks! I will be traveling from the UK to CH in late October, so definitely curious!

Posted by
56 posts

We used a Voda Phone SIM card in Ireland last year. Purchased before leaving the Dublin airport. Could not get it to work in the android, but we were successful using it with the iPhone. We paid about $20 and it lasted all 10 days with enough data. Ironically, the phone number assigned to the SIM was in France. We were traveling in a group, so everyone also put Google hangouts/google email, etc... on their phones and that allowed for free texting/email whenever we had access to free wifi.

Posted by
153 posts

We bought 2 EE SIMS on arrival. Went into CarPhone Warehouse and since we just wanted a pay as you go the guy directed us next door to simply buy the SIM then activate by ourselves. It cost a pound or so each for the two SIMs, can't remember. Had few problems using the data, though we knew we were going into poor coverage rural areas. We purchased a 10 Gb plan for 15 pounds, a load of airtime and unlimited texts. I bought a second 15 pound pack once the first was done. In the end I used 17 Gb in 21 days, my wife used 4 Gb. We used it all across England, in Paris, and London. 47 pounds total for 2 usable phones for 3 weeks, lots of data. A great deal compared to what we usually pay in Canada.