Do we have to use different sim cards in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Russia? Were you able to get them at the airports? Instead, is it better to purchase a prepaid card in the US before we depart? What have others done? Thanks for your help! Arlene
Last summer I went to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and then Poland. We had what I would have to charitably describe as "mixed" results.
We started with a couple "Orange Holiday SIMs" purchased at home in the US on Amazon before we left, which in theory was supposed to work for calls and data in "all EU countries". We used that without any problems during a stop in Amsterdam on the way over (we were there for about 24 hours).
The Orange SIMs stopped working when we got to Lithuania. We bought cheap SIMs from a convenience store in Vilnius, and those worked for a few days.
Once we crossed the border into Latvia, those stopped working. I think we bought another couple of SIMs in Riga, which did work for several days in Latvia, and I think continued to work after we crossed into Estonia (hard to remember now...we went through a lot of SIMs on that trip).
After several days in Estonia, we flew to Poland. Down the street from our BnB, there was an "Orange" shop. We dug out our original Orange Holiday SIMs and had those re-filled at the Orange shop. Those worked briefly for a few test text messages (we apparently ran out of text messages by making the test) and worked for calls for two days, then apparently that ran out too. We bought some local cheapo SIMs which worked for the next couple days (Krakow and Warsaw) before we flew home.
Overall, I would say that we spent about as much time trying to find SIMs, buying SIMs, futzing around with them and trying to understand the voice messages we received from each service provider as we did actually using the services we paid for (of course, the voicemail messages from the providers were always in a language we don't understand...I can manage English, Spanish, French, some Italian, but when I need to understand recordings in Latvian, I'm in trouble). Maybe we just got unlucky with the SIMs we bought, but it was not a seamless, enjoyable process. Throw Russia in the mix, and I think you should keep your expectations calibrated. I would not plan on things being simple.
Wonderful places to explore, but we had some challenges with this aspect of it (SIMs and service). Good luck and hope that helps.
I would use Google Fi. I have used it with no buying or changing of Sim cards in Wales, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Prague and has a friend who regularly used it in places like China and Bosnia with no issues.
I've had great luck with my Dutch Vodafone SIM on two trips now. It has worked great in Slovenia, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, without needing to muck with anything. I've never used in the Netherlands yet, however. I bought it on eBay and add money to it + activate bundles on the Dutch Vodafone website (use Google Translate to translate Dutch to English automatically).
This SIM will work for data in Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland without roaming fees. Russia is not in the EU zone for no-roaming, so I'd buy a Russian SIM to use there - the Dutch Vodafone SIM would be expensive to use there. At least you'd need to buy only two SIMs. Note that you might need to set the APN (Access Point Name) in your phone to get mobile data to work correctly. I've never needed to, but some phones apparently require this still, even expensive ones.
Apparently the APN setup for the Dutch Vodafone SIM is:
Username and Password: vodafone
The Vodafone SIM isn't ideal for making local calls in Europe, though. You do get a Dutch phone number, and incoming calls and texts are free. So you can give the Dutch number to locals who need to reach you. But you might sign up for WhatsApp which is a popular VOIP calling app in Europe.
I used T-Mobile in 2016 when I visited the Baltic countries + Russia, but it was a little cheaper then (I signed up for it only for a month so I could use it on the trip). They have free unlimited roaming data in those countries - it was nice to have. Sprint has a similar roaming plan. Calls are 25 cents a minute.
This SIM will work for data in Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland without roaming fees...
Just a word of caution: the Orange Holiday SIMs I purchased claim coverage in 30 EU countries, including Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (just checked their website, and the same claim still appears). We were never able to get ours to work in those three countries (it did work just fine in Amsterdam one morning, we flew to Vilnius, and it stopped working). All we could get in all three Baltic countries was a recording that said something like "service unavailable" (the recording was in French, so I could get the gist of it, if not understanding every word perfectly). It did work in Poland (although only briefly, until we ran out of minutes or text messages or data or something else).
My point being that broad claims of EU-wide service may not always translate into usable service in countries on the fringe of the EU, so keep expectations in check.
I have never used the Orange SIM so can't comment on it. I've only used the Vodafone SIM - and T-Mobile (and Sprint) US service. I really don't consider the Baltic countries "fringe" EU countries; they are not exactly third world countries. Skype was invented in Estonia, after all. My T-Mobile service worked flawlessly in all of these countries. I would expect Vodafone would too.
One thing I have found I need to occasionally in Europe when roaming (whether using Sprint, T-Mobile, or Vodafone) is to choose a different mobile network to register on. Sometimes my phone would pick a non-optimal network that wouldn't work very well. It's pretty easy to go into phone settings and scan for new mobile networks. You'll only get three or four choices. Just try them all if the first one didn't give you good service; your mobile company may have several roaming partners in each country. I used two different mobile networks in Lithuania with T-Mobile; in Vilnius, I had good service with one but not when I went to Kaunas - I manually picked a different one that worked better there.
Also, I'd take 5 minutes and figure out how to set an APN on your phone. It's not intuitive, but it's pretty easy to do in your phone settings once you figure out ahead of time how to do it for your particular phone. Just look it up ahead of time so you don't have to go mucking with it later. I've not needed to do it with Vodafone's SIM but it seems some people need to. Set it once and forget it.
I really don't consider the Baltic countries "fringe" EU countries; they are not exactly third world countries.
Now, now, I never said that. They are nothing like third-world countries (sometimes like second-world countries, if you look in the right places). But in terms of being seamlessly integrated with the rest of the EU in some ways...IME not exactly like hopping between Germany and France, for example. Some things are not up to the same standards one might expect from experiences elsewhere in the EU (eg trains, secondary roads...heck, Vilnius International Airport). They're certainly on the fringe geographically. My point remains: just don't be shocked if you run into a few surprises there. One surprise that we ran into was with our SIMs which were alleged to work "in all EU countries" but would not in at least a couple of the Baltics.