Adding credit to a foreign SIM

I've recommended buying a local SIM (and phone, if necessary) for communication and data needs when in Europe. Buying one from one of the U.K. carriers is my general advice, if possible. The biggest obstacle to using this SIM outside the U.K. has been adding credit to the account. The solution I've used in the past is to buy a top-up voucher off the U.K. version of ebay. I've now found a few more methods. My U.K. carrier does not recognize U.S. credit cards, with one exception I've just discovered: An American Express card will work. AMEX may decline your first attempt to use it but once you've spoken with the fraud prevention staff to assure them that you were in fact making the charge, a second attempt to use it will go through. An AMEX Optima card does not charge an annual fee, so you don't have to worry with that cost if you don't want to get a regular AMEX card. A U.K. company, phonepal.co.uk will sell you the top-up voucher code through a PayPal account. PayPal can be set up with a U.S. credit card. You can get the code in minutes, if you buy it during normal business hours in the U.K. Otherwise, you get it as soon as they open. It comes by an email message. There may be other sources that also let you use PayPal. Now topping up the account is much easier and faster. Here's the irony, though: Now that it has become so easy to use a U.K. SIM, carriers from the U.S. have made it easier and cheaper than in the past to stick with my home cell phone company for communication and data. Nothing beats sticking with your home number for convenience.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3582 posts

I'm too lazy for this LOL and just went with the (so far fabulous) post-paid route. I just need to charge my little phone before my next trip, then start yakking/texting once I get there. That's it! But I do thank you for the research and this thread! I'm sure this topic will be a moving target, so you have to keep on top of the latest 'tricks of the trade', unfortunately. And I have noticed that our EuroBuzz phones aren't quite the no-brainer that they once were over our regular phones and numbers, but the EuroBuzz phones are still so much lighter and 'disposable' (compared to a $$$ iPhone or comparable) that I'll continue to take them. Of course, I can mix-and-match the phones and SIM cards at will...

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Thanks, Eileen. What I'm noticing is that the differences between the various options are beginning to blur. Buying an international package from your normal phone carrier is getting to where it brings the price pretty close to what some of the travel phone companies charge. As I've said before, I look for the day when we won't even think about lower cost options because the phones we use everyday will work for about the same cost anywhere we go. I am old enough that it is already magic to me that I have a personal communicator that works the minute I step off the plane in a different country. I know we've all been on trips where once we'd left, no one could reach us until we returned home (and some die-hards still travel that way). How we take being able to easily communicate for granted now. And how frustrated we get when we can't for one reason or another.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

I know we've all been on trips where once we'd left, no one could reach us until we returned home (and some die-hards still travel that way). Isn't that part of the idea, to get away from it all... The last thing I want when I'm on holiday is constant chatter from home, so the phone gets left behind and the email goes uncheck! I take an IPodtouch with me for entertainment and in case I need Internet access but that is it.

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Jim, it depends. Sometimes for some people, getting away from it all is the idea. Sometimes, however, we can only partially get away. For example, if you have an elderly parent or if there are a few work demands or if your kids are in the care of another, having a reliable way to communicate may be the only way to achieve any degree of peace of mind. Sometimes, access to data is helpful for the trip (last minute bookings of lodging or making other types of reservations). So if you can disconnect and leave it all behind, more power to you. I look forward to taking a trip like that some day. For now, though, the connection elsewhere helps me take the trip now. It isn't the same, but it still is pretty good.

Posted by Carolyn
Western Washington, WA, USA
15 posts

I think Jim has hit the nail on the head. I have an elderly mother and without being able to be reached if something happens my travels would be very limited. And then there are those owners of B&Bs that insist you call before you arrive for one reason or another. Pay phones are becoming a thing of the past, and learning to use a different, foreign, phone system every few days can be a real headache. I'm thankful for cell phones. And with that being said, I now have to figure out HOW. We use a very simple pay-as-you-go cell at home. No 3G or similar, no contract. So we have to find something that will work for us on a 3-week trip to Switzerland and Italy this fall. Wish me luck!

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Carolyn, for emergency only or very limited local calling, T-Mobile prepaid may be an option for some. The calling cost are high - $1.49 a minute or more - but you aren't locked into a contract and may not have to invest by buying a lot of credit. You can also add credit using a U.S. credit card, or get someone back home to buy credit for you and give you the code. I plan to try out a prepaid account on a trip this summer and I'll post what I learn. That may help you with your trip this fall. Others have tried this route already with some success. Check out this thread and the links within it for more information: Cell phones in Europe. I'm doing this because I'm curious. I actually do most of my calling through other means, but if prepaid works, it will be a simple option for a lot of U.S. travelers.