Any SIM card purchasing advice for Europe?

I am thinking of using my Verizon iPhone 5 in Europe by buying pre-paid sim cards as needed. I would like to be able to use voice and data. Here are some basic questions I have: Can I buy one SIM card that I can use for my entire trip covering Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France and Ireland? or will I have to buy them as I go along and move from country to country? If I use Verizon's international plan (and dont buy SIM cards), I can basically get voice calls for $0.99 a minute (pretty pricey) and data for $25/100Mb. I know I can beat the voice rate with by buying sim cards, but what are the going rates for data plans on sim cards? Should I just stick with Verizon (it certainly would be simpler)? Any other SIM card related things I should know? Thank you. -Scott

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2848 posts

A SIM card bought in any of your countries will work in all the others. And, since they're all EU, there are caps on how much can be charged; it will be more when you are roaming out of the home country, but not extortionate. Of course, depending on how much you want to use, it may still be too much, in which case you may want to buy new SIM's for some of your countries. In your situation, I'd begin by investigating the plans available in my first European country, on Prepaid GSM dot net: http://www.prepaidgsm.net/en/operators.php. And if you are not able to find a suitable national carrier, look at the international SIM cards (choose the "International Cards" tab at the top of the page). The Forums on Prepaid GSM have very knowledgeable people, but the discussions there can get very technical; don't be afraid to ask for clarification.

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Scott, I have no experience with some of the countries you list, but do with others. I have successfully used a SIM card purchased from T-Mobile U.K. in the U.K. (naturally), France, Italy, and Germany. I did not have to buy a new SIM card for each country. And I've used it for data and for calls. I recommend this approach if you are comfortable with a couple of cautions: 1. You have to purchase all the credit you intend to use before leaving the country where you first bought the SIM or you have to make plans on how to refill the phone account. I've bought refill vouchers off ebay U.K. 2. The cost will be slightly higher than if you bought a new SIM card for each new country because you are roaming. 3. Data roaming isn't necessarily cheap, whatever plan you use. You have to really watch your data usage. 4. The setup for your account can be tricky because it is likely in the language of the country in which you are located (one big advantage for me of using a U.K. SIM). Not sure where you are headed first, so the availability of one phone card you can use everywhere may be more limited than my experience with a U.K. provider. Having said all that, the simpler native is to stick with Verizon and buy some roaming package from them and for data try to use available wifi. I use the U.K. SIM, but the costs on U.S. carrier plans have come down and are much more tempting to me than what was available a few years ago. AT&T has some half-way decent plans now, for example. Finally, you can get a SIM from a travel phone company that is designed to be used in multiple countries. The cost will be more than buying a SIM over there, but it may suit your purposes. Just go with a company that gets good reviews.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2848 posts

Paul makes a good point about refills. A friend of mine has a T-Mobile UK SIM that he refills online, with no problems. But when I tried to set up an online account with Mobiho (a French provider), I was not able to. If I had been counting on using the Mobiho SIM outside of France, I would have been out of luck once I ran out of credit. And he's right about languages; have the store make sure your phone is set for English before you leave. And if you want to understand the voice mail prompts, ask how to change them to English, too.

Posted by Alex
Longmont, CO, USA
342 posts

http://www.onesimcard.com/
I used them for our trip to Switzerland, Austria and Italy with no worries at all. Good price on data as well. Their customer service was great and I had no problems whatsoever with the service. I'll be using them again when we go to France and Germany next year.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2848 posts

Denise and Nancy: your differing experiences with the cost of calling the US is why I always start with Prepaid GSM dot net, and research costs before making any assumptions. Just as in the US, plans vary tremendously, and sometimes you have to do something to get a better deal than the default, high price. Two examples: For T-Mobile UK, they offer "boosters," where (for instance) texting a certain code to a certain number costs you £10, but gets you £20 of credit for calls to North America or £20 of data credit. For WIND in Italy, I had to text a certain code to a certain number and wait a few hours to get greatly reduced rates on international calls. I learned about these kinds of deals only with research (starting with Prepaid GSM and going to the websites of the carriers, using Google Translate if necessary). Since I make more calls back to the US than within a country, I've chosen plans that had somewhat higher local prices if I could get lower US call prices in exchange. Everyone has different needs, so the research (while time consuming) pays off.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

If you stick with some of the major carriers, Orange or Vodaphone as examples, you can always get service if you have a problem. I think the best price is to buy your card in the country you plan to use it in (when you arrive in that country). Have the store set it up for you, so you know it works and make sure you know how to add value later. I still use Skype on my ipod touch for calling home.

Posted by Denise
Lake Forest, CA, USA
1391 posts

This is what I have found works best for me. I take two cell phones. I sign up for the International plan on my locked, AT&T phone. This plan includes phone calls and texting. I also take an unlocked phone and have purchased a SIM card from T-Mobile in Europe for this phone. You can add more time to your SIM at gas stations in Europe. However, when I made a call to the States with this SIM card, I used 10 Euros in about 3 minutes. I now only use this phone to make calls within Europe to make/confirm hotel reservations. I do not make calls back to the States unless it is an emergency. It is very expensive to use. I communicate back home using email, IMing and texting. If I have to call back to the States, my International calling plan is the best solution for me. Hope this helps.

Posted by Stay-ce
Northern California
141 posts

I'm not an expert but I was told I can not use my current iPhone as it is not unlocked and under a current contract. That the only way an iphone can work with a SIM card is if it is out of contracted and unlocked.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7680 posts

Unlike Denise's experience, I found a local SIM I bought in Spain to be very inexpensive for calls to the US. I bought a SIM that cost 9 euro and it had 9 euro credit on it. I used it for three weeks for local calls (not many), and to call home to the States three times, each for about 10-15 minutes. I never did run out of credit on the SIM. Perhaps the difference is due to country, or phone company. But your phone must be unlocked to use a local SIM. I used my regular non-GSM phone (on wifi only) for data, and used an unlocked phone for local calls. Realistically, how many local calls dc you figure on making? You might find little need for that, and more need for calling back to the US. In that case, I think I would just go with your international plan.

Posted by Scott
Portland, OR, USA
3 posts

BTW, Verizon iPhone 5 is GSM unlocked by default. I have heard that the iPhone 4s is GSM capable, but isnt unlocked by default (Verizon will unlock it after a certain period of good standing on the account). A Verizon rep told me that I did have to have them (Verizon) allow international dialing, even if I use a sim card (not sure if they knew what they were talking about though). That was quick, easy and free though. I dont think I will be calling the US (except for emergencies), but would like some basic local calling for hotels, dinners, misc.. and data for directions, activity planning, and occaisional updates to friends at home. I think I am starting to like the Verizon international plan. $0.25(US$) per Mb = 0.19 Euro per Mb. Of course, I will always try to use wifi when possible. I will check the data rates on some of those websites mentioned above to see how they compare to 0.19 Euro per Mb. Thanks.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7680 posts

The SIM I used was from Orange, which was the company my Spanish friends recommended to me. On a slightly related topic, my Spanish friend found, while visiting here, that he used up his minutes more quickly when he was calling a cellphone in Spain rather than a landline. Perhaps Denise's experience was related to calling a cellphone instead of a landline? From lots of posts here, it would seem that my experience (low-cost calling to the US) was more common than hers. One of my three calls was to a cellphone, but there didn't seem to be a measurable difference in how fast I used my minutes.

Posted by Kia
Toronto, ON, Canada
112 posts

There are several companies that sell prepaid SIM cards for international use, so check the rates they're offering before making a decision - they vary substantially, especially the data rate. Also watch to see if they have connection fees. I ended up buying a plan from Telestial that has a lower data rate per MB but a higher voice rate, because I suspect most of my use will be for data. Other plans and other companies have different rate structures. I have an unlocked iPhone 5 and have switched out the SIM cards before while traveling - it's easy to access the card, but it's a bit finicky because the nano cards are so small. They can bounce and slide and get lost (I lost one when it bounced out of my clumsy fingers and onto moving walkway behind me!), so handle them gently and switch your card somewhere safe (i.e. somewhere you can get it if it drops or bounces away, so not while you're on the airplane).

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Keep in mind that buying and activating a new sim card in various countries can be time consuming. In France, for example, you have to go a cell phone provider store, deal with the employees/language barriers, provide your passport for identification (it's a law in france that ID is necessary) and then once you get the SIM it can take 12-48 hours for it to start working. It seems to me that something like the international sim card that you have delivered to you before your trip would save a lot of hassle, even if it's not the cheapest option, it would a good mix of ease and convenience.

Posted by Emma
Dublin, Ireland, Ireland
1 posts

I used Maxroam for my iphone 5 in January for my interailing trip and it worked really well across Europe. To recieve a call was €0.29 which i thought reasonable. I used the local number feature which allowed people to call me at a local rate which I found very useful. I mainly used data on my trip which was €0.29 per MB. Heres the link if your interested in finding out more about it www.maxroam.com

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

Sarah, thanks for sharing your insights. I've had good luck with getting SIM cards in the UK, but there's no language barrier for me there, nor did anyone need to see my passport. I've avoided those online pre-trip SIM deals. But after reading your comments and this topic generally, I think I'd rather pay a bit more for a SIM card pre-trip for use in other countries in exchange for saving time and hassle getting a SIM card working in a country where I don't speak the language. I don't want to waste my time tinkering with my phone vs. just using it!

Posted by T.
Seattle, WA, US
154 posts

I have to disagree with Sarah about France. I bought a SIM card at a Relay convenience store at CDG when I landed and it worked right away. I had 15 days to send a copy of my ID to the mobile phone company to verify my identity. However, this is a voice and text SIM card only. By the way, you can get a free voice/text SIM card from Lebara before you leave for France. They'll mail one to you in the US. You can activate it before you leave and put money into your account online, thus having a working number when you land. The website says they'll only send free SIM cards to French addresses, but if you enter your city name AND "USA" into the city field on the web form, it will arrived in your US mailbox. See the Lebara website for more details.

Posted by Alexander
Manhattan, KS
277 posts

I speak French fluently, but the last time I got a sim card in France it took me at most 10 minutes.

Posted by Nick
London
3 posts

Local SIMs for each individual country is going to be your cheapest option, assuming you can be bothered to register and have a different phone number each time. The next best option, as already stated, is to get an international SIM card. While there are several on the market, I have had good experiences with both Telestial (as mentioned by Kia above) and GO-SIM, both of whom will deliver to your door before you leave and offer some free credit. Sticking with Verizon is the easiest option but definitely the most expensive, and you'll find that data rates are obscene abroad (potentially to the tune of $20 per MB).

Posted by George
Canada
822 posts

You don't state how long you're going to be in any one country AND I think that's the key to your decision on sim cards - if you're in a country for a short period it probably isn't worth the hassle of individual sims. The best bang for your buck is individual all the other above mentioned international cards are pretty pricey and Verizon's pricing competes with them.

Posted by Scott
Portland, OR, USA
3 posts

Thanks for the info. I will be in Netherlands for 3 days, Germany for 5, Italy for 7, France for 5 and Ireland for 10. I mentioned it earlier, but the Verizon roaming data rate, if you get a package, comes down to $0.25 US / Mb. This is about 0.19 Euros / Mb. This is better than most rates I have seen. I think I may do this and do the Verizon voice Europe package of $0.99 a minute for minimal calling when not on wifi. I am going to try to use skype for voice when I am on wifi. Those rates are very low, $3/month for calling to US landlines and mobiles, and ~$9/month for Europe land lines.

Posted by Bob
Grayson, Georgia, USA
3 posts

Great stuff folks. I could use some help as well. And be advised, I am an automation dummy. Have traveled extensively in Europe having been stationed in Germany for 21 years in the US Army. I do speak German, but generally prefer English if things get technical. I am bringing a small group to Europe at the end of May. Will be 2 days in the Italian Dolomites, 2 days in the Austrian Tirol, 1 day in Munich and then 1 day in Normandy and 4 in Paris. A couple of months ago I was in Italy and Austria skiing for 3 weeks and my roaming charges were really ridiculous. My need is for a cheap voice and sms service for those four countries for about 13 days or so total. I will be arriving in Munich a couple of days before the group and staying with relatives. I thought about taking my T-Mobile GSII Android and doing the switcheroo on SIM cards. But the more I think about it, I am wondering if it would not be smarter to pick up one of those cheaper GSM phones since we are really only looking at short calls/texts. Also, should I get a SIM card for each country, or would buying one in Germany, having it installed there be smarter. I very much appreciate any help on this.
Bob

Posted by Devon
Ballwin
818 posts

When I bought my SIM card in Italy, I could use it for most of my travels throughout Europe but I do seem to remember having trouble in the UK. Not sure why that was, but if I had needed I could have bought a local SIM card there. Check out what plans are available for you. I was staying for over four months, talking to locals, so an unlimited texting/calling for 3€ a week plus reduced prices on international calls was worth it. I was able to call the US for 0.12€ / minute. Amazing. Definitely look into that while you are abroad rather than using a US-based plan. I racked up insane charges my first time abroad using AT&T's crappy World Plan.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1350 posts

hi, here is my experience with buying my phone and sim overseas. Purchased inexpensive slider GSM, Quadband,unlocked phone from the "Carphonewarehouse.co.uk" in London. Also purchased T-mobile sim card with 10 British Pounds Stering (BPS) worth of time/credits and a London phone number. I have not been able to add minutes to my sim as of this date from here in the USA. When i was in Amsterdam, i purchased a T-mobile SIM card with an Amsterdam phone number. I am able to add minutes using a website and my credit card and have done so in the USA. I have not tried to add minutes using just my phone. if you check out the carphonewarehouse web site, you can get an idea on what it cost to buy and use various provider sims. mind you there are other sites as well, but i used it as a reference. I bought the phone from them since one of their stores was 3 blocks away from my hotel. happy trails.

Posted by Denise
San Antonio, TX
110 posts

Last October 2012 in Italy, I got the impression that a phone can be topped off at an ATM. I was focused on getting money so I didn't pay too much attention to the details. Even though it was in English, it was confusing. Does anyone know about this?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

@Bob, One option you might consider would be to buy an inexpensive quad-band unlocked GSM phone off E-Bay or other site, and use with a SIM from one of the "travel phone" firms such as Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Call In Europe, Telestial, Mobal, EuroBuzz, One Sim or Max Roam. You could also purchase a SIM with phone from the same firms. Advantages of using a travel SIM is that the rates will be consistent for all the countries you'll be visiting and most use post-paid billing so no need to top-up. Many of these use a U.K.-based number so anyone calling you would have to dial long distance. Text messages are the cheapest way to keep in touch, as sent texts are only about 70¢ each and received texts are free. Check the websites for the above firms for all the details. You'd only be able to use other SIM cards in your Android phone if your phone is unlocked. For occasional voice calls and texting, you could also check the T-Mobile roaming rates (as I recall, they're a bit pricey). Good luck and happy travels!

Posted by Bob
Grayson, Georgia, USA
3 posts

Thanks everyone. Ken, appreciate the advice. Right now I think our plan is to use the phone for all 7 of us to give an emergency number to contact us. We might use it for calling a hotel or taxi but otherwise don't expect we would use it that much. T-Mobile told me that they would send me the unlock code and instructions for use in Europe, but the more I think about it, but it seems to me I might be better off leaving my android alone and just getting this cheap phone with a SIM card purchased. I go to Germany and surrounding countries about 3-4 times a year and it was only this last time that I noticed really out of sight roaming charges. Bob

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1350 posts

scott, i bought my phone in the UK on my lst trip along with the UK sim. Having issues topping up the card in the USA. im in the UK now and have topped up using vouchers with no problem what so ever. the voucher i purchsed stated its good up to one year. i am assuming i have 1 year to use it so im going to buy a few to use in the USA. its cost more but i want to keep the UK number. i also bought a sim from Amsterdam. i can top up via the www/paypal. no problem either and i use it in the USA to keep it active. one thing though. i traveled thru Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Koln, Brussels, Bastogne, Luxembourg city and UK this year. I only had some issues in Luxembourg city. i could not use the direct numbers to get balance information from Tmobile, my provider. also, i tried to top up my amsterdam sim, same problem. i finally figured out to use the internation dialing prefix and garbage to make it through. one other comment. if you use voice mail with the numbers/sims, chances are the instructions will be in the native language where you get your sim. just something to think about. right now my amsterdam voice mail isnt working so when im over there in a few days i will have them fix the problem. happy trail

Posted by Steven
San Jose, CA, USA
1 posts

"I racked up insane charges my first time abroad using AT&T's crappy World Plan." Amen to that. Though to be fair our travel was to the UK where we didn't use the phone at all, Jordan and Israel. We were charged for every call that was made to leave a voicemail message even though we never answered the phone. Might be different in Europe, but once burned = never again. Thanks to all for the tips here. We'll be traveling to France, Greece and Spain (in that order for about a week each). If anyone has a particularly good recommendation we'd love to hear it.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1961 posts

This is a 9 month old posting.

You can take a MagicJack Plus with you, plug it into a computer on WIFI and use a old style handset to call home for free.

I recently got a T Mobile plan with unlimited email and data--and $.20 per minute voice calls internationally. Many U.S. travelers are signing up with this carrier because of the plan offered.

Posted by nello
1 posts

Yes, Verizon iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c are GSM unlocked.

To unlock GSM on a Verizon iPhone 4s, call Global Verizon, 800.711.8300.