Because I mentioned this again today in another thread, I thought I'd post how I used a Dutch Vodafone SIM in Europe in May. I was able to buy the SIM before I left the US and set it up; it worked when I landed in Venice. Because the EU has mostly eliminated roaming fees within the EU, it worked as soon as I crossed a border. The Netherlands has no requirement that you have to register a SIM with your passport as you do in France or Italy, so I never needed to visit the Netherlands to activate my SIM.
There are other SIMs that may be a better value than this - but I know it works, and I know it works with Skype and Google Hangouts, and I was able to use my Android phone as a hotspot (free tethering). I have heard of issues with iPhones and tethering with this Vodafone SIM however. Because I wasn't making phone calls to Europe, I didn't care about the cost of local calls - all I need was data. Google Hangouts lets you make phone calls to European phones for a few cents a minute.
Here's what I did:
- Bought the SIM on eBay. Took about two weeks to get to me in Oregon. The SIM was new and sealed. Today, you can get one for about $8.50 USD shipped (no credit on it).
- Turned off phone, inserted the SIM in my unlocked GSM-compatible smart phone while in the US.
- Turned on phone; turned on data (required to receive texts) and got a "Welcome to the United States!" text from Vodafone. Incoming texts are free; the SIM came with 0 credit anyway, so nothing to lose. I wasn't going to drain any credit with expensive roaming fees in the US (but if I were using the SIM in the US, roaming would be expensive.) My phone roamed to the T-Mobile network in the US.
- Signed up for a My Vodafone account on the Dutch Vodafone website. Yes, it's in Dutch, and you have to use the Dutch version - but I used Google Chrome which translated it well enough. Signing up for this account requires receiving a confirmation text from Vodafone on your new Dutch number - hence, you have to insert the SIM as above to get the code.
- Bought 20 Euros credit with my US credit card on the My Vodafone account. (For first top-off, I got a bonus of 5 Euros - not sure if you still can). Credit is good for a year. Weird message after completing my purchase - not really a confirmation, thought my credit card had been rejected because I was returned to the purchase page. But, after ten minutes, I checked my credit again and I had 25 Euros! Confusing but just had to wait. If your US card is rejected for some reason, there are options to top-up with Paypal.
- JUST BEFORE leaving for Europe, I bought a "You" bundle with my My Vodafone account using the credit I had bought. Bundle is good for only 30 days, so it's important not to buy it until you are about ready to use it. You can buy different bundles; mine was 20 Euros for 3GB of data.
- Turned on the phone when I landed in Italy and it worked perfectly.
- Used Google Hangouts in Europe to make and receive voice calls - free calls to the US, even to landlines, using WiFi or mobile data. If on mobile data, FYI, calls seem to use about 2MB per minute.
One thing to watch out for: Vodafone "helpfully" adds a 1GB roaming limit to your SIM even if you buy more in your bundle. Apparently, they will cut you off at 1GB unless you disable the warning. I think you can do that by texting "DATALIMIET UIT" to 5000. I used the Vodafone app (see below). I used 2GB in 17 days out of my 3GB.
If you have an Android phone, it's possible to get the Dutch Vodafone app - but not through Google Play! The app is available only through the Dutch Google Play site - or by downloading it from some other source, which is what I did. The app is all in Dutch too but I did find it useful a few times. You can text 'English' to 4000 to get text responses in English, though. Not sure if sending texts is free outside of the Netherlands, though - but receiving them is free anywhere!