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SIM advice required for a novice mobile phone user

I have a mobile phone but never use it in my home country (I know that will seem incredible to almost everyone here, but I managed without one all my life, and feel no need to change my habits now.)
But when I travel, usually to France, I feel I should have a means of accessing help in an emergency. I do know how to use the emrgency services number (and did once, when lost in a rural area), but I'm thinking more of being able to summon a taxi or contact my accommodation if travel plans change (e.g. trains cancelled duirng strike).

Because wi-fi is rarely unavailable in France, I can manage without data. On my last 3 trips I have made a total of about 5 phone calls. Do I in fact need to buy a SIM? Last year for 2 visits to France I bought an Orange SIM that lasted 30 days and could then be renewed at a lower cost a couple of months later for another 30 day. But is there such a thing as a SIM for phone calls only that would be valid for several years?

Posted by
4695 posts

I have no idea what you will be doing while visiting Europe to know why you might or might not need one. I can tell you why I feel I never want to do without mobile data again when going to Europe: because of the enormous benefit I get from being able to navigate cities with my phone: after years of fumbling with maps and bus/metro schedules and trying to plan routes ahead of time, now all I need to do is ask my phone (Google Maps) how to get from place to place by walking or public transit. This has saved me an enormous amount of time and aggravation on my last few trips to Europe, and it's so cheap for a SIM - why do without it? This isn't something that is practical with WiFi - if I want to catch a bus on the fly, I don't want to go hunting for WiFi. It has nothing to do with the compulsive need to check my email or Facebook every five minutes - it has to do with saving a lot of time in getting around.

I'm not sure if you can buy a SIM without data anymore, but there's not much point in looking for one. They are cheap enough as it is - why not just buy one each time you visit? Consider it just one more expense you incur when visiting Europe - what's another 30 Euros or so each time?

I have a Dutch Vodafone SIM that I bought last year and can apparently keep alive for a year after last topped up with credit. The EU has largely done away with roaming fees, so I can use this same SIM in France and all over the EU. (I can make VOIP calls over wifi and don't actually need "calling minues" on a SIM.) I am not sure if any French SIMs can last as long as a year without being kept "alive" every so often, but I plan to keep mine alive for use every year when I visit Europe - I can add credit online without visiting the Netherlands, and it is nice to have a working phone the minute I land in Europe. But if I couldn't keep one alive for a whole year, I probably wouldn't bother - I'd just buy a new SIM each time, doesn't cost much.

Posted by
2319 posts

If all you need is to make 5 or so calls then you could look into if your home cell phone works in Europe. Most do. Even if each call is 2 minutes and you get charged $2/minute (very expensive) - that’s $20. How much is a SIM? Many carriers let you add a cheap international calling plan that reduces that cost for a small fee - not to be confused with a data plan which is more expensive. I think ATT has one for $5/month that brings the cost down to 22cents/minute.

For just a few calls using your own phone and sim is probably easier and cheaper. The more you want to use it the more value a SIM gives.

Posted by
396 posts

Thanks for the advice Andrew and Mira.

MIra: I don't have a mobile phone at home nor do I intend to make intrnatioanl calls from overseas.

Andrew: being so unused to a mobile phone, I'd far rather pull out a street map or ask a passer-by or shop assistant for directions if I am unsure of my way in a town. Except when out walking in the country, I usually leave it in my hotel room, and plan the next day's route there using wi-fi in the evening.

Yes, it looks as if I shall have to buy a new SIM each time, which means having a new number each time that I won't remember. It's just that, I'd rather not have to do it with luggage in tow at an airport or train station, but my destination may be a remote rural place that has no SIM vendors.

Posted by
2319 posts

Ok I’m confused. Your post said you have a moblile phone but don’t use it. If you do have a phone that works you can bring this phone and use it just for emergencies. Then you won’t have to worry about SIM cards. Much easier and cheaper if you are only making a few calls and emergencies.

If you don’t have a phone what are you putting the SIM card in? You’d need to buy a phone, not just a card.

Also you say you don’t want to make international calls overseas. If you are using your phone from home, then yes you do. If you are in France and use a USA phone to call France that’s an international call.

Posted by
396 posts

Mira: I do own a mobile phone but don't use it at home, I just take it with me on holidays, which for me are all overseas. So it has no SIM card (or only an outdated one from last year in France) until I buy one at my destination. When I say I want it in case of an emergency, I mean to make a call within France, not one from there back home. I assume that I have to have a SIM card in the phone to make a call within France (other than to the national emergency number). And what I'm not clear about is whether I can access wi-fi (which I do use) without a SIM card in the phone, or when I have only an expired SIM in it.

Posted by
1 posts

I'm more like you than other people who have replied. I have a cell phone in the US for emergency purposes only. It doesn't work outside the US. ... What I use for international travel is a Mobal telephone. With these phones, you own a basic phone (so it's always the same phone number) and they charge for use. I don't use it much, but I feel more secure having something available. It might be an option for you. Good luck.

Posted by
17005 posts

I take my (rarely used) US smartphone to Europe. On my two most recent trips I have not bought a SIM for it, and I do not have any service from my US provider because I'm on a pay-as-you-go plan.

You do not need to have a SIM in the phone to connect to Wi-Fi. While walking around I am able to see my location on electronic maps because the phone's GPS works even with no SIM in the phone.

I've been using Ulmon's CityMaps2GoPro, but the new version was flaky in France and England last summer. If I download the appropriate Google Maps for my trip, I think I'll have access to basic routing information for public transportation even when Wi-Fi isn't available (but I haven't tested that). Obviously, I will not have the sort of real-time information about bus arrival times that is available with a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. I don't particularly miss that since it's rare for me to take city buses.

Posted by
4695 posts

Buying a SIM is so cheap now, I'm not sure why people wouldn't bother. I don't need it for calls, really, mostly for data. The benefit to me is enormous in terms of walking-around navigation with Google Maps. After many years of fumbling with paper maps and bus/tram schedules, I don't have to worry about it anymore: I choose a museum or my hotel or whatever from the Google Map and Google tells me how to get there by walking or by bus, right now. I don't have to spend time figuring out the bus system or anything. (In St. Petersburg, this was especially helpful, given that I don't know Russian nor can I read Cyrillic.) This saves me an enormous amount of time and hassle.

When I think of value-for-money I get out of anything I might spend money on to make a trip easier, buying a SIM is near the top.