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SIM card advice for multiple countries

My wife and I will be flying to Frankfurt in June for a 19-day trip. We will spend the following number of days in these countries:

Germany - 6 days
UK - 4 days
France - 4 days
Italy - 2 days
Switzerland - 3 days

I was thinking of getting an O2 nano sim card for our Verizon iPhone 5S's. They are unlocked as all Verizon LTE iPhones are unlocked. Anyway, one of the other links someone posted (here shows that O2's data speeds are pretty similar to Sprint's in the US, which is very undesirable. Therefore, I'm thinking either T-mobile or Vodafone is best for us.

My questions are this:

  1. Where do I get our phones setup the first time? I know there's an O2 shop in Frankfurt airport but now that is out. I don't believe there's a T-Mobile or Vodafone store in Frankfurt airport. Can you just go to any grocery or other store there and they can set it up? From my experience in Kenya, there are a lot of numbers to be programmed into the phone the first time and it's not just where you take the sim card out and put in the local sim card. If it's similar to Kenya, I'm not sure a cafe or grocery store retailer would be able to do all of that and thus I'd need a local mobile store.

  2. How does it work with data roaming in other EU countries and the UK? Let's say I get a T-Mobile German sim card there. Is the rate for data roaming going to be a crazy high amount when I cross into France or the UK or Switzerland? I would prefer not to be constantly changing sim cards every country. Most of our need for the phones are actual calling needs, to let our next pension or B&B know our arrival times, calling the US occasionally, etc. Everywhere we are staying has free WiFi. Our goal in Europe is not to be constantly on our phones or streaming music, etc. as that would be ridiculous. But we'd like to be able to send and check email, use Google maps occasionally, etc.

  3. Do any of the trains in Europe, like the ICE trains in Germany, have WiFi?

Thank you all for any advice and suggestions you have. We really appreciate it.

Posted by
2081 posts

PT,

" 1. Where do I get our phones setup the first time? I know there's an O2 shop in Frankfurt airport but now that is out. I don't believe there's a T-Mobile or Vodafone store in Frankfurt airport. Can you just go to any grocery or other store there and they can set it up? From my experience in Kenya, there are a lot of numbers to be programmed into the phone the first time and it's not just where you take the sim card out and put in the local sim card. If it's similar to Kenya, I'm not sure a cafe or grocery store retailer would be able to do all of that and thus I'd need a local mobile store."

I really dont know what stores are in what airports. But you can always look at that specific airport via the web and look for any "layout", "airport terminal map" and such. Many times, a listing of shops will be available.

I would wait until you get settled and look for a shop in the neck of the woods you plan on staying in. you can always do some homework in advance and google/search for the O2, T, verizon...ect shops in a neighborhood. Using google maps is good for that.

" 3. How does it work with data roaming in other EU countries and the UK? Let's say I get a T-Mobile German sim card there. Is the rate for data roaming going to be a crazy high amount when I cross into France or the UK or Switzerland? I would prefer not to be constantly changing sim cards every country. Most of our need for the phones are actual calling needs, to let our next pension or B&B know our arrival times, calling the US occasionally, etc. Everywhere we are staying has free WiFi. Our goal in Europe is not to be constantly on our phones or streaming music, etc. as that would be ridiculous. But we'd like to be able to send and check email, use Google maps occasionally, etc."

No different than here in the USA, but we get shafted more. If you go on any cross boarder trains, you will notice everyone turning off "data" before crossing the boarders.

look at this site. I use it for reference and i bought my first phone overthere along with a PAYG SIM.

[carphonewarehouse.com][1] [1]: http://www.carphonewarehouse.com/sims/pay-as-you-go

you have to dig for the rates of each vendor, but you will have an idea on cost for what not.

just so you know, what i like about the NON USA PAYG SIMs is that i can buy "data" anytime i want. Its offered (at least with my -UK & NL- T-mobile PAYG SIM) 1 day, 3 day and 1 week MB blocks. Its not that expensive either for the 1 or 3 day MB blocks.

Also, if you look at T-mobile (USA), they are offering 50 USD/Month International plan which included now 1 GB of 3/4G and when your thru that, it drops you to 2G. T use to offer a 30 USD/Month international, but i dont see it on the web site anymore. Whats nice, is for now, you can drop it too once you get back. Once im done with my trip in Sept, i will be re-evaluating the 50/month plan i now have through T.

"3. Do any of the trains in Europe, like the ICE trains in Germany, have WiFi?"

on my trip last year, i think some of the trains i used did, but i dont remember where and which ones. im sure others that use them day-to-day will chime in.

happy trails.

Posted by
154 posts

Hello,

Ray listed some great advice already. I would really think about how important it will be for you to have a European sim-card in your phone. Verizon and many phone companies have gotten better with their international plans. They have a basic data rate of about 100mb which if you use the cellular data sparingly this could be enough for you. I personally use wifi as much as I can and that is pretty easy to find at your hotel, coffee shops, etc. From what you mentioned you plan to do on question two I think this plan of limited data and wifi could be just fine for you. I would just look at Verizon's international options a bit more.

There are also some great offline map apps such as Citymaps2go or Navfree which could also limit how much you may need cellular data. You can find more tips here: http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/phones-tech

Happy Travels

Posted by
11158 posts

This page from Prepaid GSM is a good start: http://www.prepaidgsm.net/en/germany.html From there, start with each company's "Prepaid Offer - Click Here." If you need more info, you can follow links to the provider's own pages for their latest plans. If they are only in German, you can use Google Translate to get an approximation.

If you have more specific questions, their Germany forum is a good place to ask them: http://www.prepaidgsm.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=34 But be aware that responses there can get VERY technical; don't be afraid to ask for clarification.

We bought our SIM cards at the T-Mobile store (a passport was required). The salesman did all the work to activate our new accounts, which took about 10 minutes all in. We did see SIM cards for sale at supermarkets, but I see from the first website link I posted (scroll down near the bottom to "Registering German prepaid cards") that these usually have to be registered, and that this can be tricky for non-residents. At the time, T-Mobile had a great deal for voice and text (we weren't using data); of course, these change all the time, so you have to check which carrier is best for your needs (Vodafone was the other store near our hotel).

Posted by
31037 posts

PT,

A few thoughts regarding your questions.....

  1. Mobile phone shops are ubiquitous in most European cities. If you plan on buying a card when you arrive in Germany, I'd suggest going to a full service shop as the staff at airport locations may not have the expertise to set things up for you.
  2. I'm not sure how easy it will be to get a SIM which includes voice, text and data, that works across multiple countries. I've heard of some cases where people weren't able to top-up their cards once they had left the country where the card was purchased. You'll probably find that the least expensive options will be in the U.K.
  3. Some trains have Wi-Fi such as the Italo high speed trains in Italy, but last time I tried to access Wi-Fi on a train in Germany the message indicated that an account with one of the local cell networks was required.

FWIW, I've been using a SIM with one of the travel phone firms for the last few years and that's worked really well so far. Their service operates across multiple countries with consistent rates and billing is post-paid (calls charged to a credit card) so no issues with "topping-up". My phone is working as soon as I step off the plane, so I don't have to waste time looking for cell shops or getting the phone set up. When I was travelling with just a basic "flip" phone, the costs for voice and text with the travel SIM were very reasonable, but now that I have an iPhone I've been finding the data plans a bit expensive. I may just go with voice and text this year, leave the data blocked and use Wi-Fi.

Posted by
11 posts

I've seen Congstar SIM cards on eBay here. I'm thinking about this. I know it's marked up a little but these would be nano sims which fit in our iPhones. I know O2/Orange doesn't even support nano sims so they are out. We really would prefer to use our own phones and not buy or rent one there. It looks like the international sim cards you can get online have some pretty expensive rates. To be honest, I'm probably over thinking this. We will use wifi the vast majority of time. It's just really nice to open up Yelp and find a great local cafe, etc. on the go. I've used a local SIM card before in Kenya, so if it was easy there, it should be easy in Europe.

Posted by
676 posts

Lebara, O2,Orange, Virgin, Giffgaff all do nano SIMS in UK...will be same in rest of EU.

Posted by
103 posts
  1. I have a Verzion I Phone 5. Last year for multi-country travel, I paid for intenational voice & text plan, and the minimum data plan. It was all done here at the VZ store.

  2. This year I'm only buying voice & text but no data plan. With the free Wifi at the hotels and elsewhere, and use of the hotels computers, the data plan was not needed. I downloaded any apps and data before I left. I stay as unplugged as possible, too.

Posted by
11 posts

Well after a lot of thinking about it all, I decided to purchase 2 Congstar nano sims off of eBay for us. I'll definitely post here again after the trip how things go as far as setup, etc.

Posted by
31037 posts

@coreyvic11,

I've been using Roam Simple for several years, and have been very pleased with the service so far. For the first few years, I just had a basic voice and text plan as I was using a "flip" phone, but I've upgraded to an iPhone so data is now an issue. Data seems to be a bit pricey with all the travel phone firms but I've found that it can be useful on occasion, so I've opted for a data plan for the last few years. I'm currently considering which options to use this year, but haven't made a decision yet.

Posted by
2 posts

We toured some parts of Europe too we went to Switzerland, Italy, France, Austria and Germany. My friend recommended G3 Wireless - it's a global sim card with a choice of US or Canada number and can be used in over 70 countries. The cost is $29.95 with free $10 airtime. It is very convenient because we are only carrying one SIM card to all our destinations in Europe. To make and received a call is only 39¢/min, data is also 39¢/mb, I remembered incoming text was always free. I highly recommend it, works great and convenient. You can try just make sure you have an unlock 3G phone. www.g3wireless.com

Posted by
5017 posts

How about these guys? OneSimCard.com Anyone here ever used them? I like the idea of being able to use the gizmo in over 200 countries.

We are planning trips in the next 12 months to Japan, the UK and Belize/Guatemala. Well, Belize & Guatemala probably won't have coverage where we're going...mostly we're looking for Japan & the UK (plus thinking about future trips). We have unlocked iPhones (4S) and iPads. We only have an occasional (honestly, rare) need for a phone call while traveling, we would get more use out of a data plan. We have managed on previous trips with hotel wifi but it's definitely limited, and we would like the convenience of data while we're out and about.

Must cure the wife of her YouTube addiction before the trip...

Posted by
1 posts

Hi,
Just returned from 3 weeks in Germany and Paris. My wife added a European plan to her phone (AT&T) before we left in early July. I wanted to use my phone also. I looked up a number of companies which provided Sim cards for unlocked phones, but decided that it would be just as easy to get a card at the Frankfurt Airport and they could program phone if needed, etc. There are 3 Fotec stores in the Airport. At each one of them, the cost of the card is 40Euros, or about $55. Wow! not cheap. Better to take care of this in US than over there. As a result, I did not take my phone and left it home.