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To SIM or not to SIM: that is the question

My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe from Sept.1-24, specifically Germany, Italy, and France. We are trying to figure out what is the best way to go for phone usage while we are in Europe. First, we have decided why we will need a phone:
•To be able to make local calls while in Germany as this is where our friends are and where we will be spending most of our time.
•To be able to download a translator on our phone.
•To be able to access maps.
•To use trip advisor to look up local restaurants while "on the road."
•To continue to use the same phone number while we are in Germany, France, and Italy.
Ideally, we would like to be able to use our own phone. We recently purchased the Samsung Galaxy S5, which is supposed to be a phone suited for global use.
We do not anticipate that we would be placing or receiving calls from the USA while we are in Europe, as we will probably have our local provider (Verizon) discontinue our service while we are out of the country. Any emergency contacts will have to be done by email, which we can access from our tablet using WIFI.
From what we have been reading, it seems like getting a SIM card is the way to go. So here are our questions:
1.Do we get a SIM card when we get to Germany or do we order one ahead of time online?
2.Will the SIM card purchased for Germany also work in Italy and France? We have found a website that talks about a SIM card that is good in over 70 countries.
3.We are not opposed to renting a phone if this is a better option, but we are not sure if this is cost effective for the length of time that we will be using it in Europe, and will this rented phone from Germany work in France and Italy?
4.When we put our original SIM card back in our phone on the way home, will we have instant access or is there a procedure to go through to make it operable again?
Any words of advice will be helpful at this time, as we still have time to order online if we need to.

Posted by
1 posts

My wife and I spent 7 weeks touring Europe last year. We found that we did not need a phone to make calls - we used Skype on my mini-tablet to call not only all over Europe but back to the states as well. It was much cheaper, also. Those who wanted to contact us but did not have Skype contacted us via e-mail; we either emailed them back or used Skype to call them.

Best of luck,

Posted by
4958 posts

You will probably find it cheaper to buy a SIM card in Germany. Keep in mind that like in the US, there are different mobile companies in each country that sell SIM cards for their mobile networks, and the company you buy the SIM from in Germany - a mobile provider like Verizon or T-Mobile in the US - will probably have roaming partners in France and Italy. (or they may operate subsidiaries in each country.) Roaming in Italy or France with your German SIM will cost more than using it in Germany, but roaming costs are now capped in the EU, so it shouldn't be astronomically more expensive. With these pre-paid SIM cards, you should be able to add minutes or data/MB as you go if need be. Just understand ahead of time how to do this.

I'd probably query your friends in Germany as to which is the best mobile company to use to use your phone also in Italy and France; it's common for Europeans to have to deal with this. I know two of the mobile companies that operate in Germany are T-Mobile and Vodaphone, for example.

If you want to make the occasional phone call home or receive one, I recommend getting a free Google Voice US phone number, then install the Google Hangouts app on your phone, so you an make/receive calls to/from the US on that phone number (you need an internet connection - WiFi or mobile data - to use Google Hangouts, but if you don't have a SIM with mobile data you can use WiFi). While you say you don't are about calls to/from the US while you are traveling, why not set it up up anyway? Then if something comes up while away and you find the need to make a phone call home, you can email them our Google Voice phone number and they can call you at no cost to them (vs. calling your German SIM's phone number).

Someone here posted a recent experience with Verizon where his Verizon service didn't work after he came home from using it with a different SIM card in Europe, but he hadn't disabled service like you plan to as I recall. It may be wise not to expect to enable your Verizon service the minute you touchdown back in the US - to call a cab or something. Expect you will call Verizon when you get home to re-activate your service.

Posted by
2741 posts

Remember too that unless your phone is unlocked, only a Verizon sim card will work.

Posted by
26 posts

The Cellularabroad SIM you mention will be OK for voice calls I think, but it will cost you a lot if you want to use data. If you're using Maps for navigation, it will eat up your bandwidth really fast.

Have you looked at Mobal's Unlimited SIM? - this is what I use and it's worked really well wherever I've been. It ticks all the boxes that you mention, i.e. abilty to to use apps on your phone for Maps, translating or Tripadvisor etc.

When you get back home, just put your Verizon SIM back in the phone, restart it and it should be fine.

Posted by
823 posts


in Ref to "Have you looked at Mobal's Unlimited SIM? - this is what I use and it's worked really well wherever I've been." The data rate is limited to 128Kbits according to thier web site. At that speed, your map may be done loading by they time you're ready to come home...

Best bet, call verizon and see if they'll unlock the GSM radio in your phone. If they won't, purchase a cheap or used factory unlocked GSM (quad band) phone just for traveling overseas. Purchase a SIM from a company that has the best cross-border romaing deals as soon as you arrive.


Posted by
4958 posts

Verizon is required to unlock phones for their customers, within certain limits. I am using a Verizon phone I bought, but I have never used it on Verizon's network, so they are not required to unlock it for me (I managed to do it anyway: Verizon 4GLTE phones are not allowed to be locked per their agreement with the FCC about the LTE bands they use, but that doesn't mean Verizon has to make it easy to unlock.) But if you have used the phone with Verizon for a while, they have to unlock it by request.

Keep in mind that just because your smartphone will work in Europe doesn't mean it will work FAST in Europe. There are different data tiers - 4G, 3G, 2G - and my old Android phone, which worked as 3G in the US, would work at only 2G in Europe (with several SIM cards). (2G is considered very slow.) Turns out the phone wasn't compatible with the 900MHZ 3G frequency used commonly over there; my new Android isn't, either, it turns out. The more expensive/fancy smartphones should have all the frequencies you need, though.

Posted by
544 posts

You can sign up for T-Mobile when you get there. Bring your phone, I mean "handy" with you so you can ask them to help you get it set up. When you do this iPhones sometimes you need to "reset network settings," so I'm sure there's a similar process with Samsung/Android, however the people in the store will know. It will work in Italy and France too.
If I were you though, I'd just sign up for Verizon's global plan and try to do your internet use on wifi as much as possible.