Best EU roaming sim card? Mobile phone dilemmas…

In the 5 or so months of nomadic existence I have run into a problem which I had not fully considered when I set off. What to do with mobile phone plans!

image from travsim.com

image from travsim.com

Historically I have never been a heavy phone user, and I only got my first smartphone last year.  Even with the old brick I did not make or receive that many calls. Never being too far away from wifi meant that either my work or home laptops with Skype would suffice. Even in central Taipei where I have been for the last few days, I have been piggybacking off the free city-wide wifi.

With no fixed address and the desire to keep any spending to an absolute minimum, a fixed monthly contract does not seem ideal. I would like to keep the same telephone number and not keep changing every 2 months though!

The European Economic Area is set to abolish roaming charges starting mid-2017, but until then a solution needs to be found. From a practical standpoint, I can survive with only data usage, as Skype calls can still be made over 4G.

I stumbled across this rather handy wiki and in particular this graph.

From Prepaid Data SIM card Wiki

From Prepaid Data SIM card Wiki

One package that stood out for me is the Netherlands Vodafone Data-only BloX which has no roaming surcharge for all EEA countries plus a few others, 1GB data for €10 lasting 30 days, requiring no formal registration required. I would imagine 1GB is sufficient if I don't stream any media. I cannot see any other sim card elsewhere which offers a better rate.

So, my question to my readers is whether you know of a deal that is better than this. The requirements are:

  • The telephone number can be based in any country, though a European number is ideal
  • Must allow roaming around Europe (does not have to be the whole EEA) with no surcharges
  • pre-paid only packages. No fixed contracts

Do leave a comment if you use or know of a better package!

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Comments

  1. I liked UK’s 3 Pay as you go. I got SIM on ebay. It used to be 15 GBP for all you can use data, now looks like 20 GBP and 12 GB data. Less countries available, but website is in English for support. Since US (ATT and T-mobile towers) is supported, I got my phone setup while still in US. Watch out for Data only SIMs (Japan), many phones will drain battery much faster looking for phone signal.

  2. Vodafone is the best from my experience and has better coverage. I don’t believe it is accurate that there are no roaming fees. Usually there is something called “smart passport” which you pay 3e a day for other countries outside of your home (ND). This gives you 200mb, 50sms, 25min of calls. Its a fair price, and with 4g speeds it is just enough to get by for a day. I am not aware of any EU plans that have free roaming, and I have been to 16 EU countries using Vodafone..

  3. If you just want data, the UK Three Data Reward is worth a look – 200mb/month for free, valid in the UK and all of Europe and some other countries too (look up 3 Feel At Home for the list). Within the UK it’s then 1p/mb beyond that, or you can buy bundles. Only bundles and free mb can be used for free when roaming, not the 1p/mb (it’s quite a lot more)

  4. My mobile phone needs are a little bit different than yours. But I wanted to add my experience so that others can use it as a data point.

    Google Fi – I purchased a Google Nexus 6 and have used it on three separate trips to Europe. I got 256kbps speeds which was as advertised, at least for the initial European trips that I used Fi on. Before I left on my last trip a few weeks ago, Google announced “10 to 20x faster” speeds outside the US. Sure enough, I was getting 3G speeds in Europe…when it worked. Unfortunately, in my experience, it didn’t work half the time and I ended up having to contact their support number so many times that I finally just gave up towards the end. Most of my issues seem to be with how the Nexus 6 dealt with switching between networks. But with only 2 or 3 supported phone models, it wasn’t like I could easily switch to a different phone (sorry, no iPhones). Fi tech support was good, although I did come across an issue where they claimed that using hotspots while roaming wasn’t supported. But when pressed to provide the webpage that actually stated this, they said they didn’t have it published…yet. That’s too bad since their terms weren’t bad at all. A $20 base fee with $10/gb in data (same price when roaming internationally) is pretty solid, specially compared to other US providers. Sadly, at least from my own experience with the product, I don’t think Google Fi is “prime time”-ready yet.

    Three UK – You can easily find Three UK prepaid sim cards if you’re flying into Heathrow. In my last trip, a vending machine in the baggage claim area in T5 had the “All in One 20” plan sim card (16gb data + 300 minutes of calling + 3000 texts for 30 days) for ‎£20. The vending machine also had the cheaper “All in One 10” sim card for (you guessed it) £10, which came with 1GB data + 100 minutes + 3000 text messages. What they didn’t have this time around (although I was able to purchase it from the same vending machine last year) was the “All in One 25” sim card which came with “All-you-can-eat” data + 500 minutes + 3000 text messages. All these plans come with Three UK’s “Feel at Home” feature, which considers data roaming to 18 other countries (including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA) as local, so you don’t get charged data roaming fees in those countries. They’ve also announced that they’re adding 24 other European countries next month (including Germany, Portugal and Greece). Top-ups can be a little tricky if you don’t live in the UK. There are third-party sites that will let you top-up Three UK cards for a small fee though. Having said that, I’ve had the least amount of problems with this sim card.

    Mundo from Orange Spain – Based on recommendations from a few sites, I purchased a prepaid sim card from Orange Spain on eBay. The reason for my purchase was because there were several EU countries I was to visit that Three UK’s “Feel at Home” plan didn’t cover. With the “Go Europe” option, Orange Spain provided LTE data speeds (that’s right) in over 30 countries in Europe. With the correct plans activated, data roaming in Europe should cost only €1 for 100MB. Since I can’t speak Spanish though, it was difficult for me to know for certain that I was signing up for the right plans in the right way. Something with how it was charging me for the few days I used this sim card didn’t add up and I had to keep on topping it up. Thankfully, topping up any Orange sim card online is quite easy. In the end, I didn’t really have enough time to look into the billing issue I experienced; but at least as far as the data roaming was concerned, I had no problems roaming (sometimes on LTE!) during my trip.

    If I were to recommend one, I’d go with the Three UK sim card. It just works. No need to mess with your phone settings. No need to fumble through Google Translate. Less concern if I needed to call their support.

    Anyway, good luck and safe travels!

  5. Thanks to everyone who replied – it appears by the number of comments that 3 UK has a solid package on offer so I’ll investigate that one further. Cheers!

  6. The danish prices on roaming tend to be the lowest although Norway is following just behind. Currently living in Amsterdam but using a Norwegian provider (tele2). 49Euros a month for 6gb throughout Europe and unlimited calls/texts. Have yet to have a closer look at what the Danish companies are offering.
    Heard the government had to step inn to make sure the prices did not go to low. (15 Euros for 50gb *rumors*)

    Great blog

    • Thanks Magnus!

      I have not seen anything about Denmark before so thanks for letting me know! One thing to be aware of is that when the EU-wide roaming charge ban kicks in, the companies may start tracking your usage to check if you really are using it at home more than abroad. 3 UK already does this and already disconnected my sim card, but Vodafone NL so far seems to be holding up ok despite 6 consecutive months away!

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