Update Three Sim Only Business Review – Everything you need to know about finding the best and cheapest SIM cards and mobile data plans in Europe.
Can you travel through Europe without high-speed mobile data on your smartphone? In case. But do you want it? Maybe not. But mobile data can be very expensive if you use your home country’s international data plan. Fortunately, even visitors can easily access cheap data plans in Europe to stay connected at a very affordable price. In this guide, I’ll teach you how to buy a SIM card in Europe to get cheap high-speed mobile data while you travel.
Update Three Sim Only Business Review
Before I get into how and where to buy SIM cards, I wanted to give you some useful information about mobile data plans so you have a better idea of how things work in Europe.
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A law was recently passed in the EU that bans mobile service providers from charging mobile fees – meaning you can use a SIM card you bought in France and use it in Italy without paying additionally. This is great for travelers, as you can use one plan everywhere.
Some mobile carriers (especially those in the US, Australia and New Zealand) “lock” their phones so that they only work on the carrier’s network – this usually applies if you have a plan that includes a free phone with a multi-year contract. To accept a third-party SIM card, you need to contact your carrier and ask them to “unlock” your phone.
In the US, carriers must unlock phones if the customer requests them, but by default, they are rarely unlocked. That said, some carriers still make customers jump through hoops to unlock their phones so don’t leave it to the last minute or you might be out of luck.
Installing a new SIM card gives you a new phone number, so your old number won’t work until you reinstall your original SIM card. So if people want to call you, you need to tell people your new European number.
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Additionally, many websites and apps use two-step verification linked to your phone number, so inserting a new SIM is not an option. And if you use Uber/Lyft, you’ll need to update your new phone number in the app when you install your new SIM.
European consumer protection laws require companies to fight for customers and keep prices low. Many visitors were surprised to find 20GB prepaid high-speed data for 20 euros per month.
There are a few companies that sell “international” SIM cards that claim to work in most countries around the world. Avoid these because the service is generally terrible and some just don’t work. So get SIM cards specifically for Europe.
If you don’t stream music/videos or upload a lot of photos, you probably won’t use 3-6GB of mobile data per week. If you spend a lot of time on social media (especially Instagram and TikTok) you probably use a little more, but if you regularly browse the web and use Google Maps, you probably only use 1- 2GB per week.
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Okay, let’s dive into the different options you have for buying a European SIM card. Basically you have two options:
Most major European mobile service providers have SIM cards with mobile plans aimed at tourists. These plans are sold by third-party sellers who ship to your home address. A well-known authorized SIM card reseller is SimOptions.com.
These SIM cards are slightly more expensive than buying them in Europe, but once you arrive in Europe you get the convenience of not having to find a SIM.
FYI, you might spend $15-$25 more on a two-week course if you buy in advance while waiting to buy in Europe – so not much of a difference in the grand scheme of things things. However, if you are traveling for several weeks I would recommend buying a SIM after you arrive in Europe as the savings become more significant.
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The Orange Holiday Europe prepaid SIM card is probably the most complete alternative to SIM cards you can buy abroad because it offers a lot of data at a good price – and includes a lot of calls and international texts.
Also, Orange is one of the biggest mobile companies in Europe and they have good coverage in most of Europe (which is not always the case with smaller European carriers).
The Orange Holiday Europe plan is great because it gives you lots of mobile data at a reasonable price, but the only downside is the 14-day validity period – this doesn’t matter if your trip is longer less than two weeks. That said, you can buy an additional 10GB of credit after the two weeks are up for around $25.
If you need less data and want to save some money, check out the Rs 30 Orange Holiday data plan which provides 15GB data for 14 days.
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Update: Orange Holiday plans are also available as an eSIM – meaning you don’t have to wait for delivery or pay for shipping (if your phone is eSIM compatible). For details on the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM and Orange Holiday Zen eSIM plans, see eSIM information at SimOptions.
Find out more about eSIM data plans and see if your phone accepts eSIM cards in my Europe prepaid eSIM data plans guide.
Three UK is another good European mobile operator and their PAYG AIO15 plan is good value for those who don’t need the 20GB offered by the Orange Holiday Europe plan. I like that the plan has a 30 day validity so it’s good for longer trips.
The Bouygues Telecom Holiday Prepaid plan is very similar to the Orange Holiday Zen but the Bouygues plan has to be activated in France – so that’s a big problem.
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Buying a SIM card in Europe is a very simple and easy process as they are sold everywhere – including newsstands, airports, vending machines, grocery stores, mobile phone shops and more.
Mobile data plan prices in Europe vary by country, plan options and different offers at the time – so it’s hard to estimate exactly what you’ll pay. However, here are some sample prices to give you a better idea of what you might pay:
Some mobile plans, but not all, charge an activation fee of €5-€10 – quite expensive if you’re only traveling for a week or two.
Inserting a SIM card is easy and takes only a minute – just pull out the old SIM and insert the new one. Most SIM cards come with a small tool to help you remove the SIM card holder. You can use a paper clip or a thumbtack.
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Activating your European SIM card should be very simple and straightforward, but there may be a few kinks here and there. In this section, I will cover the entire implementation process and try to address common issues that people have.
First install the new SIM card on your phone. In most cases, your phone will automatically recognize the new SIM card and the service will start working easily (it may take a few minutes to connect the service).
For prepaid plans, your service starts as soon as you load the card. If you bought a SIM without a plan you will need to follow the instructions on how to add credit to your plan.
In some cases you may be required to register your SIM – each country has its own rules. For example, some may ask for a local European address (use a valid local address, such as your hotel or rental). Other countries may ask for a copy of your passport when you shop in person, or you may need to submit a scan of your passport (it’s always a good idea to post -d to send yourself a scan / photo of your passport when traveling abroad).
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If you still have problems, you may need to change some settings on your phone to make the service work properly. The most common technical issue is the need to turn it on
Another potential issue is setting your Access Point Name (APN) – this is usually automatic but sometimes you need to set it manually. Each service provider will have their own login information (check their website or do a Google search), but here’s an example from Orange:
As soon as you run out of credit, you need to “top up” your SIM card to add more credit to your account. Most companies allow you to make extra money through their website or you can buy credit at newsstands, grocery stores, etc.
Traveling with your phone drains your batteries quickly so I highly recommend a portable battery. I use the Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s small and affordable, but there are more options.
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Data can be expensive and it is very simple.
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