Guides

A guide to using SIM cards while travelling in Europe

Reading time: 6 minutes

So, you’re heading to Europe to broaden your mind, soak up the culture and rediscover yourself.

But, how will you call your fellow travellers when you lose them in Disneyland Paris? How will you order your Uber in Barcelona? And how, for the love of all things good in this world, will you share that photo of your margherita pizza on Instagram?

Looks like you’re going to need to sort out a SIM card for Europe.

Can I use an Australian SIM card while in Europe?

If the idea of wandering the streets of Prague searching for a Vodafone isn’t part of your holiday vision, you can always use your Australian SIM card in Europe. A number of Australian mobile service providers offer a special international roaming pack that will enable you to use your local number overseas – at a price, of course.

Optus

An Optus Travel Pack will allow you to roam for $10 a day. The bundle allows you to accumulate data by purchasing multiple packs at once, increasing the amount of time you’re covered for. For example, if you pay a $50 lump fee, you will get unlimited calls and texts, as well as 500MB of data, to use in a 5-day period. Extra data packs can be added at any time in-app or on the Optus website.

Vodafone

If Vodafone is your mobile provider, for just $5 extra per day you can add roaming to your current plan. This can be turned on and off as you wish, and provides you with the same calls, texts and internet data as you would have at home.

Telstra

The Telstra Day Pass provides you with daily unlimited calls and texts and 200MB, which expires at midnight if unused. If you go over this limit, another 500MB, $10 extension will be added with a month-long expiry. This will only drop as you exceed your daily data limit.

Another positive of choosing Telstra is holiday-makers access to on Wi-Fi. An overseas comms extension to Telstra’s network, this system connects 21 million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, and makes for a good alternative to chewing through your data every day.

Which prepaid SIM cards are the best value in Europe?

If you’re heading to Europe for a while, it can often be a better idea to consider a local SIM card to save you some money. Some of the best value pay as you go SIM card options include:

UK

France

  • Orange offers a 14-day prepaid ‘Holiday’ SIM card. This costs €40 (around $60) and provides users with a local number, 2 hours of calls, 1,000 texts and 10GB of data within the EU
  • SFR provide a ‘Welcome Prepaid’ SIM Card that costs €35 (just under $55) and includes 60 minutes of calls, 500 texts and 5GB of data
  • Free offer monthly packages of unlimited calls, text, and data for €20. The drawback is they only have one outlet, and you need to ensure you cancel your SIM before you leave

Spain

  • Vodafone are Spain’s largest provider and offer monthly packages starting from €10 ($15) for 1.2 GB of data and 20 call-minutes up to ‘Megayuser’ €20 deals
  • Yoigo is another good monthly option. SIMs can be purchased for €20 – or €15 ($23) if you already have a local phone number – and deals go from €8.50 up to €15
  • Orange rival Vodafone in size, and these SIMs can be purchased from many shops, corner stores and petrol stations. Prices go from €7 for 1GB of data to €15 for 3GB

Germany

  • Deutsche Telekom are the country’s largest provider with a range of monthly deals. SIM cards can be purchased for €9.95 and come loaded with €10 call and text credit
  • Vodafone has monthly call and text packs that start from €10, with data and additional €10 for 1GB
  • O2 offers a free SIM card, but this needs a minimum of €15 credit. Monthly data packs and one-off add-ons are also available for as little as €3 ($4.50)

Italy

  • TIM is Italy’s largest provider and prepaid SIMS can be purchased for €10 with €5 uploaded credit. Monthly packs start from €10 for 500 local minutes and no data
  • Vodafone SIM cards are much the same price as TIM’s, but offer more flexibility in their packages, including a ‘Tutto Facile’ deal costing €4 ($6) daily for 500MB of data
  • Wind SIM cards can be purchased from many locations, including post offices and bus stations, starting from €10. Basic data packages cost as little as €12 ($18.50)

The Netherlands

  • Lycamobile offer amazingly cheap SIM card deals, starting from €7.50 ($11.50) for an online purchase. This gives you unlimited national calls and texts and 7GB of data
  • KPN is the Netherlands’ largest provider with the widest coverage, with deals ranging from €8.50 for no data up to €24 per month for 20GB of internet
  • A Lebara Mobile International bundle will cost €30 ($46) for your SIM card, unlimited calls and texts within the EU and to 17 select countries outside it and 5GB of data

Greece

  • Vodafone is the most reliable network in Greece, with SIM cards only costing €5. However, you need to top up by €10 to get started and data is offered at a very flexible rate, including by time of the day, or in daily, weekly and monthly rates
  • Cosmote is the largest mobile provider in the country, with wide network coverage. They offer a range of packages in line with Vodafone’s pricing
  • Wind offers the best deals in Greece, albeit with a smaller coverage area

The majority of European SIM cards will work across country borders with roaming. Just to be safe, enquire with the provider if you’re intending on using one SIM in multiple European countries.

Can I get a SIM that works across Europe?

As of 15 June 2017, the EU has implemented a ‘roam like at home’ policy across all EU countries. This means any phone user with an EU SIM card will be able to access the mobile package and local charges they would in their home country from anywhere in the EU. This means that Aussie travellers can access this policy too if they purchase a local SIM card in the country they are holidaying in.

However, there are some important points that could limit your use of this policy:

  • EU mobile network providers may ask you to provide proof of residency or ‘stable links’ to a EU nation. For those on a short trip, this can be difficult. However, if you’re staying for slightly longer, you can possibly arrange with your accommodation to provide you with a document that meets this requirement
  • Your use of roaming may be subject to monitoring for compliance. For example, a four-month period is used to judge whether your mobile consumption is primarily domestic or roaming through the EU. If you’re mostly using your phone for travelling through the EU, this will be viewed as an abuse of the policy
  • Finally, this policy only covers EU member states and non-EU countries that have agreed to this telecommunications pact, not all of Europe. Normal roaming charges will still apply in Switzerland, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Turkey

What is the best way to purchase a SIM card in Europe?

There are a number of ways to go about getting your hands on a European SIM. One of the simplest ways of doing so is to visit a store once you’re in the country, using your Australian SIM as an emergency measure until you swap to a local SIM.

A number of major service providers will have stores or kiosks set up in the airports, so keep your eye out for these when you land. However, if you’re searching for one of the more budget providers, you might have to head into the town centre to sign up.

Signing up online is another option, but you may need a local address for the provider to mail out your SIM. In addition, most providers’ websites don’t have an English option, making them more difficult to navigate if you don’t have a command of the language.

What is the network coverage like?

While Europe has relatively consistent network coverage across most countries, the quality of your connection can vary drastically depending on the region. This is especially apparent if you are trying to use mobile data.

For example, in the UK, you’ll be able to use 4G pretty reliably across main city centres in London, Manchester and Birmingham, but out in more rural areas you can see coverage fluctuate between 2G or GSM, sometimes dropping out altogether. Fortunately, free Wi-Fi is in plentiful supply across many European towns, so if you’re really in a jam, you can try to connect to one of these.

In terms of 4G/LTE coverage, recent stats from OpenSignal place the Netherlands and Hungary as the top performing countries, with Norway and Sweden close behind.

Forgetting anything?

Now that you’re all clued up with your options for European SIMs and roaming, tick off the next item on your to do list and get your travel insurance sorted before you go.

See also: Europe – A first timers guide

See also: European beach safety

Note: Information current as of 11th June, 2018.


Author

TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.

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