Embarking on a new adventure requires a lifeline to the digital world, whether you’re backpacking through a national park in Europe or island-hopping in Indonesia. The quest for the most reliable and affordable international SIM cards is vital, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems.
These are my top tips and best international SIM card recommendations, based on my experiences using them around the world.
What Are International SIM Cards?
Traveling internationally presents a modern necessity: staying connected. An international SIM card is a traveler’s tool for seamless communication, offering the ability to make calls, send texts, and use data at local rates without the shock of roaming charges. These cards work across multiple countries and can be a more economical choice compared to local SIMs or the roaming options provided by your home carrier. They’re preloaded with credit, ready to use in an unlocked phone, providing a hassle-free bridge to staying in touch while exploring the world.
If you’re from the USA, the idea of a pay-as-you-go SIM card might be strange and archaic, but I’ve noticed that most other countries in the world use this method. It’s much easier, in my opinion! International SIM cards are great for moments when you can’t rely on finding free Wi-Fi, too.
How Do International SIM Cards Work?
International SIM cards are a traveler’s ally, designed to work on multiple networks across different regions globally, unlike local SIMs tied to a single network. I always use an international SIM when I’m traveling to several countries on the same trip. The essence of their function lies in the agreements that your SIM provider has with various mobile carriers worldwide, enabling you to use their networks when abroad. This means you can make calls, send texts, and use data at cost-effective rates, without the hefty roaming fees typically incurred with domestic SIMs.
To use an international SIM card, your phone must be unlocked, meaning it’s not restricted to a single carrier’s network. This is crucial, so make sure you get your phone unlocked before you leave for your trip.
These SIM cards can also be conveniently topped up online, through an app, or with vouchers, negating the need to purchase a new one each time it runs out. Security-wise, they are on par with local SIMs, equipped with necessary safety features like a security PIN and location area identity.
The Dos and Don’ts of Purchasing an International SIM Card
When purchasing SIM cards for international travel, there are several best practices to keep in mind:
- Research before you go! Look up the most recommended SIM card options for your destination. Online forums, travel blogs, and reviews can be valuable resources.
- Consider convenience and cost. Make sure you evaluate the balance between the ease of obtaining the SIM card and its cost. Sometimes, paying a little extra up front can save time and hassle.
- Check if the SIM card is compatible with your phone and that your phone is unlocked.
- Don’t buy at the airport. Airport kiosks can be convenient, but they often mean a premium price. It’s generally cheaper to purchase a SIM card in town or online.
- Ignore data packages. Be mindful of the data packages available with the SIM card. Opt for a plan that suits your data usage to avoid extra charges.
- Don’t forget the top-up options. Make sure there are easy ways to top up your card. Being able to add credit online or through an app is a plus, especially if you’re traveling for an extended period.
The Best International SIM Cards for Travelers
Ready to get connected worldwide? These are the tried and true SIM cards for travelers:
I recently tried Instabridge while traveling both inside and outside of the USA, and I have to admit that I was impressed! It was extremely easy to use, and I got it set up on my iPhone in under 5 minutes. The interface is straightforward and tells you how much data you have at any moment. The top-up was simple as well. My favorite thing about Instabridge is that you can use your physical SIM and your eSIM simultaneously.
Instabridge offers BMTM readers 10% off all of their data plans. Use “BMTM10” at checkout on their website to get the discount.
- Coverage: Over 190 countries, and geared toward a smarter, more cost-effective experience.
- Data packages: Data packages start at 1 GB for $2.50 and go up to 20 GB for $18. Not bad!
- Additional benefits: One time, monthly, and yearly packages are available, making it super flexible whether you’re hopping around from country to country or sticking around one place for a while.
Touted as the overall best international SIM card, OneSim provides a range of choices catering to different traveling needs, including eSIMs. It offers coverage in over 200 countries, with the flexibility to buy data bundles and discounted plans for calls.
- Coverage: Over 200 countries globally, with a focus on versatility and reliability
- Data packages: You can buy data bundles and discounted plans for calls, with casual data rates starting at $0.20/MB. Data packages are available by zone or region.
- Additional benefits: Customers receive two numbers: one European and one from the USA, UK, Australia, or Canada, with free incoming calls on the European number in many countries.
This company is recognized as the best global eSIM provider for those with compatible devices. Although it does not offer a single international card for the entire world, it allows travelers to easily select packages for specific destinations. While not the cheapest, Holafly is noted for its data-sharing capabilities and ease of use.
- Coverage: eSIM packages for over 100 countries, with an easy-to-use app for managing services
- eSIMs: Suitable for modern smartphones with eSIM capabilities.
- Europe package: Currently provides a competitive package that covers the entirety of Europe
- Data packages: There are data-sharing capabilities for some destinations, which are convenient for couples or groups traveling together.
- Considerations: It does not offer a single global package but focuses on regions, which could be more convenient for travelers visiting multiple countries within a particular area.
I’ve heard of a lot of people using GigSky, because its are among the easiest eSIMs to use. If you’re fine with a data-only situation (no local phone number), this is a great option! However, if you’re planning to be in remote places, it might be tricky, because you won’t be able to make phone calls (only use WhatsApp). GigSky is also one among the pricier choices on the market, so it might not be ideal for budget travelers.
- Coverage: Global connectivity, with availability in 116 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East/Africa, and Asia and the Pacific
- eSIM compatibility: It operates as an eSIM, suitable for most unlocked devices, which simplifies usage by eliminating the need to swap physical SIM cards.
- Data packages: GigSky offers flexible plans, from short-term 1GB for 15 days starting at $12 to monthly data plans like 5GB worldwide for $60.
- Considerations: As a data-only SIM, GigSky does not provide a local phone number for calls and is one of the pricier options on the market.
5. Orange Holiday Europe
Orange Holiday Europe is a prepaid data plan tailored for tourists traveling across Europe, offering 20GB of high-speed data across every European country. As a major global operator, Orange boasts extensive coverage and a robust network.
- Coverage: Available in all European countries, leveraging Orange’s wide-reaching network
- eSIM compatibility: Offered as both a physical SIM card and an eSIM; the latter provides the same service instantly via email without the need for shipping
- Data packages: For approximately $50, you receive 20GB of data, sometimes with special offers extending up to 30GB. The data is valid for 14 days, with the option to renew for an additional 14 days for around $30.
- Considerations: You don’t need to register, making it one of the easiest ones to use. Just install the SIM and connect automatically to local providers.
6. Airalo / Discover+ Global eSIM
The Airalo Discover Global eSIM, now known as Discover+, is a favorite among travelers to Asia (particularly Southeast Asia). I’ve heard a lot of people rave about its low cost one, and it’s nice that many of the data packages have a 365-day expiration (most are far less than that).
- Coverage: 130 countries, allowing travelers to maintain mobile access in a wide array of locations
- eSIM compatibility: It offers the advantage of 5G NR access in various countries
- Data Ppackages: Alongside data, the Discover+ version includes a phone number with up to 200 minutes and 200 texts, enhancing its utility for travelers who need comprehensive communication options.
- Considerations: The price remains competitive, with the most extensive 20GB eSIM, valid for a full year, costing $89 USD. For those not needing calling or texting capabilities, the Discover version costs up to $20 USD less.
KnowRoaming positions itself as a versatile travel SIM provider with a presence in over 200 countries and a range of plans to keep you connected on the go. Since these SIM cards work by locating and connecting to local networks in your destination, the quality of your coverage depends on how densely populated your area is. For that reason, I don’t recommend this one for off-the-beaten-path travel, especially if you’ll be out in nature.
- Coverage: Global service spanning more than 200 countries and destinations
- eSIM Ccompatibility: KnowRoaming offers traditional physical SIM cards, an innovative SIM sticker, and scannable eSIM codes for devices that support eSIM technology, like newer iPhone models and Google Pixel 3.
- Data packages: There are unlimited data plans with durations of 3 or 7 days, priced at $9.99 and $22.99, respectively. There are also specific eSIM data plans for regions like Europe and Asia, ranging from 1GB to 5GB, valid for 30 days.
- Considerations: KnowRoaming’s plans are primarily for data, with talk and text being available on a pay-as-you-go basis, requiring users to add credit to their accounts. These add-ons can be pricey, so this one is better if you’re a data-only person.
Keepgo offers a streamlined, data-only service for travelers in the eSIM era, presenting a straightforward approach to staying connected. Though you can use Keepgo almost anywhere, it works particularly well in the USA and Europe.
- Coverage: Keepgo’s eSIM operates in over 120 countries, allowing for broad international use.
- eSIM compatibility: The service caters to the modern need for data connectivity without physical SIM cards, offering lifetime validity for purchased data bundles.
- Data packages: Options are available in set bundles of 1GB, 3GB, or 10GB, with the flexibility to top up via the Keepgo app.
- Considerations: Since Keepgo is data-only and doesn’t provide a phone number, users must rely on internet-based communication apps (WhatsApp, etc.). While the rates are a flat $10 per GB, this might be costlier than some regional eSIM offerings.
9. Three UK
Three UK‘s international SIM cards are ideal for travelers visiting Europe and South and Central America. Though it might seem like only people from the UK can use these, they’re compatible with any unlocked smartphone.
- Coverage: With the ability to roam in over 70 countries without extra charges, Three UK provides a substantial coverage network. However, it doesn’t work well for Africa and Asia.
- SIM card type: The service offers only physical SIM cards, not eSIMs.
- Data packages: Four plans are available, ranging from 10 GB to 24 GB of data, with validity periods of either 30 days or a full year. These plans include unlimited calling and texting within Europe, with prices starting at $24.90 USD.
- Additional benefits: The “Go Roam” feature allows for free incoming calls and texts in 71 countries and assigns a UK-based phone number (+44) to users.
- Roaming countries: Free data roaming extends to several non-European countries, including popular destinations like Australia, the USA, and Singapore, among others.
- Considerations: A UK-registered credit card is required for topping up, which can be a limitation for those looking to renew their plan after the initial 30 days. After the plan’s validity, the SIM card can still receive calls and texts.
Nomad’s eSIM has a global reach and a digital-first approach, which means there’s no need to fuss over physical SIM cards. There are plenty of reviews online, but my hesitation with this one is that it is one of the newest international eSIMs on the market. I’d be willing to try it, though!
- Coverage: Service in over 100 countries worldwide, with the ability to purchase regional plans or a global plan for frequent travelers
- eSIM compatibility: Compatible with eSIM-supported phones; installation is straightforward via QR code, and activation is on-demand, allowing users to pause and resume their plans as needed.
- Data packages: Nomad provides a range of data plans at competitive prices, starting as low as $2/GB, with no hidden fees. Plans range from 1GB to unlimited and from one day up to a year, giving you the flexibility to choose what best suits your travel needs.
- Considerations: While Nomad boasts high-speed and stable connections by utilizing the best local networks and allowing data sharing via hot spot, it offers data services only, not voice or text. You can only use eSIM-capable phones, and customer support is only available via email or the app, which may not offer immediate assistance.
Staying connected across borders has never been more accessible, which I love to see! From OneSim’s versatile offerings to Three UK’s expansive “Go Roam” network, the choices are as varied as the destinations they serve. Services like Nomad eSIM provide digital ease with near-local prices, while providers like Keepgo cater to those seeking data-only plans. Each has its unique advantages, tailored to fit the diverse needs of travelers, digital nomads, and solo explorers.
Now that there are so many options out there, the hardest part about staying connected on the road is no longer finding the next source of free Wi-Fi — it’s finding the best international SIM card for your specific needs! I’m honestly not mad about that, either.
Which one will you choose?