Best Multi-Country Cell SIM?
May 26, 2014 5:11 PM   Subscribe

My son is going on a three-week school trip to several countries in Europe about a month. I'd like to either buy a SIM for his (out of contract, unlocked) iPhone 4s, or direct him to buy one in London, at the airport, when he lands. I'm specifically looking for decent voice rates to the US, some international texting, and data to include an available network of WiFi.

The countries to be visited are England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Wikipedia shows that there isn't an appreciable overlap of service providers, so if the answer is, "Get a SIM card for each country," that's OK too.

Refilling online will be fine, and I expect the actual number of minutes to be small given his usage patterns.
posted by tomierna to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I believe( the operative word) that he should be able to get a "pay as you go" no contract plan from either Vodafone, "3" or perhaps 'O2" that should meet most/some of his needs. I live in Ireland and travel quite a bit and use Vodafone (SIM Only) non contract while traveling. Without quite a bit of finessing it is much easier and less expensive to use FaceTime (Apple) or Skype on WiFi or international calls. He may need to wait until he gets there to get the SIM and open an account. Check Vodafone UK for more info. Not necessary but things might go smoother if his Iphone is factory unlocked or unlocked by the provider.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:52 PM on May 26, 2014

As mentioned in this earlier thread, the T-Mobile (USA) $50 monthly plan with data and international roaming at 20¢/min for calls might be the most convenient option.

Buying SIMs in multiple countries will mean multiple minimum top-ups, and that's going to stack up quickly. A UK provider will probably be able to offer add-ons for both European roaming and cheaper voice calls to the US, but that may stack up: there's not really an "American in Europe" option from the main UK carriers.

If he can use Skype or FaceTime for calls (ideally over WiFi) so that you don't need the voice component, then a European roaming add-on to a UK SIM should work.
posted by holgate at 6:14 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Getting a SIM in all of those countries will an incredible amount of hassle. Even getting one SIM card to work in an unlocked phone can be a trial, though the UK is better than most. How old is your son? Given how hectic school trips can be, I would look into buying a SIM before he goes. I can only see australian options, but there are websites that can sell you SIMs and deliver them before you go. I would look for a UK one, as setting up a UK SIM is fairly straight forward compared to many countries, and because you will be able to understand the website.

However, it might be cheaper and easier to turn on roaming, or buy an international SIM, and set up Skype or Facetime.
posted by kjs4 at 6:29 PM on May 26, 2014

Last night I purchased an International Sim from on the recommendation of two people who have used it before. I won't recommend it myself as I am yet to use it, but something like this is maybe a good idea?

One thing to be wary of if buying a SIM in the UK to use in Europe is that you often have to contact the provider and ask for it to be 'usuable' in other countries (this is the case with orange/ee on contract at least). Also a lot of UK companies will want things like a UK address and even a credit history even if you are buying a pay as you go SIM card.
posted by Megami at 10:50 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the Netherlands my go- to recommendation is Lebara, at least for cheap calling to the US. They also include at least some data with the initial purchase.
I see that they are in most (but not all) the countries you ask about, so maybe try them in the UK and see what happens when he enters a new country.
I have not found it to be more difficult than just popping the new SIM in and watching it work, but asking the person in the shop for help would be a good plan.
posted by Tunierikson at 12:08 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

T-Mobile (as mentioned by holgate) is definitely the best option. Assuming he has a decent smartphone and a good wifi connection, he can then use skype to call when he has wifi access. And he will be able to text to his hearts content with people in the US (assuming that by international texting you mean Europe<>US).

Another option is to get a Skype to Go number, and change it for every country he is in. If he has access to a local land line, he will be able to call the US very cheaply though a regular phone that connects through Skype.

I would not buy a sim in the UK. Texting within Europe is cheap, but UK mobile calling and US texting tend to be very expensive.
posted by troytroy at 2:09 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Lebara. There is nothing difficult or complicated about buying a SIM in Europe and sticking it into an unlocked phone. In most places you can buy a SIM from a candy shop or a grocery store. Texting will be easy, and if he must make voice calls then Skype over Wifi is the way to go.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2014


I started writing this post before the one Holgate mentions, but I didn't submit the form until I got back from dinner.

I'm definitely looking at the T-Mobile (USA) plan as the solution now. The phone is unlocked, but currently on AT&T, whose international roaming is quite expensive comparatively. The T-Mobile plan covers all of the target countries, so that's perfect.

His phone has Skype installed, and FaceTime is an option, and it's got Bria for use with my VoIP server, for if Wi-Fi is available.

I can't seem to find good information on the prevalence of International T-Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspots - anyone have any thoughts on that?
posted by tomierna at 7:18 AM on May 27, 2014

You get unlimited mobile data with T-mobile, so you probably don't need to worry about wifi.
posted by soelo at 7:30 AM on May 27, 2014

soelo, I believe the unlimited mobile data only applies to non-roaming data. I'd be getting the T-Mobile (US) plan and roaming internationally, so the 3G/4G data is capped abroad:

Quoted from T-Mobile's "Simple Choice International Plan" FAQ:

Will I get the same high-speed network experience now internationally, as I do here at home in the U.S.?
No. Customers will have unlimited web speeds great for web browsing and e-mail, social networking and occasional use of certain features like GPS/maps. Some applications like streaming music or video will be more difficult than when on T-Mobile’s domestic network. However, higher-speed data passes will be available for purchase when you are abroad:
  • Single day pass: $15 for 100MB (high speed data capped at 100MB)
  • 7 day pass: $25 for 200MB (high speed data capped at 200MB)
  • 14 day pass: $50 for 500MB (high speed data capped at 500MB)

posted by tomierna at 8:45 AM on May 27, 2014

I just came back from Europe and got a text message from T-Mobile as I entered each new country. They said "unlimited web included as part of your global coverage". Yes, it slows down if you hit the cap, but you don't get charged any more. I think that is what you are saying, but I just want to make sure you know you don't have to worry about overage charges, just speed. Since Skype and Facetime would be affected by slow speed, that is probably what you are concerned about.

I did not keep an eye out for T-Mobile hotspots, but almost every McDonald's has free Wi-fi.
posted by soelo at 11:09 AM on May 27, 2014

Thanks, soelo. I understand what you mean now.

Thanks everyone else - T-Mobile looks like the way to go.
posted by tomierna at 12:55 PM on May 27, 2014

If you only need data I would go with with DataRoam which gives you 50Mb of data across 40 countries (almost all of europe) for <$30. You can buy another 500Mb of data for $50.
posted by vegetableagony at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2014

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