We live in a day when we feel that we are lost if we are somehow not connected to the world – whether it be by voice, internet, or text messaging. So, when we travel internationally, that need to feel connected can often cause us to pay a very high price to maintain that access. Paying the roaming costs with your US carrier is certainly not the cheapest way to go and you can maintain that connection for far less using local SIM cards.
Getting a foreign plan can take as little as 10 minutes and save you anywhere from $30 to hundreds of dollars depending on your usage – and you may be able to load and control it all online! It does not have to be hard to live like a local with your phone!
Is It Worth It To Buy A Local SIM And Plan?
First, I understand every country is going to be different and the price that you may have to pay may not be worth the hassle if you are only going to be in the country for a few days. But, if you are going to be there for a week or more (or maybe returning at some future date), having phone service so that you can keep friends and family
bored up-to-speed with your travels can be worth it! 🙂
US carriers can charge outrageous international fees, even with the packages that they all now offer. The data offerings are very poor and the price is high. Of course, if it is important to you to be able to use your home number on the go, than go with that. But, you don’t have to pay that much when you are in a foreign country for a few days or more!
If you have a phone that is unlocked, meaning it is not tied only to your US carrier, then you are ready to go and drop another SIM card (the tiny chip-like piece that goes into your phone and is your phone’s identifier for phone access). If your phone is not unlocked, call your carrier and ask them about it. If you have paid for your phone and/or are a customer in good standing, they will unlock it for you. Just make sure that the phone you are using is one that has a SIM card (not all Sprint or Verizon phones do).
Finding A Carrier And SIM
When you arrive in a foreign country, if the airport of your arrival is a large international airport, you will likely find at least one cell phone provider in the terminal. From them, you can at least purchase the SIM card you will need and some basic credit. If you can wait until you reach the city, you can stop in any cell provider’s storefront and ask them for a prepaid card and some credits. In Greece, these stores are everywhere and I know that is true in many other countries as well.
The SIM card may cost you a little something – in Greece, it costs about $5 for the SIM card itself. In some countries and with some carriers, the cost of the SIM card also includes some credit for use so it is a wash. Next, you need to put some credit on the phone. With prepaid plans, it is all about the credit as you can often choose from there what type of service you want. Ask them if they have an online portal for loading the phone as this is definitely going to be the easiest (and cheapest) way to fill your phone.
For me in Europe, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk in and get setup – max. They will need to scan your passport but then you just get the SIM, pay and go. At least in places I have done this, there are no applications to fill out and the process is done quicker than you can imagine!
What I Pay Per Month
In my case, for a while, I just kept loading my phone once a month with some credit (the credit for this particular program expires every 30 days but the SIM card’s number is good for 12 months without use) in the store. But, when I found out about loading my account online, I really started to get some great savings! Not only that, but I could do it anywhere I had internet instead of going into a store.
Load Up Online!
Here is what I get for my monthly account. We use something called the Blender (the cost is about $5.50) which gives us a pool of minutes, text messages, and data that draws down in equal proportions as one of those is used.
With that, we then have access to weekly gifts that we can give to ourselves or other users. In my case, I give my gift to me as well as my wife’s gift pack since I use more data than she does. The amount that is available fluctuates but is either 100MB or 300MB each week per phone. So, in addition to the 500MB I get with the Blender pack, I now get from 800MB to 2.4GB for free every month also!
But, that’s not all! If I load my account with $11, it automatically gives me another 100 messages, 500 minutes, and 1GB – without drawing anything from the $11 I just loaded! That $10 is still there for me to use for any other packages I want to load. That includes special calling plans to places around the world (it costs $7.70 to call the US for 240 minutes – equaling the cost of 3.2 cents per minute to call the US from your cell phone in Greece!).
To make it even better, you can pay for it with your PayPal account online – no problems! Not only that, but your SIM card is good for 1 year (if you do not use it all during that time) and you can access your account online from anywhere to reload for your next trip (or even use it from the US for a minute to keep the account alive past the 1 year).
So, what I get in a month is:
- at least 600 minutes to call around Greece
- at least 200 SMS around Greece
- at least 1.4 GB (just taking into account the gifts from my account and not my wife’s)
And I get all that for a total of $5.50 (though I load $11 into my account for future packages). So I spend $10 to load the account but the above is only using $5.50 of that. That is cheap!
And that does not have to be a monthly type plan. Since there is no contract and no package that you have to sign-up for, this same amount of usage could simply be for a week if that is how long you are in Greece. In that case, it would be $5.50 for the SIM card, $11 for the initial load, and only drawing $5.50 from that $11 to pay for the package. So, you will pay a total of $16.50 but will have another $5.50 for future use or other packages (like calling to the US).
It Gets Even Better Later This Year
To make it even better, in December, the carriers around Europe are getting rid of their roaming charges so that customers of their networks can call and use their phone from any country in the EU like they do in the originating country (in the EU). That means that if you buy a SIM card on your next trip to Greece, for example, next year, you could load up the card with what you need and land in Germany ready to go with a cheap phone package. Of course, the charges will likely go up a bit to compensate for the roaming but they will still be nothing like the US phone charges.
Of course, T-Mobile has a great option for all those on eligible plans for the international data roaming at no charge. That is great! Another option is Google’s new Project Fi that will allow international roaming and a very flexible data pay package. For now, that is by invite only and only on the Google Nexus 6, but that should expand over time.
But, if you are not in one of those two categories, look into the local SIM option for your next trip. You may be surprised how easy and cheap it is to stay connected while out. Not only is it nice to stay in touch with family and friends, but it is so much easier to have access to the internet while you are out exploring the city.
*These prices are from Greece and every country will have a different carrier structure and price. Make sure you check with your carriers in the foreign country you visit but they will just about always be cheaper than using your US carrier in a foreign country for voice and data.