Do you need an international SIM card?

We’ve visited about 30 countries since 2011 and that means I’ve had about as many SIM cards. When we know we’ll be in an area for a longer period of time, it’s helpful to have a local number. And, of course, being able to use various travel apps is pretty handy, too.

international sim card

Now that we’re heading back to the US for a while, I’ve been investigating various services. I don’t want a contract so a pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) service will probably be my best option, just like when we were in foreign countries. In checking out various providers, however, I discovered an international SIM card.

This could be perfect for someone who travels a lot. International voice and texting plans are often quite expensive, but service with a global provider could make things a lot easier, especially when it’s a plan designed exactly for international travelers.

These plans offer service in many countries (they boast coverage in 195 countries for voice services and over 160 for data), and you don’t have to change your number or subscribe to something like a Skype number.

As we were indefinite travelers who didn’t need a set phone number for conducting business, it wasn’t as much of an issue for us. However, now that we’re looking at having a long-term base, the idea of having a number that doesn’t change while we travel is really intriguing.

international SIM card

I also like being able to use my phone, texting, and data plans regardless of which border I’ve crossed. Being able to top up easily is another bonus. There were times, like in the UK, where I couldn’t do a simple top-up online because I didn’t have a local-based card. Sure, you can often load up while you’re in a corner store or something, but isn’t it always easy or convenient.

Especially if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of English speakers.

When you’re popping around countries, it can also be a hassle because different providers have varying policies about how long a SIM will be valid after the minutes you’ve purchased have expired. It’s a lot to keep track of when you already have many other things on your mind. In Portugal, I didn’t bother getting a SIM since we were going to be in the country for 3-4 weeks and would be in different areas.

And it really stunk not having data to use apps to assist in exploration and figuring out Lisbon’s transportation system schedules.

I’m definitely giving the international SIM card a shot. I think it has enormous potential and will be one less thing I need to hassle with when we’re on the road.

Have you used an international SIM card before? What was your experience?

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  1. We used an international SIM card from Telestial for our round-the-world trip and it was a great backup to getting local SIM cards. In some countries, like Vietnam, it was very easy and cheap ($10 for a month of unlimited data) to get a local SIM card, even for a short time. In others, like Argentina, getting a local SIM card required a local address, a passport, a local person to vouch for you, and a lot of money.

    The international SIM card we used offered different rates for different countries. In some places it was very inexpensive and comparable to home rates, but others, like Iceland, where I accidentally activated it for an expensive (like, $120 expensive) 30 minutes in the airport, the rates were sky high.

    Now that we’re back in the US, we signed up with T-Mobile (no contract) and have been amazed at their international data plan (included in their basic plan). I have only tested it in Mexico, where frankly it worked better and faster than it does at home.

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    • I’ve been checking out different plans and so far plan on going with T-Mobile as well. I had a contract with them for years while in the US and was always very pleased with them. It looks like they excel in this arena as well. Good to hear you’ve had positive experiences with their PAYGO service.

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  2. That sounds like a great idea, if I traveled more I would probalby get one.

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  3. I’ve used one before, I am not going to mention the brand, but I found better rates than Frank mentioned, those rates sound ridiculous. Having said that, expect to pay more for voice, data and text, even in-country.

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    • He was referring to the rates offered by the company mentioned in the post. There are many companies out there offering a wide range of fees.

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  4. Whoa…just checked out the GOSIM rates for calling the US from Ecuador, for example, and at $2.85 per minute it’s absurdly pricey. In contrast, I paid 20 cents a minute to call the US directly from my phone in Cambodia with a Mobitel SIM card pre-paid plan. Data access looked pretty expensive, too ($25 per MB). I’m going to look further into International SIMS, but for now I think I’ll stick with buying a local SIM card in each of the countries we visit.

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    • Yikes! I’m still looking at different ones as well. Right now T-Mobile’s seems to be the best.

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  5. What a fantastic idea! I didn’t know these existing and from reading about the plan it definitely sounds affordable. I will certainly be using this for my trip next year 🙂

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    • Could’ve certainly made a big difference for us. Frequently changing SIMs, companies, etc, can get rather tedious.

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  6. Haven’t heard it that one until now. Usually we get a sim card right away in the airport upon arrival or the 2nd day in a country, as I can’t live without my data. It would be great if we didn’t have to get new SIM’s every few weeks! Thanks for sharing.

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