Buying a Prepaid Travel SIM Card for Europe Guide

If you are planning to visit Europe anytime soon, you are probably wondering about options for your cell phone service while you are traveling. While certain cell phone providers offer flat-rate daily packages to help cover you when you go internationally, many of those plans are expensive. One of the better choices for cell phone service when traveling Europe is using a SIM card, which tends to be an inexpensive option.

What are the best SIM card options when visiting EuropeWhen you are traveling through Europe, you have the option of purchasing an international package from your carrier, going without a roaming bundle (Pay As You Go), or purchasing a SIM card abroad. Many local phone carriers in Europe offer SIM card packages for travelers that want to use their cell phones while traveling, offering one of the cheapest options.

Finding the best SIM card in a European destination can be difficult if you plan on visiting many places in one trip, making you want to purchase a SIM in every location. However, that does not have to be the case. As of June 2017, Europeans do not have to pay extra for roaming anymore when roaming out of their home country. You may not be a European, but this rule applies to European prepaid SIMs as well, meaning you pay domestic rates when using a prepaid SIM from France in Belgium, for example.

I put together this article to help you out. I have compiled the research on the best SIM card options when visiting Europe so that you will not have to spend time doing the research.

Note that this article focuses on SIMs that can be used in all European destinations at a fixed price, which you pay for in advance. It does not cover the SIM options of each European country individually. If you are interested in that, check out my European SIM card buying guide covering all European destinations (it is a good read, promised!)

Smartphone options when traveling abroad

If this is the first trip you have ever made to Europe, you are most likely wondering what you can do about your cell phone to keep it in service without draining your bank account. Most of us are used to having our cell phones at all times, to the point where we would feel lost without them even if we did not use them for a few days.

While some people decide to try to go without their cell phones to save money while traveling in Europe, this might not always be the best option, because you might need your phone to find locations or look up other information. For instance, if you need a phone number because you need to call a business ahead of time, then you will need your phone to find that information.

So, if you are planning on taking your cell phone along with you and using it while you travel in Europe, what are your options? You will have three options for your smartphone if you decide to use it on your travels, which we will cover below.

Option 1: Buy an international plan from your carrier

One option you will have when it comes to using your cell phone in Europe is to purchase an international package from your carrier, also known as a roaming deal. For instance, if you use an AT&T plan, you could sign up for one of their Passport packages. With the AT&T Passport package, you pay an additional fee that works as an add-on to your usual bill.

No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!

If you opt for this type of service, when you pay your add-on fee, you will get access to some data transfer you can use for emailing, accessing the web, and using your apps as well as text messages. With these types of packages, you will get your per-minute charge for using your phone lowered, but using your phone to call will still probably cost you about $1 per minute.

AT&T’s Passport

AT&T’s Passport plans vary in their cost depending on how long you want to use the package. You can pay $10/day for daily usage on top of your regular program. However, if you are staying in Europe for much longer, you can opt to pay $30 for the entire month of access.

Verizon’s Option

Verizon offers similar plan options as well. With Verizon, you will also be paying the same fee of $10/day on top of your cell phone bill if you need daily cell phone access, and you are only traveling for a few days. However, just like with AT&T, Verizon offers two cheaper 30-day package options, one that costs $25/month and one that costs $40/month.

Other providers

There are many providers out there in the world, which I cannot list in this section. However, I have reviewed many and written articles about them. Simply go to the Roaming With Your Provider page, look for your country, and find your provider. I also let you know whether it is worth to roam with your provider or to go for a local sim.

Option 2: Pay as You Go Roaming

You have another option with your cell phone when it comes to traveling internationally. While we recommend that you consider purchasing a roaming add-on like AT&T’s Passport if your provider offers such a bundle, if you are going to use your phone often while you visit, some travelers decide to go without a package upgrade and wing their cell phone service usage while they travel abroad.

If you are not planning on using your phone that often and you know you will be limiting your cell phone usage, then you can try to take your phone along with you and keep it turned off unless you need to use your phone. While you can attempt keeping your phone off as much as possible and only using it as you need to, remember that if you do use your phone without a package, the calls and data transfer charges will be much more expensive without a plan than if you had purchased one.

If you do decide to try and keep your phone off as much as possible when you travel throughout Europe, you can put your phone on airplane mode as well. By placing your phone on airplane mode, you will restrict your email and web browsing time to happen only when you are connected to a WiFi network.

You can also keep your cellular data and roaming off to cut back on costs. That way, you would only use your phone for texts and calls when you need to use it. However, using this method still means you might wind up getting hit with some expensive fees even if you do not use your phone that often. In fact, I rarely recommend roaming on Pay As You Go rates, unless when the fees are so low that the provider is virtually paying you to roam, which is seldom. That is why we recommend you consider our next option for your cell phone when you visit Europe.

Option 3: Purchase a SIM Card when traveling abroad

Another option for you if you want to use your cell phone while traveling abroad in Europe is to purchase a SIM card when traveling abroad. If you select this method, you will be buying a SIM card from a local phone carrier in Europe. Once you purchase the SIM card, you can use it either on your smartphone if your phone is unlocked. If your phone is not unlocked or World-Ready (applicable to Verizon and Sprint phones using CMDA technology), you can use cheap travel phone that can be used in Europe and the rest of the world.

The advantages of buying a SIM Card in Europe

To some people, the process of purchasing a SIM card in Europe sounds like a headache. While some time and effort can be involved when it comes to buying a SIM card in Europe, there is one significant benefit to doing things this way. Purchasing a SIM card from a European carrier is far cheaper than using your home carrier when you travel in Europe.

By using a SIM card from a European carrier, you will be purchasing a new phone number from Europe, which will give you the same low-cost dialing options that Europeans use locally. The prospect of using a SIM card from a European carrier has become so popular among Americans traveling abroad that nowadays, several different European phone carriers offer different SIM cards, packages, and options, which are available to other travelers around the world too.

If you decide to purchase a SIM card from a European carrier, you will need to buy two things:

  • A SIM card, which will give you your new phone number.
  • Credits from the carrier so you can make phone calls and use data. 

I recently traveled to France and decided I would try out this method and purchase a SIM card from a European carrier.

Note: I am a European myself and have a European phone subscription. I decided to test one of these European Traveler Cards so that I can share the first-hand experience with you.

So, I bought a SIM package from Orange that cost me $49. Orange happens to be one of France’s largest carriers. When I purchased the package, I got the following services:

  • A SIM card from Orange that was attached to a French phone number (+33).
  • 120 minutes of phone calls I could use for calling in Europe. 
  • 1000 text messages I could use throughout Europe, both sent and received.
  • 20GB of mobile data that I could use when traveling Europe. 

That is quite a package when you think about it. Comparing this SIM card package to AT&T’s Passport makes you realize how much more you will get by using a SIM card from a European carrier. The price difference between Orange’s SIM card and AT&T’s Passport is not much, but you will get a lot more usage out of your phone with Orange’s SIM card.

My experience with Orange

When I was traveling in France with this SIM card package, I did not come anywhere using all of my minutes, text messages, or data. This plan was more than enough to cover me for the month. Also, the beautiful thing about SIM card packages like Orange’s is that you can also track usage. With Orange, I could track my usage by dialing #123# on my phone. 

While I did not need to buy anything additional when I used this Orange plan, if you are the type of person that tends to use their cell phone far more often than I do, and that is certainly a possibility, you would have options for refills with Orange’s plan. All SIM card packages like Orange’s work this way. If you notice your credits getting low at any point, you can buy more credits to add to your SIM card package at a local newsstand. 

Now, Orange’s service may not be the best deal around for your needs. There are many more deals out there, but I decided to go for Orange because I was going to be in France for a month anyway. Orange is found everywhere in France, which is why I went with them as well.  

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The BEST SIM Card options when visiting Europe

Let’s get straight into your SIM card options for traveling around Europe.

SIM Card Option #1: SimOptions

SimOptions is a great choice for international travelers looking to make their cell phone rates a bit cheaper when they travel internationally. With SimOptions, you can get coverage not only in Europe but also in Asia and the Americas. SimOptions has many international SIM card options for those that travel abroad. 

With SimOptions, you will be able to get sim cards that allow you to data roam in over 200 destinations all over the world. So, if you tend to travel internationally often and especially if you go not only to Europe but Asia and the Americas as well, SimOptions could be an excellent choice for you.

Another convenience we love about using a SimOptions SIM card is that their pre-registered SIM cards can be shipped right to your door, and you do not need to show any ID to purchase your SIM card. As soon as you get your SIM card, you can start using it right away and insert it into your phone. SimOptions SIM cards are plug-and-play, so you can use it as soon as you install it.

If you are wondering about how much SimOptions SIM cards cost, I have got the details below. First, I will cover the details about SimOptions’ prepaid European SIM cards.

You will have two options for European SIM cards with SimOptions; first, a 5GB plan that costs $29.90, and second, a 12GB plan that costs $39.90.

SimOptions 5GB plan offers:

  • Prepaid Europe SIM cards from SimOptions that cost $29.90.
  • The SIM card comes with 5GB of the Internet.
  • You will also get unlimited call usage in Europe.
  • Plus, you will get unlimited text usage in Europe.
  • Your credit is good for 30 days.
  • You will get 4G/LTE service throughout Europe. 

SimOptions 12GB plan offers:

  • Prepaid Europe SIM cards from SimOptions that cost $39.90.
  • With this SIM card, you will get 12GB of data.
  • You will also get unlimited call usage in Europe.
  • Texts will also be unlimited throughout Europe.
  • Your credit is good for 30 days.
  • You will get 4G/LTE service throughout all of Europe. 

Get your European SimOptions SIM today!

SIM Card Option #2: Orange 

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Another excellent company that offers excellent deals on SIM cards is Orange. While I discussed my own experience with Orange earlier, I did not break down the pricing plans thoroughly, so let’s do that now.  

First, let me give you a little background information on Orange as a company. Orange has been around since 1988 and was founded as France Télécom. Orange bases itself in France and is the fourth largest network operator in Europe. Worldwide, Orange is the twelfth largest telecommunications operator, meaning this company has an excellent, longstanding reputation in the communications industry.

Orange’s outstanding reputation has made it a top-rated product in Europe. They have over 256 million users worldwide, which is a pretty impressive number. If you opt for an Orange SIM card, you will have two options in prepaid SIM cars; first, the Orange Holiday 3GB SIM Card, and second, the Orange Holiday 20GB SIM Card.

With the Orange Holiday 3GB SIM Card, you will get:

  • A plan that starts at $29.90.
  • 3GB of Internet.
  • 30 mins of worldwide phone calls.
  • 200 global texts.
  • 14 days of credit.
  • Your SIM card will remain valid for six months.
  • You will get 4G/LTE service throughout all of Europe.  

If you feel you need a little more data than 3GB, you can opt for the Orange Holiday 20GB SIM card, which we will break down below.

  • This plan starts at $49.90.
  • It offers 20GB of the Internet.
  •  You will get 120 minutes of worldwide calls.
  • Plus, you will get 1000 global texts.
  • 14 days of credit.
  • Your SIM card will remain valid for six months.
  • You will get 4G/LTE service throughout all of Europe. 

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Aside from those two plans, Orange also offers two optional top-off programs for your data usage in case you run out of data earlier in your policy. Your first option is to add 1GB to your SIM card for $12.60.

  • The $12.60 SIM card brings you an additional 1GB of the Internet.
  • You won’t get any further calls or SMS messages with this plan.
  • You will get seven days of credit. 

Your second option is to add 3GB of data to your plan for $30.90

  • With the $30.90 addition, you will get 3 GB of the Internet.
  • You won’t get any additional calls or SMS messages with these plans.
  • You will get 30 days of credit. 

You can use your Orange SIM in the following 50 destinations:

  • Aland islands
  • Andorra
  • Austria
  • Azores
  • Balearic islands
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canary islands
  • Corfu
  • Crete
  • Croatia
  • Cyclades
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Faeroe Islands
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Gibraltar
  • Greece
  • Guernsey
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Isle of Man
  • Italy
  • Jersey
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Madeira
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal 
  • Rhodes
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Sardinia
  • Sicily
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Vatican City

Get your Orange SIM today! On Amazon or SimOptions (3 GB or 20 GB).

SIM Card Option #3: Three

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is three-logo.jpg

Three offers one of the largest SIM card service providers in the continent of Europe to you. The company started in Hong Kong back in 2002, but since then, it has become increasingly popular throughout the world. Today, Three has over 130 million users worldwide. Three is also a part of CK Hutchinson Holdings, so you will find many Three subsidiaries across the globe. 

Since this article is focused on SIM card options when visiting Europe, we will discuss Three’s 3 Group Europe plans. 3 Group Europe covers areas like Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and the United Kingdom. 

If you decide to use 3 Group Europe’s SIM card services, you will have two choices in plans. You can either sign up for the Three PAYG 5GB plan, or the Three PAYG 12 GB plan. 

We will start by covering the Three PAYG 5GB plan. With this plan you will get:

  • You will get a service that costs $29.90 per month.
  • 5GB of data that comes in 4G and works in the countries listed above.
  • You will get unlimited calls and texts throughout Europe.
  •  You will get 30 days of credit, but no top-ups are available with this plan. 

With the Three PAYG 12GB plan, you will get:

  • You will get a plan that costs $39.90 per month.
  • 12GB of data that comes in 4G and works in the countries listed above.
  • You will get unlimited calls and texts throughout Europe.
  • You will get 30 days of credit, and no top-ups are available with this plan.

You can use your Three SIM card in the following 49 European destinations:

  • Austria
  • Azores
  • Balearic Islands
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canary Islands
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • French Guiana
  • Germany
  • Gibraltar
  • Greece
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guernsey
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Isle of Man
  • Italy
  • Jersey
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Madeira
  • Malta
  • Martinique
  • Mayotte
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Reunion
  • Romania
  • Saint Barthelemy
  • Saint Martin
  • San Marino
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Vatican City

Get your Three SIM today! On Amazon or Site 2 (5 GB or 12 GB).

SIM Card Option #4: Vodafone

Vodafone New Zealand Logo

While you might be the type of person that travels only with one device, that is not true of everybody. Plenty of people go with more than one device when they take international trips. So, if that describes you, you may need to think about getting European coverage for more than just your phone.

If you like to travel with pocket WiFi or any other type of tablet or device that needs an Internet connection, then you might want to consider some of Vodafone’s plans. Vodafone offers several choices in mobile broadband coverage that can get all of your devices working while you are traveling.

First, you can opt for Vodafone’s Data SIM 1GB plan. With this plan, you will get:

  • 1GB of 4G speeds for $11.50.
  • You will get 90 days of credit.

However, if you are planning to only travel with your cell phone, and you do not believe you will be using your cell phone that often, then Vodafone offers a Pay as You Go plan, which might be more affordable for you. If you are not planning on being in Europe for too long and you know you only need limited access to your phone, then consider the Vodafone Pay as you Go 500MB plan below.

  • You will get 500MB of 4G data for $11.20.
  • You will also get unlimited calls and unlimited texts.

Purchasing your SIM Card in Europe

If you are considering any of the European SIM card options above, then you will need to know how to buy SIM cards in Europe. When it comes to purchasing SIM cards, the rules and regulations about SIM cards can differ depending on what county you are visiting. However, in most European countries, you can easily purchase a SIM card from a nearby location and have your phone operating at an inexpensive rate in a matter of minutes.

In Europe, you will find SIM cards sold just about everywhere. They are displayed in cell phone stores, tobacco shops, newsstands, and you will even find them in various vending machines across the continent. Some countries require that you register with a passport or other identification when you get your SIM card. However, many locations in Europe are more relaxed than this, and it tends to be very easy to get a SIM card in Europe.

In Europe, you can purchase SIM cards at:

  • Carrier-specific stores. If you stop by a local cell phone store, you will likely wind up finding a selection of SIM cards that could work for you. However, keep in mind that most cell phones and mobile carriers’ stores will be only offering their products, so you will probably get a limited selection along with limited advice about SIM cards if you decide to shop here.
  • Newsstands and unaffiliated cell-phone stores. Newsstands and unaffiliated cell-phone stores tend to be some of the best places you can go to buy a wide variety of different SIM cards. The selection at newsstands and unaffiliated cell-phone stores will typically offer SIM cards from companies like Orange, SFR, Lycamobile, and others.
  • You can also purchase your European SIM card before you leave for Europe. While this is a convenient way to get your SIM card, it is probably not the cheapest. You will save a lot more money if you purchase a SIM card once you get to Europe because you will have a wider variety of choices and opportunities.

Now that you know what your options are for purchasing SIM cards for your European trip, you will be able to save plenty of money while still using your phone. No matter how often you plan to use your phone while you are in Europe, you know you are likely going to need some access.

So, to avoid paying the overpriced charges most carriers tack onto their cell-phone plans, you can purchase a SIM card in Europe and save a lot more money. No matter what you need to use your cell phone in Europe, you are likely to find a SIM card package in Europe that will work for you.

What is next?

Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!

Book Your Flight

It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices for your preferred destination drops.

Book Your Accommodation

I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance

You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.

Get a Travel Debit Card

Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to the currency of your destination for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.

Enjoy your trip!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan due to the current pandemic and does not have any travel plans for after his stay in Taiwan.

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