Planning a trip abroad? If so, opting for a travel SIM card is one way to go to avoid expensive roaming fees. It lets you make calls back home and browse the web without spending a small fortune. The alternative is to get a plan from your carrier that includes international calls and data usage.
We have you covered no matter which option you go for. You’ll find the best travel SIM card and international plans from the four big U.S. carriers below, along with a few tips and tricks you have to know before heading to the airport.
Before you go
There are two things to keep in mind before you go on your travel adventure. The first is that you’ll need an unlocked device to use a travel SIM card. So if you’re smartphone is locked to your carrier’s network, you likely are out of luck. You’ll either need to get it unlocked or opt for an international plan offered by your carrier, which we’ll talk about later on.
The second thing is that you’ll likely need a GSM-compatible smartphone. There are two types of mobile networks in the U.S. — CDMA and GSM. The former is used by Sprint and Verizon, while the latter is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Keep in mind most modern CDMA devices from carriers like Verizon are still capable of excepting GSM SIM cards.
Read next: GSM vs CDMA – What’s the difference
GSM is the most popular mobile phone network in the world and is used in most popular tourist destinations including European countries. This means your CDMA smartphone may not work on the old continent. I said may because it depends on the smartphone you own — some CDMA devices also support GSM networks. So before you travel, make sure to check whether your handset is compatible with the local network.
5 best travel SIM cards
The eKit SIM card offers coverage in over 190 countries and will set you back $19. It comes pre-loaded with $10 in credit. Pricing for calls and texts depends on the location but starts at $0.35 (Europe, Australia…) and goes all the way up to $0.95 (China, Morocco…) — per minute and text. When it comes to data, downloading 1 MB will cost you a minimum of $0.25 and a maximum of $0.75.
The card has a UK number and can be topped up via the phone or web. You can choose between a few data plans the provider is offering, which are more expensive than those of the competition. For example, a 2 GB plan valid for 30 days in Europe will set you back $119.
The eKit SIM card isn’t the best for those who want to spend a lot of time online while abroad but is a good option for making calls back home.
The OneSimCard Data & Roam offers coverage in more than 200 countries and free incoming calls in 162 countries. It includes a European and U.S. number.
Outgoing calls start at $0.29 per minute, while data costs as low as $0.02 per MB — bi-weekly and monthly packages are available. Pricing depends on where you’re traveling to, so do check the rates before making the purchase.
The SIM card retails for $39.95 and includes $10 of balance for talk, text, and data. You’ll also have to pay for shipping if your order doesn’t exceed $50.
If you’re traveling to the old continent, the OneSimCard Europe & More might be a better option. What makes it different than the Data & Roam SIM card is that it “only” works in 70 countries and is $10 cheaper. Also, some outgoing calls are more affordable, starting at $0.25 per minute.
This travel SIM works in more than 200 countries around the globe. It has a UK and U.S. number and offers free incoming calls in 95 countries. The card itself is free of charge and comes pre-loaded with either $27, $40.50, $67.50, or $135 of credit, which you can spend on calls, text, and data.
Prices vary depending on the country. For instance, calls from the U.S. to Spain cost $0.22 per minute, a text will set you back $0.08, while 1 MB of data goes for $0.23. If you’re traveling to Australia, you’ll have to pay $0.21 per minute to call back home, $0.08 to send an SMS, and $0.21 for each MB of data you download — check out all prices here.
You can also add additional data bundles to the SIM card (up to 4 GB), which are valid for a period of 30 days. And once you run out of credits, you can add more via your credit card or PayPal account.
4. Telestial SIM card
The Telestial Pure World SIM card claims to offer savings of up to 87 percent on international roaming charges. Outgoing calls cost as low as $0.29, while data rate per MB starts at $0.09.
The card provides coverage in over 200 countries and either has a Canadian or U.S. number. It retails for $19.95 and comes pre-loaded with $5 in credit. There are also data plans available, which you can add to the card at any time. To use it, you have to pay a $1.99 monthly fee that’s deducted from your prepaid balance.
Telestial is also offering the Pure Europe SIM card for those traveling to Europe. It costs the same as the Pure World SIM but offers cheaper calls (from $0.25) and internet access (from $0.02) in certain markets. It works in 70 countries and also has a $1.99 monthly fee.
5. GigSky SIM card
Unlike the SIM cards mentioned so far, GigSky’s is only good for accessing the web. That means you won’t be able to make calls or send messages, unless you do so via apps like Viber and Messenger.
The card retails for $9.99 and is easy to set up. Insert it into your device, download the GigSky app to configure and activate it, and purchase a data plan.
Pricing depends on the destination: in Europe, 2 GB of data for a period of 15 days will set you back $30, while in the Asia-Pacific region 1 GB of data valid for the same period costs $40. You can check out all the plans and prices here.
Get a SIM card abroad
All the SIM cards mentioned above are great options, as you can set them up before you go on vacation and connect online as soon as you land. However, you can also opt for a prepaid SIM card from one of the carriers based in the country you’re visiting, which sometimes offer more bang for the buck.
If you’re vacationing in Italy, for example, you could opt for a travel SIM card sold by the Italian carrier TIM. It offers 4 GB of data and 100 minutes of national and international calls for €30 (around $37), which is a great deal. But you have to do research in advance to know where to get them. Some may be sold at airports, while you’ll only be able to get others by heading to one of the carrier’s stores.
In a few cases, you can order a travel SIM card online and have it shipped to your hotel.
Bottom-line, travel SIM cards like mentioned those mentioned above are great, but getting a pre-paid SIM card from a local network while abroad will often yield the best deals. Just do as much research as you can ahead as you won’t have access to calls, texts, or data when you first land in your new country.
International phone plans
Project Fi is a great carrier, even though it has a few limitations like how it only runs on select devices like the Pixel and Nexus series — at least officially. One of the best things about Fi? It’s international rates. Simply put, Fi offers flat-rate data no matter what country you travel to, as long as its within its supported 135 countries. That means you’ll pay $10 per gig regardless of where you go. You’re calling and texting is also automatically included in the 135 supported countries. For more details on Fi, you’ll want to head here. If you sign up for a plan and use referral code 30A2TH you’ll save $20!
Big Red’s Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited plans include unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada. However, data is throttled to 2G speeds after downloading 500 MB in a given day.
Verizon is also offering an option called TravelPass. It costs $5 per day if you’re traveling to Mexico or Canada, and $10 for those heading to one of the 130 countries you can check out here. Talk, text, and data are based on your domestic plan’s allowance, but the speeds get throttled to 2G after the first 512 MB each day.
There are also a few monthly plans available starting at $25 per device for those traveling overseas — see more details here.
The carrier is offering a Global Roaming option you can add to your Sprint account to get texting and data on 2G speeds for free — calls are charged at $0.20 per minute.
You can increase the data speeds by opting for Sprint’s High-Speed Data Roaming Pass that’s valid for 24 hours or a week. Pricing in most countries is set at $5 per day and $25 per week, although it can be higher or lower depending on where you’re traveling to.
Additionally, Sprint is offering International Data Pack, which gets you 40 or 85 MB of data in most countries around the globe for $40 or $80 per month. Pricing for Canada and Mexico starts at $30 — see details here.
If you’re on AT&T’s Unlimited Plus or Unlimited Choice plan, you can already call, text, and use data in Canada and Mexico without additional charges. If you’re not or plan on traveling to a different country, you have two options available.
The first is the International Day Pass. It lets you make calls, send texts, and use data in over 100 countries within your plan’s allowance for $10 per day.
The second is called the Passport and offers 1 GB of data and free texting for $60. The plan is valid for 30 days and can be used in 200 countries across the globe. You’ll still have to pay extra to make calls, though — $0.35 per minute.
There’s also a second Passport plan available that bumps up the data to 3 GB and the price to $120.
The carrier is offering those subscribed to the T-Mobile One plan or one of the Simple Choice plans unlimited data and texting in more than 140 countries. You still have to pay for calls, which will set you back $1 per minute.
But keep in mind that the download speed is capped at 128 kbps. You can bump it up to 256 kbps for $25 a month, which also gets you unlimited calls in certain countries, unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi if you’re on a plane that uses Gogo, and more.
You can also temporarily add high-speed data by the day or week, which you can learn more about here.
There are have it — these are some of the options you can choose from for your next travel adventure, which will keep you connected online and in touch with your family back home on the cheap.
Would you rather go with a travel SIM card or an international plan offered by your carrier? Let us know in the comments.