How to choose the right international SIM card

From the Travel Mobile Blog | September 02, 2016
When traveling outside your home country you have a number of options for using your mobile phone. If you’re a postpaid customer you can pay your home operator’s roaming fees. However, if you’re a prepaid SIM customer then you can’t roam and instead must purchase a local or international prepaid SIM for use in your destination country.

Choosing the right product depends on knowing what you need and where you’ll travel.

Postpaid vs. prepaid

If you pay your mobile phone bill at the end of each month after you have used the services then you’re known as a postpaid customer. You have signed up with your operator and are billed for the voice, text and data you used the prior 30 days.

Postpaid customers can typically use their phone outside their home network and country. They may need to ask their operator to allow international roaming and pay for an international roaming plan. Not opting for a roaming plan can lead to super expensive retail roaming. It’s a good rule of thumb to call your operator before you roam and ask what you need to do, and what international roaming plan options are available.

Roaming only works for postpaid customers, so if you’re a prepaid customer, your service will not work outside the country. This is primarily due to the fact that most operators do not integrate their billing systems, so the host operator would not know when you run out of credit.

Local prepaid SIM

If you are only traveling to a single country then typically the cheapest option is to purchase a local SIM from an operator in the country you’ll be visiting. Remember your service will be limited to only that operator’s network, and only in that country. That’s an important consideration if you’re traveling to Europe and plan to visit more than one country. In fact, if you plan to visit multiple countries then you’ll need to buy multiple SIMs and have multiple phone numbers.

Another consideration is that until you arrive and purchase your local SIM you’re probably going to be without phone service. You can typically purchase a SIM in the arrival airport, however, are you going to need the phone to contact someone or use GPS when you arrive?

Finally, think about the destination country’s language.

  • Do you speak that language?
  • Are you able to understand what their plans offer?
  • What if you need technical assistance for configuring your phone?
  • When you call for support they may not speak English.

International prepaid SIM

Whether or not you are traveling to multiple countries you may prefer an international prepaid SIM. These prepaid SIMs allow you to roam on multiple operator networks within each country, and throughout multiple countries. That’s an important consideration if you’re traveling to Europe and plan to visit more than one country. It also adds a little piece of mind in case you are in an area where one of the host networks doesn’t have good coverage. Your phone will then roam to another partner network.

International prepaid SIMs are relatively easy to purchase before you travel and provide the added security of having phone service as soon as you arrive in your destination country. You’ll also already know your international prepaid SIM phone number before you travel so you can share that with your friends, family and colleagues.

Finally, most international prepaid SIMs come with customer service in a number of languages, including English.

Be sure you have an Unlocked GSM phone!

Finally, if you do choose to purchase a prepaid SIM when traveling abroad, whether it is a local or international SIM, be sure your GSM phone is UNLOCKED! If you signed a contract or are paying for your phone monthly your phone is probably locked to your home operator’s network and will not work with other SIMs.

If you don’t know if your phone is locked you can:

  • ask your operator, or
  • try and place another SIM in your phone and see if it recognizes the other operator network, or
  • use one of the many sites on the web to check your phone’s IMEI – a unique number that identifies your phone. Simply dial *#06# on your phone and the IMEI will be displayed on the screen.