Anyone who's spent more than a few days abroad has dealt with the necessary yet frustrating issue of finding a way to stay connected. While there are a few options available, such as using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, using the phone provided by the hotel, or simply using personal phones and accepting the costly service charges, none of these options are ideal.
Not every traveler stays in a hotel, not every destination has Wi-Fi readily available and most travelers would like to avoid extra charges while still being able to use their phone whenever needed. The best solution is therefore using a travel SIM card.
The Right Phone Model
For travelers interested in using a global SIM card, the first step is making sure their phone is compatible. This means having a phone that's unlocked and uses the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard on a compatible frequency. Since 2014, the GSM standard is used by 90 percent of phones on the market, and most new smartphones are compatible even if US wireless carriers use a different standard. If the phone was purchased in the last three years, chances are it's compatible with GSM networks.
Regarding frequency, a quad-band GSM phone will work on all frequencies, but it’s best to research specific phone models to determine compatibility. For example, in Europe, mobile phones operate on the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies while US networks use 800 MHz and 1900MHz frequencies. Some phones manufactured for a US market might not operate on the frequencies used in Europe.
As for unlocking, unless it was purchased as an unlocked device, unlocking a cell phone is slightly more complicated. In 2012, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was enacted, which requires wireless carriers to fulfill unlock requests once consumers meet the requirements. For many carriers, the requirements include paying an early termination fee or fulfilling a contract.
For travelers interested in using a global SIM card, it’s important to confirm if their phone is or can be unlocked and if it will work on the GSM network frequency band of their travel destination.
Using Local Carriers
Once the compatibility questions have been addressed, the next step is determining the best option for a travel SIM card. For travelers visiting English-speaking countries, the easiest solution is to buy a SIM card from a local carrier. Many airports have kiosks for local wireless service providers so that visitors can quickly buy a SIM card, minutes and a data package that suits their needs. Additionally, travelers can visit the carrier website and research branch locations to visit when they arrive.
If this option is too expensive or doesn't meet the specific needs of a traveler, global SIM cards are a great alternative. Below is a breakdown of the six most popular companies.
Telestial provides international SIM cards, cellphone and SIM card packages and data SIM cards. The cheapest option that offers coverage in the most locations is the Explorer SIM for $29, which comes with a $20 credit. This plan offers coverage for calls and texts in more than 190 countries and data connectivity in 150 countries. The price breakdown is $0.15 per minute for calls and per text while the prepaid data plan charges $0.35 per megabyte of data.
If the travel destination is in Europe, Telestial offers a cheaper $19 SIM card with a $10 credit that will work in 25 European countries. Rates for this SIM card option is $0.25 per minute for calls, per text and per megabyte of data.
For those without an unlocked cell phone, Telestial also offers cell phone packages that include a cellphone and a global SIM card. The cheapest option starts at $19 for a simple feature phone that works in Europe and Asia. Alternatively, the Economy Pack retails for $29 and also includes a basic phone with a SIM card that offers global coverage.
Smartphones are also available. For $100, travelers will get a device running the Android operating system and an international SIM card.
All SIM cards can be reloaded via the phone, the web or as an automatic service.
GO-SIM's most basic offering is the International SIM, which costs $19 and comes with a $10 credit. Making calls cost as little as $0.15 per minute and they're free to receive in most major cities. As for messaging, they're also $0.15 per text sent and free to receive if using the provided Global +44 phone number. Data costs $0.35 per megabyte, but cheaper rates are available by purchasing a data bundle.
More advanced packages include the Travel Pack for $49, which comes with a SIM card and a $50 credit, and the Travel Pack Plus, which offers a $100 credit and a free SIM card for just $89.
For those in need of a compatible phone, GO-SIM offers the World Phone Pack for $29 that includes a quad-band feature phone, an international SIM card and a $10 credit.
OneSimCard offers coverage in more than 200 countries, data service in 160 countries and each SIM card comes with a US and European number as well as the option to add additional numbers from 60 countries.
The OneSimCard Plus SIM card offers free incoming calls and text messages while outgoing calls and text messages both start at $0.25, depending on the location. Data rates start at $0.20 per megabyte. For the OneSimCard Data & Roam option, data rates drop to $0.10 per megabyte and daily, weekly or monthly data plans are available. Both cards retail for $29.95.
OneSimCard also offers a phone rental service to travelers. An entry-level feature phone will cost $4.25 per day for the first week and $1.75 per day for the balance of the rental period. The device works everywhere except Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. For those in need of service in these countries, OneSimCard offers an iPhone 4 rental for $18.55 per day for the first week and $14.95 for each remaining day.
For those traveling with phone or tablet devices that need data service only, GigSky is the perfect solution. This company offers data SIM cards in time blocks of 3, 7, 14 and 30 days, with the specific data amount and pricing varying by country. The travel SIM card will cost $19.95, regardless of the SIM card size. For consumers who already purchased a SIM card but later switched to a device carrying a different card size, GigSky conveniently offers a SIM card adapter set for $2.99.
For consumers traveling in a group or those who need to connect multiple devices, the GigSky Mobile Hotspot retails for $199.95 and allows users to connect up to 10 devices.
WorldSIM offers coverage in more than 175 countries, with free incoming calls in 90 of them, and outgoing calls and data costing as little as $0.20 per minute or megabyte. The cheapest nano travel SIM card is the WorldSIM Roam Free card that retails for $44.99 and comes with a $15 credit.
Additionally, WorldSIM offers two dual-SIM phone options. The first is called the Orbizz, which is an unlocked quad-band smartphone running the Android OS for $269.99 that comes with a free travel SIM card and a $30 credit. The other is a cheaper feature phone called the Travel Genie, which is also a quad-band device that comes with the same travel SIM card and a $30 credit.
For data-only services, WorldSIM offers the Pocket Wi-Fi, a mobile hotspot for $134.99, and it comes with the data SIM card, which offers rates as low as $0.12 per megabyte.
The entry-level global SIM card from eKit is the Explorer Service, which retails for $22.80 and comes with a $10 credit. With coverage in 190 countries, the Explorer SIM card offers free incoming calls in many of the popular tourist destinations around the world and a starting rate of $0.15 per minute for outgoing calls. Text messages also start off at $0.15 per text, depending on the location.
eKit also offers a data travel SIM card with coverage in 50 countries that provides 200MB of data for $58.80 or 1GB of data for $118.80. Note that the data SIM cards expire 30 days after the first use. Consumers traveling with phone or tablet devices who require a stable Internet connection and use large amounts of data will find this to be one of the more economical options available.
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