Buying a SIM Card: The cheapest way to use a smartphone while traveling in Europe

With policy changes implemented in June 2017, buying a SIM Card is now the cheapest way to use a smartphone while traveling in Europe. In the past, you might have had to buy a new card for each country, depending on your plan, and/or pay extra roaming charges.

 

The world of SIM cards is relatively unfamiliar to North Americans because we’ve never had to deal with them until just a few years ago. .

The problem with SIM cards is that they do require a little technical knowledge to install them, and an unlocked phone. If you just don’t want to deal with all that, we recommend Skyroam which gives you non-stop wifi just about anywhere in the world. You can find out more about Skyroam here.

If you want a SIM card to use in Europe, there are a couple of ways to do it. When you arrive in Europe, buy a SIM card. They’re available just about everywhere – airports, train stations, stores, restaurants, gas stations. The language barrier can be a problem, and choosing between the many carriers and plans can be overwhelming.

We recommend buying a SIM card before you leave from North America. We recommend Orange. The company has been around for a very long time, and their SIM card works pretty well everywhere in Europe. The one we have chosen is the Orange Holiday Europe. You can install it in your phone before you get on the plane, and it will automatically activate when you turn your phone on in Europe. It’s good for 14 days. You can add more time to it if you have an account, which is why we suggest you buy it before you leave. Once you get the card, you can establish an online account, and then it’s easy to add more time to your card wherever you are. If you don’t need it more than 14 days you don’t have to do anything. Just turn your phone on in Europe and you’re good to go.

Here’s what you get:

  • 10GB of Internet in Europe on 4G networks – Data tethering and use in hotspots allowed
  • 2 hours phone time and 1000 texts from Europe to worldwide
  • Credit valid 14 days after 1st use ( first call, first text, first internet connection). Top-up online on topup.orange.com with international credit cards
  • Triple cut SIM card (standard/micro/nano). No activation, easy to use
  • Covers 30 countries in Europe: Andorra, Azores, Aland islands, Germany, Austria, Balearic islands, Belgium, Canary islands , Cyprus, Corfu, Crete, the Cyclades, Croatia, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, Finland, France mainland, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Rhodes, Romania, United Kingdom, Sardinia, Sicily, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden

It’s $50 USD on Amazon.

The SIM card that you buy dictates your phone number. Orange is a company based in France, so you will have a French phone number. (You can now see why some people prefer to bring along an old phone or purchase a cheapo “travel phone” expressly for SIM card use.)

This also means that if you swap a new SIM card into your phone, your normal North American number will not work. When people try to call your US or Canadian number, it will go straight to voicemail, as you’ve basically just taken your number “offline.” You could prep for this by changing your voicemail message in advance to state that you’ll be traveling, and include your new number. (Although this can be a bit tricky, as you usually won’t know what your new number will be until you buy your new SIM card. Just another advantage to buying the Orange card before you leave.)

And the same goes for text messages. As your phone number will have changed, your texts will be coming from a number that your friends will not, at first, recognize. This can be a touch awkward at first, but they’ll catch on. Some people get around this by sending text messages through an app like Signal, Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger (however, these will only work when using data or connected to a Wi-Fi network).

If you have a dual SIM card phone, you can easily switch between your North American network and your new French network.

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