Cell Phones in Europe - How to Compare
Most companies selling European SIM cards to travelers sell two types of SIM cards:
- Country-specific SIM cards: These are the same SIM card you can purchase in the country (e.g. Italy - TIM, UK - Vodafone). Incoming calls will be free in that country and you will get good rates when calling within that country, but will pay higher rates when roaming in another country (you may pay for incoming calls in other countries).
- International SIM cards: Usually more expensive per minute that the country-specifc SIM cards, but can be used in more than one country. Most have free incoming calls throughout Europe.
Country-specific SIM cards are a good solution if you are spending most of your vacation in one European country. These are prepaid cards and can be "recharged" or "topped up" (add more minutes) either through the company where you purchased them or locally.
International SIM cards differ from company to company and are either prepaid or you set up an online account with your credit card and you are charged for minutes used.
US Cell Phones and Providers
The most expensive option is to use your US cell phone and cell provider in Europe (if this option is available from your provider). For example, if you take your T-Mobile GSM world phone to Europe, you pay $0.99/min for incoming and outgoing calls. This is fine if you do not plan on making many calls from your cell phone.
Note that rates and international roaming options change frequently. Contact your cell provider to see what they offer for roaming in Europe.
Don't Forget Skype
If you travel with a computer or tablet, and have internet access where you are staying, using Skype is the cheapest option for calling.
I always travel with a computer and use Skype if I have a high speed internet connection. Unfortunately, not all vacation rentals offer internet access.
How To Compare Cell Phone Calling Plans
When comparing calling plans consider the following:
- What is the cost of the SIM card? Most companies charge more than if you bought it in Europe (but it may be worth it to have your phone number before you leave and have your phone ready on arrival).
- Incoming calls should be free for country-specific SIM cards.
- Find out the per minute calling rates for calling within the country, within Europe and for calling home. This varies greatly with different companies. If it is more than $1.00/min, you might as well use your US cell phone and provider (if you have a GSM world phone and international plan).
- How do you add more minutes? Is this automatically done with an account you set up or do you purchase more minutes locally?
- Is there a connection fee? Some cell providers have a hefty connection fee for each call.
- Does it cost more per minute if calling a cell phone in Europe?
- When does the card expire? Some cards do not expire as long as you use them once a year.
- If it is an International SIM card, what country is the card from? If it is issued in the UK and you are in Italy, people in Italy will have to call a long distance number to reach you.
Know the rates you will be paying so you can use your phone with confidence.