How do you stay connected on the road? Do you rely on the Wi-Fi in your hotel? Scour cafes for free internet? Roam with your cell provider from home, or buy local SIM cards for your devices?
There are several reasons why being at the mercy of your accommodation for a decent connection can not only be stressful, but even potentially dangerous.
Wrestling with weak Wi-Fi and slow speeds is frustrating, especially if you work while traveling and have deadlines to hit. Public Wi-Fi networks can also be prone to security risks that’ll leave your personal information out in the open for anyone to access.
Away from Wi-Fi networks, data roaming charges can get seriously expensive, or speeds reduced to the point they’re barely usable. Local SIM cards can be difficult to buy in some parts of the world, and the time you’re least likely to have one — when you first arrive in a country — is the time you’re most likely to need a connection.
Fortunately, there is a way you can get online safely, securely, and quickly anywhere you go.
Invest in a Mobile Hotspot With a Prepaid Plan
A mobile hotspot, also known as a Mi-Fi or pocket Wi-Fi, is a small, lightweight gadget that shares a cellular data connection among several of your devices via a private wireless network.
There are a couple of ways you can utilize a mobile hotspot. One option is to go unlocked. These generally don’t come with data service — you buy the device, then pop in a local prepaid SIM card to take advantage of cheap data rates almost anywhere in the world.
The other option is to buy a Mi-Fi device with a prepaid plan. This method is particularly useful for digital nomads and other travelers who need access to a reliable internet connection at all times, or who are traveling through several countries and don’t want to deal with the hassle of buying SIM cards.
Prepaid Mi-Fi plans typically give you a certain amount of data, a certain validity period, or both. This makes it easy to control your costs, as the plans typically stop working when you hit your limit rather than charge you extra.
It’s dead simple to use a Mi-Fi with a prepaid plan. Make sure the area you’re in is within your plan’s coverage zone, then just turn the device on and go.
Using a pocket Wi-Fi device (or other cellular data service) also brings security benefits, since it’s a private connection you’re not sharing with strangers. A Mi-Fi will ensure you and anyone you’re traveling with have a safe, stable network almost anywhere you can get cell service.
Below are the five best mobile hotspots with a prepaid plan you can buy for international travel in 2021.
We recommend carefully checking the regions supported by any mobile hotspot you plan to purchase. Just like smartphones, not every hotspot supports all of the different cellular frequencies used in each region, resulting in slower speeds or no data at all. Also, be sure to read your plan details thoroughly, to ensure you’ll get service in the countries you’re visiting.
Best Overall: Skyroam Solis X Lite
Coming in an eye-catching orange case, the Skyroam Solis Lite will be hard to lose or leave behind in a cafe. That’s a win right out of the gate, but thankfully there’s a lot more to like about this pocket Wi-Fi than just its color.
Supporting up to 10 connected devices at once, the Solis Lite has a 4700mAh battery that will last for up to 16 hours between charges, and can be used as a power bank to charge up your other devices if they’re running low.
That long battery life and multi-device support makes this a particularly appealing option for group travel, and it’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways for a family to stay connected overseas. Several of our family members used the Solis X on a recent international trip, and said they were very impressed by it.
Note that Skyroam also offers the Solis X, a more expensive version of the Lite that includes an app-controlled wide-angle camera (8-megapixel stills, 720p video), and a customizable voice assistant that can control thousands of apps and services.
The camera and assistant are nice-to-haves, but if you have a recent smartphone with the same functions, they become largely redundant on the Solis X. As a result, the cheaper Lite model is our pick for most travelers.
Skyroam provides LTE connectivity in over 130 countries on six continents, most heavily concentrated in the Americas and Europe.
The Solis X/Lite doesn’t come with any data out of the box, so you’ll need to purchase some before you start. Skyroam has a pay-as-you-go system, with no contracts required. Plans start at $6/GB for the Americas and Europe ($9/GB everywhere else). You can top up any time.
There are also Unlimited global plans for daily and monthly use, at $9/day or $99/month ($199 for three months, $299 for six months.) This isn’t without a caveat, however: Skyroam will throttle data on its Unlimited plans after you use 20GB, and encourages users to disable background apps and automatic backups to avoid reduced speeds.
Traveling in the US? Unlimited plans are cheaper there, at $49/month. Again, though, there’s a 20GB/month limit before the speed gets reduced.Buy on Amazon
Best for Versatility: GlocalMe G4
The GlocalMe G4 is a versatile hotspot that can be used either via its two unlocked nano SIM card slots, or by purchasing one of the company’s prepaid data plans. It can connect up to five devices at a time.
The touchscreen interface makes it easy to track your data usage, and to top up should you need more. The 3900mAh battery keeps the G4 running for up to 15 hours, which is more than enough for a full day’s work. The G4 also doubles as a USB C battery pack, so you can use any leftover capacity to charge your phone as well.
At just under seven ounces and roughly five inches, the sleek and slim GlocalMe G4 is one of our favorite portable hotspots for international travelers.
The GlocalMe G4 ships with 1GB of global data, plus 8GB for use in North America (USA/Canada/Mexico). GlocalMe’s coverage area spans more than 140 countries, although some of the company’s more substantial plans are geographically limited.
The company offers a vast array of plans that start at $1.50/day for 500MB and vary by region. Rates tend to be lowest in Asian countries such as Japan, Thailand, and mainland China. (GlocalMe is based in Hong Kong.)
By comparison, a 1-day/500MB plan in the United Kingdom or EU costs $4, and a 1-day/2GB plan is $6.99 in the US . You’ll get better value on some of the longer-duration plans, though: as an example, 10GB of US data valid for a month costs $36, while12GB of data for North America costs $69, valid for a year.
Unlimited monthly plans are also available in certain countries, although you’ll have your speeds restricted if you hit certain predefined data thresholds.Buy on Amazon
Best for Security: We.Stream Secure Mobile Hotspot
The We.Stream is an excellent option for international business travelers needing to send and receive sensitive information. Of course, it’s also suitable for any traveler who wants an extra layer of data security on the road.
The We.Stream is similar to the GlocalMe G4 (above) in many ways, with dual SIM card slots, a touchscreen, 15 hours of battery life, and support for up to five mobile devices.
What sets the We.Stream apart, however, is its VPN capabilities. Via the hotspot’s touchscreen, you can either use the inbuilt VPN service or configure it to connect to a corporate network. In either case, the We.Stream’s security features allow you to secure all of your internet traffic automatically, no matter what devices you connect to it.
It’s slightly bulkier than some of the other Mi-Fi’s mentioned here, at close to nine ounces. If you don’t have the pocket space for the We.Stream, however, it does come with a sturdy travel case that slips easily into a laptop bag or day pack.
The We.Stream Mobile Hotspot comes with 2GB of global data and 50GB of US data out of the box. The company provides LTE service in 152 countries, with plans starting at $8 for a day of unlimited data. Weekly, monthly, and yearly plans are also available.
Notable is the company’s 1-year Gold Unlimited data plan, which provides 20GB of high-speed internet each month for $1,789. That works out to $150 per month — the same cost as its 10GB Unlimited Data plan, with double the data. That’s not terrible value if you think your data usage will get close to the 20GB max each month.
Note that speeds on these Unlimited plans will throttle dramatically should you exceed the data cap. At most, you’ll be able to send email and text messages until you buy extra high-speed data.Buy on Amazon
Best for Portability: Keepgo World Travel Wi-Fi Hotspot
The Keepgo Travel Hotspot is an ultra-portable device. It weighs just under three ounces and measures a mere 3.4 by 2.3 inches, so you’ll have no problem slipping it in a back pocket.
As tiny as the Keepgo is, however, it can support an impressive 15 devices at a time. This makes it a great choice for families or groups traveling with loads of tech.
Unfortunately, its small size means the battery life for the Keepgo isn’t as impressive as others on our list. You’ll get a max of seven hours of runtime on a full charge.
Keepgo’s Mi-Fi device is interesting in its own right, but it’s the service that especially piques our interest.
Keepgo claims to never throttle data speeds or filter traffic. You’ll get LTE internet in the 100+ countries Keepgo has high-speed service. (Note that in China, the max speed is a barely-usable 2G.)
On the Lifetime plan, the data you buy is yours “forever.” Every byte of data you purchase from Keepgo on this plan doesn’t expire, as long as you refill at least once a year.
When you first power up your Keepgo device, you’ll have 1GB of global data to start out with. That’s enough for 30 minutes of HD video streaming or 130 minutes of video calling.
From there, plans start at $3 for 100MB of “forever” data and top out at $250 for 25GB. Those prices are higher than most of the other plans we’ve looked at, but remember that the company won’t arbitrarily reduce your speeds at any point.
You can either pay-as-you-go, or set up an automatic refill so you never have to worry about running out of data.Buy on Amazon
Best for Data Plan Options: TravelWifi
Dressed in a brightly-colored rubber case, the 4.5-ounce Sapphire 2 has quite a bit to offer aside from its aesthetics. It can connect up to five devices at a time, with at least six hours of usage when a single device is connected.
It also comes with a travel case and a selection of universal adaptors to help you charge it up anywhere.
If you’d prefer a touchscreen device and are happy to pay a little more for it, consider the Sapphire T2 instead. You’ll get 2GB of included data along with the easier configuration thanks to that screen, but there are few other differences between the two hotspots.
Like the Keepgo before it, the real appeal of TravelWifi is in its data plan structure.
To start, TravelWifi includes 1 or 2GB of global LTE data, depending on the device. After that, you’ll need to choose one of the “over 400+” data plans. You can do this via the companion app, or from the website.
If you choose to use it, the Sapphire app is easy to navigate and useful beyond just buying extra data. You can use the app to view your purchase history and data usage from as far back as six months ago.
Plans vary greatly by region and country. A few examples include:
- in the United States, prices start at $12.50 for 2GB of data, valid for a week.
- if you’re going to Japan, a 4GB/7-day plan costs $20.75.
- you can pick up 2GB worth of daily data for $9.50 in the United Kingdom or France.
- if you’d prefer not to be locked to any one region, global data plans start at $43/month for 3GB of data, maxing out at 10GB for $117.50/month.
Given you could be paying as much as $112 for 4GB of monthly data in more remote areas (such as certain regions in Africa), a global data plan can sometimes be the way to go even if you’re not traveling all over the planet.
Speeds will drop to 128kbps once you reach your data cap. You can recover LTE speeds after 24 hours of your next billing cycle.
Picking the Best Mi-Fi Device and Plan for Your Travels
Before purchasing a Mi-Fi device and plan, take a moment to assess your needs. When browsing on the move, what’s most important to you?
- If it’s security you crave, the We.Stream can give you peace of mind thanks to its built-in VPN and robust data plans.
- If you’d rather not worry about reduced speeds or keeping on top of your data allowance, the super-slim Keepgo is your best bet.
- For a wide variety of plans and an easy way to monitor your data usage, TravelWifi can give you what you need.
- Seeking a versatile, budget-friendly option? Check out the GlocalMe G4, with its dual SIM slots and affordable global data plans.
- Finally, for a well-rounded Mi-Fi hotspot with good battery life that’s ideal for group travel, check out Skyroam’s Solis Lite.
Images via Brusk Dede (main image), Travelwifi (Saphire 2 image), Amazon (other product images)