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 accommodations for a decent wireless 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 browse the Web 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.
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 2020.
We recommend carefully checking the regions supported by any mobile hotspot you plan to purchase. Not every device supports the different cellular frequencies used in each region or country, 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
This isn’t just a basic wireless hotspot device. The Skyroam’s Solis X, with its eye-catching orange case, has been dubbed the “World’s First Smartspot.”
What does that mean? Aside from sharing 4G/LTE data over Wi-Fi, the Solis X has a number of bells and whistles built-in. There’s an app-controlled wide-angle camera (8-megapixel stills, 720p video), 4700mAh power bank with up to 16 hours of battery life, and a customizable smart assistant that can control thousands of apps and services.
The camera and assistant are nice-to-haves, but if you have a recent smartphone that boasts the same functions, they become redundant on the Solis X.
Regardless of the extra features, the Skyroam Solis X’s long battery life and ability to connect up to 10 devices at once make it quite enticing for those traveling in a group. Several of our family members used the Solis X on a recent international trip, and said they were very impressed by it.
Skyroam provides LTE connectivity in over 130 countries on six continents, most heavily concentrated in the Americas and Europe.
The Solis X 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 plans for daily and monthly use, at $9/day or $99/month. This isn’t without a caveat, however: Skyroam will throttle data on its Unlimited plans after a certain point. The company doesn’t explicitly say what that threshold is, but does encourage users to disable background apps and automatic backups to avoid reduced speeds.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.
A key feature of the G4 is its touchscreen interface, which makes it easy to track data usage, and top up should you need more. It can also double as a battery pack for USB-C devices, with the 3900 mAh battery keeping the G4 running for up to 15 hours — more than enough for a full day’s work.
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, daily 500MB plans in the United States and United Kingdom go for $4 each. You’ll get better value on some of the long-duration plans, though: as an example, 12GB of data in North America costs $69, valid for a year.
For global travelers, the company’s most substantial data plan is one year of coverage in 58 countries for $388. This yearly pass has “unlimited” data, but speeds will be throttled to 256kbps once you’ve used 2GB in a month, so it’s not really designed for heavy use.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 quite 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 7GB of global data: 2GB out of the box, and 5GB more you can activate via email. We.Stream provides LTE service in 152 countries. Plans start at $8 for 500MB of high speed internet. 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 to a crippling 64kbps 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 service. (Note that in China, the max speed is a barely-usable 2G.)
Also, the data you buy is yours “forever.” Every byte of data you purchase from Keepgo 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 $14 for 500MB of “forever” data and top out at $165 for 10GB. 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 Teppy
Dressed in a brightly-colored rubber case, the 4.5-ounce Teppy has quite a bit to offer aside from its aesthetics.
As an added convenience, the Teppy comes with a travel case and a selection of universal adaptors to help you charge it up anywhere. If you want to make VoIP calls via Teppy, download the free Tep+ app, which claims to use “9x less data” while maintaining a high level of call quality.
Like the Keepgo before it, though, the real appeal of Teppy is in its data plan structure.
To start, Teppy includes 1GB of global LTE data. From there, you’ll have to download the free companion Sapphire app for access to “over 400+ data plans.” This appears to be the only way to view options and purchase data for Teppy.
Fortunately, 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 $18 for 2GB of data, valid for a week.
- if you’re going to Japan, only 30-day plans are on offer, starting at $35 for 4GB.
- you can pick up 2GB worth of daily data for $11 in the United Kingdom or France.
- if you’d prefer not to be locked to any one region, global data plans start at $39/month for 3GB of data, maxing out at 10GB for $110/month.
Given you could be paying as much as $65 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, the stylish Teppy 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 a few nice extras, check out Skyroam’s Solis X.
Images via Brusk Dede (main image), Travelwifi (Teppy image), Amazon (other product images)