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Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in Romania

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Someone told me recently that in the list of the most read books of all time, Dracula is second only to the Bible.

While it seems that “fact” is completely false (it did come from a Romanian in the tourist industry, after all), the book certainly hasn’t done any harm for Romania.

Transylvania continues to draw tourists in search of the bloodthirsty vampire. While they arrive for him, they stay because of the impressive mountain scenery and idyllic towns such as Brasov and Sibiu.

However, most visitors still enter through the country’s capital Bucharest — and it’s a very easy place to get connected. Prices are low, and the process is straightforward.

For that reason, unless your phone can’t take a physical SIM card or you’re really in a hurry and don’t have time to buy and install one, there’s not much point using a travel eSIM in Romania.

The prices are pretty good by global standards, but unless you only need a small amount of data for a short trip, you’ll still pay more than using a local SIM. Whatever approach you take, though, here’s what you need to know.

Companies

  • I recommend Vodafone or Orange for most travelers who want a physical SIM
  • An eSIM from Airalo is the best option if you only need data

There are four cell networks available in Romania, although you’re most likely to only notice the two larger companies, Orange and Vodafone.

These two currently cover 95% of the population, with 4G/LTE available on pre-paid packages in most major cities and often when traveling between them. 3G is still available with both companies. 5G is an option on most of Orange’s prepaid plans.

Both Orange and Vodafone offer a variety of packages suitable for short-term visitors to the country, and they’re cheap. For less than $10 you’ll have plenty of calls, texts, and data that last up to a month.

I purchased a Vodafone SIM when arriving in Bucharest, simply because it was recommended to me by a friend already living in the city.

The majority of people I know here are also using Vodafone, although Orange is actually the market leader according to the latest statistics. Either way, there’s little difference between the services they offer.

Travel eSIM for Romania

Because of the super-low mobile prices in Romania and ease of buying a local SIM, most visitors shouldn’t bother with a travel eSIM. It’s really only those whose phones can’t take a physical SIM, or who only need a small amount of data, that will benefit.

If that’s you, go with Airalo. Of the companies I use and recommend, it’s the cheapest option at time of writing.

Like most travel eSIMs, it’s data-only: you don’t get a local number. I use apps for everything from communication to transport these days, so the lack of a local number very rarely matters to me, but you might have different needs.

One thing worth noting: if you’re planning to travel to several European countries including Romania within a few weeks, it might be worth looking at some of the regional eSIM packages on offer.

There are too many to list each one separately (and they change all the time), but as a starting point, these are the Europe eSIM options from companies I’d actually consider using:

If you’re new to eSIMs, they offer big benefits to travelers in terms of how quickly, easily, and (often) cheaply you can get connected when you arrive in a new country. Most recent phones support them, and you can read all about them here.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Romania

Most convenience stores and newsstands sell SIM cards. Due to the number of dedicated phone shops around the major cities, though, there’s little point in using them.

All shopping centers (of which there are many) will have a Vodafone and Orange shop, often two of each. If you’re looking for English-speaking staff, these stores are usually the most reliable. No ID is required for purchasing a SIM card in Romania.

Simply ask for a new SIM. There will often be a pile of them, ready and waiting for you to choose your preferred number. While activating the SIM is relatively straightforward, the staff at Vodafone have insisted on doing it for me each time.

Make the most of this help to ensure your credit is used to activate the package that suits you best.

The outside of a store with Vodafone | Mega Mall above the entrance.

If flying into Bucharest, the airport does not currently have a Vodafone or Orange shop onsite. SIM cards are available from the convenience stores inside, however.

However, with free Wi-Fi so readily available at the airport, shopping centres, cafes, and even some petrol stations, it might be worth waiting to visit one of the dedicated shops to ensure you receive the best deal.

Again, there are so many in the major cities that it’s unlikely you’ll be staying further than walking distance away from one.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

A standard Vodafone SIM costs €6.20 which includes €5 of credit.

Service is very inexpensive in Romania, with large data caps. A couple of sample bundles include:

  • 100 domestic minutes or texts, 100 international minutes or texts, and 120GB of data for €4, valid for 21 days
  • 1000 domestic minutes or texts, 100 international minutes or texts, and 75GB of data for €5, valid for 28 days
  • 3000 domestic minutes or texts, 1000 international minutes or texts, and unlimited data for €8, valid for a month

Staff in the Vodafone shop will be able to help you choose the best package for you and set it up. You’ll then pay the total cost: the price of the SIM, plus the credit required for your chosen package.

Note: Costs are quoted in Euros but require payment in the local currency, leu. The conversion rate includes a 19% value-added tax.

Airalo

If you did decide you wanted to use a travel eSIM instead, Airalo typically has the best pricing. You’ll typically pay $10 or less for up to 3GB of data, with much larger packs available if you want them.

As I say, though, given how much data you get with Vodafone or Orange, I expect most travelers will just pick up a local SIM.

The latest prices for Airalo and the other travel eSIM companies I normally use and recommend are below.

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $6.50

  • $10

  • $11.50

  • $18

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $7

  • $9.50

  • $13

  • $21

  • $32

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

  • 15 GB

  • 20 GB

Price (USD)

  • $6

  • $12

  • $14

  • $19

  • $27

  • $33

Topping Up

Top-ups can be bought from Vodafone shops or newsstands and convenience stores. Vodafone is the only network in Romania that currently allows online top-up via international credit cards.

Airalo

Topping up with Airalo (or any of the other travel eSIM companies) is done by logging into the website or app. You just select your Romania eSIM, hit the top-up button, and buy the same package again.

The top-up packs have exactly the same pricing and duration as the original eSIMs: there’s little difference between topping up your current eSIM and buying a new one, other than not having to activate it.

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Coverage and Data Speeds

Vodafone coverage in Romania has been excellent. 4G/LTE is very reliable in Bucharest and other major tourist cities like Brasov. I’m sure 5G is as well, but my phone doesn’t support it. Time for an upgrade I guess!

Even when driving through the mountains it was rare to lose phone signal. I was surprised to see speedy LTE available at the highest point of a recent journey through the mountains.

Screenshot of Vodafone LTE speeds in central Bucharest, with 87.01Mbps download and 40.79Mbps upload.
Vodafone LTE speeds in central Bucharest

EU Roaming

Romania is part of the European Union, so EU roaming regulations apply. These “roam like at home” rules ended roaming charges across much of Europe in 2017, letting you use a SIM card from any EU country across all the others at no extra charge.

When it comes to roaming elsewhere in the EU with a Romanian SIM, though, beware. The low price of cell service in Romania has allowed mobile companies to remove EU roaming from many of their packages, and reduce data allowances on others.

Vodafone is no exception: while some of its prepaid bundles include some roaming allowance, others don’t. Be sure to double-check the details at time of purchase if you plan to roam.


Check out our guides to SIM cards and eSIMs in 75+ other countries here.

Main image via Marius Mitea

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar Stephanie Hudson says:

    Wondering if you have any idea if either Orange or Vodaphone can also be used in other countries in the area under the same SIM card purchased in Romania.

    Thanks!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      I don’t know for sure, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Vodafone and Orange operate across several countries in Europe, and roaming within the EU is extremely common, even with prepaid SIMs, so I’d expect it’d be something they’d offer.

    2. They can be used in other areas of Europe. If you buy a prepaid SIM make sure that you tell them that you want to use it in other countries as they will sell you a slightly different plan. We have successfully used our Romania SIM in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, and Cyprus.

  2. You forgot Telekom and Digi. Orange and Vodafone DEFINETELY aren’t 95%

    1. They cover 95% of the population — in other words, 95% of the population can get service with Orange and/or Vodafone. If you’re talking about market share, then yep, they definitely don’t have 95% market share, individually or combined.

      We didn’t forget Telekom and Digi (we mentioned there were four operators) but for most visitors, a prepaid SIM with Orange or Vodafone makes the most sense. Digi has the least coverage of the four, while Telekom has good LTE but poor 3G. If your phone supports Romanian LTE bands then Telekom would be a reasonable choice as well.

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