International SIM card tablet

International SIM Card Comparison: Which One Should You Pick?

In Get Connected by Patricia Rey Mallén34 Comments


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We’ve said it many times before: for most people, local SIM cards are the best option for getting affordable calls, texts, and data while traveling.

They provide a local number, which comes in handy both for placing and receiving calls, typically offer inexpensive data and SMS packages, and allow you to live a more local life without expensive roaming charges.

Today though, we’re looking at alternatives. International SIM cards (sometimes called “travel SIM cards”) aren’t tied to a specific country or group of nations, but allow you to use your phone all around the world — for a price.

There are several of these cards on the market, each with different plans and pricing. We’ve done the legwork to discover which ones are best for certain types of traveler, and whether any of them might be right for you.

Are International SIM Cards Useful?

International SIM cards aren’t our first choice for long-term trips, but what if you’re not constantly on the road? Is it always worth investing in a new SIM card and package every time you step off a plane?

For business travelers, who dip in and out of countries on short trips several times a year, international SIM cards could be a sensible choice. They’re usually cheaper than roaming with your usual cell company, and more convenient than local SIMs. When time is money on a business trip, that matters.

For travelers who have a home base and take a few short trips a year, international SIM cards can be worth considering. Ideally, they’d want a card that could be left dormant whenever they weren’t traveling, in order to not incur unnecessary charges.

International SIMs can also make sense for those skipping through several countries in a hurry. The cost savings of local SIMs disappear if you’re buying them every few days, and there are more exciting places to visit on vacation than the inside of half-a-dozen mobile stores.

Finally, even if you’re on a longer trip, there’s a use for certain types of international SIM. There’s often a lag between arriving in a new country and picking up a local SIM, and it’s good to have a working phone straight away to do things like call an Uber or tell your Airbnb host you’ll be late. If the cost isn’t extortionate, international SIMs can be very useful for your first few hours somewhere new.

International SIM cards bundle

So, What’s Out There?

Despite our commitment to local SIM cards, we’ve reviewed a couple of international options in the past. We’ve included both of them here, plus several other market leaders.

There’s full details of the number of countries they work in, data and voice rates, package options and more.



OneSim

OneSim is the international card offering of US carrier Belmont Telecom, which comes in three different packages:

  • Plus SIM (for international calls and messages, and limited data service)
  • Data & Roam (for international calls, messages, and data)
  • Europe (for international calls, messages, and data in Europe).

All plans give customers two numbers, one European (based in Estonia), and one from the USA, Canada, UK, or Australia. Numbers for other countries are available for purchase, too.

Plans are all prepaid, and include free incoming calls and messages for many countries, as well as reduced rates for outgoing calls.


How many countries does it work in? 200+ for Plus and Data & Roam, 50 for Europe.

Data plans: from $0.05 per MB for Plus (limited availability) and Data, $0.03 per MB for Europe. Data packages vary based on which SIM you’re using and where you’re going, but as an example, 1GB of data valid for a month in many European countries costs $19 on the Super Select Data Package.

Outgoing calls: $0.29 per minute for Plus (voice packages are available) and Data, $0.25 per minute for Europe.

Extras: VoIP app, 24/7 technical support, partnership with Skype and Viber (free calls whenever there’s Wi-Fi!), voicemail, miles back with several frequent flier programs.

Find out more about OneSIM

WorldSIM

WorldSIM

WorldSIM offers voice, messaging and data plans for over 200 countries, and promises to reduce roaming charges by 95%.

Its offerings come in four variants:

  • Infinity (voice plans and automatic connection to 50 million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide)
  • Data (for mobile internet)
  • International (voice, messages, and data)
  • UK Travel (aimed at UK residents, for use within the country and abroad for voice, data and messages).

Users get UK and US numbers with their card, and can add numbers for other countries for an extra charge. Incoming calls are free in 95 countries.


How many countries does it work in? 200 for International and Infinity, 188 for Data, 190 for UK Travel

Data plans: Casual rates start at $0.10 per MB, but data packages are also available, starting at $13.50 for 500MB valid for a week. Prices for both casual data and packages vary depending on your destination, but most packages work across several countries.

Outgoing calls: rates start at $0.18 per minute.

Extras: users can sign up for unlimited national numbers for over 50 countries at $2.50 per number. WorldSIM also offers a Global Wi-Fi pass, allowing access to its Wi-Fi hotspots starting at $22.50.

Find out more about WorldSIM

KeepGo

The very slick KeepGo SIM card case has spots for Micro, Nano, and standard SIM cards.

KeepGo is the answer for social media-obsessed travelers. This international SIM card eschews voice and messages, focusing solely on mobile data.


How many countries does it work in? 64 in the Americas, Europe, and Asia

Data plans: the Lifetime Data SIM Card costs $59 and includes 1GB to use in a year. Extra packages range from $25 for 500MB to $159 for 5GB, to be used within a year.

Outgoing calls: no voice plans. Users can call through any VoIP service, including Skype, FaceTime, Viber, etc.

Extras: KeepGo has another option, the Lifetime Mobile Wifi Hotspot. You can read our full review of it here.

Find out more about KeepGo

GoSIM

Like most of its competitors, GoSIM offers voice, messaging and data plans for international use.

It offers four plans:

  • International (voice, messaging and data around the world)
  • Data (international data per MB or on packages)
  • Europe (voice, messaging and data within Europe)
  • US (for international calls from the US).

Users get a UK number to use globally. Just as with the other companies, incoming calls are free in most countries. Incoming messages are not, though, costing nine cents each.


How many countries does it work in? 190 for International, 120 for Data, 41 for Europe.

Data plans: starts at $0.25 per MB. Rates vary depending on the nationality of the user and their destination, though. For a lark, I asked how much would it cost for a Sri Lankan traveler to use 1MB of data in Botswana. The answer? $0.89.

Alternatively, data packages start at $29 for 250MB for all plans. There are also plans for 500MB, 1GB, and 2GB.

Outgoing calls: as with data charges, prices start at $0.25 per minute and also vary depending on nationality and destination.

Extras: offers coverage on 150 cruise ships in 380 networks, as well as during some flights.

Find out more about GoSIM

KnowRoaming

KnowRoaming takes a different approach. Instead of giving you a new SIM card, it provides a sticker that turns your home SIM into a travel SIM. When you’re in a different country, it connects to local networks for voice, messages, and data. You buy the SIM with some initial credit, then add more via the website or app.

The company also sells mobile hotspots and international SIM cards that provide the same rates, and includes 30 days of free WhatsApp use each time you top up your credit. We wrote up a full review of the service here.


How many countries does it work in? 200 for pay-as-you-go voice and data, 90 for unlimited data.

Data plans: $7.99 per day for unlimited use in eligible countries. For pay-as-you-go, it starts at $0.15 per MB – but rates change depending on nationality and destination. If you’re traveling in Sri Lanka, you’d pay $0.50 per MB.

Outgoing calls: rates start at $0.11 per minute for both mobile and landline, but change depending on the destination and country where you are calling. If you want to call India to book accommodation while you’re in Sri Lanka, you’ll pay $0.22 per minute to call a landline, and $0.24 per minute to call a mobile.

Extras: KnowRoaming doesn’t need to be taken out when returning home, as the sticker just remains dormant until the next time you travel internationally. You get assigned a local US number for free (and others at a cost), and there’s a call-forwarding service as well.

Find out more about KnowRoaming

GigSky

GigSky SIM

GigSky, just like KeepGo, focuses on data only – no voice calls or messages. Packages are available from 50MB to 5GB.

The service is available for users of all devices, but with a catch: iPad users who own an Apple SIM have more leeway in where they can use GigSky.


How many countries does it work in? 180+ for iPad SIM Apple users, 90 for iPhone/Android/Windows users as of August 2017.

Data plans: prices vary slightly depending on the country of residence, and the destination.

For US nationals, prices start from $10 for 300MB to use in one day, to $50 for 5GB to use in a month in most countries. For residents of the Eurozone, prices for the same services range from 15€ to 50€. For UK residents, it’s £12-40.

As with KnowRoaming, you buy the SIM with a base plan from Amazon, then add the extra data packages as needed. Note there are some restrictions in the amount of data available in certain destinations, so double-check for your intended destination.

Outgoing calls: same as KeepGo, no voice plans. Users can call through any VoIP service, including Skype, FaceTime, Viber, etc.

Extras: GigSky offers a corporate plan, which allows companies to maintain several accounts and keep track of data allowance and usage.

 

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So, Which International SIM Card Should You Buy?

If data is your primary concern, go for GigSky. Most travelers benefit from having access to mobile data on the road, and Gigsky has the best rates of the companies we compared.

The service allows you to check e-mail, text via a messaging app or iMessages, and upload pretty sunsets to Instagram from almost 100 countries. Should you need to make a call, VoIP services like Skype and Viber work fine with GigSky.

If you want traditional voice and text as well as data, consider OneSim or KnowRoaming instead. Depending on where you’re going, one or the other should offer reasonable rates, with OneSIM having a wide range of package options. KnowRoaming’s free month of WhatsApp usage is a good bonus if you’re a user of the chat service.

Have you used an international SIM card when traveling? Would you recommend it?

Images via Brett Jordan (SIM card with tablet), mroach (multiple SIM cards), Junpei Abe (single SIM card), GigSky, GoSIM, KeepGo.

Do you travel a lot, but in short bursts? An international SIM card might be the best option for staying connected, but some are much better than others. Here's what you should know.

About the Author

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City. She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

Comments

  1. I’m curious why you recommend GigSky over One Sim (where data costs 40-80% less than GigSky) and KnowRoaming (which offers unlimited data for $8/day).

  2. I used Gigsky in India and it worked well. the main downside is that data is
    very expensive.

  3. Haven’t used it on the road yet but it’s worth noting that KnowRoaming’s 30 day money back is only good if you don’t use the card (or sticker)at all, i.e. no testing. In order to use it at all you have to buy credit, (minimum $25 non refundable). I bought it for the WhatsApp feature planning to use it on a spare phone but it will not support a separate WhatsApp account, i.e. you have to transfer your previous existing account to the UK number. I haven’t actually been able to do this yet and plan to wait until closer to my departure date to follow up.

  4. When I traveled to Singapore I picked up a local Singtel sim card. My next destination was Thailand and I discovered that I could activate a 1GB roaming plan for $15. When I arrived in Bangkok I activated my roaming package and I had data on my phone the moment I stepped off the plane. Singtel offers inexpensive roaming in multiple East Asian countries. The big advantage was I could activate the roaming package in an iphone app and pay for it with a credit card. (Unlike Thailand where I had to feed cash into a machine in person in order to top up my service.) I’m holding on to my Singtel sim card for future trips.

  5. Do you know any european sim with free incoming calls in Morocco?
    thanks

  6. i am a international flight crew..which is the best card just for whatsaap mesg only. dose know roaming do it for free?

    1. Yes, it does, as long as your KnowRoaming account is active and you’re in a country where the company offers data service. There’s more information on their website.

  7. My best experience is with OneSimCard. They offer the lowest cost actual mobile data and discount data packages. I think 5GB for $30 in China and many other countries is a great deal. The service is feature rich with many options including secondary numbers in over 60 countries, optional VOIP calling using the same numbers on the SIM and switching automatically to roaming when the data is not available, so no calls and sms are being missed. This is the most reliable SIM and the best customer support I experienced and I tried them all being a very frequent international traveler. OneSimCard allows changing the caller ID depending on the number being used, voice mail, auto-top up of the funds on the sim and data packages covering many countries. The web site is a bit overwhelming because of multiple features offered, but once you figure this out, it works. All charges are transparent and calls, sms and data use records available within 24 hours for review. Data Charges are rounded to 1kb and to 1MB as I learned the hard way with WorldSIM. Minutes are not rounded to 2 either. Obviously the local SIM offers the lowest cost. However for the guy jumping from one country to another the time is a valuable thing and the roaming sim saves this time and provides the convenience of just working when you land in the country.

  8. Do you know if any offer sms with a US/Canadian number? KnowRoaming just got rid of their sms service. I’ve been using Know Roaming for calls/text and a local SIM for data in a dual SIM phone. This was great until about a month ago when I discovered the number I have registered with Uber, whatsapp, facebook etc has been discontinued and I can’t get verification texts to the other phone number…looking for a new solution, ideally one with a Canadian/US number that I can keep as my permanent phone number and use anywhere.

    1. You can’t get texts to the US number KnowRoaming provide?

      I signed up for a Google Voice (US) number a few years ago, and use that for WhatsApp, verification texts, etc. It works surprisingly well, although there are occasional services that don’t want to work with ‘virtual’ numbers like this. Very few overall, though.

  9. Hi, am travelling to india from uk,what sim is best for calls to uk ,i have free wifi in hotel so calls on the go are more important to me . Thanks

    1. Each of the listed companies has detailed pricing info on their site, so it’s just a case of sitting down and comparing it when you get a chance. It’ll change over time, so maybe do it a couple of months or less before your trip.

  10. I have travelled and been using KnowRoaming for just over 6 months now and would not recommend it-
    it’s highly unreliable. When entering any new country, I had to contact customer support so that they could manually guide me through how to change the settings on my phone to get a signal to work. As of Oct 2017, support team has said “Unfortunately, the process of fully enabling SMS on our KnowRoaming US Number will take slightly longer than anticipated and it is currently under development by our team.” Also, they have done away with all UK numbers, only offer a USA number how. How a SIM card is incapable of core SMS, callback and data feature is beyond me – essentially pointless.

  11. GigSky pricing has changed (very affordable) since 2016 and coverage is even better on both the GigSky data SIM, and on Apple SIM for WiFi + cellular iPads. They also offer regional plans for North America, Europe, Caribbean, Asia Pacific, Middle East/Africa. 185+ countries on one SIM. For me, it’s more convenient than looking for a new Sim every time I arrive in a new country.

  12. Every year I spend 3 months in Europe, three months in the US, Mexico and Canada, three months back in Europe, and three months back in US. As a US senior citizen with kids in France, Holland and Germany I’m thinking its a good idea to have a one smartphone with different SIM cards. Any tips on what phone and what kind of SIM strategy? Thanks from a restless hippie geezer!

    1. I’d say that an international SIM will work out to be too expensive if you’re using it for 6+ months of the year. Instead, you may be able to get by with a T-Mobile One service in the US — you’ll get service in most of the world, although data speeds will be quite slow outside North America. Read more about that here, and you’d want to double-check with T-Mobile that you won’t be deemed to be outside the country too often for their liking.

      Another solid option is Google Fi, which has no restrictions on how much you use it outside the US, but you’re limited to certain models of Android phone. We reviewed it here.

      Otherwise, just pick up a SIM card in the first European country you go to on each trip (we’ve got coverage for the Netherlands and Germany on the site, and will add France at some point), and use the free EU roaming for the rest of your time there. Your phone number will be different on each trip, but that’s about the only downside. You could probably keep a US cell service throughout the year — most carriers have relatively affordable options for roaming in Mexico and Canada, and if its a prepaid service, you should be able to switch to a basic, cheap call and text package to keep it from expiring during the time you’re in Europe.

  13. Dave: contrary to what you’ve said, it seems like Google Fi DOES have international restrictions. Refer to 2nd paragraph in the “Using the Services” section at the following URL:

    https://fi.google.com/about/tos/#welcome-to-project-fi

    I was about to start using Google Fi until I read this. This is basically equivalent to T-Mobile restrictions. Not ideal for nomads. 🙁

    1. Thanks Jon – you’re right, it seems like Fi does have some restrictions on international use after all. 🙁 I don’t remember seeing that section when I first used and reviewed the service, but I guess that was a while ago now.

  14. Gigsky have a poor client support

    I have experienced a ~24 hours period without data service.
    Gigsky support still not have any explanation.

    Advise to 2 sims users: change your home sim APN setting to prevent any automatic switch in case of your international sim issue, the cost may be terrific…

  15. Plan this year after some practise doing short trips around Europe to do a final around the world trip before I pop my clogs. So now very use to Airbnb, SkyScanner, GoogleMaps (download offline maps) but having several bad experiences with my own local mobile providers (Isle of Man) and attempts at buying an Italian and Norwegian local sims. I now rely Skype and Whatsapp on hotel and wifi-hotspots (very unreliable) for making phone calls and ensure all flights, hotels, Airbnbs are booked before I go. But now confident to attempt ‘on-spec’ single journeys starting IOM – New York – Seattle – China then pending prices choose Asia (Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore ) pending flight prices staying a few days in each – with a return flights and stays in India, Turkey. This intend to book accomodation and trains as I go , thus this time will need a reliable sim so I can contact Airbnb hosts and Hotels when trying to find them. Once spent 2 hours in the boiling sun in Italy trying to locate an Airbnb because my IOM sim could not pick up a network when arriving in Italy. So out of the sims which would you recommend for my needs please.

    1. Since data is your main requirement, I’d probably check out Gigsky. Prices are reasonable, although like any international SIM, you’ll want to limit the amount you use. Heavy data users are always better off with local SIMs, but as long as you can be disciplined about your usage, international SIMs can sometimes be a somewhat-affordable (and easier) option.

      Whichever company you go with, be sure to double-check their data pricing for the countries you intend to visit before making your final decision. Some of the places you’re going might have expensive data rates, in which case you may decide to buy a local SIM while you’re in that particular country, and use the international SIM elsewhere. As always, it’ll be a balance between budget and convenience. 🙂

  16. every year …. Aussie to singapore to hongkong to seaoul to moscow to amsterdam.to prague to budapest to dubai to capetown to singapore to india to doha to us to montreal …constant data and phone calls … I can use two sims which one you suggest

    1. I don’t know of any SIM that’s going to give you reasonable pricing for “constant data and phone calls” across all those countries, I’m afraid. Perhaps look at a data SIM from KeepGo that will give you data coverage in almost all of the countries you list, at a not-awful price, and make calls via Skype, WhatsApp, etc. You’ll still need to limit your data usage to some degree, though, if you don’t want to be spending a lot of money.

  17. We are global nomads, no home, have been on the road for 7 years. Initially we relied solely on wifi, no phone, however when banks required more security we changed to local sims but when that failed and a bank could not get in contact with us over a fraud (almost cost us tens of thousands of dollars) we changed to an international sim. We have Gosim (which has just changed owners) and now part of ekit. It is very useful to have one phone number for banks etc to call and sms us on (Skype can’t quite do this yet), but data is too expensive. Unfortunately they have just increased rates unexpectedly on us so we might move to OneSimCard (looks cheaper). Ekit are good with customer service but coverage is patchy, Canada for example was terrible, and we had to change phones a couple of times. We now have a Blu (but even that would not work in Canada) with dual sim which is good as can add local sim for data and outgoing and international for incoming.

  18. Best one I use for Europe is Keepgo the data is valid for the whole year top it up before the year ends and it carries it over. Price is also reasonable.

  19. I’m surprised nobody mention ekit SIM which are excellent and the International SIM I have works in more than 190 countries. We have 4 SIMs – one for each family member. There have been few problems – once in Palau I think. There is excellent support and it’s easy to recharge. Only drawback is the balance expires if no use for 3 months

    1. I can’t see any data packages listed, only the default rates, which seemed to be at least EUR 0.05 / MB anywhere I checked. That puts it roughly on par with the others for default rates, but the lack of cheaper data packages means it’s a much more expensive option if you use even a moderate amount of data on your trip.

      For instance, with OneSIM, 1GB of data over a month across several European countries can be had for $19 USD. With this Lufthansa SIM, you’d pay 50 euros (currently $62) for the same usage.

  20. Any suggestions for an international sim for a simple flip phone used for calls and text messages when traveling – and a Canadian phone number?

    1. One option is OneSIM — for Canadian customers, they include both a Canadian and Estonian number. The Canadian number is free for 30 days, and then $4/month or $25/year after that.

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