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.
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 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 customer’s home country. Numbers for other countries are available for purchase, too. Plans are all prepaid, and include free incoming calls and messages for a number of 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.
Outgoing calls: $0.29 per minute for Plus (voice packages 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.
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: $0.15 per MB in International and UK, $0.12 per MB in Data.
There are also packages available for the Data plan, of 100MB, 200MB, 500MB and 1GB. Prices for 100MB start at $9.53 for use in the UK, $10.05 for use in the EU and $15 for use in the US or Australia.
Outgoing calls: rates start at $0.15 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.
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.
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 nationality of user and 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.
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 extra credit via the website or app.
Update, Nov 2016: KnowRoaming has introduced hotspot and standard SIM options as well as the sticker, and now includes free global use of WhatsApp for texts and calls.
Dave wrote a full review, and admitted to having been impressed by the service — so trust me, it’s worth taking a look.
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 they change depending on the destination and country where you are calling. If while you are in Sri Lanka you want to call India to book accommodation, then you would 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 and UK number for free (and others at a cost), and there’s a call-forwarding service as well.
GigSky, just like KeepGo, focuses on data only – no voice calls or messages. Packages are available from 50MB to 1GB.
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? 140 for iPad SIM Apple users, 90 for iPhone/Android/Windows users as of June 2016.
Data plans: prices vary slightly depending on the country of residence, and the destination.
For US nationals, prices start from $15 for 100MB to use in three days, to $50 for 1GB 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.
So, Which International SIM Card Should You Buy?
In a nutshell: GigSky. Most travelers would benefit from having access to mobile data on the road. It 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, KnowRoaming is the way to go. Charges are typically more reasonable than the competition, and the unlimited daily data option lets you better manage your costs. Free WhatsApp usage is a great bonus, and the other extras are actually useful for travelers, too.
Check the rates for where you’re going, of course, but if they make sense, this is the best full-service option we’ve found.
Have you used an international SIM card when traveling? Would you recommend it?