International SIM Cards
When traveling abroad, an international SIM card can keep your cell phone bill from skyrocketing with roaming fees.
First off, what exactly is a SIM card?
A SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card is a small plastic card that goes inside any cellphone that uses the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM, for short). SIM cards also store basic information (name, number) about the user of the phone. Check with your provider first to see if your phone is SIM-card-compatible. You also need to find out if your phone is “unlocked,” which means you can switch between different SIM cards.
If your phone is locked, ask your provider if it uses the GSM system. If so, you'll want to check with them about international roaming plans. (Pro tip: keep these plans in mind when comparing prices. Some service providers offer weekly plans at pretty reasonable prices and you might actually save money taking this route.)
If your phone is unlocked and you're looking to purchase a Global SIM card, browse around a bit online to compare prices and features.
Here's what we suggest looking for:
- The base charge for getting the card, how much it actually costs and what exactly is included in the price. Do you have to pay shipping fees? Does the company have an activation fee? Do they offer a la carte rates or discount packages?
- How much the company charges per megabyte of data. When you use your phone for apps or texts, you're using data. If you're not on your coach's or the hotel's wifi, you could be using more data then you know if you have apps open. This is why this one is a big deal to consider. Check to see if what the companies you're comparing charge for their add-on credit, meaning adding minutes or data to the SIM card. Do they offer pay-as-you-go credits?
- If you're planning on having an international phone number with the SIM card, check to see if calls coming in are free, as often times they are. Also, check to see if the number provided is a UK or American number, as it might impact the cost of those incoming calls.
- Some providers offer rewards to minutes used. If you like to accumulate travel points, check to see if any are offered by the company.
Again, after comparing companies and prices, make sure your own service provider's international roaming plan isn't cheaper in the long run. A lot of times all it takes is a phone call and you're set for your travels. Check out this article for more information on Using Your Cellphone in Europe.