I’ve always mindful of choosing the best SIM card for Europe—well, except for my first trip to the continent, way back in 2005. Back then, I just assumed I could get by with my US phone, assuming I kept texts and calls (this was the pre-smartphone era) to a minimum.
Boy, was I wrong! Roaming charges for even a few minutes of walking and a couple dozen text messages ended up totaling over $300, which was several times my normal bill amount.
The good news is that buying a SIM in Europe has never been easier. The better news? Thanks to some advances in technology and good old fashioned free-market competition, you might not even need a physical SIM to stay connected as you travel.
Why You Need a SIM Card in Europe
In spite of how connected people are in today’s world, some travelers dismiss the need to purchase a SIM card for Europe. Some I know personally, even my most social media-savvy friends, assume they’ll be able to get by using WiFi, whether are their hotels and Airbnb apartments, or at public hotspots in other cities and towns. Others try to feign conscious disconnection, apparently content to navigate using paper atlases.
Even if you can abstain from Instagram or have a Magellan-like sense of direction, there are still more fundamental reasons to have a phone that works. You could be road-tripping in a rural area where there are few people (and maybe none who speak English) and need to contact the authorities in the event of an emergency. What if something happened to a loved one back home—wouldn’t you want to know right away?
Best SIM Card Strategies for Travel in Europe
Order an Holafly eSIM
What if I told you the best SIM card for Europe wasn’t a SIM card at all? Well, not a physical SIM card, anyway. Holafly’s eSIM for Europe, which comes unlimited data priced based on the number of days you travel, takes just seconds to activate on your phone and requires no physical installation. Starting at just $19 for 5 days of unlimited data, the Holyfly eSIM is definitely the easiest way to stay connected when you travel in Europe, not to mention one of the cheapest.
TIP: If you want to avail Holafly, make sure you have one of these eSIM-compatible phones. You can also use the code LEAVEYOURDAILYHELL at checkout for 5% off your order!
Buy a SIM in each country
Prior to the advent of eSIMs, I usually just bought a SIM card in each country I visited. Although this was cumbersome and wasted a lot of plastic, it usually wasn’t too expensive. On the other hand, in situations where I day-tripped to one country from another (for example, visiting Italy for lunch or dinner while staying in Ticino, Switzerland), it wouldn’t have been practical to buy a new SIM, leaving me disconnected for hours.
Roam using your single-country SIM
In 2017, the EU passed a law that restricted mobile operators from charging roaming fees for uses when they traveled between member countries. While this is great news. it is sometimes irrelevant to travelers, who usually buy pre-paid SIMs that are often only programmed to work in the country where they were purchased. I wouldn’t rely on this strategy if I were you!
Get by with only WiFi
Some travelers are able to pry themselves away from social media for hours or even days at a time, and can get by using WiFi whenever it’s available. Others consciously shirk the task of finding the best SIM card for Europe, only to spend hours trying to crack passwords for wireless networks when they realize they can’t give up tweeting for even an afternoon at Versailles or the Matterhorn.
Use a global SIM card
If Europe is but one of the places you regularly travel, another option is to purchase a global SIM card. Some of these are also eSIM cards, such as Google Fi, the mobile service offered by the ubiquitous internet conglomerate. In other cases, companies sell physical SIMs that work around the world, although coverage and pricing can greatly vary—buyer beware.
What About International Roaming?
While cellphone plans are certainly more adaptable and humane since my first trip to Europe 17 years ago, the reality is that mobile companies will always gouge you if they get a chance. I have friends who’ve been charged hundreds of dollars for data used abroad, even when their plans officially allowed “unlimited” data, calls or texts when out of the country.
Unless you’ve personally travelers overseas with your plan and know for sure you won’t be charged an arm and a leg for using it, I’d recommend seeking out the best SIM card for Europe before you travel. Even if you have to invest a bit of money in it on the front-end, it will almost never cost as much as a surprise bill inflated by international roaming charges.
Other FAQ About SIM Cards in Europe
Which SIM card is best for Europe?
The best SIM card for Europe can vary, depending on your situation. If you plan to visit multiple European countries, a versatile eSIM from a company like Holafly might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you plan to stay in just one country, you might be fine buying a local SIM card upon arrival at the airport.
Is there a SIM card that works in all of Europe?
Many SIM cards work in all of Europe, from eSIMs you can download onto your phone to physical SIMs you order in advance and pop-in before travel. Note that most prepaid SIM cards you buy at the airport do not work in countries other than the one where you bought them.
How much do SIM cards cost in Europe?
Buying a SIM card at a European airport, including data and call credit, can cost anywhere between €5-50, and in some cases even more. This is one of the many reasons purchasing an all-Europe SIM card, be it an eSIM or a physical one, ends up being a better value for most travelers.
The Bottom Line
Choosing the best SIM card for Europe will depend somewhat on your own personal situation, but should be relatively easy assuming you do your homework. For some travelers, a Europe-wide eSIM will make the most sense, while others will be fine purchasing individual SIM cards in the countries they visit. If you’re very disciplined (or just old-fashioned), you may even be able to get by without a SIM card and just use WiFi at your hotels. Whatever the case, and whether you travel on the Iberian peninsula or in the Baltic States, staying connected is essential to a successful trip.