Use a prepaid SIM card while travelling around the European Union

Reduce your roaming rates by using a local SIM card.

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The European Union has some great SIM card deals that could reduce your roaming bills. If you plan on staying in any EU country for a long period of time, it’s better to purchase a SIM card from that country to cut costs. There are also some great SIM card deals that could be used right across Europe. So, whether you’re planning a short trip or a lengthy European tour, check out the best SIM card options available on finder.com/uk.

Prices last updated 3 Aug 2017

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    About the European Union’s telco providers

    There are now virtually no surcharges in the European Union (EU) and the wider European Economic Area (EEA). This means that if you have a prepaid SIM card from any European Union country, you should be able to roam at the same rate in other EU Member States. Make sure you check with your provider before you travel to ensure this function is activated on your SIM card, and be aware that there are still a few operators who have wriggled out of providing this service.However, there should now be an EU sweeping deal of “Roam Like At Home”. Keep an eye out for this deal and if you plan on traveling around Europe check that your prepaid SIM card has this option before purchasing.

    EU Roaming Rates

    The following prices have been outlined by the EU to ensure that any European SIM card purchased should have similar rates in all 28 Member States:

    Roaming Rates
    VoiceCallsincomingFree EU-wide
    outgoingCharged at domestic rate
    SMSincomingFree EU-wide
    outgoingCharged at domestic rate
    DataCharged at domestic rate (restrictions may apply)

    New wholesale caps

    The European Commission has finally agreed to new wholesale caps. The caps have been put in place to limit the the maximum rates operators in Europe can charge other providers for roaming services to EU customers:

    Roaming201720182019202020212022
    voice calls€0.032 per minute
    texts (SMS)€0.01 per SMS
    data (per GB)€7.70€6.00€4.50€3.50€3.00€2.50

    The above-mentioned roaming regulations have been applied to all EU Member States and to countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). Although not officially part of the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have also joined the roaming pact. The Canary Islands are included as they are part of Spain. In addition, The Azores and Madeira are part of the pact thanks to being Portuguese colonies. Most French overseas territories are also part of the pact.

    Part of the EU roaming pact

    All 28 Member States (Austria, Belgium. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are part of the EU roaming pact. Please note, the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU in 2019. It’s not known whether it will remain within the roaming pact after that.

    Not part of the EU roaming pact

    It’s best to note here that the following countries are not part of the pact. In Central Europe, Switzerland is not on the list. Neither are the following Eastern European and Balkan states: Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. Andorra, Monaco and San Marino are also exempt from the pact. So are the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Northern Cyprus and Turkey.

    Restrictions, international calls and SMS

    The EU regulations only apply to roaming in EU countries with a European SIM card. There are no rules or regulations when it comes to international calls or SMS. Make sure you check with the provider before purchasing. In fact, making international calls from a country where the SIM card is not registered works out to be extremely expensive so keep that in mind.There are also data restrictions put in place by some providers. For example, a provider might stipulate that once you reach a 10GB data cap, you will be charged international roaming rates. Check with your provider in great detail before embarking upon your European travels.

    Bringing EU providers together

    The long-term plan is for the European Commission to pass legislation that will regulate all 31 markets (28 Member States plus the three extra nations listed above) under one umbrella to form an EU SIM card. This SIM card will have EU-wide tariffs, deals and plans. However, experts say this is an extremely long way off. At present, each state has a different license, fees, rules and costs, and prices vary dramatically from country to country.

    What makes economic sense is to purchase a SIM card from one of the so-called “cheap countries” then use it while roaming around Europe, it could save you large amounts of money! To combat this problem there is an “abuse and fair use policy” in place to ensure that SIM cards are monitored every 2 to 4 months to determine the “permanent roaming” location. SIM cards can be disabled if it’s determined that the system is being abused. However, many people take advantage of the system for at least 2 months before having their SIM card blocked.

    Some top tips from finder.com staff:

    • There are many different languages spoken in the European Union. It may make sense to download Google translate onto your phone before you travel so you can communicate more effectively if you don’t speak all the languages you need. The European Union is very cosmopolitan and English is taught in most schools, so that English is spoken widely in most countries.
    • Ask the retailers to set up the SIM for you; they will know how to do it. Make sure you check with each provider to see what they can offer you for roaming in the EU.

    TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

    While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in the European Union.

    Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:

    “An option for travelers is to use Skype on Wi-Fi. You can call friends and family in the EU and internationally for no extra cost.”

    “Buy a SIM card when you arrive in each country. Or you can try to use one of the international multi-country SIM cards.”

    “Roaming in the EU works on most SIM cards purchased throughout Europe. Some could really save you money so check out the best deals in the first country you arrive in.”

    Pros and cons of European Union telco providers

    All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible international phone. To double check you have this phone, or to find out whether it’s possible to unlock your device, contact your provider before you leave.

    Pros:

    • Good value for money throughout Europe
    • The European Union has good coverage
    • No ID needed to purchase or register the SIM card
    • Prepaid credit when required
    • No in-store contract needed
    • Could be compatible with your current phone
    • Cheap handsets are sold in-store

    Cons:

    • No devices offered with the SIM card packages
    • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible phones
    • Data roaming deals can only be used in the European Union

    One more important question

    Q: What shall I do if I lose my phone?

    A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when traveling around Europe. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, retrace your steps and ask around. If you still have no luck, cancel any plans or payment methods associated with the phone, report it missing and make a note of the crime number to claim on insurance when you get home. Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let this handset out of your sight!

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