Compared with an Internet-equipped smartphone, travel guides such as Frommer’s and Lonely Planet just can’t compete.Visiting a foreign country with a smartphone is a game-changer. From confidently walking unfamiliar streets with Google (News - Alert) Maps to researching the best nearby restaurants to making sure a taxi driver is being honest with his route – having the Internet in your pocket dramatically improves foreign travel.
But there’s just one problem: The notoriously high voice and data rates cellular providers charge travelers who venture out of their home country.
The solution is purchasing a local SIM card for your smartphone when you travel abroad. Cellular providers in most countries offer pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIM cards that can be purchased at prices much cheaper than international calling and data rates.
It is important to make sure your phone allows SIMs from other networks, and that the SIM cards in the country you are visiting are compatible with the phone you bring on your trip. With a little prior planning, however, you can leverage the immense advantages of mobile Internet while traveling – and even use your phone as a mobile hotspot for your laptop in many cases.
Italy, France and Spain are three popular travel destinations. Donald Strachan at the Daily Telegraph shared suggestions on local SIMs to consider when visiting those countries.
Italy has one of the highest number of cell phones per person in the world, according to Strachan, so finding a cell shop in Italy will be no problem. When you’re there, look for Vodafone (News - Alert) or TIM, which he says have good coverage pretty much anywhere in Italy.
Vodafone Smart 100+ PAYG gives 100 minutes of talk-time within Italy, 100 texts, and 500 MB of Internet for €20/£15.61 a month. TIM’s data offering, called “TIM per smartphone,” runs €2.50/£1.95 per week for 250 MB of data. Strachan recommends combining that with its TIM 12 talk and text offer, which prices in-country calls at €0.12/9p per minute and texts at €0.12/9p each.
PAYG SIMS are called tarjeta in Spain, according to Strachan. Vondafone and Orange (News - Alert) are the providers to gravitate towards if in Spain. The Vodafone costs there vary depending on how much you add to the card. Recharge with €10/£7.81 and the “Gatuita Hablar y Navegar” plan includes 100 MB of Internet and 100 free texts to use within 30 days.
Add €20/£15.61 in one top-up, and you get 300MB and 300 texts. Calls cost a flat-rate €0.20/16p per minute. The Delfin plan from Orange runs €3.50/£2.70 per week for 100 MB of Internet, 50 free text messages, and calls at €0.09/7p per minute. If you plan to make more calls, wrote Strachan, go with Orange.
Make sure you realize that prices usually are quoted without Spain’s 18 percent value added tax, so don’t think you’ve stumbled onto a steal when first walking into a shop.
The opposite sticker shock could confront you in France, however. The pricing plans in France are different than Spain or Italy, and according to Strachan, it might make sense to skip a local SIM unless you’re staying in the country for awhile.
Further, PAYG SIMs come with an expiration date, with the more added to the SIM at one time, the longer the credit lasts. The Orange Mobi-carte a €10/£7.81 top-up expires after 12 days, and €15/£11.71 after 20 days, for instance.
For longer stays, Bouygues or Orange Mobicarte are cellular providers to investigate in France. The Bouygues “Internet & mails 200” gives 200 MB of Internet traffic that is valid for a month and runs €10/£7.81. Calls cost a standard €0.25/20p, and there’s a PAYG plan that offers free texts and evening calls. Orange Mobicarte has a similar plan that costs €6/£4.69 for 200 MB a month, but calls cost more.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo