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Roundup of overseas cell phone plan options, or: To SIM or not to SIM?


Jun 17th, 2015, 10:31 AM
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Roundup of overseas cell phone plan options, or: To SIM or not to SIM?

I found this roundup of overseas calling and data plan options, including SIM cards, to be very useful:

I now understand why many people choose to buy a local SIM card, but was also surprised at how relatively inexpensive plans from one's provider are--plus, you get to use your own number for all your communications (and if you have T-Mobile, it's free!).

I hope it's useful to others who, like me, may have been confused by what options are out there.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 10:52 AM
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I have Sprint and their Europe plan is garbage. I feel like Sansa Stark on her wedding night to Ramsey.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 10:57 AM
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I saw that article earlier today; it's so bad, I wanted to write a letter to the editor about it, but it would be hard to criticize it in a reasonably brief letter. On their website, they had no possibility to leave comments.

The absolutely most ludicrous thing was their recommendation of a data-only monthly plan with 100mb of high speed data for $25. Then they suggested that it could be used in a mobile wifi device to be shared by the whole family!

I hardly know where to begin with this ridiculous idea. First of all, mobile wifi devices are totally out-dated now that nearly every smart phone can create its own mobile wifi hot spot.

Second, 100 mb of data wouldn't be enough for even one person for a month. Using a high-speed data connection, you could download 100 mb of data in less than five minutes. The average American uses nearly 2 gb of data in a typical month, which is 20 times 100 mb. The article does suggest that you should try to keep your data usage to a minimum and use wifi wherever possible, which is good advice, but it would still be virtually impossible to make 100 mb last even a week, and sharing it with your family would probably run it down in a few days.

All of their recommendations of US provider data plans were based on the cost of 100 mb of data. It's like saying that a restaurant had a reasonably priced lobster dinner by quoting the price for half an ounce of lobster.

Finally, they suggested that local SIM cards were only a good idea for people going to only one country. This totally ignores the situation in the EU, where roaming rates for calls have been brought down practically to the price level of domestic calls. If you're going to several countries in Europe, you probably should buy a SIM card in the first country you visit, and use it in the other European countries. The one thing to be careful of is the cost for data roaming, because the EU has temporarily backed off bringing the costs down to domestic levels.

We took a trip to Switzerland a few weeks ago. I got an international roaming plan from my Italian provider (TIM) which gave me 500 minutes of talk time, 500 texts, and 500 mb of data, to be used over ten days. This plan cost me €20, and it was sufficient for me, because I tried to use mostly wifi. At the rate of $25 for 100mb, that amount of data would have cost me nearly $150 with the plans mentioned by the NY Times, not to mention the cost of phone calls.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 11:03 AM
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Different usage models favor different optons. The dysfunctionality comes when one assumes there is a "best" solution for all usage models. However, I see many people come into and never come out of "there must be one solution for all" thinking.

Those who only travel to just one country for multiple weeks would unconditionally recommend getting a local SIM, but also recommend others spending just a few days in many countries to do the same. This approach adds a lot of overhead to the trip. Many recommendations fail to mention that in many countries, there is a weekend black out period - the phone shops close at 4pm Sat and do not open until Monday 9am.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 11:03 AM
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Most US providers have crap overseas plans. TMobile has a good deal, but my daughter gave up on them because they had terrible covereage where she lives. She couldn't connect in London, either, for some reason.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 11:09 AM
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I'm not sure I follow what you're saying, Greg. If you're going to multiple countries in Europe, as I said above, you can just get a local SIM card in the first country and use it everywhere else in the EU. You do need to tell them you'll be using it in other countries. The EU has capped voice roaming rates to something like 20 cents a minute. Data roaming rates are unpredictable, which is why I warned about that above. Italy, where I live, has providers with very good data roaming rates within Europe, but not every country does. In Italy, both TIM and Vodafone have good plans for tourists.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 11:25 AM
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I've never been impressed with Seth Kugel, aka Frugal Traveler, who wrote this piece. I used to travel with a "universal" SIM but was never happy with the reception. Some calls were just unintelligible. Last trip I used T-Mobile and was very satisfied.

BTW, there are already 98 comments on that article, don't know why bvlenci can't comment.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 11:35 AM
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bvlenci gives much better advice than that article.

Although I do think the article does an okay job of running down the options and roughly what they cost. Agree that they totally underestimate the data usage....$25 doesn't seem like too much, if only 100MB was enough! But when you consider you need likely twice that, all of a sudden its costing you a lot more than a local SIM.

I also really hate this line:
"Those not addicted to social media or needing to be connected at all times to family or office can stick with free Wi-Fi hot spots"
And frankly I hear that from people here on the forum a lot too. Its just not true. It is incredibly useful to have access to a data connection when you are out and about...maybe you use Uber, or you want to check the train schedule, or maybe your immediate plan fell through and you need to figure out what other museum is open on a Tuesday, or maybe you are in a car, late for your check in time and want to find out how bad the traffic is so you can figure out when you are going to arrive.Or maybe you'd like to make use of google translate so you don't order bubbling liquid liver on the menu in a Tuscan restaurant. There are a boatload of useful apps that require data connections and have nothing to do with being connected to the office or social media.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 12:00 PM
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Maybe there were no comments yet, and I didn't see the link to comments; when I read the article most Americans were still asleep. I'll have another look.

I find most of the NY Times articles on technological subjects to be close to worthless. The only thing they cover well is the business end of technology. Their apps for reading the NY Times are also subpar.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 12:00 PM
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I find a data connection invaluable when I'm traveling. It's much easier to find your way around using public transportation now that you don't have to carry around a Cook's timetable and half a dozen enormous city bus maps.
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