Looking for a roaming SIM card you can use for international travel?
In this article, we’ll review the 5 best SIMs for international roaming.
We’ll also discuss some key things to consider when buying, to help you ensure you get the right SIM.
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Best SIM cards for international roaming
Let’s begin our reviews.
We’ve looked at the top 5 best international roaming SIM cards for overseas travel.
Three is widely considered to offer the best roaming SIM deals in the UK right now.
They offer a wide variety of pay monthly and pay as you go SIMs at pretty decent prices. You can choose exactly how much data you need – you can get SIM cards with anything from 1GB per month up to unlimited data.
Included with each of these SIM deals, you get their “Go Roam” package for free.
Essentially, Three Go Roam allows free roaming in 71 locations in Europe and beyond, including Australia and the USA. This is the most extensive default inclusive roaming scheme available right now – it even includes the Isle of Man, and countries that aren’t covered by most other networks, such as Brazil, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka. You can view the full list of countries covered under Go Roamhere.
With Go Roam in Europe, there’s a “fair usage” limit. Essentially, when roaming, you can use up to 20GB of data. After this, surcharges apply. For countries outside of Europe, the limit is 12GB, and there are also limits of 5000 texts and 3000 calling minutes back to the UK.
If you need to get around this limit, you can buy a Data Passport from Three. It costs £5 per day, and gives you unlimited usage. Plus, with the Data Passport, you can use tethering, allowing you to get online on other devices, which Go Roam in Europe doesn’t allow.
On the whole, Three probably offers the best SIMs for roaming, if you’re looking for good coverage.
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When compared to Three, the Vodafone roaming scheme has fewer destinations by default. They include roaming to 48 European destinations (including Turkey and the Isle of Man) with any Essential plan, rather than covering 71 different countries like Three.
However, with Vodafone’s scheme, you can actually get 5G speeds in certain European locations, and 4G where it’s available. This is much better than Three, where you’re limited to 3G.
If you’re travelling beyond Europe, it’s possible to buy Vodafone’s “Roam Further” add-on. It works similar to Three’s Data Passport, except it costs more, at £6 per day. This adds an extra 104 countries to the inclusive roaming coverage.
With Vodafone, their roaming scheme data limit is 25GB per month, regardless of location. This is currently higher than the Three Go Roam 20GB limit.
Since Vodafone pay monthly SIM only and phone deals are comparable to Three’s in terms of range and price, why is Three considered to have the best SIM deals for international roaming?
The issue with Vodafone is you generally have to pay for Vodafone Roam Further, unless just travelling in Europe, so roaming can be more expensive with Vodafone. Note however that Unlimited plans (like this one) come with Global Roaming Plus, which has 81 destinations by default.
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3. EE 4G SIM
So far, we’ve looked at SIM roaming deals from the major UK mobile networks. This is because these major providers often provide the best roaming schemes when compared to smaller SIM networks.
EE is no exception. As a SIM customer, you can use your UK allowances in most of the EU, with a 50GB per month fair usage data cap. This is actually the best data limit currently available – it’s much higher than what Three and Vodafone offer. Obviously though you need to have a monthly data allowance of 50GB per month or greater, otherwise your normal data cap will kick in first.
If you’re travelling further afield, EE Max customers can get online for free in 53 countries, including the USA, Canada, and Australia. If you’re not on a Max plan, you can buy the EE “Travel Data Pass”. It’s similar to most other roaming add-ons, but instead of there being a single rate to get online in any destination, there are different roaming rates depending on the country you’re going to. For example, you can pay £6 a day for 500MB of data in nine countries including India and Australia, but the same amount of data is only £4.80 per day in Canada and the USA.
Essentially, the EE roaming scheme is good in that it’s available for nearly all of their SIM only deal customers, and it covers most of the more popular international destinations for Brits. However, roaming beyond Europe with EE is expensive, because you’ll often need the Travel Data Pass.
There is one thing we quite like about EE roaming SIMs – the level of control they give you. EE is very good about helping you set up roaming, and they also help you avoid unexpected excess charges.
For example, you can text “ROAMING” to 150 for free to check if you’re set up for roaming. EE also sets up data caps you have to override to get online, ensuring you don’t incur charges you don’t want if you accidentally hit your limit.
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4. O2 150GB SIM
O2 is another one of the major UK mobile networks with a good roaming scheme.
Essentially, there are two tiers to O2 SIM roaming:
- Free roaming in the Europe Zone: this is available with nearly all O2 SIM deals. It covers 49 European countries, sadly not including Turkey. When travelling in the Europe Zone, you can use your regular data allowance, and do calls and texts to the UK and other European numbers.
- O2 Travel is a more extensive roaming plan, included with certain O2 Refresh and SIM-only deals, covering 75 countries in total. If you don’t already have it, you can buy O2 Travel as an add-on for £4.99 per month. It has strict limits of 120 minutes and 120 texts per day, but no data limits.
Unfortunately O2 roaming is not the fastest – you might be limited to 3G speeds, depending on where you travel. However, their SIM packages are reasonably cheap, and there are lots of options available.
If you’re only travelling to Europe, or your destination is one of the 75 included, then O2 roaming SIMs are definitely worth checking out. However, O2 don’t cover as many countries as Three or Vodafone, so if you travel to many different destinations, O2 probably isn’t the best pick.
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Virgin Mobile is the only reseller we’ve put on this list. They use EE’s mobile network, rather than having their own mobile towers.
With nearly all Virgin Mobile SIM plans, you can use your data in 170 countries. However, you can only roam for free in Europe. Using your phone in another country will attract an extra cost. And unfortunately, Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer a data add-on you can use to roam for less – their roaming scheme is just for EU countries.
There are however some things to like about Virgin Mobile roaming SIMs, assuming you’re travelling in Europe.
Firstly, the fair usage roaming data cap actually depends on your SIM plan. The more data, the higher the cap, so if you have an unlimited data SIM, you should be able to get a much higher limit. You can use the data cap calculator here.
Secondly, Virgin Mobile roaming actually covers EU calling. You can call and text EU phone numbers, including mobiles and landlines, for no additional cost. Most other providers only allow you to to use your phone to call UK numbers fee-free.
However, Virgin Mobile Europe roaming only covers 43 countries. Turkey isn’t covered, although many other popular destinations such as Greece, Italy, and Spain are included.
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How to buy a roaming SIM deal
Now we’ll explain some key things to consider when buying a SIM card for international roaming.
How does SIM roaming work?
Say you have a SIM card in your phone, and you go on holiday abroad. You want to make calls and use texts and data overseas to keep in touch with friends and family at home.
To actually get online, you don’t need to do anything, when travelling to most countries. Most SIM cards have roaming enabled by default. We’ll explain this in a bit more detail below.
The difficult part is avoiding the massive data charges you can often face for using your SIM card around the world.
There are two ways to minimise roaming charges:
- Take advantage of free roaming offered by your mobile network in certain countries. Most SIM providers allow you to use your UK allowances in the EU free of charge, albeit with a cap we will explain a bit below. Others will also include roaming in common destinations other than Europe, such as Australia and the USA.
- Buy a data add-on to get a certain amount of roaming for a fixed price per day or per month. This is normally what you do when travelling beyond the EU, if your SIM card doesn’t already offer free roaming in non-EU countries.
How does roaming work in different countries?
Here’s how international roaming works in different destinations around the world.
- In the EU, it normally costs nothing to do international roaming. Your roaming should be enabled by default, and there are normally no additional charges for using your SIM card in other European countries. This is because of the EU Digital Single Market initiative – a recent change to ensure that EU residents do not pay more to get online in other countries. However, from January 1 2021, surcharge-free roaming in the EU is no longer guaranteed, due to Brexit. Despite this, the three major mobile operators have committed to keeping EU roaming free for the time being.
- If travelling to other western nations (such as Australia, New Zealand, and the USA) you may find that roaming is more expensive. There could be per-megabyte charges for data use, as well as per-SMS and per-minute calling charges. It all depends on the SIM card you have. With good networks, you’ll either have certain countries covered for free roaming, or you’ll be able to buy an add-on for around £5-£10 per day to access calls, texts, and data in these destinations.
- For other less developed countries in Africa, South America, and Asia, you’re likely to face extra charges. However, it’s always worth checking – some mobile operators have free or cheap mobile roaming in countries such as Colombia.
One other thing to note: depending on your network, you may need to activate roaming before you can get online, especially in non-EU countries. To do this, simply login to your customer portal and choose the setting to enable roaming on your device.
Which UK network is best for roaming?
Three is generally considered to be the best roaming SIM provider in the UK right now, with their “Go Roam” scheme. Here’s why.
- Three’s Go Roam is available on basically any of their Mi Fi and SIM only deals – including pay as you go.
- Three’s fee-free roaming is available in 71 countries, including the US and Australia. No need to buy their roaming data add-on, except for very uncommon destinations.
- You can tether with your roaming data, if you buy their roaming add-on (called a “Data Passport”).
There are two catches. Firstly, like most roaming schemes, Three Go Roam has a “fair usage” limit of 20GB per month in Europe and 12GB in other named destinations. This means that you’ll face extra charges if you use your UK data allowance to download more than 20GB of data, no matter whether you buy a phone or have one of their pay monthly SIM only deals. The cap also restricts you to 3000 calling minutes and 5000 texts in non-EU countries.
Other networks have larger caps. For example, EE’s fair usage cap is 50GB in the EU.
The second catch with Three is you can only use Go Roam for two out of every 12 months a year.
And also remember: the free calls and texts only apply to UK numbers. Calling an Australian number in Australia for example will set you back £1.40 per minute.
What are roaming fair usage caps?
This is the major catch of international roaming. All UK mobile networks have what they call a fair usage cap on roaming data.
The fair usage limit is basically a restriction on the amount of data you can use overseas. Typically, this fair usage cap is between 20-50GB per month.
What this means is even if you have an unlimited data SIM, you’ll only be able to use data up to the limit of your fair usage cap when travelling overseas. After this, you’ll either have your usage restricted, or be subject to regular roaming rates.
These limits can also apply to phone calls, even if you have unlimited minutes. Outside of the EU, you might be limited in the number of calls you can make.
Can I do tethering with a roaming SIM?
Whether or not you’re able to tether with a roaming SIM will depend on the SIM and where you’re travelling to.
In most cases, you are able to use your phone SIM to for tethering when travelling in Europe, including locations such as the Canary Islands and Isle of Man. However, you’re not normally able to when travelling further afield.
If your SIM card doesn’t allow for tethering, you should be able to buy an add-on to enable the ability to tether. Again, the cost for this add-on, and whether you need to buy one at all, will depend on your mobile network.
What’s the difference between a roaming SIM and an international SIM?
A roaming SIM is just a normal SIM only deal or phone SIM you can buy in the UK, which happens to have good inclusive roaming.
On the other hand, international SIM cards are designed specifically for international travel. They’re really meant for constant travellers, who are going between lots of different countries around the world very frequently, including outside the EU. As a result, they’re often more expensive if you don’t travel that often.
This is why roaming SIMs are more popular, in general. They’re more flexible, work better when you’re at home in the UK, and are often cheaper.
Can I be charged for receiving calls or texts when roaming?
In general, you won’t be charged for receiving texts when using your SIM card overseas. This is because it’s not possible to avoid receiving texts unless you stay in airplane mode.
However, you may be charged for answering a phone call, if this isn’t included as a part of your inclusive roaming plan, because you have the ability to reject or ignore incoming calls.
Note that this can vary by provider. Some will charge you for receiving texts when outside of the EU, depending on your roaming rates – so make sure to read the fine print.
How do I disable roaming?
If you want to avoid excess charges, or you hit your fair use data limit, you can always turn off roaming. When you do this, you’ll be prevented from using 3G/4G internet, sending texts, and making calls overseas.
To turn off international roaming, the easiest way is to go into your phone’s network settings and choose to disable roaming.
In case this isn’t easy to do, you can also login to your mobile network customer portal and turn off roaming there.
What internet speeds will I be able to get with a roaming SIM?
Unfortunately, you are likely to have worse speeds overseas than you do in the UK, even with the same SIM card and with the same infrastructure available.
This is because as an international roamer, your traffic will often be deprioritised. Therefore, you might be limited to 3G speeds, even if you can normally get 4G or even 5G at home.
However, there’s an important benefit to having slower speeds overseas – you probably won’t use as much data. This means that you’ll either spend a lot less on usage charges, or you’ll avoid hitting your roaming data cap as quickly.
Note that there are exceptions to this. Vodafone and EE offer 4G and 5G roaming in certain locations. Therefore, they’re the best choices if you want fast roaming speeds.
How consistent will my roaming SIM connection be?
Once again, it depends on where you are. The more urban your surroundings, the better your 3G, 4G or 5G mobile data connection quality will be.
Normally, when buying a SIM or a mobile broadband plan for use in the UK, you can use a network coverage map to see how good your connection will be in certain locations.
However, when using your SIM card for international travel, it gets a bit more difficult, since most carriers won’t include a coverage map for foreign countries.
Therefore, to see how good your coverage will be, it’s a good idea to look at customer reviews from people using the same SIM in the location you’ll be travelling to.
How expensive are international roaming SIMs?
The cost of a roaming SIM really depends on four things:
- The amount of data.
- The number of included calls/texts.
- The number of countries where roaming is available.
- The contract length.
Therefore, the cost of different roaming SIMs can vary quite substantially, from £5 up to £40 per month.
The easiest way to save money on an inclusive roaming SIM is to go for a deal with a greater contract length. The longer the contract, the less you will pay per month.
What happens when you order a SIM card?
Once you complete the checkout process and your order is confirmed, here’s what happens next.
- After a day or two, you’ll receive your new SIM card in the mail.
- You then activate the card. This means going online and filling in a simple form.
- Within an hour, your SIM should be activated, and you’re ready to get online.
This process is essentially the same for most SIM card providers and mobile networks. It may differ somewhat if you’re transferring a mobile number, rather than activating a data only SIM.
This is the end of our buyer’s guide.
Remember, if you’re buying a SIM card for roaming, it’s always best to think about where you will be travelling beforehand.
If you go to Spain or Greece every year, but very rarely leave the EU, then you should be fine with just an EU roaming SIM. If you do one day go to visit long-lost relatives in Australia, you can simply use a roaming add-on to keep costs down.
On the other hand, if you frequently go to many different international countries, you will want a SIM card with extensive international roaming. One of Three’s premium SIMs might be worth considering for frequent international travellers.
About the author
Tyler built his first PC at the age of 12, and since then, he’s become obsessed with all things networking and internet-related. He’s a massive gamer, loves Rocket League, and also plays Sunday League football.