Now that you have a cell phone that operates on a GSM network, you can choose: to purchase a new SIM card per country (this will change your phone number with each card, but the outgoing call fees are really low), to purchase a roaming SIM card (one big price tag for a stable international calling number), or to purchase a bulk roaming package with your home carrier (very few options that exist without hidden fees, usually tied up with Data usage).
Individual SIM cards are useful if you’re: staying for long term in a country and you’re not using your phone/data service often.
Cons of the individual SIM cards are: that it can be confusing for people to try to get a hold of you if they aren’t familiar with your new numbers(so one mass text might be necessary in the beginning of each new SIM card). Keeping track of the cards can be a hassle since SIM cards are re-usable in many cases so if you travel a lot you may end up with a number of individual chips. Sometimes the set up (depending on the country you’re purchasing the SIM card from) won’t have an English option. However, some SIM card carriers can be found with more coverage than others, for example: Vodafone is a really common carrier found with coverage through most of Europe.
Purchasing a Roaming SIM: A roaming SIM is a SIM card that is registered with the Monaco phone system enabling the phone number attached to it to be used anywhere in the world. There is a rental fee for the phone number, but as long as you pay it once a year (or every 9 months for some carriers) it will remain open regardless of your physical location. This is obviously useful if you’re someone who travels frequently and may not want to deal with the ‘hassle’ of finding a new SIM card and updating everyone back home (including your contacts abroad) to your new phone number. Another interesting feature of the roaming SIM is that many roaming SIM’s have the option to ‘switch networks’ within certain countries to find the carrier with the best coverage.
Cons to a Roaming SIM: As to be expected the biggest drawback is price, through Telestial you can get HopAbroad service for 99$ upfront. This fee gives you roughly 15$ of airtime and the rest is all registration. Paying for a 65$ re-charge card for your account will keep the account open and cell number active for the year. This re-charge gives you 50$ of airtime. HopAbroad doesn’t offer SMS or voicemail, however. This is a good option if you’re someone who needs a lot of service with little hassle, you’re abroad enough to make 50$+ of airtime valuable and you don’t mind paying a bit for a SIM. You can find other options for roaming SIM cards, however, be careful of the overall pricing per phone call.
Roaming package with your at home provider: The least wallet safe option for your trip(or lifestyle change) is to purchase a bulk travel package with your present provider. Generally, these incur many fees and may have a no-call range in certain countries. Which just sounds like a headache. However, if this seems to be the best option (you’re going for a really short trip) be warned that while the pricing for texts and calls is upfront, they can end up charging you an arm and a leg for data roaming. United States phone carriers that can operate on a GSM network will have travel bundles you can purchase, if your phone is non-GSM it won’t work internationally.
Another disadvantage to purchasing a roaming package with a major US mobile carrier is that you will still have to pay for the monthly plan even if you’re only abroad for a week. That being said T-Mobile has a useful plan called the “Simple Choice” plan which allows for unlimited talk, text, and data for 50$ (there is an added fee for US calling)
***The Schengen region of the EU has begun to eliminate roaming charges within this area as of July 2014. You can read about it here
Why it makes your life easier
If you opt to purchase a new SIM in each country then you’re saving a considerable amount of money on calls and data. The roaming SIM is a really wonderful option if you can justify the price in your budget. Setting up a roaming account with your ‘at-home’ provider is probably the least money saving way to travel abroad with service. Assuming, of course, that you’re someone who needs to be accessible to locals and you enjoy having ‘cheap’ data coverage. The T-Mobile option seems like an acceptable roaming option, but probably not for long term topping out at 50$ a month.
International Roaming SIM
*All carriers of international roaming SIM cards also carry country-specific SIM cards. It will also be important if you’re American or coming to America, to make sure that your SIM card provider offers coverage on non-GSM networks. Generally if the US is listed, you’re fine. But not all SIM card carriers offer service to the US.
Telestial– a really well known carrier offering good rates and some really good cell phone packages (some come with international roaming SIM cards)
Global Riiing– This one has really low international rates which include free incoming calls on the International Roaming SIM from 64 countries (U.S isn’t included). But offers coverage to 100 countries total (US is included)
Vodafone– doesn’t offer coverage for calls to and from the US. But offers calls to just about anywhere else in the world cheaply!
Maxroam– Offers packages for certain countries, like the UK explorer bundle.
Roammobility– U.S. coverage only
WoolWorths– Au company- offers coverage to US.