Cellphones Abroad

The Europe Trip – Staying connected

Some people choose not to bring their cellphones when abroad, usually because they want to be disconnected, or because the roaming charges are enough to make you cringe. Not bringing my phone was never an option for me. I want it so I can easily cancel/re-book hostels if my plans change, and so I can make train reservations for my Eurail pass. I just needed to figure out what the most economical option was for using my phone while abroad. I debated three options before choosing to purchase an ekit Global SIM card.

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CELLPHONE OPTIONS FOR TRAVELLING:

  1. Putting an international plan on my phone. Because I don’t know how much I’ll actually be using my phone while away, this didn’t seem like the best option.  I’m with Telus, which has $50 and $125 international plan options. The more expensive plan comes with only 100 megabytes of data, which is 1/10 of what my regular phone plan has. I nixed this option because it was extremely likely I would go over the allotted data and get charged, and I didn’t want to come home to a massive bill. (There is a way to have your service provider turn the data off on your phone so you won’t get charged for roaming, but I’ve heard horror stories of this not working. I wanted complete control over what my bill would be.)
  2. Unlocking my phone and buying SIM cards in each country. This is one of the cheapest options. Basically, you call your service provider and pay for them to unlock your phone ($35 if you’re with Telus). Once unlocked, you can swap your SIM card out for a pre-paid one you buy when you enter a new country. This gives you a local number, so you won’t get charged for roaming. I’ve read SIM cards are only a few bucks, and are relatively easy to find in most cities (Rick Steves says you can buy a SIM card from a vending machine in the Brussels’ train station). But in smaller towns, or in places where you face a significant language barrier, it might be harder to track one down. I am visiting seven countries while I’m away, and I didn’t want to waste time tracking down SIM cards in each one, so I opted for option number three.
  3. Unlocking my phone and buying a pre-paid international SIM card. I went with this option because it was convenient, flexible and gave me complete control over my bill. I unlocked my phone with Telus for $35 and then purchased a pre-paid global SIM card that was mailed to me before my trip. My SIM card works almost anywhere in the world, so I won’t have to spend time searching tech shops for a new SIM card in every country. And it’s pre-paid, so the only money I’ll spend is the money I load onto it.

THE EKIT GLOBAL SIM CARD

DSC_0023I bought a basic global SIM card from a company called ekit. It comes with a $10 credit already loaded onto the card, but I can top it up at anytime. On the ekit website the SIM card is $39 plus shipping, but if you order it through the Eurail website at this link it’s only $31 and shipping is free.

The SIM card comes with a little wallet sized user guide that tells you how to set it up on your phone. There’s also a toll-free number my family and friends can use to call me no matter where I am, at no charge to them. ekit sells data packs, but I opted not to buy one because I’ll be using free wifi in the hostels I visit instead. If I do get lost somewhere and find I need data to look up an address, I can easily turn it on (the rate is $0.39 per megabyte), but I can’t rack up a $700 dollar roaming bill because there’s only so much money on the card to begin with.

The downside to global SIM cards is that the rates for calling, texting and data tend to be more expensive than buying a pre-paid SIM card once you get to a country. Because I don’t plan on using my phone that much to make actual calls, I opted for convenience over rate-value. If I was only travelling to one or two countries, or planning to call/text a lot, I would likely purchase SIM cards in each new place.

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