The best SIM cards for travelling across Europe

Travelling across Europe and don’t want to have to stay out of touch or keep swapping SIMS? We’ve got you covered with our guide to the best international SIM cards and options for travelling in Europe.

Alex Kidman
Oct 23, 2023
Icon Time To Read3 min read

Roaming in Europe


Photograph of woman travelling in Paris - Best Europe SIM card

Europe is a super popular destination for Australian travellers, whether it’s for business purposes or simply to take in the hundreds of years of culture across the continent – not to mention all the very fine regional food options open to you. Which is great, right up until you want to call back to the office, check your messages or simply send a photo of that amazing meal you just had to social media.

That’s where having a smart approach to your travel SIM can save you serious money. While the really bad old days where watching one YouTube video could send you into bankruptcy on your return to Australian shores are (mostly) behind us, it’s still worth weighing up your options to get the best deal, whether you plan to use a full “Travel” SIM, a local SIM option or roaming from your existing telco.

It is worth noting that if your European travel is purely within the European Union (as distinct from the wider European continent) then the EU’s roaming rules around calls, texts and data apply – but it’s worth checking if a given provider has fair use provisions for roaming use in play for data, as those can sometimes obscure hidden fees.

More travel SIM options

Best Europe Travel SIM

Australia Post International Roaming


Best Europe Travel SIM
Australia Post Roaming SIM
Australia Post International Roaming SIM
Works in over 90 countries with one SIM and number.
Coverage
90+ countries
Data options
50MB (data top-ups available)
Expiry options
30 days
Starts at
$5

There’s a number of choices in the Japan Travel SIM market that you can order before you leave Australia from brands such as Sakura Mobile and B-Mobile, but if you are going the Travel SIM route it’s hard to overlook Mobal’s short-term tourist SIMs. Starting at ¥4,730 (~$50 AUD, depending on exchange rates) for an unlimited data-only 8 day SIM up to ¥7,920 (~$83) for a full 30 days with unlimited data.

It's worth noting that Japan allows a, shall we say, more “loose” definition of “unlimited” than you might think would apply, before you plan to start downloading the entire Netflix back catalogue to your tablet. Most plans are limited to 3GB of data per day, after which data speeds “may” be reduced. For most tourists being prudent 3GB a day is plenty enough, even if you are uploading most of your food and location snaps to Instagram at a frenzied pace.

Mobal’s SIMs work on the Softbank and Docomo networks in Japan with a claimed 99% population coverage, which should cover most places you’re likely to go on business or holiday within Japan.

Airalo Eurolink


Best eSIM
Airalo Eurolink
Airalo Eurolink
Available anywhere with an internet connection with 24/7/365 customer support.
Coverage
Europe (39 countries)
Data
1 - 100GB
Expiry
7 - 180 days
Starts at (USD)
$5

Airalo’s business model is entirely eSIM focused based around its own app. For European travellers across a number of countries your best best is one of its Eurolink packages, covering 39 countries with coverage periods ranging from 7 days to 180 days and data inclusions from 1GB up to 100GB. If your travel needs are more constrained, Airalo also offers single country packages that may offer you more data for less money, so it’s smart to check beforehand.

The big advantage here is that you can set up the Airalo app and an account all before you ever step foot on a plane, giving you peace of mind that when you land you’ll be able to message home with confidence. The downside, however, is that you must have an eSIM-enabled handset to use Airalo’s services, which cuts out many budget phones and some older premium models entirely.

Best Australian deal for Europe roaming

Vodafone $5 Roaming


Vodafone was the first Australian telco to really get on board with roaming charges that didn’t make you feel like you’d just been run over by a 747 when you returned home. Its $5/day surcharge to access your plan’s existing inclusions remains the gold standard for ease of use and ease of understanding, though it’s worth noting that its data capped speed plans do not include the endless speed capped data once you’ve gone through your primary provision. In those cases, you’ll get hit for $5 for each additional 1GB of data you need.

Here's a selection of Vodafone plans that support $5/day international roaming

The big catch with Vodafone $5 a day roaming is that it adds up over a lengthy European sojourn, so it’s best matched for when you might be quickly travelling through Europe for just a couple of days. Anything longer than that, and travel SIMs, local SIMs and travel eSIMs quickly become a more financially prudent option.

Vodafone aren’t your only option for roaming-friendly telcos within Australia, however. Here’s a range of alternative telco options that support roaming within Europe:

Is it worth buying a local SIM instead when I arrive in Europe?

It can be highly beneficial to grab a local SIM in Europe for your travels, because typically local rates are cheaper and offer larger data inclusions than just about any travel SIM or roaming deal. There’s the added benefit for the EU specifically here too that member states (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) all support cross-border roaming at no additional cost. Look for deals from some of the bigger cross-European Telcos such as Orange or Vodafone to get the best deal for the right price.

You’ll find no shortage of local SIM providers in every single major European airport if you favour convenience, though often they sell “tourist” specific SIMs with a slight surcharge in return for that easy pickup.

If you’re staying longer in a specific country, it’s worth researching local options and storefronts to see if you can get a prepaid SIM through them. Be careful, however, as you don’t want to get stung by a monthly plan that’s no use to you once you’ve left Europe, and some providers in some countries won’t accept credit card payments for some mobile services if the credit card itself isn’t local.

What counts as “Europe” for a Europe travel SIM?
This is a good question that we can’t fully answer, because it does vary markedly from provider to provider. If you’re talking countries in the EU (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), then the EU’s rules around roaming mean that any SIM card from an EU country should work without any excess fees for calls or texts, though some providers do offer less data if you’re roaming outside the country of origin. That does still leave a number of countries within continental Europe not covered, so it’s well worth checking if your provider does include them within any “European” coverage deal. While the UK is no longer an EU member due to the whole Brexit deal, a lot of telcos still provide UK coverage under a broader “Europe” umbrella for example, but the picture does get murkier for some Eastern European countries.
Can I add a European travel eSIM to my existing phone?

If your current handset doesn’t support eSIM, then sadly, the answer is no. You absolutely need the internal circuitry for eSIM support to be present on your phone in the first place.

If your phone does support eSIMs, then it’s quite easy to set up your eSIM before you travel. We’ve got a handy guide to setting up eSIMs for Apple iPhone and Android here.

Can I get by just on hotel Wi-Fi?

The absolute cheapest way to “roam” when overseas is to throw your phone into a canal the moment you land. But that’s environmentally unsound, so don’t do it.

The second cheapest way is to use public Wi-Fi where available. In Europe, that’s a lot of places, including most accommodation venues. Instead of throwing your phone into a canal, switch off its roaming data (or data altogether) and switch to using Wi-Fi plus services such as Facetime, FaceBook Messenger and WhatsApp as your temporary “phone” number while you’re travelling. Use the offline maps capability of services such as Google Maps for navigation, load up on offline streaming services and music, and you can survive without having to pay anything extra at all for data.

Bear in mind, however, that public networks sit outside your control, and you never know who might be doing a little not-so-idle-not-so-friendly packet sniffing to get hold of your data. If you’re planning on relying on public Wi-Fi while travelling, investing in proper secure VPN access is a must.

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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