Everything you need to know about free sim cards deals and why you should be careful
As you would expect after many years of experience in the telecoms industry, we are often asked what the best local Free SIM cards are when travelling abroad. The most frequent question usually comes from a typical family planning to travel to say France, Spain or Italy during the summer holidays. They want to make sure they’re not paying over the odds for calls and texts on their mobiles. But maybe more importantly, especially if you have teenagers in tow, is how do you keep those internet browsing costs down as low as possible?
What are the Free SIM Card Options?
If you want to use your Smartphone as you would at home whilst abroad, then investigating local Free SIM’s is the most sensible thing to do if you want to avoid a huge bill when you get back. Firstly, consider whether you will be mainly in the country or major towns and cities? If you’re in a rural location then you’ll need a network with extensive coverage, not just the cheapest tariffs.
And crucially, if you want to take advantage of free sim cards abroad, then you’ll need to make sure that your mobile is unlocked. You can do this easily by going directly to your current provider and asking for your PAC code, so that you can transfer your number to another network. It may cost you up to £20, but you’ll save so much more than that whilst using your mobile abroad.
In Spain, a Pay as you go SIM card is called a “targeta”. Typically a €10 TopUp will get you the “Gatuita Hablar y Navegar” tariff on Vodafone which includes 200MB and 20 free minutes and texts. Not quite as generous as the UK, but if you went for a €30 Euro TopUp you would get 1GB, 300 minutes and unlimited texts. Call set up is 15 cents plus 24 cents thereafter. You can get a slightly better deal with Orange on their “Delfin” tariff, which for €3.50 a week will get you 100 MB of internet, 50 texts and calls for €0.09 per minute to any other network.
Easy to Top Up
Both Vodafone Italy and TIM (tim.it) have good coverage right across the country. TIM has a strangely named “Ricaricabile” Pay as you go Free SIM. On “TIM per Smartphone” which is their data offering, you pay €2.50 per week for 250MB of browsing. Together with TIM 12 talk and text, you’ll pay only €0.12 per minute or for each text. If you’d rather get just one package, then Vodafone Smart 250 will give you 250 minutes, 250 texts and 1GB of internet, all on a promotional rate of €12.90 a month. And of course the other good thing about Italy is that they have a huge number of small, independent mobile phone retailers. So topping up, even in the most remote locations, should never be a problem.
SIM Card credit lasts longer
France is a different kettle of fish. Because of the way their TopUp system works, the more credit you apply, the longer it lasts. Just as an example on Orange Mobi-carte a €10 Topup will expire after 12 days, but a €25 credit will expire after 2 months. Very different to the way we do it, but it can have its advantages if you’re planning on a long stay. There are some pretty good internet deals though with Bouygues, for €10 you can get unlimited calls and texts and 200MB of data. Typically though, calls are dearer in France, so may be worth considering some of the UK roaming deals now widely available in the UK.
Vodafone now have a EuroTraveller offer, where you can take your UK price plan with you around the UK for just £3 a day. Be aware though that you can’t take any extras with you and you can’t opt back in to other packages like VF Passport at a later date. With T-Mobile you can purchase an internet travel booster that can offer you up to 50MB for 30 days for €10. When it’s gone it’s gone, but at least you won’t be coming home to a huge bill.
Whilst mobile usage is still more expensive when abroad, the emergence of the Smartphone and more frequent foreign travel, both for business and for pleasure, has meant that most mobile operators have looked at how to make it more flexible and affordable for the masses. There’s still some way to go, but with most operators looking to streamline their portfolio of offers, we can look forward to seeing more globally appealing tariffs in the future.