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The Best SIM Card for International Travel in 2023

International data plans can be a source of confusion and frustration for many travelers. It’s not uncommon for people to seek guidance on obtaining high-speed data for their phones when traveling abroad, and this is one of the most commonly asked questions I receive from my readers.

To simplify the process and alleviate the mystery around international data plans, I have created a guide to the best international SIM cards that can help you stay connected during your travels.

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Using Smartphones Abroad

In today’s interconnected world, a smartphone has become an indispensable tool for travel. From booking one’s trip to finding a nearby ATM, and snapping amazing photos a smartphone performs many helpful functions that go beyond simply making and receiving phone calls.

Whether you are booking an around the world trip (RTW), heading on a European River Cruise or planning your international dream vacation, understanding how to use a SIM card is super important!

Types of SIM Cards

There are different types of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards that are used in mobile devices. The most common types of SIM cards include:

Standard SIM: This is the largest type of SIM card and was commonly used in older phones. It measures 25mm x 15mm and has a thickness of 0.76mm.

Micro SIM: This is a smaller type of SIM card that was introduced to fit into smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets. It measures 15mm x 12mm and has a thickness of 0.76mm.

Nano SIM: This is the smallest type of SIM card currently available and is used in most modern smartphones. It measures 12.3mm x 8.8mm and has a thickness of 0.67mm.

eSIM: This is a digital SIM that is embedded in the device and does not require a physical SIM card to be inserted. It allows for multiple profiles and can be activated through a carrier or app.

Purchase a SIM card

If one does not wish to remain tethered to their U.S.-based plan, one option is to either purchase an unlocked smartphone or check with the carrier about unlocking the current smartphone.

Then either purchase a SIM card specific to a given country or use a global international SIM card such as the card available from KnowRoaming that allows use of the card in the United States, as well as a range of countries.

Choose a SIM card that also offers a data plan, so one can use the phone for texting, as well as accessing applications like maps while on the go.

some popular international SIM cards for travel in 2023:

  • Google Fi Unlimited Plus SIM Kit: Unlimited data, hotspot tethering, calls, and texts within the US, Canada & Mexico, and high-speed data and texts included while traveling to 200+ other countries and territories. Built-in VPN and spam blocking included on all plans.
  • OneSimCard: They offer international SIM cards with coverage in over 200 countries, free incoming calls in most countries, and affordable data rates.
  • GoSIM: This company offers international SIM cards with coverage in over 210 countries, free incoming calls in most countries, and affordable data rates.
  • TravelSim: They offer international SIM cards with coverage in over 190 countries, free incoming calls in most countries, and affordable data rates.
  • WorldSIM: These are international SIM cards with coverage in over 200 countries, free incoming calls in most countries, and affordable data rates.
  • Flexiroam X: This company offers a unique solution to international roaming with its data-only SIM card and mobile app that allows you to connect to local networks and purchase data plans as needed.

It is recommended to research each option and compare their prices and features before making a decision. It is also important to check if the international SIM card is compatible with your device and if it provides coverage in the countries you plan to visit.

How to Use a Sim Card with an IPhone

  1. Purchase correct SIM card for your phone.
  2. Power down (turn off) your iPhone.
  3. Locate the SIM card slot on the side of your iPhone.
  4. Find the SIM eject tool.
  5. Push the tool (or a paperclip) into the small hole next to the SIM slot.
  6. Pull the SIM tray out of the iPhone.
  7. Remove the current SIM card and place your new SIM card in the tray.
  8. Slide the tray back into the iPhone.
  9. Hold down the Power button to turn your iPhone back on.

For more details check the wikiHow tutorial on how to insert a SIM card into your iPhone.

Tips for Using Smartphones While Traveling Abroad

Using Smartphones Abroad

Dan Bare of Wild Spirit Travel noted, travelers can incur bills over $1,000 because they did not understand their American phone carrier’s international plans. “Just showing up in a foreign country without being on a plan can cost a traveler thousands in international roaming charges.”

Purchase or Rent a Hotspot

Purchasing or renting a hotspot is another option though that can be pricey if one will be in a country for an extended period. Given the wide availability of WiFi in many countries, it would be cheaper to access publicly available WiFi in hotels and cafes, and then use a SIM card with a data plan when one is outside of public WiFi range.

Keep Your smartphone in airplane mode.

Also, Bare recommends that when traveling overseas, travelers should be sure to keep their smartphone in airplane mode. “Airplane mode turns off all the antennas in the smartphone, this stops my phone from constantly connecting to each cell tower as I move from place to place. This stops all the apps on your phone from constantly checking for new messages, emails, social media posts, bank charges, and any other new data”.

If the airplane mode gets turned off even for a moment, a traveler can incur fees. Bare adds, “You can turn on WiFi while in airplane mode.  This way you can use WiFi at a hotel or coffee shop and not incur international cell phone roaming fees.”

Top Travel Apps

In Bare’s estimation, his top travel app is Google Translate. “Check out the camera icon in the app.  It doesn’t take a picture, but instead translates any sign or menu back into English.  It’s like magic.” Other apps he recommends are Google Maps, Rome2Rio, XE Currency, and for finding healthy food options world-wide: HappyCow.

Travel apps recommended by other travel experts include SayHi, another translation app that enables one to use the iPhone’s voice recognition features to translate simple phrases. Google Tripp is an ideal app for those who like to have all the details regarding an upcoming trip in one place. Book both flights or hotels with the Monomodo app.

The Hopper app works well for those who like to keep their eye out on airplane deals, and the Agoda app helps travelers search for hotel deals. Also, CityMaps2Go enables one to download maps and access them online, thus enabling one to navigate around when WiFi is not available.

Earphones + Headset Top Pick

Pick up Etymotic’s hf3 Earphones + Headset for noise-canceling earphones that offer high performance at a moderate price. As this model comes with a close-proximity high sensitivity microphone, travelers can make calls on the go as well.

Portable Chargers

Keep gear charged with RAVPower’s latest portable charger, the HyperAir. This device offers the fastest charging speeds on contact for both iOS and Android devices – all with the same charger. Those seeking a high-power charger that can keep all one’s devices charged for long-haul flights should check out their 22000mAh 5.8A 3-Port portable charger. For a lightweight option to keep an iPhone charged for the entire day, pack along the Anker PowerCore+ 10000 portable charger.

Pair the charging devices with the premium lightning cables to keep a portable workstation tangle free.

For a truly compact office-on-the-go, consider leaving the laptop or iPad behind and do typing on the Logitech Keys-To-Go for iPhone. This ultra-portable thin and durable keyboard is thin can be stored easily in a purse or briefcase without weighing one down. The keys have a tactile feeling with a water-repellant FabricSkin covering that helps to protect the keyboard from dirt and spills.

Upon arrival at one’s overseas destination, charge all electronic devices with either the Ventev Global Charging Hub 300 or the SKROSS: World Adapter MUV USB. Unlike traditional international adapters, these adapters have dual USB ports, so one can charge two USB devices easily even if another device is connected via the adapter at the same time.

Recommended Travel Resources

Read More About Great Travel Gear and Packing Ideas

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Using Smartphones Abroad. How to Use a Sim Card & Tips for Using Smartphones Abroad. Understand your American phone carrier’s international plans & tips to use a sim card!

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