Compare international SIM cards

Our guide to choosing a local SIM card while travelling.


Using your mobile phone plan on holiday just doesn’t make sense: calls are expensive and roaming rates can reach astronomical levels. While travel SIM cards can be convenient to use, they’re also not the cheapest option for most travellers.

A top tip for keeping down costs is to switch your mobile phone provider to a local SIM card to take advantage of local tariffs, plans and deals. Switching to a local mobile phone plan could save you vast sums of money. Local prepaid SIM cards will allow you to surf the Internet, access social media and talk to family and friends at a much cheaper rate.

Why use an international SIM card?

  • Inexpensive
  • Available worldwide
  • Finding a place to buy a local SIM in a new country might take up precious holiday time
  • Only works in the country where you purchased it (unless you are willing to pay for expensive roaming)
TREZORwallet

International or local SIM cards are the most cost-effective, efficient and hassle-free way to use your phone while travelling abroad. While there are other methods of using your phone internationally, local prepaid SIM cards are the best and most affordable option for most travellers.

Local SIM cards are easy to buy from most airports, electronic stores, department stores and directly from phone providers. As long as your phone is unlocked, you should be able to pick one up wherever you land.

Local SIM cards come with a variety of options and plans depending on the country. Many plans come with big data inclusions and unlimited local talk and text, and almost all plans have no contracts and low monthly costs.

Keep in mind, with a local SIM card you will get a local number which will make calling locally easier but can make it more difficult for people back home to get in touch. We recommend asking family and friends to download your choice of texting app, like Viber or WhatsApp, before you leave to make communication as easy as possible.

Compare international SIMs around the world

The cost, type and process of buying local SIM cards vary greatly from country to country. Check out some important information for the following commonly travelled locations. For guides on other travel destinations, head to the bottom of the page.

European Union

  • 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE plans available.
  • Unlocked GSM phones only.
  • The EU has abolished roaming charges for SIM cards purchased within the EU. That means if you land in Paris and buy a French SIM card, you won’t have to pay higher roaming rates if you head to Bruges for a day trip.
  • ID and registration are required in most countries.
  • No devices are offered with SIM card packages.

Compare local SIMs in Europe

United Kingdom

  • 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE plans available.
  • Unlocked GSM phones only.
  • Coverage is generally good in England, especially in and around London, and less reliable in more rural areas of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • A passport is not required to purchase a SIM card.
  • The UK is part of the EU roaming pact.

Compare local SIMs in the United Kingdom

United States

  • 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE plans available.
  • CDMA and GSM platforms.
  • Both prepaid and “pay as you go” plans available.
  • Good coverage over most of the country but the signal can suffer in the desert.
  • Most providers only offer prepaid SIM cards with devices, which increases the price.

Compare local SIMs in the United States

New Zealand

  • 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE plans available.
  • Unlocked GSM phones only.
  • Only three major phone networks; all provide 4G/LTE coverage.
  • 30-day prepaid SIM with 200 minutes, 200 texts, 1GB of data for AUD$26.46.
  • Some deals are only available for NZ residents.

Compare local SIMs in New Zealand

Asia

  • 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE plans available in most countries.
  • Unlocked GSM phones only.
  • Some of the cheapest SIM cards in the world.
  • Strict regulations and complicated rules in countries like India, China, and Bangladesh can slow down the process and make it difficult and time-intensive to purchase a SIM.
  • Some areas suffer poor coverage.
  • Some countries including Cambodia and Malaysia require you to register your SIM after purchase.
  • Countries like China and Indonesia charge roaming rates when travelling to different provinces.

Tips for using your phone overseas

  • Bring your ID and address details when buying your local SIM. You usually need to show ID to buy a SIM card so make sure to bring your passport with you. Many countries also require a local address, so write down the details of the hotel or Airbnb you are staying at before you leave.
  • Restrictions around this have tightened in the last few years due to issues of national security, and some countries like India and Bangladesh make it very difficult for non-residents to purchase prepaid SIM cards at all. If your destination includes any of these countries you might want to consider buying a travel SIM or using free Wi-Fi.
  • Purchase your SIM card from a store with an English-speaking employee. The set-up of your new local SIM card will be in the local language, so if you are travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language you might want to find a store with an English-speaking employee to buy your SIM card from. They should be able to help you through the set-up process and explain how you can top up your SIM.
  • Remember to change the outgoing voicemail message on your home mobile phone to include your new local number. This way people will be able to reach you easily and you won’t have to worry about missing any important calls.
  • Learn how to check your home voicemail remotely before you go. You will no longer be able to press the “voicemail” button on your phone, so if you want to be able to check your messages, make sure you look up the process. Keep in mind that for many providers this involves calling your mobile number, which will be an international call from your new local SIM.
  • Don’t forget to bring an adapter for your phone! Researching and buying a local SIM card will be useless if you have no way of charging your phone once you reach your destination.
  • Travel apps. There are many handy apps to make travelling as easy and fun as possible, no matter what your destination is. Download any apps you want to use, like Google Translate, before you go so that you can hit the ground running without wasting any precious data or time on your trip.

Alternatives to international SIM cards

Global/international roaming

  • Can be easy to use
  • Instantaneous
  • Most expensive
  • Local provider may not support global roaming

Using global roaming on your current phone can be a quick and easy option for very short trips if your phone is unlocked and compatible with local networks, and your local provider supports global roaming. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive way to use your phone while travelling.

Australian phone networks work on GSM technology. While many countries around the world also use GSM technology, including the US and UK, other countries use a mix of technologies, so it is crucial to check if your phone is compatible with your chosen destination prior to departure.

Travel SIM cards

  • Cheaper than roaming
  • You can use the same SIM card in multiple countries
  • More expensive than local SIM cards
  • Not available in every country
TREZORwallet

While local SIM cards are usually the cheapest option for international travellers, travel SIM cards can come in handy if you plan to visit many countries on the same trip. As long as your travel SIM is compatible in every country you are travelling to, you won’t have to get a new SIM card every time you cross a border.

Also, a travel SIM can come in handy if you want to be able to use your phone the second you get off the plane to order an Uber or call your hotel.

Companies like OneSimCard, GigSky, TravelSIM and even Woolworths offer a range of data, text and call options for Australian travellers all over the world.

Free Wi-Fi

  • Free
  • Your phone doesn’t need to be unlocked
  • Not always available
  • Often slow and unreliable

TREZORwallet

If you really want the cheapest possible option when using your phone abroad you can always rely on the free public Wi-Fi available in hotels, restaurants, museums and city centres. Unless you are travelling to a remote area, you can usually find at least one place with free Wi-Fi wherever you go.

By using apps like Skype and WhatsApp you can make calls and send and receive texts, but the quality of the connection can be unreliable.

Public Wi-Fi spots usually have strict limits on the amount of data you can use, creating an extra hassle when you have to find another location just to continue a conversation or upload that perfect travel selfie.

Frequently asked questions

Bottom line

No matter where you are travelling, you should consider buying a local SIM card to make your trip as easy and inexpensive as possible. The importance of having a direct link to friends, family or even local services should never be underestimated.

Your phone is your lifeline, especially when travelling to the far reaches of the globe. Whether you’re a student on a gap year, a group of friends making the trip you’ve always dreamed of, going it alone or travelling with family, local mobile phone plans will leave you with extra cash to splash while on holiday or to simply save.

All local mobile phone plans will require you to have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible international phone. Contact your service provider before you set off on your travels to double check you have this option.

  • Before you leave, check out our guides below on the best prepaid SIM cards in additional countries.

Related Posts

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms of Use, Disclaimer & Privacy Policy and Privacy & Cookies Policy.

8 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    NinaDecember 8, 2018

    Where in Hobart, Tasmania can I buy a sim card

    • finder Customer Care
      JohnDecember 12, 2018Staff

      Hi Nina,

      Thank you for leaving a question.

      You can buy SIM cards at many retail outlets. There are 3 major providers, Telstra (biggest and best coverage, also most expensive), Optus and Vodaphone. You’ll need to have photo ID showing your address to get your new SIM. Generally a Drivers License will do but it might not hurt to have your passport too. Sim cards are also available in the Airport. Hope this helps!

      Cheers,
      Reggie

  2. Default Gravatar
    DeborahNovember 19, 2018

    I am travelling to Italy and Malta. What is the most cost effective way to be able to ring back to Australia, apart from Whatsapp.

    • finder Customer Care
      NikkiNovember 19, 2018Staff

      Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for getting in touch! Here is a page showing sim cards that allows international phone calls e.g to Australia from Europe. To get the cheapest plan, check out the website of your chosen sim card provider in Europe and review their prepaid plans that allow international calls. You may purchase the sim cards in the airport when you arrive and a sales personnel can help you with the plans applicable for your trip at the best savings.

      Hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to message us back if you have more questions.

      Cheers,
      Nikki

  3. Default Gravatar
    PhillipNovember 17, 2018

    What is the best sim card that can be used in Ireland and Austria.

    • finder Customer Care
      NikkiNovember 19, 2018Staff

      Hi Philip,

      Thanks for getting in touch! The sim card in EU cannot be used in UK, therefore, you may have to purchase one for Europe and one for the UK. Please see the pages below:

      UK sim cards
      EU sim cards

      You may purchase the sim cards in the airport when you arrive and a sales personnel can help you with the plans applicable for your trip at the best savings.
      Hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to message us back if you have more questions.

      Cheers,
      Nikki

  4. Default Gravatar
    TerenceSeptember 30, 2018

    I’m traveling from Spain to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, I need a Sim for my Tablet ( google maps ) as we drive through France and Sims for 2 iPhones. Can you advise me if it’s best to purchase on arrival in Barcelona or purchase from Australia Post or similar provider? Thank you.

    • finder Customer Care
      NikkiOctober 1, 2018Staff

      Hi Terence,

      Thanks for your message and for contacting finder.

      It would depend on your convenience. If you think purchasing online would save you a hassle then purchasing one before you arrive in Barcelona would be a better option. Please be sure to order way ahead of time so the sim card will arrive on time. Otherwise, purchase your sim cards when you arrive in Barcelona.

      Hope this helps! Feel free to message us should you have further questions.

      Cheers,
      Nikki

Ask a question
Go to site