Local SIM Cards for Best Value Phone And Data When Travelling Abroad

Digital nomad or not, we ALL need phone and data when travelling!

When you’re off on your latest adventure, you’ll likely want to keep in touch with friends or family at home – not least to make everyone extremely jealous of the wonderful sights and experiences you are enjoying. 

But using your at-home mobile phone network can be horrendously expensive and you could be hit with an astronomical bill once you return, unless your mobile network offers you free phone and data abroad. No such luck? Then read on...

If you are like everyone else nowadays and cannot be without the same “unlimited” services your mobile phone offers, avoid a big fat phone bill landing through your letterbox when you return. You should consider getting a local SIM card on your travels. This is especially suitable for travels to a lone country as local SIM cards only pays off when used in the country of origin. A local SIM will not only give you the best rates, but also access to local discounts and local offers. 

Here are some top tips and benefits of using a local SIM card the next time you head off somewhere exotic.

Prep Work before Landing

 Standard, Micro or Nano sized SIMs?

Standard, Micro or Nano sized SIMs?

Make sure your phone is unlocked and able to accept the various SIM cards. If you’ve got the latest iPhone or Android mobile, check that the SIM you intend to buy is compatible with that model before reaching for your wallet. As soon as you’ve opened the SIM card packaging the vendor won’t be able to offer you a refund. If you have a “spare” or “burner” phone, you can always bring that to use with the local SIM as a travelling phone. 

It will always be ideal if you can buy a SIM card before departure. The LeanPac® team have had good experience buying SIM cards before departure on the b4i.travel website and picking them up on destinations in the USA and South Africa.

Data allowances

Most local SIM cards come with a healthy data allowance. Even if you are not a Facebooker or Instagrammer, but if you’re constantly sending pics of the stunning sunsets and wildlife you’ve encountered on your travels, it can soon be eaten up.

A good tip for making the most of the local SIM card data allowance is to set up a group chat e.g. WhatsApp and invite those friends and family members you’ll be most likely to be sending photos to on a regular basis and just send the one image to the entire group.

This way, everyone will be able to see what a fantastic time you’re having whilst saving some of that precious data. 

Network reliability

There’s nothing worse than trying to make a call or send a text only to be greeted by one signal bar bar or even worse a ‘no service’ message. 

It is probably wise to choose a network based on coverage rather than just cost, especially if you are going off the beaten path. Even within your own home country, certain networks seem to do better than other in e.g urban and more rural areas.

Before you travel, do a little research on the most reliable network providers available at your destination and check out any online forums to see what people who’ve already visited had to say about which provider gives the best service. However, connectivity should not be too much an issue in more populated areas.

Buying A SIM Card At Destination

As soon as you step off the plane, in many countries, you’ll see SIM card vending machines or manned kiosks selling SIM cards specially designed to help travellers get the best deal – so head over and talk to a member of staff who can advise you on the best tariffs. Take note that you will always need your passport and possibly a local address and sometimes (India!) even a passport photo.

BUT before that, you might want to do some research on your specific destination as some countries makes it difficult or even forbid foreigners from buying SIM cards. A few examples include Cuba and Christmas Island where you cannot get a SIM, while China, Germany, India, Japan and Turkey makes it hard for foreigners to buy SIM cards due to various reasons e.g. censorship, ID registration, infrastructure etc.

Note & share your new number

It is always best if you are able to purchase your SIM card and get the new number before departure but if not, give everyone in your group and friends and family back home your temporary number as soon as it is activated before leaving the arrival airport, kiosk or vendor. Default position here; make sure your SIM card works and is activated BEFORE leaving your vendor! At the same time, get help from the vendor, to change the language where necessary as manoeuvring the phone yourself in an unknown language is no easy feat.

As soon as you pop that little SIM card into your mobile phone you need to make a note of the number, somewhere easily accessible. Just because you have now got a new mobile number that you cannot remember no matter how hard you try, you will suddenly find that you are being asked for it more times than you’ve ever been asked before. 

Start sharing your new number ASAP. Imagine if a relative back home needed to make contact urgently but couldn’t because they didn’t have your overseas mobile number. This goes vice versa, make sure you get your travel companion's number. If you don't, you will be sure to be separated from your group on public transport directly. 

Finally, make sure you keep you own SIM card safely taped up somewhere as you'll need it when it's time to go home!