Travelling abroad can be stressful enough without having to worry about selecting the right SIM card for you phone. If you have an unlocked cell phone you have the choice of changing the SIM card when you travel abroad to try and lower the costs.
If you take your existing US domestic SIM card then roaming charges (calling on your mobile when in another country) can get very expensive, very quickly. There are several options
1) Buy a local pay-as-you go SIM card when you arrive.
Many airports and newsagents will have prepaid SIM cards that you can buy and put into your phone. It will give your phone a new number – native to the country you’re in – but you’ll be able to make cheap calls within that country e.g. to the taxi company or to restaurants. The downside is that the SIM card will be optimized for local calls – within that country. And chances are, you’ll be wanting it to call back to the US, which could still be expensive.
2) Buy/Rent a SIM card from a US provider
If you are travelling to Italy, for example, if you take an Italian SIM card from a US provider before you leave then the you will get all the benefits of low cost calling in Italy but the chances are the US provider will have negotiated preferential rates for calling back to the USA.
3) Buy/Rent an International SIM card from a US provider
If you are travelling to more than one country or you have many trips and don’t wish to keep swapping SIM cards, then you may consider an “international SIM Card”. The phrase can sometimes be used to simply mean a foreign SIM as we’ve discussed above but normally an International SIM card would be one that gives you reasonable call costs across many countries. In other words, it’s designed as a roaming SIM card.
Once again, if you look to buy from a US provider then the chances are they will have negotiated great rates for the countries that US citizens visit and also the calls back to the US.
International SIM cards can be billed in a prepaid or post-paid fashion. Prepaid is great when you want to control your spend because you put the initial credit on the SIM and then you can’t go beyond that without topping up. However, it can be inconvenient to have to continually top-up because you may need to go online to do so. Post-paid SIMs will charge you at the end of the month for whatever calls you’ve made – much more like your normal phone bill at home. They are more convenient but you need to keep a more watchful eye on your usage and spend levels.