Curious about the costs of sim cards in various countries throughout the world? Then you’re in the right place because this detailed guide covers everything you need to know about sim cards and how much you can expect to spend on them.
I can’t give you the exact cost for every single country on the planet, but I can give you a general idea of what you can expect to pay for sim cards, eSims, and mobile data plans in your travels. Buying a local sim card in a country you visit is always cheaper than paying for data roaming charges, and it’s the best way to guarantee you have network and Internet access at your fingertips, without spending a fortune.
It’s important to have a sim card because it’s the only way you can have a network connection on your smartphone. You can’t make phone calls, receive/send SMS, or use mobile data on a phone without a network connection.
That’s also the great thing about sim cards; if your phone battery dies, you can just put your sim card in a different device and use it to make a phone call or access the Internet with mobile data.
Buy a sim card at a physical store of a network provider, or order online from their webshop or even Amazon. Prepaid sim cards are widely available on Amazon and similar sites, but only for select world countries.
There are two main types of sim cards – a physical sim card and an embedded sim card.
Physical sim cards have been around for decades and they’re what the majority of people still use on an everyday basis. There are three main sizes of physical sim cards – Standard, Micro, and Nano. Nano sim cards are the norm these days, and they’re the smallest sim cards that require only the chip with very little additional plastic around them.
Virtually all sim card providers include all three sizes when you buy a sim card so that you can get the right size for your device without much hassle.
Embedded sim cards – or eSims – on the other hand, don’t technically exist. There’s a chip in your phone that functions as a sim card, but when you purchase an eSim, you’re pretty much just purchasing a QR code for a mobile plan. Virtual sim cards are becoming more popular every year; so much so that the latest iPhones are eSim only, without a traditional sim card slot.
The cost of sim cards in Europe really depends on which country we’re talking about. Although there are many international sim cards that offer regional coverage throughout Europe, they are usually much more expensive than local sim cards in individual countries.
One important thing to note here is that you don’t necessarily have to purchase a regional sim card (or eSim) to have regional coverage in Europe. There’s no data roaming within the European Union, so you can use a sim card from one of the EU countries normally in all EU countries.
That means that if you buy a sim/eSim in France, you can still use it for mobile data and phone calls even in Germany, Austria, or Croatia without paying any additional roaming charges. But this doesn’t apply to European countries outside the EU (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, etc.).
The cost of sim card plans varies quite a bit depending on the country. You can get an unlimited data sim card in Croatia for some 10 Euros, but you’ll have to spend 20 Euros if you want an unlimited data sim card in Switzerland.
The cost of a sim card in the US depends on which network provider you choose. You can usually get just a sim card for as little as $1, but if you want a prepaid plan with that sim card, it will be more expensive.
On average, you can get data-only sim cards for $15-20, and you can get sim cards that include free minutes and SMS in the same price range, but those will have a smaller data allowance. Prepaid sim cards in the US can cost anywhere from $10 to $150+, depending on the data allowance and the validity period of the sim card.
Also, consider which provider in the US would work best for you. Verizon and T-Mobile are considered the two top providers with the best coverage in the United States, so they’re likely your best option if you have plans to travel to multiple regions in the country.
Sim cards in the UK can be bought for as little as £1, but you can’t really do anything with them until you load them up with more money. Once you put more money on the sim card, you can just spend it on phone calls and texts, or you can purchase a prepaid pack if the provider offers it.
The cost of UK sim cards depends on the provider. O2 has some really great mobile plans for UK residents and travelers from abroad who want a prepaid sim card.
One thing I have to point out about UK sim cards is that the guarantee of no roaming in the EU was lifted with Brexit, and since then it’s been up to the network providers to decide what additional charges they will have in place for using the sim card outside the UK.
Although there are many different providers with dozens of data plans, you can get a decent sim card plan for £5-15. Even just £5 can get you enough data and free minutes for a week, and you’ll have good network coverage in all the major cities.
The cost of sim cards in South America really depends on the individual countries. Generally speaking, sim cards in most South American countries are very affordable, usually cheaper than in Europe, the US, and even Australia.
This is because of the lower standard of living, which makes everything cheaper there. However, the same doesn’t apply to eSims; you can purchase eSims for South America from international providers, but these are almost always going to be significantly more expensive than local sim cards.
The exact costs can vary, but in most South American countries you can get one of the best-prepaid sim card plans for tourists for $5-10. You would normally pay at least two or three times that for a data-only sim card issued by an international provider.
You can get a sim card in Australia for as little as $2 (AUD), but you won’t be able to do much with it until you load it with some credit. This is the prepaid starter pack sim card from Telstra, one of the three main network operators in the country. The other two are Vodafone and Optus.
Prepaid plans in Australia start at approximately $10 and go up to several hundred Australian dollars, depending on the data allowance you choose. Postpaid plans are usually better value for money but have higher starting costs of at least $50.
It’s worth noting that Australian network operators offer prepaid yearly plans; they have a rather high upfront cost, but they guarantee you network access for at least 12 months, with the option to extend.
The cost of sim cards in Asia varies quite a bit depending on the country. You can get one for less than $1 in Thailand but expect to pay about $4 just for a sim card in Hong Kong. In the Philippines, sim cards are sold in bulk virtually everywhere, and you can get them at airports, convenience stores, gas stations, and even supermarkets.
But in Japan, tourists can buy only mobile-data sim cards without a phone number, and they must register them with their passport number.
The rules and restrictions depend on the country and then the individual network carriers within those countries.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that you can get quite a few sim cards and eSims that offer regional coverage in Asia and Southeast Asia. AIS is one of the top providers in Southeast Asia, with affordable sim cards and eSims that include a phone number and a generous data allowance, suitable for travelers from all over the world.
The prices of sim cards in Africa vary from one country to another, but you can usually get them for less than $1. South Africa has the most expensive sim cards, and even those are only about $0.8 for a basic sim card without a data plan.
It’s even cheaper to buy sim cards in Nigeria, Egypt, and other countries on the continent, but keep in mind that the same price discrepancy applies to prepaid and postpaid mobile plans as well.
In other words, sim cards and prepaid mobile plans are the cheapest in the poorer African countries, whereas South Africa has some of the most expensive prepaid mobile plans on the continent. But they’re expensive only when compared to plans in other African countries; compared to plans in the US, Australia, and even some European Countries, they’re still incredibly affordable.
One thing to note about sim cards in Africa is that buying a local sim card in every country you travel to is still the cheapest option. Embedded sim cards for African countries are still quite expensive, and not really worth the money when you can get local sim cards for pennies on the dollar.
It’s also cheaper to buy sim cards in individual countries than those with regional coverage in multiple countries on the continent, so keep that in mind.
A mobile plan is the one major cost related to a sim card. You can’t use mobile data or make calls for free; it all costs money, and it can be very cheap or rather expensive depending on what type of plan you sign up for and where you’re using it.
If we are talking bout a mobile plan for your home country, you’re almost always better off with a postpaid subscription. Most mobile operators offer great deals to their postpaid subscribers, but they’re often available only with signed contracts.
Prepaid mobile plans are also an option worth considering, especially for travel. Prepaid plans aren’t ideal for locals in many countries, simply because they end up being more expensive than most postpaid plans. But it all depends on what you want to use the sim card for, and how often you’re accessing the internet through mobile data and making phone calls.
Data roaming is another sim card-related expense. You can still make phone calls and use mobile data with your original sim card in a foreign country, but it’s usually very expensive. It’s often cheaper to buy a prepaid local sim card than pay for data roaming charges, and I would never recommend using mobile data when roaming on foreign networks.
Never lose your sim card. It goes without saying, but losing your sim card can be quite expensive, especially if you want to keep the same mobile number as you had previously.
Shop local prepaid sim cards whenever possible. Although many people prefer to buy eSims for travel, a prepaid sim card issued by a large network operator from the country you’re visiting will usually be the cheapest solution for Internet access and a local phone number. Local sim cards are often significantly more affordable than eSims and physical sim cards issued by international operators.
Avoid providers who charge an activation fee. Some sim card providers will offer a free sim card, but charge you a ridiculous activation fee just so you can start using these. Always look at whether there is an activation fee when buying a new sim card and avoid giving any money to these providers.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.