Planning a trip to Europe? Here are your best options for roaming while taking in the sights, the sounds — or the Seine!
Whether you want to get in some skiing, go backpacking, or hit the winding — and sometimes high-velocity — roads, Europe is an amazing travel destination for Canadians. Roaming in countries like France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom can be expensive if you don't know which options to choose. Be smart with these great roaming services.
KnowRoaming has created a sticker that, using a special tool included in the box, adheres to the underside of a regular SIM card. Once the now-double SIM gets put back of your iPhone or Android Phone, the magic begins. With its free iOS or Android apps, KnowRoaming acts both as a director of information, determining which SIM card needs to be used depending on the phone's location, and as a full-service MVNO in nearly every country in Europe.
For $7.99 USD per day, KnowRoaming offers unlimited roaming data in a number of European countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Portugal, Netherlands and more.
Better, it can also automatically forward a Canadian number to its European equivalent, giving KnowRoaming customers the option of making and receiving calls as they would back home.
What to know: KnowRoaming is smart: it assigns a local number whenever it enters a new country, and its excellent iOS or Android apps track call, text and data usage. 3G-only (for now).
Unlocked iPhone or Android Phone needed
Technically, Roamer is an Android app that intelligently forwards your home number to a European equivalent so you can make and receive calls as you would back in Canada. But a little-known side of the business is the Roamer SIM — a single card that connects to the best local carriers in 118 countries, including many in Europe.
While prices are slightly higher than they are on KnowRoaming, it is still significantly cheaper than many roaming plans purchased from a Canadian carrier. To wit, traveling to France offers the following:
- 1 day / €5 / 50MB
- 7 days / €15 / 300MB
- 7 days / €25 / 1GB
- 14 days / €50 / 1GB
The beauty of Roamer SIM is that the company delivers to Canadian (or U.S.) addresses, which means it can be configured prior to leaving. Simply put the SIM in your Android phone and enable it once on the ground in Europe.
What to know: Roamer assigns a local number for every country visited, and usage can be tracked with the free Android app. Phone calls and texts are extra, but still cheap. First 25MB of data is free.
Unlocked iPhone or Android Phone needed
Buy a local SIM
This option may seem obvious, but it's also the most onerous. Many Western European countries such as Spain, Germany, Italy, and France have a number of core carriers, such as Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange, along with dozens of MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) that resell access to those core networks.
Most of the core carriers and MVNOs offer prepaid access, and are some of the least expensive ways to get a local number and cheap data in a foreign country.
There are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing a local SIM card in a European country:
- European networks use different wireless bands than Canadian and U.S. carriers. Most carriers in Western Europe use a combination of 800 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 Mhz, so make sure that you check your unlocked Android phone for compatibility.
- Many prepaid SIM cards require activation through SMS or a web-based portal, and by default use the local language. Make sure when purchasing, you get the store clerk to activate the SIM, or ask how to change the default language to one of your choice.
- Make sure that, should you need more data, you have a way to do so without requiring a European credit card. This is especially important if you plan on moving from a big city to more rural areas where topping up at a store is not possible.
- If you're going to be moving between countries, ask when purchasing whether the carrier has European roaming options. Some carriers have deals with other networks that make it cheap, or free, to roam on partner networks in neighbouring or nearby countries.
What to know: Discover the best networks in the country you're visiting with this helpful European roaming Wiki.
Unlocked iPhone or Android phone needed
Use your own SIM card
In recent years, Canadian carriers have become more serious about European roaming. Spurred by Rogers' Roam Like Home, today all three major Canadian carriers offer cheap or discounted European roaming packages.
Rogers Roam Like Home
The OG roaming package, Rogers Roam Like Home charges customers $10 per day, up to a maximum of 10 days or $100 per billing cycle, to access their Share Everything plan in most European countries.
Say, for example, you have a Share Everything plan (all of which include unlimited calls and texts) with 2.5GB of monthly data. In any Roam Like Home-supported country, your smartphone will tap into that data allotment while roaming. There are no separate data buckets or fees. After 10 days of travel, that $10 daily fee is waived.
What to know: Overage fees still apply after 10 days of travel, so be careful about using too much data while abroad, and download the MyRogers app to stay on top of data usage. Enroll by texting travel to 222.
Bell recently expanded its Roam Better service to include dozens of countries around the world, including many in Europe.
Similar to its U.S.-based roaming option, Roam Better allows travellers to spend a set amount per day — in this case, $10 — for unlimited calls and texts in that country, plus 100MB of data. Unlike Roam Like Home, Roam Better doesn't eat into a customer's existing domestic data bucket. On the other hand, it can get pricey, since 100MB is easy to chew through while loading maps and learning about the city.
What to know: After 100MB is used, Bell automatically sends a text message asking whether you want to opt-in to another 100MB of data for $10. Data expires at 11:59pm Eastern Time regardless of where you're roaming, so be careful; most European countries are between five and eight hours ahead of EST, which means the count will reset in the early hours of the morning. Enroll by texting ROAM to 7626.
Telus hasn't extended its Easy Roam product to Europe just yet, so travellers to the continent are best to look elsewhere. Bundles include:
- Europe Combo Pass $50: 50 minutes, 150 texts, 150MB
- Europe Combo Pass $85: 75 minutes, 300 texts, 750MB
- Europe Combo Pass $150: 200 minutes, unlimited texts, 1.5GB
All passes are valid for 30 days.
What to know: Because Telus doesn't offer a European equivalent of US Easy Roam, it's very important to either get a bundle before leaving, or turn off roaming completely. Pay-per-use rates for Europe are exorbitant, at $1.50 per call minute, $0.60 per text, and $5.00 per MB data.
Is your carrier not listed? Check with them to see if they have inexpensive daily, weekly, or monthly European travel bundles. Have roaming experiences or tips to share? Leave them in in the comments!