Advice on phone plans? 1 year in Europe

We’re Americans planning to be in Europe for all of 2020 - approx. 90 days in each country, and alternating Schengen and non-Schengen. Our destinations will likely include four of these: Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Romania, and Spain.
Can anyone give us advice on cell phones? We would prefer to keep our current (U.S) numbers if at all possible. We don’t anticipate making many local calls, but will phone the U.S. about once a week. We’ll use our phones for internet quite often.
Any advice for our situation would be very much appreciated!
Heather and Lars

Hey Heather and Lars!

I’m Polish, who spent summers in Europe. Similarly, I mostly use my phone for internet connection and the mobile operator market is changing so fast that every time I come back to Europe I choose the current best offer.

Recently, the EU forced all mobile operators to allow “free roaming”, which on paper means that whatever you have in your base country, you’ll get everywhere else in Europe. In practice, all operators retain to Fair Usage Policy, which in short means that after 4 consecutive months, they’ll look back and check if you used your plan more in your base country or abroad. If abroad, they’ll charge you extra fees.

Most EU markets are controlled by big telcos like T-Mobile, Vodafone or Orange, but they focus on selling long-term contracts with some “European plan”, but I’d avoid it. Their offer is usually very complex, expensive and you’ll still be restricted by Fair Usage Policy of the country, where you signed-up the contract.

The only viable option, in my opinion, is to buy a pre-paid plan, that’s usually for 30 days and in case it’s not what you expect, buy another one.

I’ll be travelling between Poland and Italy a lot this summer and the most convenient offer I found so far will be Lycamobile. A virtual operator focused on international customers. They offer quite big data quota in addition to the EU phone calls, that I’ll need for my work.

Lycamobile is present also in the USA. Check their plans and compare them to what you’ll get with their European card with a new number. You can also buy a new Lycamobile every 3 months in your new “base country”.

As for calling to the US, I’d use Skype, VoIP or Hushed app on your phone. That’s in most cases cheaper and faster than calling via regular telephone infrastructure. There’s also a way to “connect” your current American mobile number to Skype in order to receive calls, but you’d need to double check it with your current provider.

Hope that helps :smiley:

PS. Please check details on how Schengen zone and travelling visas affect your allowed stay. All the countries you mentioned are already tied to the Schengen rules.

This is really helpful information! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer in such detail. You’ve put us on the right track!
Happy travels.

I have my US plan with T-Mobile. When I call the US, I pay for $5/day plan that allows 24 hours of international calling. For family and informal calls, we use Skype. They also have a $50/mo. international plan, but I haven’t needed more than a few $5 daily plans, so I haven’t looked into it. We had Verizon and they were awful. Every time we went abroad, there was some lame excuse that we didn’t set up our international calling correctly. After a few multi-hundred dollar bills for international roaming (not calls) I went shopping for another provider. T-Mobile has been great the last two years.

1 Like

No worries! Safe travels and hope to see you on the track! :vulcan_salute:

Thanks for sharing your experience with Verizon. Sounds like a nightmare!

Hello Lars and Heather! This is unfortunately a common dilemma, having experienced it firsthand last year travelling almost 6 months. We kept our Verizon number by simply suspending our account while we used Google Fi via the cheap but beautiful and amazing Moto X4 Android One (can easily set entire phone up for 2 completely different users). Many here recommend just getting sim cards upon arrival. We found this to be often much more complicated than not. We wanted something that just simply works immediately upon touch down in many different countries and FI did not disappoint… nor did it break the bank at $20/mo + 10/gb. If you’re an iPhone couple, you can now use the FI sim but with less functionality (no free wi-fi calling to US and T-Mobile connection only… no Sprint or US Cellular). In closing, I’ve seen people recommending tossable digits dot com for various phone issues but I’m not familiar at all with it. Hope this helps. Jack

I’m an American living in Brazil. I have a U.S. phone number from Google Voice so anyone in the U.S. can place a call to me and my phones, iPad and computers ring wherever I am (it is somewhat annoying when they all ring at the same time!). I spent three months in Europe last year and bought SIM cards for my phone in Antwerp, Lisbon and London. Each card cost me $25 or so for a month of data. I don’t make phone calls on my phone. I had a free WiFi connection almost every night.

And I use WhatsApp to stay in touch with my Brazilian and European friends/clients/colleagues. It’s free for messaging. Calls, too.

It is pretty easy to travel the world and remain connected these days. The local telecoms are the only hassle, with their myriad rules to try to protect their monopoly. Hence I had three SIM cards in three months as I traveled around Europe last year. I’ll do the same this year unless I find a more accommodating telecom. :grinning:

Hi Heather and Lars,

A local prepaid SIM card should be the cheapest option in most cases.

Personally, I’m not yet living the nomadic lifestyle, but I’m working on it. At the moment, I’m still living in Switzerland, my mobile phone provider is Salt: I pay 69.95 CHF/month (69.39 USD/month). This includes unlimited data, unlimited calls and SMS/MMS in/to Switzerland, EU, USA & Canada. I don’t know however, if it’s available without a Swiss address. Their homepage has an English version (sorry, but I couldn’t include the link).

If you still have an American address, Google Fi might be an option for you. With them, you can phone for the same price in 200+ countries and territories.

A similar service, working in 140+ countries, is Flexiroam.

1 Like