Best international SIM only deals 2024: Our top picks

Dan Howdle | February 29th, 2024

Family on mobile devices

International mobile SIMs are SIM cards that deliver an allowance of calls, texts and data when visiting other countries. Most of us have been abroad at one point or other and landed only to receive immediate warnings on our phones of staggeringly high roaming costs. International SIMs can mitigate these situations, but it's always going to be a case of planning in advance.

Regular SIMs from some providers usually have a list of countries, data limits and rules when it comes to their roaming offering. But there are also specialised international SIMs whose entire purpose is to provide you a reliable service when both home and away – and some also add cut-priced calls when calling out to other countries, for example India or Australia. Choosing the right international SIM for your needs then, is crucial.

The best international SIM plans: Our picks

Before we go into extreme detail on the ins and outs of international SIM card, we respect the fact that many will be here simply to find the best SIM for the stas they have in mind. For that reason, we've chosen a broad selection of categories and chosen the best SIM currently available in each:

O2 logo

Best international SIM from a major network provider

O2 SIM Only Plus Unlimited

This category includes only providers who offer their services on their own discreet network. There are four network providers in the UK: O2, Three, Vodafone and EE. All other networks operate on one of these four despite their unique branding. The four network providers all offer EU roaming, but vary in terms of what it will cost you, and how much data you can use for free abroad without being charged. So you can easily see why we've picked O2, this is how the four network providers offer roaming:

Provider Additional cost Data limit
EE £2.29 per day on contract, £2.50 per day for PAYG 50GB
O2 None 25GB
Three £2 per day for contracts, PAYG remains pay as you go in the EU at no extra cost. A data passport is available for £5 for unlimited data to 89 additional countries 12GB
Vodafone £2.25 per day for contracts, £7 for 8 days for PAYG 25GB

As you can see, O2 is the only one of the four network providers that offers EU roaming for free. Three comes a close second here, as its data passport system is cost-effective and opens up a lot of the rest of the word for roaming.

  • Inclusive roaming to 75 destinations
  • No additional cost
  • Use up to 25GB p/m when abroad
  • An excellent SIM when at home

Visit O2

O2 logo

Best pay-as-you-go (PAYG) international SIM

O2 Big Bundle 40GB

Pay-as-you-go doesn't quite mean what it used to. Modern PAYG SIMs now tend to arrive on one-month rolling contracts rather than a system whereby you top up an amount of credit and only pay for what you use. Those still exist, but they no longer make a lot of sense in a world where you can pay very little for a large data limit and get out whenever you need to.

We're not just here to sing the praises of O2, but the fact O2 offers its roaming for free and unlike Three (which would have won in this category had it offered its data passport to PAYG customers), does actually offer one-month rolling contracts, it's another win for O2. This time, the mid-range 'Big Bundle' which offers a 40GB data limit per month in the UK, and of course that free 25GB when abroad. This SIM also comes in an 8GB, 25Gb and 125GB version should you need to go bigger or smaller, with the 8GB version costing just £10 per month.

  • Prices from just £10 per month
  • 25GB per month roaming data
  • No roaming charges
  • No contract

Visit O2

Vodafone logo

Best SIM for international calling

Vodafone Unlimited SIM only plus International Saver

International roaming and international calling are two distinct concepts. With roaming you're using calling and data in a country you're visiting, whereas with international calling you're calling other countries from the UK. Unlike roaming, providers to not add cheap or free international calls to your SIM package as standard or for free. Instead they typically provide an add-on pack you can take out to do so.

Vodafone is the best of the bunch in this category. Its International Saver add-on covers 100 foreign countries and gives you 100 minutes. It only costs an additional £5 per month and you can add more minutes or more countries as you please, making it very flexible. This is roughly twice as many countries as any other major provider:

Provider Plan Monthly Fee Inclusions
O2 International Bolt On £3 Call international mobiles and landlines in over 200 countries, but calls are not free. There are no free minutes.
EE The International Pack £11.40 1,000 international minutes to 50 countries, including the US, Poland, and India
Three Call Abroad £5 100 international minutes to 55 countries. Option to upgrade to unlimited minutes for £10
Vodafone International Saver £5 100 minutes to 100 countries, with options to upgrade to more minutes and more countries with larger, more costly plans

If you're wondering why we didn't pick O2 again, it's because its version of the international calling add-on does not provide any free minutes, and although calls cost 'from 1p per minute' chances are that's not going to be what you're paying for the country or countries you want to call.

  • 100 free minutes
  • 100 countries included
  • You can add more minutes and countries
  • only £5 per month

Visit Vodafone

Sky Mobile logo

Best SIM for roaming in US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Sky Mobile 100GB SIM

Most provider will tell you up-front if you're getting roaming in the EU, and most do offer that. However, when it comes to locations frequently travelled to in the rest of the world such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, information can be harder to find. So we did it for you.

All of Sky Mobile's SIM-only deals allow you to completely unlock your entire data allowance when abroad for just £2 per day, and that includes those countries we just mentioned, along with a vast number of others. If you're away in the US for two weeks, for example, that means you'll be charged just £28 total to use your SIM exactly as you would at home, and that's going to be a lot cheaper than picking up a temporary SIM locally – especially in the US and Canada where data is very expensive.

  • Unlock your data from £2 per day
  • Competitively priced SIMs
  • Great for US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
  • 12-month contract

Visit Sky Mobile

Lebara logo

Best SIM for roaming in India, China, Hong Kong and Thailand

Lebara 20GB SIM

Lebara specialises in SIMs with an international flavour, and its 20GB SIM allows you to use half of your data allowance for free when visiting these locations. It's on a 30-day rolling contract, it's very cheap at just £10 per month, you'll get fee EU roaming too, and there are no credit checks when you sign up. If you need to check coverage, Lebara runs on the Vodafone network so you can use the Vodafone coverage checker.

  • Just £10 per month
  • No contract
  • Great for India, China, Hong Kong and Thailand
  • EU roaming included

Visit Lebara Mobile

Internatonal SIM providers: What they offer

In this section we're going to take a look at the broad offering of the UK's notable mobile SIM providers. Note, there are many companies out there offering SIMs and eSIMs for specific one-time use when abroad. We will not be coverering those in this section, since those are something that do one thing specifically – you can buy them on Amazon and from other retailers.

Instead, here's a broad overview of the roaming offering of most of the UK's SIM providers:

Provider Roaming Charges International Calling Packages
EE £2.29 per day (£25 fo per month) for worldwide roaming, including EU International calls and texts vary wildly in price. You can check EE's price list for calling costs to a specific country
O2 EU roaming without additional charges up to 25GB. O2 Travel Zone Bolt-on adds a further 27 countries for an additional £6 per day International calling via International monthly bolt-on for an additional £3 per month, which offers discounted calls and texts abroad
Three 71 destinations around the world with Go Roam, which is £2 per day in Europe and £5 per day for worldwide roaming 100 minutes for calling abroad to 55 countries with Call Abroad 100, at £6 per month, and unlimited calling abroad with Call Abroad Unlimited for £12 per month
Vodafone Vodafone splits the world into 'roaming zones' A, B, C and D, with roaming zone A free, but roaming further you'll have to buy a Rest of the World Roaming Pass. Zone B is @£2.25 per day, Zone B and C £6.85 per day, and Zone D £6.85 per day International calls and texts vary wildly in price. The International Saver Extra bolt-on includes 100 destinations, the Call Abroad Extra bolt-on includes 200. You can also buy and add on additional international minutes should you need to
iD Mobile Up to 30GB free in 50 countries. Charges vary for countries not included Prices vary per country. iD Mobile has no add-on specifically for making internatonal calls
Lebara Free roaming in Europe and India, up to 30GB data use. Other countries will require the purchase of the relevant add-on, whose prices vary International calls are discounted to 200 countries as standard. They start at 1p per minute but vary wildly
LycaMobile Free roaming in Europe on all SIMs. LycaMobile offers entire SIMs specifically for roaming in certain countries, so it comes down to choosing the right SIM card Likewise, LycaMobile offers international calling SIMs rather than offering discounted international calls as a bolt-on
giffgaff Can be used in the EU and selected destinations just like you use them at home and at no extra cost. Separate roaming costs apply outside of free zone No international calling options whatsoever. You will be charged the full rate for calling abroad
SMARTY Calls and text in EU work just like they do in the UK. Data limit is 12GB. Outside the EU, you'll need to buy an out-of-plan add-on 'Out of plan' add-ons allow discounted international calling. Cost varies depending on country you're calling
Plusnet Mobile No extra charges in 40 EU countries with Roam Like at Home, and standard roaming charges elsewhere International call costs split into nine 'bands' and range from 18.9p per minute up to £2 per minute, depending where you're calling
VOXI European roaming up to 20GB is free. Other destinations require the purchase of a Global Roaming Extra bolt-on, which is £15 for 8 days, or £25 for 15 days You can buy international minutes in amounts of 100 minutes for £3 a pop. Not all countries are included though, and those that aren't ar charged at standard rates
Tesco Mobile Use minutes, texts and data across 48 European countries and destinations for free. Other destinations may be charged at local rates Costs discounted to some countries. Check specific rates before calling
Asda Mobile Free roaming up to 5GB in 46 European destinations. Other destinations may be charged at local rates Prices vary per country. Asda Mobile has no add-on specifically for making internatonal calls
Talkmobile Roaming divided into seven international zones. Zones 1 nad 2 are free and include a handful of European and Caribbean countries. Other zones feature a wide variety of rules and prices Again, countries divided into zones with pricing varying from 6p to £1.49 per minute

How to choose an international SIM

When you're traveling abroad, having an international SIM card can be a game-changer, allowing you to stay connected with your loved ones and access important information without the fear of roaming charges. Here are some key considerations when choosing an international SIM:

  • Coverage and network – Check the coverage maps and verify if the SIM is compatible with the networks in the countries you plan to visit. Some providers offer global coverage, while others may have limited reach
  • Data – If you plan to use data extensively for browsing or streaming, look for SIM cards that offer generous data packages. Compare the data allowances across different providers and find one that suits your needs
  • International calls – If you need to make frequent international calls, consider SIM cards that offer competitive rates for such calls. Some providers offer bundled minutes to specific countries or discounted international calling rates. Evaluate your calling needs and choose accordingly
  • Roaming Charges – Understand the roaming charges associated with the SIM card. While some providers offer free roaming in certain countries, others may charge for usage outside the home region. Be aware of any additional charges for international roaming to avoid unexpected fees

Types of international SIM

The terminology around international SIMs can be a little confusing. There a several discreet types that tend to come under that heading. They are:

Regular SIMs with free roaming

Some SIMs offer free roaming, usually to EU countries, but some add specific additional free roaming countries. Be careful though. There is always a data limit whether that's a limit on roaming or the limit of your monthly plan, and it always pays to check whether the country you're visiting is included for free.

Most providers offer additional countries as a bolt-on. You'll need to add the bolt-on before you leave, and these are usually charged at a flat daily rate, usually between £2 and £6 per day.

Regular SIMs with international calling

International calling is when you call abroad from your phone. Most providers offer some sort of discount to a shortlist of countries, some don't. Others will offer a certain amount of free minutes at extra cost, usually to a wider range of countries than their basic offering. Vodafone, for example, allows you to add 'packs' of countries where you can use your free minutes, also purchased at additional cost.

Specific roaming SIMs

One or two providers offer SIMs designed for roaming and little else. The benefit of these is they tend to be more generous with the list of countries you can roam and the data, minutes and texts you get to use. Bear in mind that when roaming abroad, your roaming limits tend to only apply to calls and texts sent home, not calls and texts to local mobiles and landlines.

Specific country international calling SIMs

These are SIMs you can purchase from retailers that specifically carry with them an allowance to make calls to specific countries. Mainstream providers do not offer these – they are entirely their own thing. An example of this type of provider would be Now Mobile, where, for example, you can buy 70 minutes to Nigeria for £10 (the list of countries is long). There are many of these sorts of providers.

Frequently asked questions

How do I use my SIM card abroad?

When traveling abroad with your SIM card, your phone will automatically connect to a local network. However, you may incur international roaming charges for calls, texts, and data usage. Contact your mobile network provider before traveling to understand the costs and options available.

Can I use a SIM card in other countries without roaming charges?

Some network providers offer international roaming bundles that allow you to use your SIM card abroad without additional charges. Check with your provider for available roaming options and associated costs.

What are the roaming charges with UK providers?

Roaming charges vary depending on the provider, and the country you're visiting. Costs for calls, texts, and data usage may be higher when roaming internationally. Check with your provider for specific rates and roaming packages.

Do network providers offer international SIM cards for frequent travellers?

Yes, some network providers offer international SIM cards specifically designed for frequent travellers. These SIM cards may offer lower international roaming charges and better rates for calls and data abroad.

What are the data limits for using a SIM card abroad?

The data limits for using a SIM card abroad depend on the network provider and the roaming package you have. Some providers offer unlimited data usage in certain countries, while most have data caps.

How do I avoid high roaming charges with my SIM card?

To avoid high roaming charges with your SIM card, consider purchasing an international roaming package or a local SIM card when traveling abroad. Use wifi where available and disable data roaming on your phone to prevent unintentional data usage.