Using Local Sim Card Abroad – What You Need To Know

We talk about the local SIM card option to get coverage abroad a lot on this site. So we thought that it was only fair that we create a guide to using local SIM cards abroad. With all of the do’s and don’ts. As we’ve mentioned some of the topics that we’re going to tackle here have been discussed on the site before. Therefore, if you’ve read through some of our other articles you’ll know some of the tips and tricks that we’ve already given out. For starters where you buy the local SIM card is certainly key in the whole process. Where you travel can also play a part in making this part of the process safer for sure. 

Another important aspect that we want to talk about is how safe using a local SIM card abroad might be. From experience, we know that some people are a bit reluctant to insert a foreign SIM cards into their devices. Particularly with the amount of data that each person has on their phones these days. We don’t think that being skeptical about putting anything new into your phone is paranoia. On the contrary, there are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that your data is safe. Hopefully by the end of the article you’ll have a clear idea of what it is that you want to do before you travel. That way when you get to where you’re traveling to for vacation or work you’ll feel confident enough to use a local SIM card. In doing so you’ll get the best coverage and rates! 

  • Using local SIM card abroad – Where To Buy
  • Using local SIM card abroad – What To Buy
  • Is It Safe To Put Another SIM Card In My Phone?
  • Get A Burner Phone For Traveling
  • Do All Countries Offer This Particular Option? 
  • Why A Local SIM Card Can Offer Better Rates

Using local SIM card abroad – Where To Buy 

There are going to be a couple of options to buy a SIM card to use abroad. Web pages that offer SIM cards to travel abroad aren’t exactly a plague across the internet. However, there’s simoptions, airalo sells eSIM cards. Those can be good options if you don’t want to have to buy SIM cards at a store or from other types of marketplaces. Ideally if you’re going to buy a SIM card from an online marketplace you want to make sure to order it enough days in advance so that it can arrive before your trip and you check to see if it works. You really wouldn’t be able to fully check if the SIM card is going to work until you reach the country that you’re traveling to. Still, having it with you from the moment you arrive is ideal. 

The other option that you’re going to have is to just wait until you arrive at your destination and head over to the nearest local wireless service provider store. There are also a ton of convenience stores that sell these cards in countries across the world. Our words of wisdom here is that you probably want to buy a SIM card before you travel if you’re traveling to a place where you don’t know the language. If you feel comfortable communicating in the local language you can be extra safe and buy the SIM card once you’re there. The problem with doing that in a place where you don’t understand the language is that you may not even know what you’re buying.              

Using local SIM card abroad – What To Buy

Do you know what type of method of communication you used the most? Your cellphone of course, right? Well, what we mean is, do you make more calls or send more texts? Are you someone that calls and texts through apps? The type of SIM card that you buy abroad hopefully is able to meet your personal needs. Naturally, not all SIM cards are the same and that’s why we mentioned that if you don’t know the local language it can be a good idea to buy your local SIM card online before you arrive. That way you can check what type of coverage you’re buying before you pay up. 

Here’s how we see it. Obviously, if you make more regular calls then you’re going to want a SIM card that offers you more international minutes. The problem with that, is that these cards are usually the most expensive ones that you can find. Most of the local SIM cards that you can find these days are going to prioritize data. So you’ll see things like 5GB for 20 dollars. Even if you’re a heavy caller, it may be a good idea to start calling through apps. You can use the data when you’re outside and use wifi when you’re inside. You’ll be able to make as many calls as you want without having to worry about the per minute rate. If you call through an app on a free wifi network.  

The last aspect that we feel is super important to keep in mind before you buy is credit validity. A lot of local SIM cards have this. Essentially credit validity is that number of days that the coverage that you buy is going to be active. For the most part, you’ll have cards with a monthly credit validity. Then you’ll have cards with a minimum validity of around 5 days. That’s pretty much the lowest we’ve seen. You can add credit to the 5 days one. If you want more days or more data, or minutes you can do so. Usually where you bought the card.  

Is It Safe To Put Another SIM Card In My Phone?

There are a couple of things to account for here to ensure that using a local SIM card abroad is in essence “safe”. Obviously, where you buy the card is going to be super important. If you buy directly from the wireless service manufacturer or a convenience store chain, you’re going to be better off. The online options that we recommend are fairly safe as well. What you don’t want is to buy from someone off the street. For the most part though, there are two main issues that you have to be aware of. One is being ripped off from someone on the street. They’ll give you a card and show it works, but it’ll have minimal credit validity so you’ll be out of credit real quickly. The other issue is data loss. 

You have to make sure that your phone is unlocked to be able to insert the local SIM card into your phone. If the phone is locked to your service provider you won’t be able to get coverage from the local SIM card that you insert. When you go to make the SIM switch, which you’ll have to do when you don’t have a dual SIM phone there’s always a chance that you’ll lose some data in the process. There are multiple reasons for this, and some are not even logical. So, we’re not going to waste time talking about them. Ideally though, put everything that you have in the cloud or an external memory device. To make sure that you’ll be safe. If you want to be extra safe there’s always the next option that we’re going to talk about.   

Get A Burner Phone For Traveling

If you’re one of those people who is very concerned with the safety aspect of using a local SIM card abroad the best thing that you can do is buy a burner phone that you use for traveling. Now, we understand that this can sound a bit counter intuitive. You’re essentially spending more money on something when you’re getting the local SIM card to save. That’s fair if you see it that way. Maybe the best thing that you can do is find an old device that you don’t use anymore. Delete all of the data on it and use that as your burner phone. What you want is to make sure that this burner phone doesn’t have any personal information on it that can be hacked.  

When we say no personal information we truly mean it. So, what do we recommend? We recommend that you don’t sign into your email account, or your iCloud account or whatever it may be. If you need to sign in to these places to use the phone do so with a backup email account. Why do we recommend this? If you’re using a burner phone to be safe, why would you attach that phone to all of the other accounts that you have that feature your personal information? It’s not just about the pictures that you maybe keep in the device itself. If you want to be extra safe you’re going to want to make sure that there’s no link to your personal information at all. 

Do All Countries Offer This Particular Option? 

close up of globe
Photo by NastyaSensei on

Is using a local SIM card abroad going to be an option in any country that you visit? This is actually a very good question. We’ve actually been able to gather information even from some of the toughest places that you’d expect this to be an option. It seems that even in these spots there are things that you can do. Just to be clear, virtually anywhere you go in Europe, and the America’s you’re going to be fine. Even Venezuela and Cuba in the Americas. You’re going to have some form of contact. Don’t expect 5G speeds in these spots. Yet, for the most part you’ll be able to get a local SIM card and contact people outside.   

North Korea is potentially the only spot where you won’t be able to find a local SIM card that will allow you to contact people outside the country. That’s the issue that we’re dealing with here. There are countries in the world where coverage from your local phone won’t be available. You can buy a SIM card there though and contact the outside. This is the case in China, and in The United Arab Emirates. Some apps, and, or websites may be blocked in these countries. Still, you’ll have ways to contact people outside of the country. Don’t expect great local coverage in some countries. We’ll take a rain check on some African countries. From what we know for sure North Korea is the only country without outside contact.   

Why A Local SIM Card Can Offer Better Rates

With most US service providers you have to pay for the international day pass to be able to have decent coverage when you’re abroad. Even when you’re in Mexico or Canada data speeds can drop dramatically even when you’re supposed to have free roaming. When you take into account that the international day pass usually costs 10 dollars a day you realize that if you’re going to be abroad for at least a week the local SIM card option is typically the best deal. At least if you’re interested in having coverage all throughout your journey. The reason why this is the case is very simple. 

Your local US network or the network from your home country, whichever it may be, essentially has to connect to a local network to be able to get you coverage in that country. That connection costs money to your service provider. That’s why they obviously pass those costs on to you. With a local SIM card what you’re basically doing is cutting out the middle man. You’re connecting directly to the local network. Without needing this bridge between two networks. Now, in connecting to the local network you’re going to get a local phone number. It’s like opening an account in a new bank. People who want to contact you when you’re connected to the local network have to contact you through that number. The reason it’s cheaper though is because you’re connecting directly to the network.   

Using Local Sim Card Abroad – Conclusion 

There are countries across the world where you will have no other option but to choose the local SIM card option. We like this option a lot because it usually provides the most reliable coverage. Plus, for longer stays you’re going to be getting the most out of your money. For shorter stays, like a 3 day stay something like this, maybe the local SIM card option isn’t as great. Unless you’re in a spot where you’re able to get local coverage for 5 dollars for those 3 days. Spoiler alert, in some Latin American countries, and certain parts of Asia you can certainly get coverage for that amount of money. Especially if you just need coverage for a short amount of time.  

We understand that some people are concerned over the safety of their personal data. The best way to make sure that you won’t have an issue is to keep a travel phone. As we mentioned this can very well be an older phone that you used to use on a daily basis. Make sure that the phone is unlocked, and that you don’t transfer any of your personal accounts to the device. Otherwise, that whole thing about it being a safe haven for your personal data doesn’t make a lot of sense. Make sure you know what type of coverage you need before you buy any of these cards. From there, you’re going to be ok.