Using Minutes or Phone Data For International Travel

The question of using minutes or phone data while traveling should be one that you should ask yourself before you get on a plane. A spoiler alert for the rest of the article, there is no one right answer to this question. You need to ask yourself what you use the most. From that answer, there is a better chance you’ll figure out if you need data while traveling or minutes. Of course, there is another question that should be put on the table. What is cheaper to obtain minutes or phone data for international travel?   

If you’ve ever read an article on this site, you’ll know that we never want to ride off any potential option to get coverage abroad. The lowest cost option that you can find may not always be the best option for you. If you are going to be paying a couple of extra dollars for minutes over data, for example, but you like talking on the phone more, that difference will be worth it for you. With that, we feel that we’ve pretty much set the table for this article, where we want to explore whether buying minutes or data while traveling is the better option! 

  • Do you have to choose between minutes or phone data for international travel? 
  • Which one essentially cost more? 
  • Which one is easier to get? 
  • Looking for a minute or call based options abroad. 
  • Only data for international travel : data only plans
  • Data for international travel: Moving To a Data-Based communication system

Do you have to choose between minutes or phone data for international travel?

Yes, and no. You could, for example, look for a local SIM card that is going to offer you minutes as well as data while traveling. If you go with the International Day Pass that your regular phone company offers it’s usually also a free ride of calls and texts as well as data. However, the shift is going towards offering data as the primary service and giving you calls and texts as sort of the side dish. If you just want data while traveling, you are actually going to be able to find more options. We do think that regular calls are becoming a bit of an afterthought. 

Could you find a call heavy SIM card while you are abroad or get a good deal on a lot of minutes? Of course, you could. We have to expand a little bit on some of the things that we were saying. Mobile companies are offering data as the primary service, but you can get unlimited calls even on prepaid SIM cards relatively easily and at a low price. There is a catch to this, though. With some of these unlimited call plans, you better read the fine print. They could mean unlimited local calls and texts. If you are traveling, you are probably not going to be looking to call many locals! 

If you don’t want to have to make a choice between the two, the best thing to do is to get an unlimited plan. Most prepaid cards, at least in Europe, for example, don’t offer prepaid unlimited plans. As we just mentioned, you may be getting unlimited calls for X amount of time. Unlimited data, though, is hard to come by. At least not on prepaid options. If you are traveling for a month paying your International Day Pass every single day to get unlimited, everything is insane. You would be spending 300 dollars in a month with most carriers. Do you have to choose between one or the other? Maybe not, but keep the limits of your coverage in mind. Usually, data is what is limited.  

Which one essentially costs more? 

Between minutes and data, while traveling, it’s really safe to say that data is going to cost more. Let’s use a real example to explain this. At the time of writing, the PAYG AIO20 card by Three UK costs 49.90 with our partner SIM Options. With this SIM card, what you will be getting is 12GB of data, which is valid for 30 days. You are also going to be getting unlimited calls and texts. If we are really picky, though, it can be said that the calls and texts could end up costing you more. If you don’t happen to take full advantage of them while you are abroad. It’s like going to a buffet and only eating one snack while you are there. 

At this point, we wanted to stand back a little bit and reflect on what we’ve found. The premise of the article was mostly based around the fact that you are now paying for data more than you are for minutes. One of the things that we talked about at the very beginning was the fact that there was no one right answer over what you should be looking for, either or minutes or data while traveling. We can say so far that if you are looking for more data, there is a good chance that you will end up paying more money. Phone usage habits have certainly changed quite a bit over the years. Therefore, so has the pricing of phone plans.   

Which one is easier to get?   

These days there is an argument to be made that it’s easier to get data to travel abroad. Then, it is to get actual minutes to be able to make phone calls. Look at it this way, there are a bunch of SIM card options that are going to allow you to get data abroad. As we mentioned before there are options that don’t even offer minutes to call abroad. If you are someone who still likes to pick up the phone and make a call you may have to adjust the way that you call. Especially if you are looking to get more extensive coverage for lower dollars. 

This does not necessarily mean that you have to get with the times and start texting people instead of making calls. What could be a good option, is to move towards using mobile apps to be able to make calls when abroad or to people who are abroad for that matter. With these apps, you could essentially make all of the calls that you want for free if you are using a wifi connection. If you are only getting minutes even if you have a good wifi connection where you are staying you are spending minutes every time that you call. 

It’s not only easier to be able to obtain data while abroad these days. It also seems to make much more sense. Obviously most young people handle all or most of their interactions through mobile apps anyway. The market has certainly shifted towards offering more data because that is what most people are looking for anyway. Hence, the advice that we’ve given out. It may be a good idea to shift some of your regular habits to be able to get the most out of the options that are out there for you.   

Looking for a minute or call based options abroad

We just mentioned that it’s going to be easier to get a SIM card or pocket wifi solution. Then it would be to find maybe a SIM card that offers calls as a primary selling point. We may have to amend this a little bit. You are going to have more options if you are just looking for data. That’s because you can use a pocket wifi, you can go with a SIM card that offers a bunch of data, or even your daily pass option. In these last two options though, there is a good chance that a fair amount of minutes are involved in your purchase. At the end of the day, it really depends on what you are looking for and how you want to buy it. 

For example, on SIM options you are going to be given a clear description of what the card that you are going to be buying offers. That’s what you have to keep an eye out for. If you are someone who needs a lot of minutes make sure that the SIM cards that you are looking into, offer more minutes. That being said, there is a good chance that some of these cards that offer international minutes go for a heftier fee than the ones that give you a data only plan.   

If you happen to be big on minutes and you can’t look into other apps, which is the case for some business people. Then your best option could be to stick with the day pass that your regular provider offers. You won’t be losing your number and you won’t have to worry about adjusting your settings or putting in a new SIM card. Make a case to your employer that this is the best thing for you. 10 dollars a day for your trip may not be a lot for your company to cover. If you are paying it yourself that’s a different story!         

Only data for international travel : data only plans

One of the recurring themes in this article has been this shift from making calls to using different apps to communicate. Since this shift has happened many wireless service providers are going to be more concerned with offering coverage options that give folks more data. If you are going abroad there are plenty of options that you could explore. If you’ve read some of the other articles on the site, you’ll know that the type of trip that you are taking can definitely alter the way that you ultimately get coverage. An example is a mobile wifi spot. These tend to be quite expensive when you compare them to some of the SIM card options that are out there. If you happen to be traveling with a larger group they make sense because multiple phones can get coverage from the wifi spot. 

Certainly, one of our favorite options is always the SIM card option. The reason why we recommend quite a bit is because it’s usually the most reliable option out there. This is basically the only way to get actual local coverage. There are plenty of SIM card options out there that are data only. Since they are Data only there is a good chance that you’ll end up spending less money for coverage than you would if you wanted data and minutes. In Europe, you could get local data only coverage for around 25 dollars for the full month. You would spend more than that in 3 days on the international day pass.  

As we mentioned, there is a good chance these days that wherever you travel, you are going to be able to get cheaper coverage if you go with a data-only option. Here is the thing though, if you want to save cash, you are probably going to want to be very cautious with your overall use of data. This can be hard for folks who are used to unlimited data plans at home. There is usually no way around it, though. If you want a cost-friendly option to be mindful of your data. If you don’t care about the cost too much by all means by a SIM with unlimited data for the month! 

Data for international travel: Moving To a Data-Based communication system

This is something that we’ve talked about previously. The reality is that digital communications are moving rapidly towards basically everything being internet-based. Young folks everywhere communicate almost exclusively through digital apps. You don’t even have to call the pizza place anymore. We are not here to weigh on whether this is something that is good or bad. What we mentioned before was that it is essentially not a bad idea to try and shift your communications to a more data-based option. Make zoom calls instead of phone calls. That way, you won’t have to be counting the minutes on your plan. All of the interactions that you have can be done with a wifi connection. 

When it comes down to it, what would you rather have unlimited minutes or unlimited data? Unlimited data ultimately gives you access to much, much more than what you can get with unlimited minutes. Not only that, but it seems that pricing seems to favor data options these days. Therefore, it’s going to be more likely for you to find a data-only coverage option that fits your budget. Then it would be for you to find a coverage option based on the number of minutes that you are allowed to talk on the phone.