In the digital age of 2024, we need our phones and devices for far more than just a means of communication. At the risk of sounding a touch hyperbolic, they’re an indispensable daily companion and never are they more essential than when we head off for a spot of travelling.

Whether it’s ordering a cab, navigating unfamiliar streets, or translating weird, wonderful alien languages on the go, a phone with a working sim and reliable data access has become a non-negotiable part of the travel toolkit. However, despite living in a globalised world, the functionality of our native SIM cards often ends at our home country’s border.

For years, the norm for globe-trotters has been to purchase a local SIM upon arriving at their destination, or in some cases, by purchasing an eSim package before flying.

But as our world becomes increasingly interconnected, a new contender has entered the arena – the international SIM card, promising seamless connectivity across borders. This post delves into the intricate dance of choosing between a local, or an international SIM (or eSim) for your travels.

danielle at a phone booth in london, england
You could always just go completely old school!
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

International Sim vs Local Sim

If you’re wondering what is an esim, don’t panic, let’s jump right on in and clarify what it is when we talk about international SIMs and local SIMs before you decide which is the best sim for your travels.

International SIM: A globetrotter’s dream, the international SIM offers widespread coverage, spanning multiple countries and continents. It’s a one-stop solution, eliminating the need for multiple SIMs. An international sim should connect and work instantly, all over the world as soon as you land. If you get yourself a good one, it could well be the last SIM you ever need to buy.

However, this convenience comes with a premium price tag. Minutes and Data packages can cost far more than local sims. 

Furthermore, unless you regularly change countries, you quite possibly simply do not need an international SIM and need not incur the expense of a premium package.

Local SIM: Tailored for specific destinations, local SIMs offer an authentic and usually more affordable way to stay connected. You can generally pick up a local sim anywhere in the world relatively quickly and easily, and in some destinations (such as India) it’s astonishing how cheap a local sim in India package can be.

They are perfect for travellers focusing on one country or region but can become cumbersome if you’re frequently crossing borders and often having to toss away bits of plastic or download new eSim packages.

Researching different SIM options can be tiring!
Image: Will Hatton

Regional SIMs: Bridging the gap between local and international, regional SIMs offer a balanced solution. For instance, if you need a sim in Italy but also plan to visit a few other countries during your trip. A European package might provide seamless service across the EU, marrying the benefits of both local and international SIMs.

Best of all, regional sim packages are often priced pretty competitively. For example, HolaFly offers an all-Europe Data-only eSim package for the same rate as most European country packages. These kinds of packages are ideal for travellers who are, say, backpacking through Europe or doing the famous Southeast Asia loop.

The fly in the ointment though, is that regional sims often exclude certain countries (for example many European ones don’t work in the UK or Ukraine) and they do tend to work better in some locations than in others. 

Finally, please note that for all of the above “Sim Types”, some options include talk time and text, whereas some offer only data. All are also still available in both physical SIM and eSim versions.

Here Are Some Top Travel Sim Providers

We will now look at some of our personal favourite travel sim providers. All of these providers offer international, regional and local options. Some others both plastic and eSim whereas others offer eSim only. We will make this clear as we go.

GigSky

Gigsky simcard

Established in 2010 and based in Palo Alto, California, GigSky is a mobile technology firm that specialises in providing e-SIM and SIM card data services to travellers across the globe. Distinguishing itself from the majority of eSIM providers, GigSky operates as an independent Network Operator, collaborating with over 400 carriers worldwide. This unique position grants them access to an extensive network infrastructure, ensuring more reliable service and fewer outages than many competitors.

While GigSky does not provide local phone numbers, customers can still place and receive calls via apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Skype, utilising the data included in their eSim plans. Along with a global sim option, several regional sim packages, and a bespoke “Land + Sea” package one of the best sims for cruise-goers.

After testing numerous sim companies, GigSky emerges as our preferred choice, thanks to its superior network coverage, reasonable pricing, and user-friendly app. The addition of local number offerings would make their service even more attractive.

GigSky offers a range of packages including a tasty ‘try before you buy’ deal that gives you 100MB of data for 7 days.

OneSim

onesim card for travellers

OneSim is a well-established, Boston-based sim provider that has been specialising in traveller-friendly international sim packages for a decade now.

OneSim shines with its versatility, offering both international and local SIM solutions with the choice between traditional plastic SIMs and the modern eSIM. As well as offering a pretty great International Sim, they also offer regional sims for Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, USA & Mexico, the Middle East and Europe.

Let’s now take a quick look at a few different OneSim offers.

OneSim International Sim

Ok, so OneSim’s international sim will work all over the world. However, the cost of using it varies depending on which Global Zone you are in.

Zone A – 500MB – 30 Days – $15
Zone B – 500MB – 30 Days – $15
Zone Giga – 500MB – 30 Days – $49
Zone EU – 500MB – 30 Days – $29
Zone Asiana – 500MB – 30 Days – $39

OneSim One Europe Sim

This Package works in 36 countries including Turkey & The UK. It offers 5G everywhere apart from Ukraine.

1GB (7 days): $4.90
3GB (30 days): $8.90
5GB (30 days): $12.90
10GB (30 days): $24.90
20GB (30 days): $44.90

OneSim Thailand SIM

6GB (8days) – $19.90

HolaFly

mockup of a person holding a smartphone in white background with Holafly logo

Plucky Spanish-based eSim upstart HolaFly has distinguished itself as a go-to eSim provider offering a good range of tailored solutions for the savvy traveller. HolaFly’s eSIMs are designed for those who travel frequently or visit multiple countries, providing seamless connectivity across various regions. 

They offer regional sims for Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and The United Kingdom (Included on the list but not quite the same!) and The Caribbean

Let’s now take a quick look at a few different HolaFly offers.

HolaFly international eSim

HolaFly does not offer an international sim but does offer a few good regional packages.

HolaFly Europe eSim

This package offers both unlimited data and talk time (unusual for eSim) and works in 32 European countries although I will admit it is not entirely clear from the HolaFly website which ones!

Unlimited data with calls

5 Days – $19
7 Days – $27
10 Days – $34
15 Days – $47
20 Days – $54
30 Days – $64
60 Days – $87
90 Days – $99

HolaFly Thailand eSIM

Unlimited Data (no calls)

5 Days – $19
7 Days – $27
10 Days – $34
15 Days – $47
20 Days – $54
30 Days – $64
60 Days – $84
90 Days – $99

Nomad

Nomad e-sim

App-based eSim provider Nomad offers great value eSims across the world. They promise a near-local price with no contract, no hidden fees and no nasty roaming charges. Nomad has really come along since I first tried them back in 2021 and they’re one of the best eSims on the market.

As well as their global sim, Nomad offers a wide array of regional packages for the following;

  • Europe (35 Countries)
  • APAC (21 Countries (Asia Pacific)
  • North America
  • Nordic – (4 Countries)
  • SEA-Oceania – (8 Countries)
  • SEA-Plus – (14 Countries)
  • Africa – (14 Countries)
  • Middle East – (7 Countries)

Let’s now take a quick look at a few different Nomad offers.

Nomad international sim

Nomad does not offer an international sim but does offer a few good regional packages.

1GB – 7 Days – $25
3GB – 30 Days – $40
5GB – 30 Days – $4

Nomad Europe sim

Unusually, Nomad offer 2 European plans;

30 countries plan:

15GB 30 days. $29
10GB 30 days. $22
5GB 30 days $14
3GB 30 days $12

35 countries plan:

10GB 30 days. $22
20GB 30 days. $45
5GB 30 days. $15
3GB 30 days. $13

Nomad Thailand Sim

50GB (10 Days) $12
15GB (30 Days) $26
10GB (30 Days) $20
5GB (30 Days) $14

Vodafone (VOXI)

A stalwart and true giant in the communication industry, VodaFone’s travel SIM solutions are both reliable and diverse. From international SIMs that cover you in numerous countries to local SIMs that offer in-depth coverage, Vodafone ensures you’re always connected.

We are going to focus on VodaFone’s VOXI brand and the European packages that they offer

Voxi European Roaming Pass

1 day – £2.25
2 days – £4
8 days – £10
15 days – £15

Allowances:

Inclusive plan data, or 20GB fair usage (whichever is less)*
Unlimited Texts (including MMS)
Unlimited Minutes

15-day Roaming Extra – £25
15 days
200 minutes
200 texts
4GB data

A red phone box on a quaint street in an English village
Unfortunately, you can’t update the gram from a phone box… yet!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Final Thoughts – International or Local Sim?

Choosing between an international and a local SIM card is ultimately just another part of the process of selecting the right gear for your journey. It’s about balancing cost, convenience, and responding to your own personal needs. 

If you’re a jet-setter hopping across countries, then an international SIM might be your passport to seamless connectivity.  However, if your adventures are less frequent, and tend to be concentrated in one region or country, a local SIM could provide more in-depth coverage at a fraction of the cost. 

Consider your travel habits, destinations, and tech preferences, and you’ll find the perfect travel SIM that doesn’t just connect your calls but connects with your way of travel.