It took me YEARS of traveling to understand how to use a local SIM card. Then eSIMs started gaining popularity, and I had to figure out those. In the beginning, the easiest method of staying connected abroad for me was using my carrier’s daily roaming package, or a hot spot device like Skyroam.

WELL. I have LOTS to say about all of those now.

But I’m going to write it in a way that’s as easy as possible to digest and understand. I write a lot, so please bear with me!

Physical SIM Cards

I don’t care what anyone else says. As a FULL TIME traveler, nomad, and digital business owner, I 100% will say that physical SIM cards are still the best to use for connection abroad.

They are the cheapest option, they have the strongest reception, and they usually give you local calling in addition to data. Sure, they’re weird to figure out how to activate, but that’s what the people who work at the kiosks are there for.

PROS of Physical SIM Cards:

  • Cheapest option for data, calling, and texting
  • Strongest signal
  • Gives you a local number but allows you to keep your regular number on Whatsapp
  • Easy to activate
  • Recommended most for people who need to work remotely

CONS of Physical SIM Cards:

  • Don’t work unless your phone is unlocked
  • Sometimes hard to find a kiosk (but not really, they’re always at the airport)
  • Sometimes difficult to re-up data
  • Have to get a new one each time (for those of us who travel to a ton of countries each year)
  • NEW! If you buy an iPhone 14 in the U.S., you will no longer even have a slot for SIM cards! LAME!

How to Use a Physical SIM card: See this post

eSIM Cards (AKA Virtual SIM Cards)

I’ve tried eSIM cards in about 15 or so countries, and they still are nowhere near as reliable or as cheap as physical SIM cards. But they do have convenience factors, especially if you’re only going to be in a country for around a week or so (or less).

Pros of eSIM Cards:

  • Don’t have to physically go find them, they’re just on the apps
  • Usually offer connection to main cellular services
  • Fairly easy to install if you read the directions carefully
  • You get service as soon as you arrive
  • Can easily top up your data from the app (as long as you have data remaining or wifi)
  • Still cheaper than U.S. cell service

Cons of eSIM Cards:

  • Service isn’t as strong as a physical SIM
  • More expensive
  • Usually only gives you data and no calling (fine if you just use Whatsapp)
  • Does not work either if your phone is not unlocked
  • Not available in ALL countries

The eSIM company I currently use is called Airalo (download the app), and if you use ‘ALYSSA258’ you get $3 off…which helps since they charge like $9 for 1GB.

Be sure to carefully follow the instructions on how to install them. They’re a bit tricky, so I’ll make a post about that as well.

Portable Wifi Hot Spots

Before I learned about the ease and affordability of SIM cards, I used a portable Wifi hotspot like Skyroam. FULL DISCLOSURE, I was sponsored by them, and had a lot of free day passes. But once those were used up, I realized there’s no point in using them unless you’re working from somewhere with absolutely no wifi, or if you’re trying to provide wifi to a group.

Pros of a Portable Wifi Hot Spot:

  • Can power multiple devices at one time with no extra cost
  • Has strong 4G – 5G connection
  • You can use it with a locked phone

Cons of a Portable Wifi Hot Spot:

  • Expensive. Costs around $10/day, which is basically almost as much as a SIM card for 2 weeks.
  • Battery dies every day and you have to remember to charge it
  • You also have to remember to bring it with you everywhere

The hotspot I used to use is called SkyRoam and in my opinion is the best one out there.

Carrier Travel Roaming

Idk why people think it’s Okay to accept the $10/day travel roaming that most U.S. cell carriers now offer. THAT IS NOT A GOOD DEAL! Again, for $10 you can get a local SIM card with unlimited data for like two weeks in most places!

But I suppose that if your phone is locked, you might not have another option. Now you know to never enter into a contract with your carrier for a payment plan on a phone that requires it to stay locked until you pay it.

OH! And for the whole “T-Mobile has free international data” scheme. I’d give it a MEH. You only get the bare minimum of MBs per day, which is usually only enough for Whatsapp and some emails. They also straight up turned me down when I let it slip that I travel most of the time.

Pros of Using Your Carrier Travel Roaming:

  • Still get calls and texts to your number (I think)
  • Minimal effort to activate
  • Don’t have to waste time finding a SIM or installing eSIM
  • Works with locked phones (obv)

Cons of Using Your Carrier Travel Roaming:

  • Expensive
  • Expensive
  • Data usually isn’t very strong
  • Expensive
  • Limited daily data amounts

Global Carriers Like Google Fi (Allegedly)

When people started noticing my SIM card collection in my phone case on IG, a lot of people were like “Omg girl! Get Google Fi!” …unfortunately none of those people were full time travelers, nor expats, nor digital nomads, so I got it, but quickly found out it doesn’t apply for people who don’t live the majority of the time in the U.S.

However! If you DO live in the U.S. most of the time, but travel once a month-ish, this could be a great option for you!

Pros of Google Fi

  • Starts at $40 a month for Unlimited data for one person
  • Works in over 150 countries
  • Switches networks automatically when you travel
  • Includes coverage in the US
  • You get to use your existing number for everything including calls and texts

Cons of Google Fi:

  • You have to be IN the USA 75% of the time (yes, they track where you are)
  • That’s basically it, and I’m jealous and bitter that they won’t let me use it

I hope this post helps you out, don’t forget thaaatttt

Please don’t forget! I work extremely hard to produce these free travel guides and posts! If it helped you, or you enjoyed it, PLEASE give it a share on social media, and follow me to keep up with more posts! You’re two minutes of effort truly helps keep my business running! Thank ya!

xx, Alyssa