The days of paper maps and postcards wave to us from a rear view mirror. These days, everything lives online, from your hotel reservations to your map to your vaccination certificates. People, be they bosses or relatives, expect to be able to reach you day and night and, let’s face it, our habits mean we’re used to reaching for our phones for the answer as well.
Why do you need internet access in Europe?
However. When you travel across Europe, if you simply switch on your phone, you’ll often find yourself hit by hefty mobile roaming charges. While some mobile phone contracts include international roaming, most do not or they ask for a bolt-on with pretty limited data downloads.
Some things, sure, can wait until you get back to the hotel. Or even until you get back home.
But for navigation, searching for the best restaurant near you, looking up background information on that cool sight you just passed or being able to FaceTime friends while out and about…. Well, that needs mobile internet access.
So let me tell you about the eSIM.
What is an eSIM and how can it help you get online in Europe?
We all know the regular old SIM cards: those small pieces of plastic with a chip that you had to insert into your phone to get it working to begin with.
Well, an eSIM sits inside your phone and you don’t need to physically remove or insert it. I mean, technically, of course, there is more to it than that. But life is short and unless you really want to know how it works (in which case check out this article on eSIMs from Forbes) then that will do.
The real joy of the eSIM is that you can buy and activate one right from your phone without needing to go to a physical shop and buy a physical product.
And this, dear readers, is a game changer when it comes to travel.
No more stuttering through translations. No more squinting at small print in a fluorescent lit booth at your arrival airport, foggy with jet lag and desperate to go to bed. No more wasting precious travel time standing in a queue in a shop and producing more paperwork than you needed for your mortgage in order to pass the latest identity laws around SIM cards… I could go on but I think you get the idea!
So where do you find these magnificent eSIM creatures?
Meet Holafly: one of the best eSIM providers in Europe
When you’re looking for the best eSIM for Europe, make a start with Holafly.
Holafly cover more than 120 destinations around the world and they make buying an eSIM pretty easy.
You simply shop online, they send you the code you need by email within around 10 minutes and that’s that. You can choose between unlimited data packages in some destinations or opt for cheaper options and cap your data.
The eSIMs work on the 4G network and you can keep your own home SIM in action for phone calls and the like from home.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of using an eSIM to connect to the internet in Europe:
- You can buy it online. No struggling to find a shop in a new location.
- You can buy unlimited data in many destinations. No stressing about running out.
- You get it right away - no waiting and missing valuable travel time.
- The service is activated when it connects to the network.
- You can access 24-hour support via WhatsApp or website chat
Aspects to consider
So, as much as I love the whole eSIM concept, you do need to know a few things.
- Your phone needs to be compatible with the eSIM process and it needs to be unlocked.
- Your eSIM only includes mobile data.
- The eSIM for Europe does not include phone calls, nor does it give you a local mobile number. (You can use data to video Whatsapp, however.)
- The unlimited data package is for use on a mobile only. No streaming movies on a laptop.
How do you connect to the internet in Europe with an eSIM?
First off, check that your phone is going to work with the whole thing. Otherwise, it’s kind of pointless!
Then, choose and buy your eSIM package.
You’ll receive a QR code by email (one of those black and white squares.) Scan that with your phone (just use the camera) and switch on data roaming and you’re set!
Which smartphones can be used with an eSIM in Europe
Apple (iOS) devices
The following Apple devices should support an eSIM: Apple iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, 12 and 12 Mini.
Google Pixel 3, 4, and 5 support eSIMs.
Other options for internet access in Europe
Of course, the eSIM route isn’t the only route in town. You can also connect to the internet in Europe through the SIM you already have. You can hitch your phone to public wifi networks. Or you can take a pocket WiFi device with you.
Let’s have a quick chat about what each of those involves…
Activate data roaming
The quickest and easiest way to get online is to use data roaming with the SIM you already have. The main UK operators like Three, Vodafone and O2 will usually offer this option - at a cost. You can either choose a contract that includes roaming abroad or buy bolt on data packages to use when you’re on the road.
Or, worst of all, you can do nothing and let them just charge you eye watering fees.
Remember that previous free roaming within the European Union has now come to an end with Brexit. And also, not every European country is in the EU.
Rules change constantly, so check with your own provider in advance.
Buy a SIM when landing at the airport
For a while, this was the tried and trusted option. You head to a shop or vending machine at the airport and buy a physical SIM card for your phone. However, you’re often tired after a flight, it can be difficult to be sure that you’re following the instructions correctly in a foreign language - and it can be fiddly to get your old SIM card out and not to lose it before you get home.
So what are the advantages? Well, this is the best way to get a local mobile phone number. So if that’s your top priority then this is the way to go. Just remember to pack a paperclip or earring back to help you pop your SIM out - and pack a small plastic box to keep your old SIM safe until you get back home. Remember, people won’t be able to call you on your old number while your old SIM is out, too.
Rent a Pocket WiFi
A pocket WiFi can be the best choice for groups of people travelling together. You buy a pocket device which emits a signal which everyone with a password can join. It saves each of you buying a new SIM but the disadvantage is that if you move too far from the person with the MiFi, you lose signal. Also, it’s one more piece of kit to carry about and not lose. You need to arrange it in advance before you travel and so that takes up a bit more of your time too.
Use free public WiFi networks in Europe
Depending on where you are going in Europe, you may just be able to get by by using free public WiFi networks. Most hotels have internet access these days and many cities offer free public networks. Then you have coffee shops, restaurants and even some shops.
The advantage of doing this is that it’s free and easy - when it’s there. The disadvantage is that you never quite know where you’ll find it. Public networks are notoriously slow - and unprotected.
More Useful Travel Advice for Europe
- The ultimate pre-travel checklist you can download and print out
- Your complete packing list for any trip
- The best mobile apps for Europe
- The Travel Toolbox © - everything you need to organise your dream trip
- The very best travel websites you need to know