Travel SIM cards – are they worth it?

Avoid the risk of running up a huge phone bill while you’re in the States by buying prepaid travel SIM cards instead.

Find out whether Travel SIM cards are worth it or not

Beware the roaming costs of using your phone abroad

If you read my post: How my cats ran up a £60 phone bill you’ll know that I’ve had my fingers burnt in the past using my mobile phone abroad.

I was lucky to only come home to a £60 bill. This poor guy had his phone stolen by pick pockets who ran up a £15,000 bill calling premium rate numbers!

Roaming charges are a killer, even if you’re only checking your email, or looking for directions on Google Maps. Since my cat incident I’ve been reluctant to use my phone abroad unless I can access a wifi hotspot.

So when the team from TelAway offered me a couple of complimentary travel SIMs for us to test out on our recent Florida trip I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

What the heck’s a travel SIM?

A travel SIM is like a prepaid SIM card that uses a carrier from the country you are travelling to. TelAway sells cards for US travel so the SIMs we received were from the American T-Mobile network.

You pay an upfront fee for the SIM, and that’s it. You get unlimited calls, texts and data all for that one price. So you don’t have to worry about coming home to a huge bill.

Ordering the SIM was really easy. I just headed over to TelAway.co.uk and filled in the order form which asked for the type of SIM I needed (make sure you double check this in your phone manual as they’re all different sizes these days) and the dates of travel.

You can pay by PayPal or credit card and the SIM is sent to you by registered post about two weeks before you’re due to fly.

Ask your mobile phone provider to unlock your phone

The one important thing you need to do before you order your Travel SIM is to have your phone unlocked.

I was a bit nervous about this as I wasn’t sure of the implications. I did a quick Google search and found lots of companies offering to unlock my phone for about 80 quid. I contacted O2 and asked them whether I was allowed to unlock my phone. The girl I spoke to was very helpful and actually unlocked my phone right there and then, for free!

Moral of that story is don’t pay a company you find on the Internet, call your mobile phone provider. They don’t all offer the service for free, you might need to have a contract rather than pay as you go, or need to have been a customer for a certain amount of time. But even if you have to pay a fee it should work out cheaper overall than paying roaming charges.

Switch the SIMs and set up your phone

Once you’ve received your SIM through the post put it somewhere safe, like with your passport, so that you can switch your SIM over when you arrive in the States.

One thing you will also need is the little pin thing that comes with your phone to open the SIM case, or a paperclip. It would be great if the guys at TelAway sent one out with the SIM but they don’t so make sure you take your own.

You’ll also receive an email with a UK telephone number that you forward your mobile phone too, so that people from the UK can call you on your usual mobile number. For them it’s just the same cost as calling a landline, and you don’t have to pay to receive the call on your mobile.

I have an iPhone 5 and when I switched my SIM over (putting my O2 SIM in with my passport to make sure I didn’t lose it!) my phone worked on the American SIM immediately.

Hubby has a HTC One and his didn’t work. He could call and send texts but he had no data. I was about to call the TelAway helpdesk when I remembered receiving some set up instructions via email. Hubby had to go into his phone settings and manually add the T-Mobile details, and then he had data straight away.

The one thing I didn’t realise is that while your mobile phone calls are forwarded to your phone via the UK landline number, your texts are not. So if you want people from home to be able to text you while you’re away you need to either give them the number of your travel SIM before you fly, or send them a text once you’ve switched your SIMs over so they can see the right number.

Use your phone as you would at home

That’s it, from there you just use your phone as you would at home, without worrying about excess charges.

Who needs a SatNav when you have unlimited data?

We tested out our TelAway SIMs during a holiday in Florida. Hubby and I have been countless times together in the last 11 years, so we always laugh when the woman at the car rental stand tries to sell us a SatNav unit. Hubby says I’m the SatNav.

This year when we drove out of the airport (in the dark) we came across some roadworks, and some terrible signage, and took a right, one turn before we should have done. Within minutes we found ourselves in a large housing estate rather than on the toll road to Disney.

As I tried to figure out where on earth we were on the map my mum pipes up from the back of the car: “can’t you just use your phone?”.

Of course!

Since I didn’t need to worry about roaming charges I could actually use Google Maps, on a 4G network nonetheless. Within seconds Google had figured out where we were and was directing us back to the toll road.

So not only does the prepaid SIM save money on data roaming charges, it saves you paying 60 quid to rent a SatNav unit too.

Will I use a TelAway SIM on future US holidays?

You bet I will! I loved being able to just use my phone as I do at home.

I used Google Maps nearly every day when we were out and about in the car, just looking for short cuts I never knew about. It would have been even more crucial if we’d never been to Orlando before.

I took photos of the kiddos when we were out and was able to email them home to my mother-in-law, or upload them to Instagram.

I was able to check my email, and yes Facebook too.

And one evening when Master J was restless waiting for dinner in a restaurant I even let him watch Sheriff Callie videos on YouTube! That is something I don’t even do at home as it would eat through my data allowance too quickly.

If you’re planning a holiday in the States and you want to be able to use your mobile phone just like you do at home then definitely check out TelAway.

Disclosure: The team at TelAway were kind enough to send us two complimentary travel SIM cards so we could put them to the test and review them for you. All the opinions stated here are my own.

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