SIM Cards vs. International Travel Plans for Business Travel


For an increasing number of business owners and workers, international calling is a must. 63 percent of business owners continue to work on vacation, with 29 percent continuing to take work phone calls, a Travel Effect survey found. Meanwhile, in 2015, 37 percent of companies employed telecommuters. By 2020, half of workers are expected to be employed remotely. Whether you’re a traveling entrepreneur or a remote worker, reliable international phone service can be a necessity. Here’s a look at a comparison of two leading solutions for international calling, international travel plans and SIM cards, along with some guidelines for choosing the option that best fits your needs.

International Travel Plans

Major U.S. domestic carriers typically offer plans geared toward international travelers. For North American travelers, unlimited talk, text and data are often included with domestic plan packages. For travelers in other countries, carriers usually cover a range of countries, typically from around 100 to over 200.

Most plans for travel outside North America charge a standard fee for calls and text, plus an additional fee for data. Data fees are billed differently for different packages. With some plans, you pay a daily fee that includes calls and texts and bills you for data at the same rate as you pay at home. For instance, you might pay $10 a day (about $300 a month) for this type of plan, plus an overage fee if you exceed whatever limits your plan has.

Other plans bill you a prepaid one-time charge that lasts for a month or until your pre-paid fee gets used up. Usually you are allowed a very limited amount of data. This type of plan might cost you $40 for a prepayment.

With both these types of plans, you will get billed for data when you send messages through apps such as iMessage. You will also get billed for data if you have certain apps that use data running in the background, such as messaging apps. As you can imagine, data use is often where international travel plans can become expensive.

SIM Cards

Another option is a prepaid subscriber identity module card, usually known as a SIM card. A SIM card is a small card inserted into cell phones that lets you use a local wireless carrier in the vicinity of your travel destination instead of your normal domestic carrier. SIM cards let you connect with virtually any local provider. This way, you get charged at local rates instead of international rates.

To use a SIM card, you must insert it into your device and arrange for your wireless carrier to unlock your phone so you can use other networks. The unlocking process can take several days, so it’s best to do it before traveling.

If you plan on purchasing additional SIM cards when in your host country, you should research which carriers are available locally, where to buy cards and what types of cards are available. You may have to wait a few days before activation. You will normally need to provide passport information to purchase a SIM card abroad.

Some SIM cards are designed to be recognized by multiple carriers in multiple countries. SIM accessories known as SIM stickers allow you to switch between carriers while using the same SIM card.

In some cases, your SIM card number may be different than your regular number. If this is the case, make sure your business contacts know your new number, and have your business phone set to forward to your SIM number. Some SIM options let you keep your regular number if you use your regular phone when you travel.

Choosing the Best Option

When comparing different options, one important thing to consider is where you’ll be traveling. First and foremost, you need an option that covers your travel destination. You will also want to check how your domestic carrier’s international rates compare with local rates in the country where you’ll be traveling.

In most cases, if you’re traveling outside North America, you’ll find that using local carrier rates with a SIM card is cheaper than using an international travel plan. This can be especially important if you plan to use a lot of data. Evaluate your data usage needs and pricing options and choose accordingly.