Wi-Fi and data considerations when travelling in Europe

Wi-Fi and data considerations when travelling in Europe

With digital nomads and remote workers becoming more and more common by the day, the internet is for most of us not a luxury any longer but a vital necessity. This is as true when you travel in Europe as anywhere else on earth.

The vast majority of people use the internet virtually on a daily basis to search for information, watch videos, pay bills, book accommodation, and reserve flights - to name only a few. However, to people relying on the internet for their work or job, an unreliable Wi-Fi connection is as bad as an unreliable computer network is for any corporate office anywhere in the world.

Even for those of us who do not work online, the internet has become part of our daily lives. It's like eating and going to the bathroom - we need it at least once a day. No wonder a research project recently found that nearly 50% of all millennials in the United Kingdom believe they can not function without social media. This only serves to prove even further how important a working Wi-Fi connection is when today's average person is travelling.

That brings us to the topic of today's article: how to make sure you stay connected to a reliable Wi-Fi or data connection while travelling Europe without breaking the bank.

Do your homework about international/global roaming before the time

The easiest way to make sure you always have data services while travelling Europe is to use the same SIM card you use at home. You would likely need to just activate international roaming.

In case you are from one of the EU countries and you plan to travel within the EU, this is likely going to be your best option. Since the EU got rid of roaming charges not too long ago, using your own SIM card while exploring the continent makes the most financial sense. Before proceeding, however, you should double-check with your mobile phone operator to make sure that there will be no unexpected charges or limitations.

If you are from outside the EU, or you plan to travel to a European nation that is not part of the EU at this stage, it might still be worthwhile to use your own SIM, provided the roaming charges aren't too high.

Ask the provider about things like incoming and outgoing calls, internet access, and sending and receiving text messages. This is important because incoming calls might not be free when you are from let's say the US or the UK and you are travelling in Europe.

If you can get a genuinely good roaming tariff from your own mobile operator, it makes sense to use them when you are travelling.

Purchase a SIM card locally when you arrive in Europe

In case you are not happy about how much your own operator will charge you while you are travelling in Europe, or you are unhappy with the data plans they offer, buy yourself a local SIM card the moment you arrive in Europe. You might not even need to go looking for a mobile phone shop, you will most probably be able to purchase a SIM card right there at the airport.

Before taking this route, though, do your own research, particularly if you plan to move around quite a lot, stay in one location for a relatively long time, or have a tight budget. Do your homework about available data plans and also check their coverage. It's no use to have cheap data that's only available now and again. Also find out about the validity of the company's SIM card, and how much a top-up is going to cost you.

Also make sure before your trip that your phone is not network locked. This means that it can work with the SIM card of a different mobile network.

Purchase a global/international SIM card

This should ensure that you have a working SIM card in all the countries you are going to visit. These cards typically also allow you to receive free calls plus you will get decent rates for calls, data, and test messages.

Probably the biggest benefit of this kind of SIM card is that you will be able to use it in many destinations, not only in one specific country. What is even more important is that you will have a fixed mobile number the whole time. This will make it easy for your family and friends to call you without having to keep track of a number that changes every few days.

A dependable international SIM card is the perfect solution for business travellers who have to travel to Europe frequently and want to stay in contact with their business colleagues via phone and email all the time.

Once you are in Europe, you will find that there are multiple firms offering international SIM cards. Most of them have a variety of options available that will work both in Europe and in other global destinations.

Here are a few examples of well-known global SIM card providers:

  • WorldSIM offers a SIM card free of charge, you only pay for data and calls.
  • OneSim SIM card prices start at $20 USD. This includes free credit.
  • GoSim charges as little as $15 USD. This includes limited free credit. For under $10 USD you can get a SIM without any credit included.
  • KeepGo offers a SIM with 1GB of included data for $49 USD.

Try to find free Wi-Fi

If you do not work on the internet and only want to contact your family and friends occasionally, free Wi-Fi might be all you need. Your guest house or hotel will most likely offer free Wi-Fi. You can use this to stay in contact and even to download information such as places to see and things to do.

Even if you will occasionally need Wi-Fi outside your guest house or hotel, you can go a long way with the free Wi-Fi offered by cafes, restaurants, and even fast food shops. The majority of international chains such as Starbucks and McDonald's offer reliable free Wi-Fi.

Many of these places password-protect their Wi-Fi connections but if you are a paying customer all you have to do is to ask the waiter or shop assistant for the password. Even if you have to sign up for a free account and give them your email address or phone number it's still worthwhile.

Some European destinations, for example, Riga and Paris, even offer free Wi-Fi access throughout the city. If a city doesn't offer free Wi-Fi, you will most likely still be able to find zero-cost Wi-Fi points in places such as libraries, tourism information centers, and museums.

Villages and small towns might not offer many free Wi-Fi options. Here you will have no other option than to get your own Wi-Fi connection. When in doubt, do proper research before you visit a smaller town or village.

Consider renting a phone

Another option is to look for a smartphone rental deal. This is particularly useful for people whose own phones are network-locked, as in they are not able to use another company's SIM card in their device.

In most European destinations you will find quite a few local smartphone rental firms and there are of course also many international phone rental firms. Below are two of them.

  • Loan Me a Phone provides rental phones that can use any SIM card. Their phones do not come with a SIM card though, you must get your own.
  • OneSIM is another global firm that offers mobile phones for rent. They operate in the vast majority of European countries.

Before renting a phone, talk to your hotel. Some of them have smartphones that can be used by guests during their stay.

Find a Pocket Wi-FI rental deal

This is similar to renting a smartphone - you just rent a pocket Wi-Fi instead.

The term pocket Wi-Fi refers to a small portable modem with a data connection. These little gems are typically small enough to fit in one's pocket. They are normally battery-powered, so you will have internet wherever you are for at least a couple of hours before it has to be charged again.

One of the biggest firms offering modems for rent in Europe is Rent 'n Connect. Their modems work in Europe as well as in Turkey. They have various data plans, including an unlimited one. Rental charges start at around 6 EUR/day.

One of the best reasons to use pocket Wi-Fi is that it's a breeze to set up. Plus you will be able to connect more than one device simultaneously. It also doesn't matter whether or not your phone is network-locked or what brand it is, it just needs to have Wi-Fi capability.

Use the airline's in-flight Wi-Fi when you are flying

Europe's commercial flights will soon all feature fast onboard Wi-Fi. There are quite a few airlines that already offer this facility free of charge.

  • Norwegian offers free Wi-Fi for all passengers.
  • Aer Lingus provides free Wi-Fi in business class.
  • SAS has free Wi-Fi for its Diamond and EuroBonus members, as well as for SAS Plus.
  • Turkish Airlines - there is no cost if you are travelling in business class, Miles & Smiles Elite, or Elite Plus.
  • Finnair - free for those who are flying business class and also for Finnair Plus Gold members.

Your last resort: The internet cafe

If you are a Millennial or older, you will no doubt remember that in the early days of the internet one had virtually no other option than to use internet cafes (they were often called cyber cafes in those days) if you wanted to access the internet while travelling. Of course, free Wi-Fi and smartphones have since then all but wiped out the market for internet cafes.

Although you might struggle to find one of them in the big tourist spots nowadays, they still exist in outlying areas. If you can't find an internet cafe during your journey, another option is to look for a gaming center/cafe. Many of them allow visitors to access the internet on one or more of their gaming computers.

  • Pros of using an internet cafe - Generally speaking they offer fairly high connection speeds, their hourly rates are reasonable, and you don't need access to your own data company to use them.
  • Cons of using an internet cafe -You will be using a computer that is shared by many others. The environment might be rather noisy and you can not expect too much privacy.

ETIAS/Schengen visas

Currently, citizens of nearly 60 nations don't have to apply for a Schengen Visa if they want to visit Europe. The bulk of the rest should apply for a Schengen visa before they will be authorized to visit the continent.

Starting in 2025, travellers from countries that currently do not have to get a Schengen Visa will have to apply for ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. This includes visitors from the United States. You can find up to date information about this on the ETIAS FAQ.