Smartphones that can connect to the internet anytime and anywhere is now a necessity for the modern traveller.
Which means the international microchip market is on the rise.
The number of Brazilian people that don’t want to travel abroad without data is increasing. Vivo, the biggest telco in the country, registered an increase of 108% on roaming data usage last year.
It is not just about chatting on WhatsApp, posting on Instagram or checking Facebook. Having data on-the-go on your phone makes your international trip much easier, to find your location and destination, ask for an Uber, find where to eat, check the operating hours of the museum.
Always depending only on hotel or coffee shop Wi-Fi connection which is not always good. Have you seen yourself frustrated about a Wi-Fi connection on the sidewalk of a shop or in front of a Starbucks or Mcdonalds?
Although local telcos created roaming data plans more accessible to use internet abroad, the service is still expensive and the speed is unstable.
With the growing demand, many companies that sell SIM cards showed up, from virtual telcos that operate on several countries, usually with unlimited data usage, most of them particularly on the Brazilian travellers.
Abroad, local telcos also are paying attention to the connectivity interest, that is something global: companies announce their prepaid microchips for tourists right when they landed. Following, the differences between the microchips, the tips and the apps that will let your trip much more connected and convenient.
Roaming or microchip? Why does the hotel Wi-Fi be not enough? How can I get the most of the connection while travelling?
But, do I really need to have data abroad?
Having internet on your hands allows travellers to search anything instantly, especially if there’s no itinerary or plan. The obvious function is for location and calculation of travel time for you to reach another destination, and if it’s possible to go walking or by public transport.
Everything will be accessible and information will be within reach. You need to be online to use a ride-hailing app which is very convenient, no need to worry about long waiting lines and language barriers. Also, save money since you don’t need to rent a GPS at the car rental store.
Do you have free Wi-Fi where you are located? Great! You can use it and save your data. But remember that, anywhere you go – even the most luxurious hotel – Wi-Fi can fail – and a microchip can solve your internet woes.
My local telco roam is not enough?
Two regular Vivo’s plan – Vivo V and Family – include 7 days with international roaming, at no additional cost. If the trip does not exceed this amount of days, you don’t need the chip. Otherwise, only use your roaming in case of emergency and not continuously.
Charging per day, roaming service was costing, at the beginning of June,
R$ 39,99 per day for you to use in America and Europe
R$ 59,99 for the rest of the world;
R$ 29,90 for America
R$ 39,90 for Europe and Africa
R$ 69,90 for Asia and Oceania;
and at Claro, the costs were
R$ 29,90 for America and Europe
R$ 79,90 for the rest of the world, but customers of ‘postpaid’ plans can have free internet for R$ 19,99 per month in Europe and R$ 9,99 in America – with an annual plan, it worths if you travel frequently.
Pay attention to the fact that they have unlimited data, but, when you reach a certain amount of megabytes used, the speed will get really slow.
In which destination profiles it worths more to invest in connectivity?
Especially in urban areas, for the same reasons shown before: move easily and organize your daily tour of the city.
Also, it will help you a lot with road trips, due to the possibility to use apps that will calculate the route. In some countries where the Wi-Fi signal is bad (India, Myanmar, Bolivia), the microchip will save the connection and can be used as a router for your laptop.
But in trips which the idea is to stay enjoying the hotel (i.e. one week at a resort in the Caribbean, with free Wi-Fi) or those focused in nature, with immersive tours (i.e. a Safari in Africa or a trip to the Atacama), the chip may not have a good usage.
When I install another microchip, my phone number will be different?
Yes. This can be inconvenient if you need to receive calls and in case of verifications codes sent by SMS: electronic form; e-mail accounts that may ask confirmation since the location of the login is not common; some bank transactions.
But installing a new microchip does not disturb WhatsApp functions: the app gives the choice for the user to keep the old number. Some international microchip companies have the function “follow-me”, that redirect the calls done to your Brazilian number to the new number (option commonly available only in the USA).
Apps that worth the microchip
Uber, clarify, Grab, Lyft
The fares of these apps are lower than the taxi ones and simplify the transport in many cities, including breaking the language barrier, since you type or paste the address straight at the app.
Google Maps, Citymapper
Apps that calculate the distance on walking, biking or using public transport, giving different possibilities to combine the models.
Skype, Whatsapp, Viber
Call, write or send pictures, audios and videos for free. Skype also allows you to call for cell phones and landlines for a very low fare.
How about translating traffic signs, texts and even voice in life? Especially useful in countries where English and Spanish are not commons.
Spotify, Apple Music
Apps to listen to music even allow you to use them on offline mode, but to download the playlists you need a big amount of memory space in your smartphone. By being connected, you can hear whatever you want, whenever you want and provide a soundtrack for your road trips.
TripAdvisor, Yelp, Foursquare
Apps that base themselves on the location of the user to show restaurants and filter by price, kind of food and working hours. There are some situations and places, though, that the rates can help or confuse at the choosing time. That’s why it’s good to be attentive to the comments: if you read something about the place that bothered you, don’t go.
For road trips, open itinerary or last time plans, the apps allow you to make a room reservation in seconds.
Compare kinds, prices and tricks of SIM cards and check in which situation each works better.
What are they: Pre-paid microchips of local telcos at the visited country. They have different prices, that vary accordingly the amount of data offered and the possibility of making local and international calls.
How to buy: when you arrive at your destination, search for the local telco store (google maps use to show it quickly) and ask for a “prepaid SIM card”. In many countries, there are this kind of stores at the airport – if you search before, you can go as soon as you take your luggage. In less than half an hour it’s possible to buy the microchip (some sellers ask for a passport), asking the installation to an employee (helps a lot!) and go out of the store with the internet working. It is not necessary to do a search for prices between the local telcos: just like Brazil, they don’t vary a lot. Go to the first store (After all, we are on vacation and don’t wanna waste time). The website Fandom lists the telcos per country.
How much does it cost: it depends on the destination. In Chile, with around U$ 17,00, you can buy a microchip of Claro with 1GB internet and no limit for social media usage. In the USA, T-mobile sells microchips with unlimited data valid for 3 weeks for U$ 30,00. In Europe, Vodaphone varies the charge per country (i.e. in Spain 2GB costs € 15,00, valid for 1 month; but in Italy, the same amount of data costs € 30,00). In South Africa, Vodacom has 2GB internet for U$ 30,00 valid for 30 days. In Thailand, the unlimited data for 1 month costs U$ 18,00 at True. In all cases, if you run out of data you can top up. You should be ready to spend at least 1 GB per week travelling.
It is good when: you go to only one country or, only in the case of Europe, to different countries under the same block. Anyway, it’s worth it if you stay at least 5 days – less than this the microchip may not pay itself.
Trap: when there is no store at the airport, it may be boring and take a long time to reach any other store outside the airport. Remember that if you are out of the European Union and will visit many countries, you will have to buy a new microchip in each country, since rarely a local microchip will include data roaming.
Europe with only one microchip
Since June 2017, it is not charged international roaming between the 28 countries members of the EU (plus Noruega and Iceland, that also adhered to the agreement; Turkey and Switzerland are out of it). The agreement is very advantageous for the travellers: now you can buy only one prepaid microchip and use in all those countries. Look for local stores, like Vodafone (they are at 14 countries, i.e. Portugal, Germany, Greece and Netherlands), Orange (France), O2 (England) and Movistar (Spain).
What they are: microchips that can be used in many countries, usually offered by virtual telcos that don’t have their own signal and lease the service from other telcos in the country.
How to buy: the biggest convenience of this microchip is that it can be bought before the trip. You access the company’s website – there are plenty focused on the Brazilian market, with service in Portuguese – choose the best microchip (accordingly to the amount of data, making calls availability and duration) and you will receive it by postal – at home or at the hotel you are going to – with the activation instructions. Shipping fee many times are for free. Also, there are some companies selling at the boarding terminal in airports in Brazil and abroad.
How much does it cost: they use to be much more expensive than local microchips. To the USA, the best price is U$ 40,00 for a 10 days trip, although it can go up to U$ 80,00 for unlimited data. But, for the rest of the world, the microchip costs something around U$ 60,00 to U$ 90,00, sometimes with a small amount of data.
When does it worths: long trips and with many destinies, like a 20 days trip (or more) going through many countries. It is good for the ones that don’t want to waste time searching for local microchip stores and prefers to solve it at home. Also is good to remember that, with the exemption of roaming in E.U., just order this microchip if you really want to leave your home with it.
Trap: The price is much higher. Some telcos even give a bigger validity for the microchip, that can extend up to 1 year, but it’s only good if you pretend to go to the same region covered by this period. At other companies, although, the signal just keep activated for the ones that top up monthly. Both situations only will be worth it for the ones that travel frequently – classic profile for business travellers.
Where to buy?
EasySim2yU: is the representative for the North-American telco T-mobile and also sells microchips from the French telco Orange to be used in Europe. In North America, the traveller can choose if he wants the microchip with or without calls to Brazil and if he wants to buy the router application. You buy through the site and will receive at the address you prefer and there are Portuguese attendants as well. Take care: the sold microchip will work in the rest of the world in roaming mode, it means with slower speed.
Prices: 10 days in USA (unlimited data) = U$ 42,00; 14 days in Europe (10 GB + 2h of international calls) = U$ 67,00; 10 days in the rest of the world (unlimited data on roaming mode) = U$ 57,00.
Skill sim: for sale at the airports of São Paulo and Recife (for you not to pay the shipping fee you can take yours at their office in São Paulo or at the airport), have unlimited data that vary accordingly to the region you are going to. Has Portuguese attendance.
Prices: 10 days in USA or South America (unlimited data) = U$ 80,00; 10 days in Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania (unlimited data) = U$ 95,00.
Travel Mobile: the company, with website and attendance in Portuguese, sells microchips from different companies, like Orange and OneSimCard. It is possible to order and receive at your home or hotel and top up via their website.
Prices: 10 days in usa (4 gb + unlimited international call) = U$ 35,00; for the main countries of Asia, Europe and Latin America (2 GB, no time determined) = U$ 65,00.
Chip Viagem: With attendance in many cities of Brazil, sells microchips of data and voice from many different telcos – you choose accordingly to your destination. It has no delivery cost and it takes up to 7 working days to be delivered. Some microchips have the function “follow me”, that redirects your calls from your local number to your new microchip.
Prices: 10 days in the USA (data, local calls and call to Brazil, all unlimited) = U$ 54,90; 14 days in Europe (chip Orange 10 GB + 120 minutes of calling to Brazil) = U$ 63,20.
Go-Sim: European company, makes delivery of the microchip with free shipping, anywhere in the world. You can choose between the microchip with calls and data or just data, and it is possible to top up your microchip to use on another trip through the site. It does not have support in Portuguese and the website is in English.
Price: 30 days in USA plus 65 other countries (2GB) = U$ 45,00.
Flexiroam X: innovative, it is a sticker microchip that you stick on the top of your microchip and can use for unlimited time. For you to have access to the internet, you download the company’s app, where the customer can switch between the microchip he wants to use (Flexiroam or your Brazilian microchip) and can make top up. It works up to 100 countries. Just released in Brazil, with Portuguese attendance.
Price: R$ 99,00 the microchip (without credits) + U$ 8,00 for 1GB in USA, Canada and 12 other countries in America, and + U$ 10,00 to have 1GB data in Europe.
Before buying your microchip
If the telco says you have unlimited data, ask if there is a speed reducement after some time. This tip is valid for local and international microchips.
Also ask if the microchip has the router function, that allows you to use personal access on your phone to share internet with your trip buddies (just have in mind that it will use a lot of battery of your cell phone and, obviously, your data).\
There are some microchips that are just for data. Having no number doesn’t mean that you can’t do calls – that can be used i.e. to make a restaurant reservation or add a travel insurance -. Evaluate which is more important to you.
4G speed varies accordingly to each country – it means, the slowness may not be related to your microchip. To have a better picture of it, check the ranking of speed for each country by the British company of connectivity measure OpenSignal – Brazil is in 52nd place.
Text by Betina Neves
Originally published on Viagem & Turismo Magazine