So, you’re travelling to Ireland? Whether this visit to the Emerald Isle is a dream vacation or a routine business trip. You may need a new SIM card in Ireland to stay connected at a reasonable cost.
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Do you need a new SIM card in Ireland?
In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know to stay connected while travelling in Ireland (and other countries). Including how to get the best value for money from your foreign phone plan. The pros and cons of your different connections options.
Also including pro tips to help you travel and connect like a pro-traveller. And not get caught out with bills for thousands of dollars/euros/pounds when you return to your home country.
Why do you need to stay connected?
You may need to stay in contact with family and friends at home, or ask Google to recommend things to do or restaurants nearby, or arrange a meeting time and place for an activity or walking tour, or god-forbid you may need to contact emergency services or a breakdown service for your car. There are too many examples of the importance of an internet and phone connection while travelling, to list here.
Why purchasing a new SIM card in Ireland can save you money.
You are making an international phone call whenever you ring someone with a foreign phone number. Let’s take an example to demonstrate our point.
Eg. Tom runs a restaurant in Cork city called Veggie Paradise. Arnold from California reserves a table. Arnold’s train however is late and he needs to ring Tom, the restaurant owner, to change the reservation.
If Arnold calls Tom from inside Ireland using his phone, he is still making an international phone call even though the two men are in the same country. Ditto for the opposite direction. If Tom needs to inform his guest Arnold of a change in dining plans. He’ll need to ring a Californian number and make an international call.
This means extra charges and hassle for both men. This is a guide on how to avoid this scenario and stay connected to the Irish internet at local data rates at the same time.
The Technical Bit
To fully understand this guide, the best way to stay connected in Ireland and the advantages of buying a SIM card in Ireland.
I’m going to give you a brief introduction into the world of internet and phone networks. This is just an outline, I’ll try not to get overly specific.
Internet Phone vs Phone Network
It’ll help, for the purposes of this article, to distinguish between Internet phone (VOIP) services and regular phone network calls.
If you use WhatsApp/Skype/Viber to make voice-calls only. Then you are using the Internet as a phone service. This is a good idea for travellers as it is almost always better value for money than a phone network call using your phone fpr international calls.
Roaming means you are using your phone outside of your home country. Eg. John is from New York. He travels to Ireland for vacation for two weeks. He needs his phone and Internet connectivity for his phone while in Ireland.
John knows that using his carrier’s US plan in Ireland could mean that he’s hit with a bill for hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars by his carrier when he gets home. He needs an international phone plan especially for Ireland.
John contacts his carrier (eg. T-Mobile) and purchases a ‘roaming’ plan especially for Ireland. John then continues to use his phone as normal in Ireland without being at risk of massive charges when he gets home.
This roaming plan means John doesn’t need a new SIM card in Ireland. However, it can work out as being quite expensive.
Wifi vs Mobile Data
Let’s distinguish between WIFI and Mobile Data. You can think of WIFI as borrowing someone else’s internet connection eg. your hotel’s connection, a connection in a pub, restaurant or library. Wifi is usually protected by password but is a general open connection for anyone in the vicinity with their phone.
WiFi is a free Internet connection. Once you’re on WIFI you can use the Internet for free.
Mobile Data on the other hand is what kicks in when you are out of range of a WIFI connection. This mobile data is provided by your phone network carrier. Mobile data is metered ie. charged by amount used.
In your home country, your mobile data plan might be unlimited and great value for money. However, when you travel abroad, this mobile data plan often becomes expensive. Since you are a guest on a foreign mobile network. You have to pay extra.
There are ways around paying through the nose for your mobile data plan abroad however. Read on for more info.
What’s a SIM card?
We’ll mention SIM cards in this article a lot. Specifically SIM cards in Ireland.
So, let’s explain exactly what a SIM card is. A SIM card is like the brains of your phone. Your phone may be manufactured by Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei etc.
However your phone network provider eg. T-Mobile, Orange, Three supply you with this small electronic chip which helps your phone connect to their phone network and provides you with Internet, phone and SMS connection.
Tethering/Hotspotting your Phone
Did you know that your mobile phone can serve as a portable internet connection for other devices? Turning on your mobile/cell phone’s hotspot connection means other devices eg. laptops, TV’s, other phones can use your phone’s internet connection.
This is a great idea if your group have multiple phones and only one of them has a great data plan in your destination. Simply connect (tether) your other devices to the primary phone and use its internet connection for the group.
This primary phone can still make calls and use internet while functioning as a hotspot device.
Which Web services are the most expensive to use while travelling?
So, you may plan on using Google to search for experiences nearby while in Ireland. Or maybe you’ll be watching NetFlix to keep up with your favourite show. Some web services / websites are alot more bandwidth-hungry than others ie. cost a lot more money to use for you.
Let’s a have a look here in terms of descending order of cost of services.
$$$$$ NetFlix, YouTube, Zoom or any video-based service including video conferencing, watching TikTok, YouTube videos and Facebook shorts.
$$$$ Computer games
$$ Google searches including web pages and images
$$ WhatApp, Skype or any VOIP (Internet Phone) services where you talk to others over your Internet connection by voice-only
$ Email, notifications, WhatApp messages or any text-based service
Options for staying connected
Let’s go through the four main options for staying connected in Ireland on your mobile phone. These are the four main solutions you’ll want to consider for your Irish travels.
Option 1: eSIM for your phone
An eSIM is a piece of software that allows you to override your SIM card on your phone with a new SIM card. The beauty of an eSIM is that you don’t have to go to the trouble of actually replacing your physical SIM card in your phone. You can just install the eSIM instead and use a data plan from your destination country.
So what do this mean? This means you can use an Irish internet connection on the go while in Ireland. You simply scan the QR code or click the web URL. Install the software or app. Then your phone should automatically switch to the Irish network when you arrive in Ireland.
You get Irish data rates, a stable Irish internet connection and you could save thousands in unexpected charges from your home network carrier.
The best eSIM provider in our experience is Airalo.com. Their Irish data plans start from a few Euros per day and can save you a lot of money.
Option 2: switching your SIM card in Ireland
Switching your SIM card in Ireland from your home carrier to an Irish network carrier one is also an option. This method provides you with full access to the Irish phone network including Internet, call and SMS.
This option however, has drawbacks. First, when you switch your SIM card in Ireland, your phone number changes, so you’ll have to supply your contacts with your new phone number unless you are using an internet phone app like WhatsApp.
Next, your phone will need to be unlocked by your network carrier and be capable of being fitted with a new SIM card in Ireland. If you’re phone isn’t unlocked by your carrier, you won’t be able to fit a new SIM cared in Ireland- simple as that.
Also, you’ll need to remember to pack a small pin-like tool in order to access your phone’s SIM card tray.
Finally, you may find yourself losing, scratching or damaging your original SIM card in Ireland on your travels. This would mean that your original phone number might be in jeopardy and could be a major hassle.
Option 3: Purchase a roaming data plan from your phone provider
Many phone network carriers allow their customers to purchase data roaming plans for their phone while they travel abroad. This means you can use your phone’s internet connection, calls and SMS while in your destination country.
While this may seem to be the ideal option. Roaming plans can work out as being quite expensive. A roaming plan from a US phone network for example can cost up to $15 / day. So, for a group of 6 people, all on a roaming plan for a 14-day vacation. The cost would add up to $1260 for the group.
Option 4: A portable router
A portable router or internet device is an internet connection that fits in your pocket. You can connected all your devices to this portable router. Simply pop in an Irish SIM card and you are good to go.
This portable router provides an internet data plan only. Calls and SMSs are still charged at an international rate so be careful
Choosing a carrier for your SIM card in Ireland
Choosing an Irish phone network provider is easy. To get a prepaid SIM card, simply walk into any phone shop in the airport or in an urban area. Present your passport and cash and you’ll be provided with a SIM card and instructions on how to fit the card to your device or portable router.
Don’t forget, with a prepaid SIM you’ll need to know how to top-up the balance for when you run out of data. Ask the nice salesperson in the shop to help you.
All Irish phone network providers have great coverage. For a full glimpse of coverage in Ireland pls. follow this link…
Powering your phone
Don’t forget you’ll need to keep your phone powered up in order to use it. In Ireland we use 3-pin plugs and run 220 Volts power in our electricity network.
If you come from North America you’ll need an adapter in addition to your power cables.
You can also charge your phone using your car’s power supply. Use this adapter if your car doesn’t have a USB charge port.
It’s always handy to have a powerbank or two to hand for emergencies. Powerbanks are portable power supplies you can use to keep your devices powered up.
Brexit and your SIM card in Ireland
For travelers from the UK, Brexit means that you no longer have access to European phone networks at a better value for money rate.
For foreign travellers travelling to the UK from Europe. This means that you’ll need a specific data plan for the UK. Your European data plan may not cover the UK. Remember, Northern Ireland is part of the UK and not part of Ireland or the European Union.
Contact your phone network provider or purchase a UK eSIM data plan from Airalo.com
Backing up your phone
You just never know on your travels whether your phone might get stolen, lost, damaged etc. Always backup your phone before you set out the door on your journey.
The best way to back up your phone is to use your phone’s operating system provider ie. if you have an Apple Phone then back up to the Apple iCloud. If you have an Android device, then back up to Google Cloud.
The importance of geolocation
Using geolocation on your phone is also a great idea. The little link that pops up on your phone asking whether Google or Apple can have access to your location data – usually for your location on a map.
Geolocation can also be used for groups of people to keep track of each other’s physical location so they don’t get lost and seperated in a crowd. An especially important feature if you have kids and they have a phone.
Allowing geolocation is always a good idea – to Google Maps and Apple Maps only though, not to random websites and apps you don’t know.
I hope you found this guide to connecting your phone to the internet in Ireland useful.
At the end of the day, I’d choose the eSIM option when i’m travelling to Ireland and i want to stay connected on my phone.
Remember you’ll need to backup your phone and keep it charged in Ireland.
Lastly and most importantly the emergency services phone number in Ireland is 112. So if you need an ambulance, fire service or police or any other emergency service. Make sure you have this number saved in your phone.
Go neiri on bothar leat (may the road rise to meet you)