Roaming charges! Though they’re less extortionate than before, they’re still high enough to warrant enabling the ‘do not roam’ switch on your smartphone. Fortunately, many of us know that we can save money by obtaining a local SIM card from the country you’re travelling to, but that will mean getting a new local number, which can be a minor hassle if you use WhatsApp (and who with a smartphone doesn’t?) as you will need to give your friends that local number and re-register that number for the service.
One way to get around that, which requires a bit of investment, is to use what is called a ‘WiFi dongle’ (or a mobile broadband router) and put the local SIM in that and connect your phone to it via WiFi (known as tethering) to use data. Not all network operators allow tethering, some may allow this on specific packages (“add-ons”), but it’s not easy for them to detect you’re doing this. You’re liable to get a warning if the amount of data you’re using is suspiciously high as to make them reasonably suspect tethering.
For Ireland, I’ve worked out that the simplest tethering option is via Tesco Mobile Ireland. TMI are an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) who use O2’s network capability, so being part of a huge network you can be assured of good coverage in the country. You don’t have to go to Ireland first to obtain a SIM as you can find them very cheap on eBay, and you can register them online from the UK and top-up via a UK debit/credit card. And they allow tethering, full stop!
Internet packages can be activated via text (so, if you have a spare/dual SIM phone you could put your SIM in that and do it from there, or temporarily from your main phone). For €2.99 you can get 350MB of data for a week while €5 gets you 1GB for 30 days, there’s also 1 day 50MB and 30 day 5GB options for 79c and €10, respectively. Peanuts, really.
You’ll need to enter the APN settings on your dongle to be able to use the internet, and the APN is tescomobile.liffeytelecom.com (with no username and password). You can find phone-specific help here.
With your TMI account topped-up, your package activated, and your SIM in the dongle with the APN selected, simply turn it on upon arriving in Ireland, tether to it, and there you have it – mobile internet at a fantastic local rate. Tell your friends to call you via Skype, if they must.
Alternatively, if you’re on pay-as-you-go, the Three (UK) network seem to be the most competitively-priced operator in the UK with 3p calls, 2p texts and 1p/MB data, all on 4G with no extra charge, and 150MB of gratis data with every top up (at least £5). Now, if you go to Ireland (and, in fact, a number of ‘Feel At Home’ destinations) you’re not charged for data roaming if you convert some top-up to a £10-£25 package add-on, which lasts 30 days. If you’re on pay monthly you don’t need to pay for this. Irish Three customers seem to need to pay €2.99 as an add-on regardless of contract type to be able to get the same benefit in the UK. You can’t, however, tether at all abroad (you’ll get error messages) and what is “all you can eat” in your home country is capped to 25GB (still plenty). You’ll need to make sure you’re connected to a roaming partner (most times you will) or you won’t avoid roaming charges.
The latter is probably the best idea if you plan to move to Three permanently (something I’m considering), whereas if you’re not, Tesco Mobile Ireland is the other best choice. If you’re not too fussed about dongles and price you can also find a Vodafone shop in Dublin Airport and ask for a SIM card as a traveller there.
If you’re from Ireland and coming to the UK you can get a 1GB 30-day data SIM from Vodafone via eBay for less than a tenner.