#51 Roaming vs Pocket WiFi vs Sim Card - Best Way To Connect While Traveling

Traveling to Asia is a great experience. We just came back from Taiwan and Japan. But leaving your home country means you could lose access to the internet.

Getting around becomes cumbersome, relatively speaking, without Google Maps. Figuring out which trains and buses to take in a foreign country where you don't speak the language can be daunting.

The internet democratizes travelling for everyone. You can look up good restaurants and sights seeing locations at the last minute, you can get GPS directions to get from point A to point B. You can look up phrases in foreign languages to get help or order certain foods.

If the internet is what you need, what are your options?

Roaming Plans

In Canada, we have international roaming plans with pretty much every carrier where you can pay around $10 per day to use your plan's data abroad. This is a great option if you are expecting to jump from country to country. 

This is potentially the most expensive option but provides you with arguably the most flexibility and convenience. You don't have to stop at an airport counter to buy a local sim card or pocket WiFi. Just disembark the plane and go enjoy your trip.

Pocket WiFi

Pocket WiFi is great if you are travelling in a group of 2 to 10 and plan to stay in a country for 5 or more days. The downside is you have to stick to the person carrying the WiFi device, and you have to carry an extra piece of equipment the size of two smartphones stacked together. In Japan we got a pocket WiFi, it connected our phones and my laptop during the trip. We paid about $10 a day.

This is the best option for families and for people that need connectivity for multiple devices like a computer or tablet. If you're holding the WiFi device, this is a great way to get your kids moving. Just go where you want to go and they will have to follow to stay connected.

Local Sim Card

You can also get a local temporary sim card. If your phone is unlocked (not tied to a carrier contract), then this is an option you can consider. This is a great option for longer trips in a single country since sim cards last between 15-30 days and costs about $34 for 15 days and 3GB or $51 for 30 days and 6GB. For a single traveller, your cost per day can be about $2 a day or less.

We only spent 6 days in Japan, so the sim card options didn't make sense for us, and the shop that was open at the airport did not allow phone calls or hot-spotting. However some shops will have these features, so it's best to check before assuming you have the full suite.

Each option has its specific best use case, so pick the one that best fits your trip and enjoy the peace of mind of exploring the world while having the world at your fingertips.


Save Money Retire Early is written by Jon Lo, a barely 30 something change optimist, and personal finance guy. I believe anyone can be rich or poor, it's what you save that makes the difference.

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