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I regularly travel to Europe (Germany, Poland, France, Switzerland). Every time that I arrive in a country, I buy a cheap prepaid SIM card. The problem is that all these cheap SIMs have a short inactive life, due to their pay-as-you-go nature. For example, most of them will die after 3 months of inactivity, and it is almost impossible to reactivate them.

Is it possible to buy a (probably expensive) SIM, which work for a long time regardless of its activity? I wish to have permanent mobile numbers in certain European countries.

For instance, I travel approximately once a year to Europe. Every time, I should email my friends that next week I will be in Germany, and after arrival I will text you my new number to reach me. I wish to have a permanent German mobile number, as I can email them that next week I will be in Germany and you can reach me at my German number (which is already in your phonebook).

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Post Paid SIMs can be retained for a long time regardless of activity... –  Aditya Somani Jun 19 at 9:50
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@AdityaSomani for Post Paid SIMs, one should normally be a resident with job and address in the corresponding country. –  All Jun 19 at 10:00
    
Ah. Fair point! –  Aditya Somani Jun 19 at 10:01
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Have you tried simply phoning the customer support line, explaining to them about your phone usage patterns, and asking if they could keep your SIM active on a more permanent basis? I imagine that most phone companies would have a "disactivate date" field in their database which is pushed back every time the customer tops up their payment. The customer support staff may well be able to manually override it to a date many years in the future if asked nicely. After all, it would help ensure your repeat business with them year after year; you'd be less likely to switch to one of the competitors. –  tobyink Jun 22 at 10:30
    
Check out Twilio, it's not specific to mobile devices but you can easily purchase numbers in many countries and forward inbound calls. –  johndbritton Jun 25 at 16:00
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18 Answers 18

In Germany, you can use Aldi talk. If you buy a credit for 30 EUR the SIM-card will be active for 24 months.

Another plus point is that you can use the SIM-card in the whole EU and it will not be very expensive - incoming calls are free, the outgoing call rate is the same as in Germany.

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An alternative would be Simyo. –  FooBar Jun 19 at 15:33
    
@FooBar Do Simyo numbers remain active that long? I have one but I use it too frequently to know and I wasn't able to find info about that on the website. –  Relaxed Jun 19 at 16:09
    
I'm living in Sweden now and still have my simyo number. I can't give you an upper bound, but for sure longer than 3 months. I think once I didn't use mine for around 8 months... –  FooBar Jun 19 at 17:16
    
@FooBar when you top up, the Simyo-card will be active for 12 months: simyo.de/faq.html under "recht" –  Dirty-flow Jun 19 at 17:28
    
The problem with using a German card in Sweeden or some other EU country is that the Internet connection will be more expensive than I would like to pay. –  Grzenio Jun 20 at 7:57
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Although it varies from network provider to network provider, from my experience, many base it on how much credit you buy at a time. For example, if you buy a $30 top-up, that credit might only be valid for 30 days, however, if you top-up for $100, that credit might be valid for up to 1 year.

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I tried this strategy once, but both the SIM and my charge gone after the activity period. I am looking for a safe way to rely on my number, when I'm planning for a trip. –  All Jun 19 at 9:43
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It generally depends on the Terms And Conditions, you'll need to read those carefully before committing! –  Gagravarr Jun 19 at 10:04
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As you mentioned Switzerland, here's an option for Switzerland.

M-Budget Mobile's prepaid card expires only after 12 months, after which you can reactivate it (and get back all your credit) in the following 6 months by calling their hotline. So you have a total of 18 months before your number is disabled. You can find this information on their FAQ under "Wie lange ist mein Guthaben gültig?".

I was never aware of that rule before I looked it up, but I've had an old phone with one of their SIM-cards for years as travel backup and I use it approximatively once a year. I always wondered why it never got deactivated.

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In Italy IIRC most of the providers maintain the SIM card active for 11 months or one year after last activity. According to this (Italian) webpage, many providers have a 12 months expiration period. CoopVoce's SIM has a validity of 24 months, though in the last month you can only receive calls. Wind, for instance, deactivates it after 12 months but maintains the number available for reactivation for another 12 months.

In case you can top-up online, you can always opt to "refresh" it every now and then, by putting small amounts of credit on the sim.

Tariffs within Europe are quite convenient due to regulations, and may become the same as national ones in the near future (also due to legislation).

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I personally have a simyo starter 9cent card that I occasionally (around every 9 months) top up via their web interface. It has a validity of 24 months, and you can re-start it's validity when you top it up. It also has quite okay data connection package (€4.90/month for 200Mb, after which you are only slowed down for GPRS speed, and don't have to pay more - completely fine for occasional checking of mails). Data rates without a package is €0.23/MB, which is kinda expensive compared to their Flat Internet Minimum tarif though.

It's also perfectly useable outside of Germany for calls and texts as it's rates are completely reasonable if you are outside of Germany: €0.09/min to call and €0.07/min to text. Receiving calls are also free in the EU, which makes this tarif really useful even if you are outside of Germany. Note however, that if you call non-German EU numbers, while inside Germany the rates are a higher at €0.29/min (yes, it costs 3x as much than if you are calling non-German EU numbers abroad), so be careful.

For data connections outside of Germany I'd still buy a local SIM though, as data rates are still (in my opinion) expensive (€0.23/MB or €4.99/7days/100MB) for roaming purposes (which will hopefully change soon). Therefore I also have the following cards for data connections when I'm not in Germany:

  • UK: Lebara UK plus 150 (only valid for 84 days, so you have to throw it away and get a new one every time. A SIM card only costs £1 - approx €1.2, and can be bought at every airport and international train stations, so it might not be a big issue). It doesn't contain unlimited data, but it might be enough for occasional browsing. Lebara also gives you 1MB of data every day for free, which can be useful.
  • Sweden: Halebop rubbet. Valid for 12 months, but a top-up of 249 SEK will only contain inland calls (200 separate calls independent of call length) and data (3GB, which should be more than enough for travellers). Unfortunately the SIM card in itself is quite expensive (100 SEK which is approx £10 or €12), so you only should get it if you plan on visiting Sweden more than once in a year, or you need to browse the Internet, as it's still the cheapest throwaway card if you need data connection there.
  • Hungary: I have a basic Telenor Praktikum SIM card which is valid for 180 days, but you can top it up, and then the validity will be extended to 12 months You can do this via their web interface even from abroad. The rates are not that good though, but the data packet will also only limit you to GPRS speed after you use it up, so it's fine for occasional browsing if you happen to be in Hungary.

Note that the rates are valid as of writing this post (20 June 2014)

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T-Mobile in the Netherlands at least keeps your prepaid card active for 6 months after last use (though special discount rates and things like that usually have to be used up faster than that). That's the longest I know about.
Use there can mean using the card or adding credit to it (which you can do through their website).
You might check if the latter applies also to whatever card you have now. Of course if you just need to send a text message once every 2-3 months to keep the card active, and the card allows roaming to your current location, that's also an option. Just mark it in your calendar :)

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Actually, Vodafone keeps your card active for 12 months after your last charge, IIRC. –  SQB Jun 19 at 12:28
    
@SQB Last charge != last use –  gerrit Jun 19 at 16:21
    
@SQB as Gerrit says, at least TM explicitly states last charge or use (so sending a message, calling someone, etc.). AFAIK receiving doesn't count in that (though international it may as there reception incurrs charges). –  jwenting Jun 20 at 6:19
    
Yes, so if you visit once a year, with 12 months after last charge, you can charge when you're visiting, and be good for a year. With 6 months after last use, you'll have to send a keep alive message. –  SQB Jun 20 at 6:24
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I had one of these never ending sims, for a while. It was even their marketing trick some years ago to convince people to change to their offers. However, they just got merged into one the majors, who suddenly changed their regulations and conditions and because of this I lost my prepaid number.

So even if you secure one of these sim cards, you might end up loosing is in a year.

Another solution might be found in VOIP. There are different providers who offer you a VOIP number. The benefit of such a number is that with a German phone number you might even be available in your own country, as lang as you have access to the Internet. I am a customer of nomado.eu who do offer german numbers.. Normaly voip numbers are landline numbers, however apps exist to use those numbers on your smartphone. Nomado, for example has an app available.

You would still need a internet connection with your smartphone, but for that your could remain buying prepaid numbers each time you visit Europe.

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Thought about that but you need a data connection to actually receive the call, that could become expensive quickly. –  Relaxed Jun 19 at 16:14
    
@Relaxed It might take some investigation, but I have always secured a prepaid data plan lately –  andra Jun 19 at 16:44
    
plus with wifi connection it can get even cheaper –  andra Jun 19 at 16:44
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Giffgaff and Three SIMs expire after six months of inactivity - most other UK operators are one month.

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IIRC Popping the sim card into a suitable phone every 5 months and 2 weeks, wherever you are in the world, and sending one text message at roaming rates is a fairly cheap way to extend their lives –  Gagravarr Jun 19 at 11:33
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In addition to this, Three UK now treats 11 countries as "home" countries as far as calls and minutes are concerned. These are Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Macau, Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United States and from 1st July will also include France, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Israel –  Matthew Steeples Jun 19 at 16:59
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In Hungary, T-Mobile provide "DOMINO" (pre-paid) SIM cards with 12 months validity time.

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Could you provide a link for people to see the details? –  Mark Mayo Jun 19 at 13:24
    
would you mind detailing a bit, for example by adding a link to the Domino website or saying how to keep it alive (is it possible to add little credit to keep it up?) –  Vince Jun 19 at 13:26
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Whilst on holiday to Slovakia I bought a prepaid (T-mobile) sim card just like you and although the official documentation said that it would expire after 3 months, when I arrived at the shop a year later they just said that when I topped it up it would re-activate again and that that was standard procedure. I have no idea in which other nations or which other providers this is the case, but it's definitely worth checking.

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There are two companies you can buy an international sim card. Its also a pay-as-you-go service without any contract but it does not expire and it does not rely on roaming. What is more, you can have the same number EVERYWHERE. You can check what they charge and decide. Its not very cheap but its ideal for those that travel regularly like you do.

sims2go and planetsim are the two companies.

hope that helps ;-)

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Wait a little longer. Because Neelie Kroes (European commissioner) has a single rate for whole europe as a keypoint. The EU works towards roaming free europe by 15 december 2015. (source http://www.iphoneclub.nl/326009/commissie-europarlement-stemt-in-met-afschaffen-roaming/)

roaming tariffs in europe: http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/roaming-tariffs

so the answer to your question is: get a cheap subscription, stop buying prepaid sims. Just pick one in the country that you visit the most.

edit to respond to the comments:

Perhaps registering a sort of border address (sorry for german link) http://www.grenspostadres.nl/assets/media/pdf/Deutsch.pdf

But all these tricks make it more expensive then a prepaid card. https://www.simquadrat.de/ seems to be valid for ever. no expiration. source: http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t302356.html

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That does not really address the question, you still need to be in Europe, perhaps even to have an address there. If that's the case, you can also use an EU-based prepaid SIM (they have to follow the same rules). If you don't, you would pay for a subscription for nothing, even with regulated prices. –  Relaxed Jun 19 at 16:12
    
"The EU works towards roaming free Europe" however I'm sure they will be introducing some extra taxes on phone calls (long distance?) made in another countries. –  TCB13 Jun 19 at 19:30
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There's an online service called Twilio that lets you buy phone numbers in a lot of courtries for one dollar a month.

Using their website, you can program some funny things to do with those numbers.

One of them is : forward to another (international) number

So you can buy a permanent number in France and in Germany and let them forward to your UK phone if you want.

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In Germany, Fonic (and Lidl Mobile, which is basically the same product under a different branding, but cheaper) offer prepaid cards with unlimited validity and reasonable data packages that can be booked via SMS or online.

They both use the O2 network, which is a bit congested in crowded areas as far as mobile data is concerned, but if you're mainly using it for calls and light smartphone data usage, you're probably going to be fine.

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In Portugal they expire by default in 3 months. However if you make a phone call or send a message before expiring the card will be extended for another 3 months.

I know this isn't a perfect solution, but no carrier is allowing you to own an unused number for more then 3 months.

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My German T-Mobile was active many months after I've stopped to load it. There's no information how long it is to be active... I'm using also Lebara for foreign calls, last time I've loaded it over a half year ago, I still use it (one few-minutes call to Poland costs about 25 cents...) and it's still active. I can't say if it's permanently, but there's no information that I must load it now. I suppose, as long as you have some euro on it, you can use it.

There is, however, no clear information under which criteria the number will be disabled. Surery, at least in case of T-Mobile, a few months without turning phone on is not enough to deactivate the card.

In Poland, prepaids have limited time after loading, and afterwards you must buy minutes to prolong the number, but Play is active 1 year after loading for at least 10 PLN (2,5 EUR). It's almost no-cost to keep the number active. It doesn't matter if you turn the phone with the card on or not in that period!

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I think you are not talking about the same thing. The OP is afraid that the card will be disabled because of inactivity whereas you are referring to the fact that credit might expire even though you are using the phone. –  drat Jun 20 at 8:39
    
@drat I've addressed that issues, however for the Germany I can only say my T-Mobile prepaid still functioned after a few months in the drawer. As for Polish sims, I'm sure it doesn't matter if they are used or not, you pay to prolong and the validity-termin is well defined and available to check. –  Lukasz Jun 20 at 10:18
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You might be interested in Airbalticcard

  • 10-15$ Pre-payed card (no monthly fee)
  • Free incoming roaming calls almost all around the world
  • Expiration after 2 years if there is no activity at all
  • Extra money refundable on request if you stop using it
  • Interesting rates given you will mostly be using this card only in roaming mode.
  • Free call forwarding
  • Data packages available in some countries
  • Reduced price from Airbaltic to Airbaltic cards.

Drawback:

  • Delay experienced while using the call forwarding (sometimes it's even not usable)
  • (Always?) more expensive than a local provider
  • Data packages not always available and still more expensive also
  • Based on callback, once you call you actually have to wait for the central to call you back. It works quite well though.
  • Callers actually pay your roaming
  • Estonian phone number (with prefix +372)
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I would recommend using a travel sim card when you travel around Europe. I normally use a Tellink traveller sim which works out perfectly and is cheap but not as cheap as local simcards of course. You can also use it in every country.

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