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I'm hoping for some advice on getting a SIM card in Europe primarily for GPS use for biking over a couple weeks.

I'm planning on buying a GSM sim card on arrival at the airport, which I understand is easy enough. I don't plan to make many calls, but I want to be sure I have a reliable data connection with enough bandwidth/data to use GPS for 5-6 hours a day.

Is there some particular provider that would be optimal for this (ie good coverage in both Germany and France, and not too expensive)? I'll be biking ~7 days total during my trip, so I'm also wondering how much data I should buy. (I guess I can top it up if I run low, hopefully that's easy to do via the phone itself.) Also I'm wondering if I can expect decent coverage in the French Alps.

I have a Tmobile prepaid phone in the US. I hear Tmobile offers some sort of service to its US customers in Europe if they have a postpaid plan but it appears I do not have access to this.

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    You do not need a sim card or a connection for GPS.. Many apps provide an offline maps, for example Co-Pilot GPS and Here maps. Just download one of these apps. – Nean Der Thal Jul 18 '14 at 3:58
  • FWIW, the T-Mobile option applies only to their "Simple Choice" plans. If you can switch to one of those, it should work fine. – Tom Harrington Jul 19 '14 at 21:56
  • Try NavFree. This is a free (android) app, which was even more accurate than google maps at some places. It uses the opensource openstreetmap. U need to download the needed countries over wifi. Try it out – Peter Raeves Feb 18 '15 at 0:44
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Another option for (off-line maps) is OSMAnd on Android. You can download maps in advance (up to ten on the free version. After that you can log the data, or get directions without an active internet connection.

  • I differs a lot between the countries, but the OSMAnd maps are not always particularly good. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 18 '14 at 8:49
  • I'd much rather pay for data access so I can get turn-by-turn navigation (which I don't think OSMAnd does) and rerouting, but an offline map would be a workable backup. In the US I prepay $30 for 5GB data, I wish I could just buy a SIM there with a similar deal. – jela Jul 18 '14 at 15:32
  • @jela Would it be possible to provide some reference as to what your plan is. AFAIK T-Mobile US will cost me atleast 70$ for the complete package, which would also include unlimited talk and text, there is no plan which offers only 5GB data for $30 – Aditya Somani Jul 18 '14 at 16:13
  • @AdityaSomani it's the $30 prepay Tmobile plan. google.com/… – jela Jul 18 '14 at 16:29
  • @jela I see, but it's slightly conditional, nonetheless good find! I might consider switching to it. :) – Aditya Somani Jul 18 '14 at 16:52
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As @MeNoTalk mentioned in the comments, you don't need a SIM Card for GPS usage. I've done this several times in Germany or France.

The cheapest option would be to visit any place with a public wifi connection (in your hotel or hostel would be best) and use that to cache maps on the Google Maps app.

While this service is not available in some countries, France and Germany are not one of them.

Then you can simply turn on your GPS in flight mode and your maps will show you your location just fine. Note however that searching or mapping of routes will not work and you have to navigate manually.

It would be a good idea to buy a cheap SIM card from T-Mobile in Germany and Orange in France which would provide you with enough data for a small amount (typically 10 to 20 EUR) so that you can enable searching and routing and use that while biking alongside the offline maps.

These SIM cards are readily available at retail stores or even at the airport and it shouldn't be a hassle to find one.

  • Offline would be a good second option, but I wish I could just pay $30 or whatever for enough data to last 7 days so I can get navigation cues. It's much nicer to hear "turn left in 100 meters" than to have to stop and focus on the phone every time I'm not sure which way to go. I'm surprised there isn't some decent option similar to my $30/month 5GB prepay plan in the US. – jela Jul 18 '14 at 15:21
  • @jela The providers I mentioned often offer 10 euro addition plans which would offer you unlimited data at 3G speeds. Typically plans in Europe are cheaper than the US. – Aditya Somani Jul 18 '14 at 16:09
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For the iPhone: The "NavFree" navigation app comes with UK and Northern Ireland maps for free (about 500 MB), and you can download other European countries for £1.99. Do that at home with a good WiFi connection!

Pocket Earth is more for tourist information, town maps etc. Enter places you want to visit anywhere, it downloads nearby maps, and it downloads information for sightseeing from Wikipedia articles.

Both apps don't need any data connection at all if you come prepared, or you can use WiFi at a hotel if you need to download more information.

In the UK, O2 "pay as you go" Sims are available with £10.00 or any other amount preloaded, and with that you can make phone calls (£0.35 min I think), use 3G data (one day for £1.99, officially 50MB but I think they don't stop you). Good news is that it is pay-as-you-go so once the money runs out, it stops working instead of creating surprise charges.

  • I'm puzzled that the data appears to be so expensive relative to the US (50MB for 2 pounds). My US pre-pay plan has 5GB for $30, which would be perfect. – jela Jul 18 '14 at 15:30
  • Well, it's a Pay-As-You-Go card. No monthly charges. So if you stay four days in London and use it every day, it's £8 in total, not $30. – gnasher729 Jul 20 '14 at 17:34
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Since your primary use for the SIM is for navigation, I would strongly advice you to get an offline maps app for your phone as other have suggested. From my personal experience, OsmAnd is perfect for Android devices. If you use iOS, consider buying the Pocket Earth app. I have used it on all my trips and found it to be the most accurate. It even has Wikipages integrated on the map. You can download individual countries, regions, and cities. It also allows you to track your movements and save and export them as GPX files.

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the developers or development of these apps. I am just a happy user.

  • Offline is a good second choice, but it's nice to be able to bike and have audible cues where to turn rather than needing to stop and consult the phone whenever I'm not sure where to go. I'm surprised there's not some $30 5GB prepay plan like I get with Tmobile US. – jela Jul 18 '14 at 15:26

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