We take you through the most cost-effective way to get data access overseas.

It’s many travellers’ priority to get connected as soon as they arrive at their destination abroad, especially those needing to deal with urgent emails and business calls. Today, although phone calls can be made via many instant-messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Line, many travellers still need a stable, fast and economical local mobile network service. There are a few options providing local network connectivity, but they vary in terms of price and usage.

First, there is pocket wifi, a small gadget that transforms 3G or 4G mobile networks into private wifi signals. This kind of portable wifi device, also known as a “wifi egg” because of its tiny shape, allows its wifi signal to be shared with multiple devices simultaneously. There’s a one-off deposit and fees are charged daily, and there’s typically a minimum rental period of three or four days. You will also need to go to the airport or designated stores in the city you’re visiting to collect the device beforehand and return it afterwards; the alternative is to pay for an express delivery service to return it to the store. A deposit is charged at the same time.

A local SIM card is another common option. You can get a local SIM card easily at the airport upon arrival, though in this case you may be asked to present your passport and expect a long queue. Before purchasing, you need to check if your mobile device is compatible with the local network system. Sometimes you may also need to deal with some network settings after installing the card, which may cause difficulties for the less tech-savvy. Alternatively, some travellers just activate their data roaming function when they travel abroad, but that usually incurs much higher fees.

The Handy, made by Hi Inc, is a smartphone provided as a complimentary amenity by some hotels for their in-house guests. The device offers free and unlimited data usage as well as free local and international phone calls. The smartphone can also be used for in-room control, service requests and concierge assistance. City guides, digital maps and special offers are available as well. Data on the phone is wiped out automatically after checkout, ensuring user privacy. However, Handy phones can only be found in some hotels that partner with the company, so make sure to check beforehand if your hotel has this device. Also, some have criticised the device for displaying unwanted ads.

For data roaming and overseas calls, fees usually vary widely between different mobile operators in the destination country. If you’re using a particularly large amount of data, the carrier may slow down your access speed if you exceed its fair usage policy.

Generally speaking, data roaming is usually more costly and is not recommended unless you have a pretty lenient expenses department. If you are travelling with several companions, it’s best to rent a pocket wifi so that all the travellers can share not only the wifi signal, but also the rental fees. (Although if you need to split up at any time for separate meetings, there will obviously be a problem.) For single travellers, a local SIM card is the most convenient solution, because you don’t need to pay a deposit or worry about returning it. A Handy phone definitely saves you extra time and money looking for other options, but you need to check in advance if the hotel you are going to stay at provides this smartphone – and, as mentioned above, you’ll have to put up with advertisements.

Pocket wifi Data roaming Local SIM card Handy phone
Fees Charged daily, usually with a minimum rental period of three or four days Normally more expensive than portable wifi and local SIM cards Charged at a fixed price, which depends on the number of valid days shown on the package Free
Valid period You can rent the device for as long as your trip lasts It depends on the plan that you choose Shown on the package, usually a few days During your stay at the hotel (after check-in and before checkout)
Cash or credit deposit Required No, but a prepaid fee may be required instead Not required Not required
Data amount Unlimited There are plans for both fixed and unlimited amounts of data usage There are plans for both fixed and unlimited amounts of data usage, valid for the period shown on the package Unlimited
Number of devices supported at the same time 3-10 1 1 1
Usability You have to bring the portable device along with you and may need to recharge it when necessary You don’t need to bring an additional device or change your SIM card You have to change your SIM card upon arrival and departure You need to bring this phone along with you
Where to get one Airport and/or designated stores in the city You may need to contact your mobile operator to activate the services before departure Airport and/or designated stores in the city A list of hotels equipped with Handy can be found at hiinc.com/en/find-handy