Picture this: You just arrived in a relaxed seaside town with surf vibes and tons of cool shops to poke your head into.
All you have to do before you hit the beach is finish that remote work you promised to have done by end-of-day.
You get your backpack together and hit the town, looking for a seat at a cozy coffee shop that’s quiet enough to focus, spacious enough to spread out, close enough to the plug, and has free wifi.
Turns out, this is a tall order.
One cafe has the perfect cozy seat next to a plug, but no wifi. Another has free wifi, but no plug. You buy a coffee at the third only to realize that the wifi uses a dreaded paywall system, so you only have 10 megabytes until you run out of data. Ugh!
Finding internet is a common struggle for digital nomads. But it doesn’t have to be.
Guys, c’mon—it’s 2021!
There’s no need to continue popping from shop to shop in search of a good connection. Now, you can buy one device that offers international, portable internet so you can work from anywhere — even that tiny beach town.
Before we get into the five best mobile hotspots for digital nomads, it’s important to understand the different categories of hotspots available to you.
From special hotspot devices to smartphone tethering, from international plans to country-specific, here’s everything you need to know about buying a digital nomad mobile internet.
TL;DR: Best internet for digital nomads
I highly recommend reading through to understand all your different options. But if you’re in a hurry, here are some of the best MiFi devices for international travelers and digital nomads:
- Unlocked cell phone with local SIM card data (least expensive, least convenient) – Best hotspot for digital nomads on a budget staying for extended periods of time in each country.
- Flexiroam eSIM (medium expensive, medium convenient) – Best digital nomad internet option for light travelers who want internet wherever they land without the hassle of buying local SIMs.
- Skyroam Solis X (most expensive, most convenient) – Best international hotspot device for convenience, ease of use, when traveling in a group, if you’re tech-challenged, or even just as an emergency backup.
Option 1.) Use your phone as an international portable wifi hotspot
Your first option is to use your cell phone as a hotspot device while traveling. This allows you to keep your devices to a minimum—perfect for backpackers, those with van life jobs, or digital nomads who travel light.
Here are three ways to use your phone for international portable internet:
International roaming plans from your home country
This will likely be your most expensive option and I can’t say I recommend it. But if you’re doing digital nomad life for a short period of time it can be a great way to hold yourself over.
Visit your cell phone carrier in your home country before you leave for your trip. They most likely have an international roaming option. Make sure to select the option that includes tethering, unless you enjoy working on a tiny phone screen.
These plans tend to be by-day, but it really depends on your carrier and how suave you can be with a phone salesperson.
Local SIM cards
Unless you’re traveling to a country with super expensive data plans, this method is usually the cheapest internet for digital nomads. (See image below to compare data prices by country).
The main drawback to this strategy is you have to buy a new SIM card in every country you travel to. This can be intimidating if you don’t speak the language, but oftentimes you can purchase a SIM right in the airport from a vendor who is used to working with foreigners.
Prices in the airport will likely be a smidge higher than buying elsewhere, but the convenience is well worth it. You’ll save time, transportation costs, and hassle trying to hunt down a shop in town that sells SIMs.
If you do purchase a SIM outside the airport, it’s best to do so in the actual store of the cell phone company. I once got scammed buying one from a “reseller” in the street.
Keep in mind that, in order for this strategy to work, (1) you need an unlocked cell phone, and (2) you need to be in a country that allows foreigners to purchase cell phone plans.
International Data SIM cards
International Data SIM cards come in the form of normal SIM cards, eSIMs, and SIM stickers. The latter two come in handy if you don’t have dual SIM card slots on your phone and you want to access the internet without removing your home SIM.
Think of International Data SIMs as the “Goldilocks” of cell phone hotspot options. They’re cheaper than international roaming plans, yet more expensive than a local SIM card (usually).
They also save you the hassle of hunting down a local SIM in each foreign country you visit. You can be instantly connected as soon as you land.
Each provider offers its own unique data packages, prices, promotions, expiration dates, etc.—so you’ll have to shop around to find one that works best for you.
Some of the most popular companies are:
Before choosing, make sure they offer service in your destination country. Oftentimes you can buy data for a specific region (cheaper), worldwide (more expensive), or a combination of both. The price you pay will also likely be tied to the expiration date you choose.
For example, a one-week 2GB plan will cost less than a 2GB plan that can be used for a year.
Click here to jump straight to international data SIM card recommendations.
Google Fi is another popular option, but you must be a U.S. resident, and many digital nomads report their service being shut off if they’re outside the U.S. for greater than six months.
Important Note: An international SIM card and an international DATA SIM card are two different things (I know, it’s confusing). A normal international SIM card allows you to make calls/text abroad in addition to any data plan you purchase. An international data SIM card just gives you data. A data-only SIM will be much cheaper and is usually the best option. If you need to make international calls, it’s cheaper to use services like Skype or Hushed.
Keep in mind that all of the above phone hotspot internet strategies usually have a limit on the number of devices you can tether to simultaneously, so if you intend on sharing your hotspot with a travel buddy, you’ll need another option.
Another important note—your phone will die eventually. Tethering your phone to your laptop eats up battery fast. If you don’t have regular access to charging outlets or would rather save your phone battery for scrolling Instagram, keep this in mind (Just kidding, Instagram is ruining the world. Delete it from your phone.).
Option 2.) Use a dedicated hotspot device
If you want to share your internet wealth with a friend or partner (or are worried about killing your phone battery), you might want to invest in a hotspot or mifi device. It is what it sounds like—a dedicated device that will provide you an internet connection.
Consider it a mini-router that fits into your backpack and won’t have you smacking it every 20 minutes so you can hop back into your Skype meeting.
These can be super useful, but there are some drawbacks:
- You have to buy the hotspot device.
- You have to carry an extra device around with you.
- Just like cell phone hotspots—global plans are expensive and local SIMs, while cheap, can be a hassle.
There are three different categories of hotspot devices you should be aware of:
Hotspot (AKA MiFi) devices from your phone carrier
Your mobile service provider most likely sells a hotspot device that requires you to pay per month, just like a phone plan. Adding one to your normal cell phone plan can be quick and easy—but that convenience comes at a price.
Many carriers offer international data plans, but they’re usually expensive and may be limited to certain countries. It’s worth looking into, but odds are you can find a cheaper digital nomad internet option elsewhere on this list.
Third-party hotspot or mifi devices (with local SIM)
If you’re looking for the cheapest mifi device option, purchasing a third-party hotspot is the way to go. You can find MiFi devices at any tech store, pretty much anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that when you’re buying a device, there might not be a plan included.
Oftentimes you’ll be required to buy a local SIM upon arrival at your destination (which, as you know by now, can be very cheap, but sometimes a hassle).
Other devices, like the GlocalMe G3, offer global data plans in addition to slots for local SIMs. This is the best of both worlds, allowing you to cover the gap between arriving in a new country and finding a cheaper local SIM.
- 【8GB US Data & 1.1GB initial Global Data】We understand the new home life makes you bored,...
- 4G LTE HIGH SPEED NETWORK - 50Mbps max upload speed and 150Mbps max download speed allow you to...
- WORLDWIDE SIM FREE CONNECTION - Powered by innovative technology, GlocalMe G3 allows travelers to...
- PRIVATE SECURITY WIFI - GlocalMe use the most security protocol to keep your WIFI connection safe....
- MULTIFUNCTIONAL - G3 also works as a traditional unlocked Wi-Fi hotspot with two SIM card slots....
Global hotspot devices (with global data)
Finally, we have the global hotspot device. The most popular is probably the Skyroam Solis X. This device has a built-in global SIM that will keep you connected in over 130 countries.
It’s not the cheapest option, but it sure is convenient. No local SIMs, no confusing phone configurations, no hidden roaming or overage fees—just press the “On” button wherever you are, and you’ll immediately connect to the strongest network.
You can choose from:
- 24-hour unlimited plans (great for internet emergencies)
- Unlimited monthly plans (that are technically unlimited, but speeds drop after 20GB)
- Pay-per-GB plans
Best of all, you can connect up to 10 devices. So if you buy an unlimited plan and are traveling in a group, you can really get your money’s worth.
How to choose the best mobile hotspot for travelers
As you can see, digital nomad internet access has come a long way. But with so many options, how do you choose which is best?
Well, when comparing your options, here are the most important characteristics to look for.
Price – There are lots of variables that will affect your price—upfront device/SIM card costs, subscriptions vs. pay-per-use, potential overage fees, regional price differences, etc. The best deal for you will depend on your usage habits.
Will you rely on your accommodation’s wifi and just use your hotspot for emergencies? Or will it be your main internet source (i.e. van life)?
Whatever the case, you’ll almost always pay for convenience. Buying a local SIM will usually get you the best bang for your buck.
Speed – Don’t forget what type of connection your hotspot will use. 3G will be the slowest, while 4G, LTE (and now 5G) is the fastest. Keep in mind that even if you buy a device that is able to use LTE, your speed will be limited by the connection available in your destination.
Battery – Your hotspot won’t do you any good if your battery is always dead. This is one of the main advantages of carrying a separate MiFi device vs. tethering to your cell phone. Look for an option with the longest battery life possible.
Coverage – Make sure the hotspot option you choose will cover you in the destinations you’re planning to travel to.
Convenience – How easy is it to get up and running? Keep in mind that—while buying a SIM locally is the cheapest—some countries make it very complicated (or even impossible) for a short-term traveler to buy their own SIM. If this happens, you’ll have to have a backup plan.
Number of devices – If you’re traveling with a partner and each have a phone, tablet, and [travel laptop]…that’s a lot of devices (although you probably don’t need to connect everything at once). Before buying anything, make sure it has enough connections for your needs.
Other features – Many hotspot devices double as powerbanks that will charge your phone and other electronics. It’s also important to be able to password-protect your wifi connection. You wouldn’t want that suspicious-looking fella on the bus stealing all your precious data.
The best mobile hotspots for digital nomads
From international SIM cards to MiFi devices, there’s a slew of options to get internet access while you’re working on the road. Here are the five best mobile hotspots for digital nomads.
#1.) Skyroam Solis X (Global hotspot device)
This cute device looks just like a portable battery—and it is! In addition to being a super fast, super reliable hotspot, this orange “smartspot” can charge your phone or headphones. Although the device is on the pricier side, it’ll get you 4G internet coverage in more than 130 countries for up to 10 devices at a time.
Purchase a prepaid wifi card for a set amount of data, or buy unlimited data for one to three months at a time —ideal if you work with large amounts of data or don’t want to bother with setting up your device with a data plan locally.
You can also pay per gigabyte or select a day pass for unlimited data in 24-hour periods. If you’re on the fence (or will only be traveling temporarily), you can also opt to rent the device.
#2.) Flexiroam eSIM (International data SIM)
For frequent travelers who want to stay connected to home, this eSIM card is the best option. This is great if you don’t need a lot of data for your work, but still want to be able to use data on your phone without having to buy a new plan in each country. The plans even cover in-flight data on some airlines!
The obvious drawback to this option is that it’s expensive for the amount of data you get. Keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily meant for remote work, but rather for international data plans for your phone so you can text, call, and check the news in almost any country. This company offers coverage in almost all of Europe, the Americas, and Asia.
#3.) Travelwifi SIM Card (International SIM for Europe)
This European SIM card is ideal for travelers who will be working from multiple countries. Simply unlock your phone (note that this usually has to be done in the country you bought the phone in) and pop the SIM card in your phone. The company promises “rock bottom” rates, so you’ll likely be paying a smaller amount for international data.
Digital nomads who need internet access throughout Europe, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas should consider this option as it works with 4G coverage in more than 130 countries. It’s designed to fit any modern phone, with three sizes to accommodate for the smartphone you already have. With this option, pay for the SIM card and then pay for data as you go — no need for a binding plan.
The main drawback to the Travelwifi SIM Card is that it’s only available for delivery in Europe or at their office in France. If I were you, I’d order it before I land at my first hostel and have it waiting for me when I arrive.
#4.) GlocalMe G3 Mobile Hotspot (Third-party mifi device)
The GlocalMe G3 is unique in that it comes with 1GB of global data (that you can top up as needed) in addition to two normal SIM card slots. That means you can use the pricer global data immediately when you arrive to a new country, then switch to a cheaper local SIM data plan when you get around to it.
Their global data works in 100+ countries and uses a blazing fast 4G LTE network. It can connect to 5 devices at a time, and also doubles as a 5350mAH powerbank to charge your electronics.
#5.) KeepGo Lifetime Prepaid Data SIM Card (International data SIM)
The biggest perk of this option is that your data never expires (as long as you top up once per year). That means you can buy a data plan and slowly use it as needed—perhaps to bridge the gap on short trips or before finding a local SIM.
If you want, you can also combine the KeepGo data SIM with another third-party hotspot device that doesn’t offer global data.
The company offers coverage in more than 100 countries with 4G data and call/text data on your local phone number with some carriers. Although the physical SIM card is needed, it’ll be delivered to you anywhere in their covered countries and will arrive ready to use in your unlocked phone, tablet, or hotspot device.
Which portable wifi hotspot is best for you?
In the end, the best mobile wifi for digital nomads comes down to your budget, travel plans, and personal preference.
If you plan to spend a good chunk of time in each country, want the cheapest option, and don’t mind a bit of hassle—buying a local data SIM might be the best option for you.
If buying a SIM in each country sounds like too much of a hassle (or is not permitted in the country you’re in), and you don’t want to carry around an extra device—an international data SIM may suit your needs perfectly.
And if you’re worried about sucking down your phone battery or need to connect multiple devices, you can’t go wrong with a third-party hotspot device or global wifi device like Skyroam.
And if you really REALLY need to stay connected at all times, you may even want to use a combination of these options.
Whichever you choose, don’t forget to disconnect once in a while to enjoy your surroundings!
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.