Summer in Italy in 2009 was the beginning of my work as a tour operator representative. For about five months I took care of tourists at the Adriatic coast. Besides working in the field – conducting trips, meeting with customers and agencies – I had a lot of office responsibilities. Without mobile phones and mobile Internet, it wouldn’t be possible to do my work and stay in touch with headquarter in Poland.
It was the first time when I was forced to rely only on 3G connectivity. Both for private and work-related issues. Weak coverage, therefore slower transmissions than on the wired Internet, calling issues and constant control of monthly data limits, taught me new skills.
Since then I closely follow the progress of the mobile industry and test it in every destination. This article is written based on my method of researching the best mobile deal.
No attachment to a mobile operator
The key strategy is to keep the distance to your provider. Telecommunication companies are whoppers with enormous inertia. Like banks, they focus on vast target groups, not on individuals. Whenever you feel it, move your number to where you get the best offer.
In the following paragraphs, I explain why Lycamobile is currently the best deal for anyone travelling in Europe. I’ve changed my providers so many times, that I don’t feel any attachment. When a better deal shows up than what Lycamobile offers, I’ll describe it in a separate article and modify this one.
Affordable roaming in the whole of Europe
From the very beginning, the idea behind the European Union is to improve commerce between countries in the Old Continent. In the past, it was just coal and steel but in the information age, all goods and services should be available for all European citizens. The same applies to the telecommunication industry.
From the technical point of view, every country in Europe built an advanced network of cables and BTS transmitters, to support ubiquitous mobile devices. Outdoor work that requires ongoing communication (like tourism) wouldn’t be possible without such a network. Yet, for many years the high cost of foreign mobile roaming was a serious obstacle to overcome.
Regardless if you travel once a year or regularly in Europe, the final costs for calls, SMS, and mobile internet are hard to predict. The issue became so huge that the series of european regulations flattened the mobile roaming rules:
- 50 EUR per month is the maximum fee for mobile data roaming (valid since 01.07.2010)
- Set maximum fee, that mobile operator can charge for a minute of calling, SMS and GB of data transmission in EU and EEA
Lycamobile – the network of mobile virtual operators
Allirajah Subaskaran is the founder of Lycamobile. He’s British Sri Lankan who decided to address the need for communication in minorities groups living abroad. The network is promoted as a cheap solution to call internationally. Mainly with low rates per minute to specific countries and free calls between Lycamobile users.
Since 2006 Lycamobile is entering new markets by cooperating with big telco companies and using their infrastructure. This strategy lets them quickly expanse to new territories and unifies services within their network. In each country, they work as a virtual operator and their multinational structure is more aligned to the needs of mobile societies.
How does Lycamobile differ from other operators?
In theory, all mobile operators in the European Union are required to allow roaming abroad on the same rates as in the base country. Regardless if you have a postpaid or prepaid plan. Yet it’s very hard to verify and file a complaint on service (coverage, data transmission speed, call drops) when it’s handled by the foreign operator.
Current EU regulations describe foreign roaming as a temporary stay in another country. It means that mobile operators don’t need to prioritize them because the “guest” will be going back to his base country in a few days or weeks. Eventual complaints and issues with roaming abroad can be ignored.
Lycamobile has direct contracts with structural operators – those who own the cell towers. I joined the Polish branch of Lycamobile (that works with Plus) and now when travelling in Europe, my phone is logging to Lycamobile branches in each country. It’s still an abroad roaming, but the service quality is higher due to closer business relations between Lycamobile and local providers.
In which countries can I register a mobile number with Lycamobile?
The following list includes regions where Lycamobile has contracts with the structural operators and where you can buy/register your mobile number.
If you are already in Lycamobile and depending on your current prepaid plan you could have an option to make free calls to all Lycamobile users in the above countries.
In which European countries Lycamobile works under flat rate?
- United Kingdom.
As long as the United Kingdom is part of the European Union the rules remain the same. Even if Brexit happens, then most likely the UK would like to join the EEA. We shall see.
When Lycamobile doesn’t work directly with a structural operator (like in Cyprus), then you can still use all services as in a country where you registered the mobile number.
How mobile Fair Use Policy works?
The Schengen treaty, freedom of movement and ubiquity of mobile devices forced the creation of unified fees for mobile services. At the same time, each EU state member is trying to protect domestic businesses, including those in the telecommunication industry.
Therefore besides unified mobile fees in European roaming, the is also Fair Use Policy (FUP). Every mobile operator is measuring how you use the phone, specifically in the last four months. If more time was spent abroad, then additional fees can apply. Similarly, Lycamobile defines their FUP.
(…) If over at least 4 months period we notice that you are abroad more than you are in your home country, or you use the mobile phone abroad more than you use your mobile phone in your home country, then we might think you are permanently roaming. In such case we will send you text message reminding you of the need to comply with our roaming Fair Usage Policy.
If you do not comply with our roaming Fair Usage Policy, than after two weeks of the reminder text message, we will apply the following surcharges for your EU and EEA Countries roaming usage:
Calls:10gr per min
SMS: 4gr per SMS
Data: 3gr per MBEU and EEA Countries roaming terms and conditions and Fair Usage Policy
What services are included in the Lycamobile prepaid plans?
A smartphone is an indispensable device. You cannot travel efficiently or work in tourism without it. There’s plenty of activities you can do with it while offline. Yet the best results you can get by being connected to the Network at large. Therefore regardless if it’s Lycamobile or other operators, you should have a high allowance of calls, SMS and mobile Internet. All these three elements are essential for proper communication.
It’s a key to check such details:
- Does the call allowance include outgoing and incoming calls in EU/EEA?
- How much mobile data there is to use in my base country and in EU/EEA?
- Does the call allowance include calls to mobile phones and landlines?
- To which countries can I call for free?
- What is the cost and how it’s calculated to go over the allowance?
Check current plans on Lycamobile website of your base country and choose the one best suited for your needs.
Why a prepaid plan is better than subscription?
There was a need for big and long-term investments into an innovative structure when GSM technology first started in the 1990s. Subscription model based on landline phones was a dominant contract form. Originally the prepaid plan was coined to address people of low and unstable income. With further mobile market development, it became the most popular way to pay for mobile services.
When I was a teenager I also used subscription and like millions of other customers I experienced tremendous fees at the end of the month. In the past, it was expensive to call and text messages rates, and today mobile operators gain the most from mobile internet and roaming abroad fees.
The subscription model is a strict and long-term contract that in most cases works best for the operator. The company is in charge of measuring and counting fees. They can force you to pay high amounts at the end of the billing cycle (postpaid), by suspending your mobile services.
As customers, we don’t have a direct method of checking the accuracy of the operator’s measuring equipment. What we can do, is to control how much money we give them upfront. This limits the risk of excessive fees. Today most operators, including Lycamobile offers 30-day plans with an appropriate allowance. The contract is not binding, which means if anything works incorrectly – just switch to another mobile operator.
Lycamobile vs Local SIM card
Local prepaid SIM is currently the best solution for all travellers. I also choose the most suitable plan in any given region to stay online. Years of experience taught me that I need to take the following factors into consideration
- Comparing mobile plans need to be done calmly, by checking the official websites.
- You need to buy a new SIM card and register it – if possible in the official store.
- Monitor the current use of Internet data, calls and SMS. Sometimes you can do it via the operator’s official mobile apps.
- Topping-up can be problematic:
- only by cash,
- only with specific amounts,
- no acceptance of your credit/debit card.
Many offers are not clearly written, so you need to dig into terms and conditions. Moreover, issues with month-to-month operations come up only after you already use the service. All these activities take a lot of time.
Here’s why I’m interested in Lycamobile. Their customer service is not stellar. Nevertheless, one flat fee for mobile services that work the same on the huge territory of Europe, means that they are the most convenient choice.
I no longer need to search the whole of the Internet, read long terms and conditions, register new cards and worry about topping-up. European travelling and staying in contact became a hell lot easier than before.
Useful tips regarding Lycamobile
Every service provider has a different character. It’s better to know it inside out. Below I describe my experience with transferring the number, reaching to the Customer Support and solving any issues with Lycamobile.
Keeping your current number
Thanks to European regulations from 2002, we can retain the number when switching between operators. It’s a key factor when many personal and professional contacts have our number saved in their phones.
In Poland, since 2019 the whole procedure can be done electronically – using emails and online forms. This speeds up and eases the switch if you are no longer satisfied with your operator. If you are in another country research this online, before switching.
Buy Lycamobile starter or order it online
When short on time – look for starter packs in shops around you. There’s a map of all cooperating places (i.e. in Poland) on Lycamobile website. Beware that not all shops will have starter packs in stock.
If you can wait a couple of days to get a letter in your base country – order it online. You can get some additional promo offer – for example a 50% off for the plan in the first month. Check current promotions on the website.
Register a new SIM card
You are obliged to register the new or transferred number with your true name. Lycamobile allows to do that only in associated stores – in Poland it’s Żabka / Freshmarket. You cannot do that via courier.
Keep in mind that your personal data can be beneficial for fraudsters. Just showing your ID card or passport is enough to verify the data. You don’t need to agree to scan or photocopy your documents, as nobody knows what will happen to such a copy.
Transferring number to Lycamobile
Every operator has different transferring procedures. In Lycamobile all the steps are described here:
If you’re in a hurry – mark in the form that you wish to transfer the number within one business day. Before you do that, double-check if there are no cancellation fees in your current mobile contract. Only if you have one already.
Issues with calls and SMS after the transfer to Lycamobile
Even though rules and procedures are becoming simpler, the issues can arise between – previous operator, new operator and Office of Electronic Communication (pol. Urząd Komunikacji Elektronicznej). This can cause:
- problems with receiving calls,
- problems with sending and receiving SMS,
- no connection to mobile Internet.
For support – call or write to Customer Service:
- 322 – from a Lycamobile phone – 19 gr/min (you pay only for the first 4 minutes).
- +48 729 200 322 – from any other phone – call fee depends on your current provider.
- [email protected] – official email address to Polish Lycamobile Customer Service.
Issues with iMessage and FaceTime (iPhone users)
iMessage – developed and run by Apple is a key method of communication for me. I always make sure that it’s working with the current SIM card I have in my phone. FaceTime is a further developed idea from iMessage, that allows you to make audio and video calls on the Internet.
Theoretically changing the associated mobile number when changing SIM card is easy. While having your old SIM card inside you turn off both services or you use this online tool. Yet, when you transfer the same number between two operators, the w problems with iMessage and FaceTime can occur.
- Constantly spinning circle (loading) visible next to the phone number in iMessage setting. It means that Apple servers cannot assign your number and it won’t work with the service.
- Sending text messages via SMS (green bubbles) instead of iMessage (blue bubbles).
- Lack of proper tech support from Lycamobile Customer Service. Apple support claims, that the operator needs to support premium SMS. Lycamobile writes that it’s not supported. Representatives in the call centre claim the same. On the contrary, the official Lycamobile Twitter account states that iMessage is supported.
You can use iMessage and FaceTime if you verify the new number 😎Tweet Lycamobile w sprawie iMessage
How to solve issues with iMessage / FaceTime in Lycamobile
From my experience, I see that there’s no single remedy. If one way doesn’t work – try another one:
- Remove and add your mobile number in Settings > Apple ID > Name, Numbers, Email. Then top-up your Lycamobile above the amount you need for your mobile plan. Turning iMessage on requires sending an activation SMS – cost is less than 1 PLN.
- Check if you have correct region and time set in Settings > General. Sometimes services don’t work due to differences between server time (iMessage) and what is set manually in the phone. Turn off and on iMessage/FaceTime in Settings.
- Reset network settings in Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. Keep in mind that you are wiping out all saved Wi-Fi passwords and other related network data. I suggest doing so only if all other methods don’t work.
Don’t count on quick and reliable support from Lycamobile
Poorly designed website and an ugly mobile app are proofs that Lycamobile works on a low budget. The same applies to their Customer Support. It works only during the business hours, waiting for a representative can last over 30 minutes and issues are resolved after many days. Email responses can also take a few days, and they often don’t address all questions.
It’s not only the case of the Polish branch of Lycamobile. Just check how other “Lyca” companies present themselves. Also, it’s worth to check the negative reviews about the British branch on Trustpilot.
Protips once you are already in Lycamobile
Save your SIM card number, PUK and verification data
After filing any issues to the operator, representatives will ask you to verify your credentials. It’s worth to save SIM card serial number ICCID (nineteen digits) and PUK (eight digits) in a secure place (i.e. password manager). They are on the plastic casing around the SIM card. You can get them also by typing short USSD code on your phone.
If you are reaching Lycamobile by email, write your personal details right away – full name, amount and type of the last top-up. You’ll get proper help from the Customer Service much faster.
Set correct Acces Point Name (APN) Lycamobile Poland
Most current SIM cards on the market can automatically set the APN details immediately after putting it in the phone. If the mobile Internet doesn’t work after inserting the SIM, then check the APN settings. This applies to all network connections – 3G / LTE / Mobile Hotspot:
- APN: data.lycamobile.pl
- User: lmpl
- Password: plus
- All other fields leave blank
Settings above are only for Lycamobile Poland. Check details on your local Lycamobile branch by visiting the official website.
No connection on the mobile Internet
Sometimes a phone is in range (4G/3G/2G), but you can only call or text (SMS). Try to switch to airplane mode for about 30 seconds. After that, the Internet should be operational.
If you can’t get proper support via phone or email, try to send direct messages in English to the official Lycamobile account:
Few times I managed to get support via this channel.
Topping-up with the app
It’s a global standard in any shop or online marketplace to save customer details, so you don’t need to type them again to each transaction. Unfortunately not in Lycamobile. Payments form always ask you to provide a billing address and don’t support diacritic. Moreover, the form on the website has a highly unintuitive search bar for addresses. I suggest not to use it.
I recommend downloading and logging into the official app. You can optionally save the number of your debit/credit card to speed ups next top-ups. Typing your address is still mandatory, but at least you don’t need to use the search bar. Auto Top-up can be useful, but it doesn’t always work as intended and it’s harder to control the overall costs.
Manage your Lycamobile with USSD codes
Short USSD codes are a kind of special numbers you type on your phones dial-pad to perform simple operations. For example *131#. Type it and press green phone. Instead of a phone call, you’ll get a prompt message on your screen – in this case, the credit left on your account.
Advantages of USSD codes:
- they work on any GSM phone – also on brick phones (non-smartphones),
- you just need to be in the range of GSM network (also abroad) – no need for the mobile Internet to use USSD codes,
- it’s highly useful – especially when you run out of money on your Lycamobile account.
Unfortunately, Lycamobile doesn’t have a current list of USSD codes on their website. I got the following by email from [email protected]:
|Current funds on your Lycamobile||*131#|
|Top-up with a PIN||*131*PIN#|
|Turn off voice mail||*185#|
|Reveal your phone number||*132#|
|Reveal your SIM serial number (ICCID)||*160#|
|State and validity of your plan||*137#|
|Resign from automatic plan activation||*190#|
|Activate one of the plans from the list||*139*plan code#|
|Activate order + package/top-up||*116*PIN#|
|Prolong your account for a year||*139*9999#|
USSD codes above are for Lycamobile Poland. They may be the same in other countries. Check details on your local Lycamobile branch by visiting the official website.
Control data usage
Lycamobile mobile app is hideous but at least it’s showing key info i.e. Internet data left to use. Unfortunately, there’s no division between the data used in your base country and abroad.
The amount of available Internet data in each plan is not divided for the local and foreign packages. It’s just one pool, where some part is to be used in EU/EEA, depending on the plan you have.Lycamobile Customer Support
To quickly check remaining data in the current billing period I recommend using a free app called Data Flow (on iPhone). The widget shows the amount left for a day and until the end of the period.
I’m not using Android for quite some time now, therefore I cannot recommend Data Flow equivalent for that system. Check a few options from the “data usage” section and choose the best one for you.
Once I accidentally overstretched my abroad Internet data use. The only notification I received was the text message in English:
Dear customer, you have not set your data balance for roaming. Dial *175# to set your data balance.Automatic notification from Lycamobile
Send texts via communicators, instead of SMS (MMS)
Depending on the plan you choose, you’ll have a set amount of SMS to use in your base country. If you, like me, send a lot of text messages, then choose a plan with an unlimited amount of SMS. Bear in mind that SMS has multiple restrictions and one of the major issues is the cost of sending it to foreign countries.
Therefore much better solution, that I also use, is an Instant Messaging also know as Communicator. Due to smartphones, the spread of Internet connection and ease of use, they became the dominant communication method. These are the communicators I recommend:
- iMessage – the default app on Apple devices. Simple, fast, encrypted and with a minimalistic design. A blue bubble is iMessage, a green bubble is an SMS.
- Telegram – most popular and opensource alternative to WhatsApp. The creator Pavel Durov tirelessly fights for the privacy of the users and implements bold features like the ability to delete send messages. The app works on my systems and devices.
- WhatsApp – popular communicator, that allows you to send messages to anyone with a phone number in your contact list. Unfortunately, privacy is the main issue at Facebook (owner of WhatsApp), therefore you need to have limited trust in this service.
Of course, if you are in the range of the Internet, you can use any other communication app like Messenger, Slack, Discord etc. Keep in mind that text messages (including emoji) consume a tiny amount of data. Everything else – sending photos, videos, gifs, stickers and video call – will quickly eat up your data allowance.
Moreover, it’s worth to know that Lycamobile doesn’t support MMS. I was never a fan of these messages, as it lacks compatibility between phones/operators and has a very low quality of media files. If you are used to sending MMS with your current operator I recommend switching over to the above communicators. They allow for much more than MMS could ever offer.
We kindly inform, that we don’t offer MMS service.Lycamobile Customer Service
I’m well aware of issues, that can come up when you run out of mobile data allowance during travelling. I went through this scenario multiple times, therefore it’s worth to implement these strategies:
- If you have plenty of space in your phone – download everything on a solid Wi-Fi at work / home / co-working space.
- Turn off mobile data transfer for all automatic downloading and uploading of huge files (podcasts, maps, films, music, photos) and updates of the OS, apps. Get them only on strong Wi-Fi.
- Whenever possible use public Wi-Fi spots (at cafe, hotels, stations, airports) in a secure manner.
- Check if you or your close ones are using an Internet provider that cooperates with Fon. This service allows to automatically and securely connect to a lot of Wi-Fi points around the world.
Mobile Internet speed in Lycamobile
As most of the MVNO, also Lycamobile is not a speed demon in regards to the mobile Internet. They state the maximum values, that are possible to achieve in laboratory tests for each technology (2G, 3G, 4G) including the factors that affect the actual speeds you can get. Besides that, it’s important to remember that every MVNO is using a network of the structural operator, that can prioritize their own customers.
|Technology||Upload speed||Download speed|
|2G/GSM-GPRS||20 kb/s||80 kb/s|
|2G/GSM-EDGE||58,4 kb/s||233,6 kb/s|
|3G/UMT||384 kb/s||384 kb/s|
|3G/UMTS-HSPA||5,4 Mb/s||42 Mb/s|
|4G/LTE||50 Mb/s||150 Mb/s|
|4G/LTE-Advanced||50 Mb/s||300 Mb/s|
In my experience, the Internet speed (2G/3G/4G) of Lycamobile in Poland is as good as in any other mobile operator. When I’m abroad in the EU, Lycamobile is connecting only to 2G and 3G networks. The connection is fast enough for most of the mobile Internet use, yet I hope they will upgrade to the faster technologies soon.
We kindly inform that currently LTE is not available in roaming abroad.Lycamobile Customer Support
Keep in mind that even if your phone is connected to the 4G/LTE, it doesn’t mean you are getting the best possible Internet connection. To understand the minutia about the mobile Internet performance I recommend reading the global reports published by Open Signal.
Activate Lycamobile in your country
This article is about the Polish Lycamobile because for many years I have the same mobile number and I want to stay with it. My research indicates that Lycamobile offer is very similar in all regions where they operate. The difference is related to the local currency and minor changes in plan allowance or free calls to specific countries.
If you stay in one country longer than 3-4 months it’s better to switch to the local branch of Lycamobile. Also if you travel a lot in Europe and you overstretched the FUP allowance, then buy a new card in the country where you currently reside. This way you reset the meter for foreign data use.
I didn’t test this method. Nevertheless for years, I’m buying prepaid cards in every country where I stay for a while. There was never a problem to switch between the operators. Make sure to check the local regulations about transferring your number to a different operator. Besides my Polish mobile, I don’t mind what local number I use in the current country. For me, the most important is the coverage of the mobile Internet and overall costs.
How does Lycamobile operate, that they can offer low fees?
The secret of this virtual operator is to combine many different solutions. They may be invisible for a usual user but it’s worth to be aware of them.
- VoIP – your calls can be automatically run through the (cheaper) Internet network, than the (expensive) traditional telecom operators. This applies specifically to international calls and calls made abroad. You can notice that the voice delivery is a bit lagged or your phone is identified with a different number. In my case when I was calling from Spain to a friend in Poland, he saw a Spanish number on his phone, instead of my Polish mobile.
- VPN – the mobile Internet data connection can be diverted via VPN. It’s one of the methods to compress the data transfer, therefore the costs on Lycamobile side. Gough Lui did extensive tests on his Australian card, where he showed high latency (package delivery time) caused by Lycamobile’s VPN. For most smartphone users it won’t matter. If terms like pings and SSH is not your everyday life – you don’t need to dig deeper.
- Wholesale prices for mobile services – as every MVNO, also Lycamobile is buying wholesale calls, SMS and mobile Internet packages from structural operators. Then they are selling it with retail prices to the end-consumers like us.
- Low operational costs – Lycamobile doesn’t invest high budgets into websites, mobile apps, customer support or marketing. The avarage quality is visible as much as the user comments. Ads with celebrities or high-class design of brand identity can pump up the costs. At the end of the day we the users are paying for it.
- No infrastructure investments – Lycamobile doesn’t need to pay for building base stations and telecommunication centres. It’s done by the structural operators. Lycamobile can use ready-made solutions and renegotiate contracts to get a better deal from any local operator.
- Services diversification – Lycamobile group produce films, run a tour agency (OTA), TV network among many other projects. This helps in financial stability of the whole company.
- Earning in multiple markets – operating in many countries with different currencies keeps Lycamobile group more resilient to currency fluctuations and local economic downs.
Summary – who should use Lycamobile?
Lycamobile is an interesting business case, that was created for minorities in foreign countries. It’s run on a low budget, as it’s aimed at customers that statistically earn less. Websites, apps and customer support are not stellar, which is visible on the Trustpilot site.
This is not bothering me, as I focus on:
- overall monthly cost,
- amount of mobile Internet allowance in the base country and roaming (EU/EEA),
- high limits for SMS and calls to local and international numbers,
- lack of long-term contract – the freedom to switch operator at any moment.
Moreover, Lycamobile is an international operator, therefore there’s a higher chance to speak with a representative in English, regardless of the country where you bought the card. I test it, reaching out in English to the Polish branch of Lycamobile.
If like me, you need just one SIM card to conveniently use in the European Union and European Economic Area then check Lycamobile offer. In my honest opinion, it’s the best deal for all working and travelling in European countries.
This article is not sponsored. I wrote it because for many years I’m looking and testing mobile solutions, that help in my work as a tour leader and digital nomad. I share my experiences as they may be useful to others.
If not Lycamobile than what? Alternative operators
It’s odd, but Lycamobile’s international deals could be a standard plan in Orange or T-mobile. They are structural operators in many European markets, including Poland. It seems that they prefer to focus on country-specific markets, while mobile operators are paving the way forward with unique solutions.
Thanks to European regulations (described above), today every operator needs to offer a roaming plan with low rates for services above the allowance. If you don’t want to change your current operator – check the EU roaming rules before you cross the border.
Alternatively, check the international offer of the following companies:
Future of the mobile network and mobile plans
I’m fascinated about the mobile connectivity, therefore I eagerly follow and use available solutions. Currently, there are several significant upgrades, that will highly influence mobile plans and spectrum of mobile services. The most important are:
- Five Generation (5G) – fast speed, low latency and ability to accommodate more devices at once will improve stability, ease and overall speed of all mobile services.
- eSIM – no need to buy plastic SIM cards will allow to even easier switch between operators and use of selective services. For example Internet plan in one and calls/SMS in the other.
- Ongoing market fragmentation – as it was with computers, the same is happening now with smartphones. Every age group use the phone differently, therefore operators and device manufacturers need to create products and services adapted to the specific target groups.
How do you connect during travelling? 🤔
I hope my extensive article about Lycamobile was useful for you. Please write in the comments below about your mobile experiences while on the go. Or share your protips on staying connected.