What's the difference between Flexiroam and KnowRoaming?
"No Roaming" International Sim Card Stickers: what's the fine print?
Dec. 14, 2018
Dec. 14, 2018
This post makes the following assumptions: You are a digital nomad who works online while traveling internationally, you change countries frequently (every other month or more), and you need large amounts of data (more than 10 Gbs per month). If these assumptions do not apply to you, this advice may not, either.
May contain affiliate links.
Flexiroam and Knowroaming are essentially the same thing: they are little stickers that you put on your sim card so you can use your mobile device abroad and (presumably) not pay exorbitant roaming fees—I'll explain the "presumably" later. Why would you use one of these instead of getting another (international or local) sim card? Which one of these should you use? Where's the catch, what's the fine print? I'm so glad you asked!
In this article, I'll explain the following topics:
- What is Flexiroam? What is Knowroaming?
- Similarities Between Flexiroam and Knowroaming
- The Difference Between Knowroaming and Flexiroam
- The Fine Print About Flexiroam
- What Should I Get: Knowroaming or Flexiroam?
What is Flexiroam? What is Knowroaming?
Flexiroam and Knowroaming are companies that both basically sell little stickers that you put on your sim card so you can presumably save money on roaming fees when traveling abroad. They call themselves different things—Flexiroam is an "eSIM" and Knowroaming is a "virtual SIM"—but from the customer perspective, the routine is the same.
Similarities Between Flexiroam and Knowroaming
Functionally, Flexiroam and Knowroaming are pretty much the same thing. To get it working, you:
- Buy a eSIM/virtual SIM for around $10
- Attach it to your sim card
- download and install the Knowroaming or Flexiroam app
- Follow some instructions to get it working on your phone
- Buy various data packages from time to time, depending on your location and usage
Additionally, Flexiroam and Knowroaming will both work in more than 100 of the following countries:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cayman Islands
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- El Salvador
- Hong Kong
- Lao People's Democratic Republic
- New Zealand
- Russian Federation
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
- The Netherlands
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
The Difference Between Knowroaming and Flexiroam
There are two main differences between Knowroaming and Flexiroam:
- Knowroaming offers "unlimited" data by the day; Flexiroam sells data by 500 Mbs or in GB increments
(NOTE: Knowroaming's "unlimited" data is actually throttled to 2G after 250 MB per day)
- Knowroaming offers talking minutes and Flexiroam is data-only
After that, the main differences come down to coverage.
Flexiroam is in about 25 countries that Knowroaming isn't:
- Burkina Faso
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Isle of Man
- Palestine, State of
- Papua New Guinea
And Knowroaming is in about 15 countries that Flexiroam isn't:
- Brunei Darussalam
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- San Marino
- United Arab Emirates
And, there is in fact one more pretty big difference between Flexiroam and Knowroaming...
The Fine Print About Flexiroam
Sometimes I think I'm a little bit of a cynical jerkwad because I'm always looking for the "gotcha" catch, in any phone plan. But that's because I usually find one! And here's what I found, on the Flexiroam site, where they list the prices of their local data plans:
*Indicates 70% off pricing when you book 90 days ahead.
Get 50% off retail price when you book 1 month ahead.
Did you catch that? So the prices you're looking at—pretty good, sometimes as low as $2/GB—are only that low if you buy the package three months in advance! I don't know about you, but I often don't even book my flights three months ahead, let alone data plan!
That means that realistically, the price you're going to pay for data from Flexiroam will actually be 3 times more than whatever is listed, assuming you're a normal person who buys the data package when you arrive, or shortly before traveling to, the destination country. OR, even if you are some kind of planning superhero who buys their data package three months in advance, if you run out and have to to up, that top-up will be three times as expensive the identical package that you initially bought.
I know what you're thinking. Cheer up, buttercup, 2 or 3 times $2 is still only $4 -$6 per gigabyte, not too bad, right? True, but notice that's the low point. Some of these plans listed on the site are as high as $5.10 (Mongolia, 24 days), $6.90 (Cambodia, Brunei, 24 days) $9/Gb (Vietnam, 24 days), or a whopping $18 (Mexico, 30 days)! I would not be a happy customer if I failed to notice the little star by the price in Mexico, bought my service 2 weeks before arriving, and paid $60 for 1 GB of service! That is just an insanely high price, one so high I bet even roaming on my local carrier would be lower.
If It's So Expensive, Why Do My Friends Recommend Flexiroam?
Good question. Probably because you get free data for every friend you refer. There's nothing wrong with that, affiliate marketing is a normal way to do business nowadays and in fact I happily collect credit for every person I refer to Ting mobile (because I love Ting, it's so cheap and easy and I always use it when I'm in the US because I can get away with only paying $25/month for cellular service), but it does mean you need to evaluate their endorsement critically.
For example, Flexiroam features this article about a traveler happy her Flexiroam service worked in Germany and the UK over 8 days. Okay, fair enough, but she would have needed to spend $14 for the Europe plan on top of $10 for the sticker, for a total of $24 (I'm ignoring their absurd 90 day discount). For the less than that, she could have gotten 3GB in 42 countries for 90 days or 1GB plus 3000 minutes and 3000 texts for 30 days in 71 countries. In other words, Flexiroam may be better than roaming on your local carrier, in most cases, but it's not the best travel option you can get.
What Should I Get: Knowroaming or Flexiroam?
To be honest with you, I don't get why you would use a sticker over just getting a sim card, because if you use Knowroaming or Flexiroam, you still have to pay for another service provider. Yes, okay you're not paying the rates for roaming on your local card, but Flexiroam and Knowroaming won't work on an inactive sim card. So you're going to need to pay for your local carrier's monthly service fees on top of whatever data package you get from either one. I don't know how much your local service costs per month—let's say it's $40—but if someone were to ask you, would you spend 5 minutes to save $40?, usually the answer is Yes, right?
Okay well, honestly, how long does it take you to take a sim card out and put a different one in? One minute? Five minutes, max? These companies act like swapping out a sim card is such a big deal, and trust me, I use the biggest, heaviest, most PITA phone case there is, and I still don't think it's a big deal to open it up and swap sim cards once every few weeks or months. It looks to me like they're fabricating a problem so they can offer the solution.
Nonetheless, if swapping out sim cards is a big deal to you, and you want to go with Knowroaming or Flexiroam, here's a few easy way to decide:
If you're going somewhere covered by both, and if you need talking minutes, go with Knowroaming. Flexiroam doesn't offer any minutes; it's only data
If you don't need minutes, and if you're going somewhere covered by both, you're just going to have to look at their prices and see who is lower where you're going. Or reject Flexiroam on principle because their fine print is bullshit (or maybe that's just what I would do). I don't want to tell you what to do, but I hope I've helped you make a more intelligent decision for yourself.