Getting online abroad used to best be avoided: expensive roaming charges made it completely uneconomical, and though roaming is presently possible for some UK mobile users in the EU, it's not yet clear how that's going to change in the future.
Besides the cost, using a laptop in other countries usually means finding potentially dodgy Wi-Fi networks, and the hassle of buying local SIM cards when travelling.
Cue the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and global SIM card combination, which bring convenience and security like never before. Literally anywhere there’s a 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G mobile phone network is ripe for getting online thanks to these devices, which attach to a local mobile phone network and create a Wi-Fi network that several devices can then connect to.
Check out our guide below on how to choose the best Wi-Fi hotspots for international travel this year. And, speaking of travel, if you're shortly going to be going off on a trip then be sure to check out T3's ultimate travel guide, as well as our best suitcase and best carry-on luggage buying guides.
The best portable Wi-Fi hotspots you can buy today
The Urozetta Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot enables you to embrace the flexibility of parent company Urocomm's cloud SIM system, which means you don't have to hunt down a local SIM card in every country you visit – you simply open up the app on your phone to top up your credit (check inside the app for current prices, which are definitely competitive).
You get 50GB of UK data included with the up-front price, which is valid for 90 days – there's no contract you have to sign up for and no hidden roaming charges, so you always know how much you're paying (and when you're not travelling, you don't have to pay anything. You can connect up to 10 devices to one of these portable Wi-Fi hubs.
Charging is done via the integrated USB cable, and you can expect 12 hours of use. According to Urocomm, you should be able to get access to 4G speeds in more than 150 countries worldwide, with a maximum download speed of 150Mbps. If you do want to switch to an actual SIM card for whatever reason, then there is an integrated slot for one.
Simple to set up, secure to use, reliable in operation... there's not much more you can ask from the Huawei E5577-321. Huawei knows a few things about making gadgets of course, and this hotspot is compact and well-built – it's perfect for popping in a bag and suitcase and taking with you wherever you go, whether that's within the UK borders or beyond.
You do have to buy your own local SIM card for all the countries that you visit with the Huawei E5577-321 – while that does add to the cost and the setup time, it also gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to picking data packages and network providers. This is best suited to people who know what they're doing when it comes to international SIM cards.
4G speeds up to 150Mbps are supported with this particular portable Wi-Fi hotspot, and it charges over a standard USB cable (Huawei says you can expect around 12 hours of use between charges from the 3,000mAh battery). If you're after one of the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots on the market at the moment, make sure you get this model on your shortlist.
The TP-Link M7350 is undoubtedly one of the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots you can buy at the moment, and while it can reach 4G (150Mbps) speeds if the local network permits it, it can also fall back to 3G or even 2G networks if required – very handy if you're travelling in remote regions where the infrastructure might not be what you're used to at home.
Wi-Fi can be created for up to 10 devices, and there's 8 hours of battery life (according to TP-Link at least), but you do have to provide a SIM for every country that you visit (or buy one that works internationally) – that might be perfect for you or not what you're looking for, and will go a long way to indicating whether this is the right device for you or not.
One of the best features of the TP-Link M7350 portable Wi-Fi hotspot is the sharp little LCD screen that indicates signal strength and battery. Other useful features include the ability to set data limits and control device connections through an app, and a microSD card slot that lets you share photos, music, videos and other files to your connected gadgets.
Perhaps the main selling point of the GlocalMe U3X Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot is the way it can work with or without a SIM card – in the latter case using its own cloud SIM technology to get online. It can switch between available networks intelligently too, if needed, which means you're always guaranteed to get the best possible connection from your location.
You can look forward to high-speed (up to 150Mbps) 4G download speeds with this GlocalMe device, and if you don't go with the local SIM option then you can use the accompanying app to buy the data that you need: there's no contract to commit to, and you can pay by the day, month, region or gigabyte (so again there's plenty of choice here).
The GlocalMe U3X Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot works in more than 140 countries at the last count, and supports up to 10 devices. We don't have battery life information for this model, but considering there's a relatively large 3,500mAh battery installed here, we reckon you're going to get a good few hours between charges – ideal for those longer journeys.
There's no doubt that the Netgear Nighthawk M2 Mobile 4G Router is one of the best-specced portable Wi-Fi hotspots you can get at the moment for travelling (and we also like the M1, which is still available, by the way) – the headline feature is a top download speed of 2Gbps over 4G, assuming the local network can supply that much.
Then there's the screen – at 2.4 inches it's nice and big, and it's packed with information as well, such as how many devices are connected and how much data you've got left (where applicable). This device can provide Wi-Fi for 20 other gadgets, which is double the number that some of its rivals can support, and it even has an integrated Ethernet port.
On top of that you get "all-day" battery life, and the hefty 5,400mAh battery can be used to charge up your other devices if you need it to. What the Netgear M2 doesn't have is cloud SIM or eSIM support, so you'll need to support the local 3G or 4G SIM cards yourself – but otherwise it's fair to say that this portable Wi-Fi hotspot has everything you'll need.
Perhaps the most important spec to know about the Zyxel 4G LTE-A Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot we've got here is that it's able to get 32 different devices online at once – that should be enough for you and the rest of the family, even if you've got two phones and a laptop each (though admittedly you might not all be able to stream Netflix in 4K at the same time).
There are some other impressive specs to talk about too, including 10-hour battery life, and it's a very compact and easy to carry device. The 2.4-inch colour display keeps you informed about your connection status and how much data you're currently chewing through, and in terms of its screen it's one of the best portable Wi-Fi hotspots out there.
Speeds up to 4G at 300Mbps are supported, though the download rates you're going to see also depends on the local SIM that you're going to fit inside – there's no support for eSIMs or cloud SIMs here, so you'll have to buy separate SIM cards for all the countries you visit (which does at least give you a lot of flexibility for how you get hold of your data).
Portable Wi-Fi hotspots don't come much lighter, smaller or affordable than the D-Link DWR-932, so it's a good choice if your demands aren't too great in terms of how many devices you can connect and how much use you need between battery charges (battery life isn't stated by D-Link, but we do know that this comes with a 2,000mAh battery).
That said you do get 4G connectivity here with download speeds of up to 300Mbps, so it's not too shabby when it comes to actually getting you online and in touch with all the apps and services you're going to need. There's no bundled data or integrated connection option, so you're going to have to source local SIMs for the different places that you visit.
What really appeals to us most is that simple, pocket-friendly form factor. You don't get the full screen that some other hotspots offer, but there are LCD indicators so you always know what's happening, and as there is no display you can save yourself some money. Getting set up and started couldn't be much easier either, which is another reason to buy this.
How to choose the best Wi-Fi hotspot for travel
You'll want a data connection abroad if you want to use WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest abroad, but what you get depends on what you buy.
The first choice is to buy an off-the-shelf hotspot without a SIM, then buy a separate SIM card from a dedicated supplier or network provider (your current operator might even offer one if you check). This gives you a lot of flexibility.
The other option is to buy an all-in-one mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device that has a built-in eSIM – this all-in-one package will normally come with some free international data, plus the chance to easily top it up online whenever you run low.
Getting everything together in one bundle can potentially save you some money, but make sure you're getting the amount of data you want and compatibility for the countries you're visiting. Prioritise 4G or 5G data if you want an ultra-quick connection, but plan to buy data in bundles to save money.