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23 replies
iPhone (or other phone) & pre-paid sims
Jim
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I’ve searched the forums and the closest post I found had to do with data plans in Europe but that seemed to stray off course.

I’ll be in western Europe for 35 days – starting in London and working my way down to Rome. I plan to bring a netbook for use at hostels but I also want to bring my iPhone for music and phone calls – and hopefully data (see below).

My phone is from AT&T so I will have to unlock it. I have no problem doing this and it will be safer since I won’t be tied to my AT&T account while abroad and worried about usage charges. However, what’s the procedure for acquiring a prepaid sim in Europe? Can I buy one in London and will it work in the other countries or so I need one in each country? I don’t plan to use the phone that much but it will be nice for calls home as well as to call the hostels or or make other advance arrangements.

Has anyone done this? What about data? Any good/cheap prepaid data sims available throughout Europe?

I am leaving from Phoenix, AZ with $5000 for 37 days
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MizuRyuu
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Like you, I am also wondering about communication back home from Europe… There seems to be really two methods it seem from what I can gleam from the board…

One, you can buy a local prepaid SIM card and use that with an unlocked phone…. but this mean you will be constantly changing your number and any unused minutes would be wasted (unless you plan on going back on another trip to use it up)…

Two, you can get an international SIM card and use that with an unlocked phone… this seems to be a good method, except the rates tends to be pretty high… but you do get to keep one number…

Personally, I am looking into method 2, but having a hard time figuring out which company is best since there are several…

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Don
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Jim, since you’ll have a netbook, why not just use Skype?

You can buy a pre-paid sim in each country when you arrive. However, when you cross a border, you pay international roaming rates which are very high, so buying a new one will probably be the cheapest method. I have seen some as low as 5 EUR with that much call credit included to get you started.

I read yesterday that Skype has launched a wifi mobile service that looks for partner hotspots and charges you 19 (or was it 17?) cents per minute for calls. But if you’re planning to have wifi for the netbook anyway, you could just do all your calls for free, or 2 cents if the person you’re calling doesn’t have skype.

DreamingOfItaly
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Don wrote:
Jim, since you’ll have a netbook, why not just use Skype?

I’ll second the recommendation to use Skype. It’ll be much cheaper, it’s really easy to use, and I like that you can video chat as well.

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Jim
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Hey guys. I’ll use Skype (both on netbook and iPhone) when in hostels with wifi. My issue is when I am not around a wifi hotspot which will probably be 80% of my trip.

The prepaid sims are just that, prepaid, so I assume when I run out of minutes I can just toss it and buy a new card? So instead of an international prepaid sim, wouldn’t it be better to buy a prepaid sim in London and just use it up? For example, my next stop after London is Paris. So will the sim still work there – even with higher rates? If so, then I can just use up what minutes remain and then when needed buy a new sim. At least this way I don’t return home with 8 sims containing various balances on them.

I am leaving from Phoenix, AZ with $5000 for 37 days
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Don
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Yep, use ‘em up, just warn your caller that you might suddenly drop them if you run out! If you need more credit in the same country, you can buy it at just about any kiosk, shop, post office, etc. Usually you’d just request “10EUR t-mobile top-up card” for example, and you get a printed cash register receipt with the phone-in number and 14 or so digit top-up code.

Your sim will probably work if it’s with a major provider. Just be aware that Orange or Sonofon or Telia does not still give you the same rate once you cross a border—even if you get their signal in the new country. Telia France is not interchangeble with Telia Denmark tarifs, for example—you still pay the much, much higher international roaming rates.

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Talking about iPhone, jailbreaking it is said to be legal in accordance with U.S. copyright officials, but that doesn’t mean that Apple is happy to sit back while users break free of their proprietary corporate mold and utilize the full potential of the handheld device.

I found this here: Apple patent seeks to lock up jailbroken iPhones

According to the Register, a patent that Apple seeks can be “covering an elaborate series of measures” in order to “protect iPhone owners from thieves” and other users that are unwanted. That patent, entitled “Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device,” would protect Apple liability in jailbreaking exploits, but it would also allegedly lock down a user’s phone.

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Hey,

Whenever I go abroad, I use my GoSim card. I have had it for years now and the minutes/credits never expire. It is prepaid and you can upload more credits easily over the internet or phone. The rates per minute vary country to country and in some cases it is cheaper to buy a local sim. Incoming calls and texts are free. I use it for 1) confirming/making hostel reservations, 2) contacting friends who are in that particular country/city, and 3) checking with my parents. It is not meant to sit and have a lengthy convo but surely is a convenient for the above stated uses.

Happy travels!

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These are all great ideas and options for calls and avoiding roaming charges, however it still hasn’t really answered the question of, what is the best way to get a data plan without being charged outrageous prices once you leave the country you purchased it from?

What is the closest thing to an AT&T plan or pay as you go, over in Europe for data, with out having roaming charges?

Thanks a billion

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Don
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TooSlick2k wrote:
These are all great ideas and options for calls and avoiding roaming charges, however it still hasn’t really answered the question of, what is the best way to get a data plan without being charged outrageous prices once you leave the country you purchased it from?

What is the closest thing to an AT&T plan or pay as you go, over in Europe for data, with out having roaming charges?

Thanks a billion

TooSlick, every time you leave a country’s borders, you’re roaming again. That means if you want the cheapest rates, you’ll have to get prepaid data for each country. It’s not like the US where AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and US T-mobile cover pretty much everywhere and data or calls cost the same in Florida as they do in Oregon. Nope. Cross a country border, and it’s a brand new ball of wax.

Here’s some UK providers with international data roaming (and call & sms) rates: http://www.carphonew… (scroll down on that page). Also, in Germany I know that Aldi, Lidl, and Lebara have good rates; you might check them for roaming beyond Germany, too.

Lebara, for example, is in several countries in Europe. They have very low talk prices, and generally low data charges—where available. But if you have Lebara and leave that country, you’re then on their much higher roaming rates—even if the next country you go to has Lebara. Each provider and it’s rates are specific to that country.

That said, Carphonewarehouse and the German sources are probably your best bet.

There are prepaid sims you can order ahead of time in the US, but I’ve never seen one with low acquisition costs and good rates. I think it’s much cheaper to do your research ahead of time, then buy the best sim(s) for your needs on arrival.

luhu7
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Also these posts are old and your question has already been answered, here are some tips for other people looking on this thread.

I went into an AT&T store on Saturday because I have an iPhone through their service, however I know that I will NOT want to incur any roaming fees on that phone while I’m overseas. Here is what the sales rep advised…Buy a $9.99 pre-paid phone and then buy international SIM cards as you travel because they are fairly inexpensive and you can buy them when you need to. I plan on taking my iPhone as an iPod, but using the cheapie phone for international sim card purchases. I am also going to save money on my wireless plan while I’m gone, because I plan to activate the 9.99 phone on my current number and reduce my account to the absolute bare minimum (I have a contract not up until next year, so I have to keep something on my account).

If you’re not me, you can still walk into an AT&T store, or even a Walgreens, and buy a cheap, pre-paid service phone and just take out the SIM card and buy as you go across Europe.

I also plan to use Skype and even GOOGLE calling (through my Gmail account) for most of my calls.

Hope this helps someone!

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Don
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Luhu… if it were only that simple.

The fact is that prepaid phones are locked to that provider. What they AT&T rep should have told you (and maybe did, but possibly misunderstood?) is that you need an unlocked gsm phone that will work on the same frequencies for the country you wish to visit. Used nokias off ebay or amazon are a good bet. If it does not take a sim, forget it. Look for European-compatible phones on ebay and amazon.

Once in Europe, yes, prepaid sim for 10 Euros will give you lots of talk time, and in some cases, limited data. Depends on the provider and what they offer. Generally, big names aren’t as cheap as the lesser-knowns, such as Lyca or Lebara. These actually buy bandwidth from the major providers and resell services at a much cheaper rate. Fruit and veg shops and kiosks, post offices, corner shops and supermarkets—those are the places to look. Enquire specifically for the calls that you want to make. Better yet… do you homework ahead of time online, and make a short list of 2-3 providers of prepaid sims that best fit your call and text needs—at the cheapest rates. That way you’ll know what to look or ask for once you arrive and need a sim.

It might be possible for you to use your iphones wifi capabilities. Get the skype or fring app and then you can make calls over hostel/hotel/cafe free wifi hotspots. (Skype to skype of course is free; otherwise $10 Skype credit gives you calls to “regular” phones for about 2c/min.).

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Yeah, if your $9.99 phone isn’t 1) unlocked and 2) compatible with European frequencies it will power up and then do nothing once you put in your European SIM. Now, AT&T should give you the code to unlock your phone if you tell them you’re going overseas, but their customer service rep should be more knowledgeable

Don
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Thinking about the US prepaid phone further… you might make it work if you can find unlock codes for that particular phone model. I have unlocked a simple Nokia with codes I found online (the shop wanted $35 to do it!). If you want this route, check what T-mobile—for example (since they use sims)— have on offer with entry level nokias, then google that phone & model number to see 1) if it will indeed work on European frequencies, and if it will then 2) see if you can get reliable, free unlock codes for that phone.

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I think Luhu’s point about talking to your current cell phone provider has some merit. While I’ve sometimes gotten decent suggestions from the staff at the phone store, calling the international service department has provided some good options for what I want in a phone — mostly just to have a phone for emergencies and very limited use in a fairly small number of countries. However, the international data plans available would be outrageously expensive through my US provider.

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Wow, thanks everyone. Yes, the rep did not mention unlocking the phone, but she did also say that she wanted me to talk to someone who frequently dealt with international plans so would check with him and then get me some answers. I will see how easy/hard it will be to unlock the phone and if it’s even worth it.

I appreciate all the help though!

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A cheap prepaid phone is a great idea for making calls, but the use of a smartphone or iPhone would serve as gps, maps, and several apps that make travel easier, including skype right off the phone. Im guessing im just going to use it in the wifi zones, i rarely make phone calls as it is. but Thanks Luhu for your advice!

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Don
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Yes a smartphone or other wifi-enabled device (ipod, ipad) can be helpful, but do keep in mind that wifi hotspots will not be continuous as you walk or drive; in fact, free wifi is getting harder and harder to find.

To get data, you need an unlocked phone and a prepaid sim with data access. If your US iphone or smartphone does indeed roam with an international partner, the bills will be exorbitant. Be sure to enable wifi only if you plan to use it as a wifi device; I’d even consider removing the sim to be sure. But if you have it unlocked and pop in a prepaid data sim bought on arrival, you’ll have much much cheaper local rates.

Oldlady raises a good point that might be helpful in some cases. If your smartphone uses sim technology (is that AT&T or Verizon? I know one uses the old technology in the US, and the other uses sims), and you plan to only make a few brief calls, then check with you provider for a temporary international calling plan. IIRC one or the other does this for $10/mo + calls are like $1.29/minute. That’s not too bad when you consider the convenience of not having to hassle with getting a cheap unlocked phone, then prepaid sim on arrival. But turn off that data! I’ve read and heard loads of accounts of people getting $2000+ bills for data roaming in Europe.

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Thanks OldLady..that was pretty useful.

After further consideration, I am going to remove the SIM card from my iPhone and use it as an iTouch when I want. I mostly just want to take my iPhone for all of my music and contacts list. I will most likely not use it for Wifi as I am taking a laptop and can do most other stuff from it.

As far as making calls from overseas, I am just going to wing it. Use Skype from my laptop when I can and make free international calls from some of the hostels that offer it. Otherwise if I am in dire straights and need a phone, I will purchase a phone there with a prepaid SIM card, but I think I will be fine.

My friend Nicole has a Magic Jack..which I know very little about, so don’t ask! Lol, but she calls me from a local number with it. Basically you plug a USB into your laptop/computer and hook up a land line phone to it, using the internet to make calls. Because she has to lug around a big phone and wires, it’s really only good for people who plan to stay put for a while. BUT I will use her phone line as well.

If I get a phone over there, I will definitely let everyone know how it works, costs, etc.

I LEAVE IN 28 DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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It still has not really answered the question, what is the best way to get a data plan, have not been charged outrageous prices, once you leave the country you buy it from you?

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My problem is different from yours, as I have purchased the new iPhone from a shop here and the problem is of unlocking the phone. It’s a second hand phone which he gives of half price and there is some problems in unlocking the phone. I don’t know what to do.

Thanks
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For years I have carried a laptop and a european-capable cell phone. I bought a sim chip at the airport, where they are always available. I ended up not using all of the time I had bought, but it wasn’t that expensive, and the convenience made it worth it. One problem was that the chip controls the language of the display and tech support, and I am not fluent enough in the varied languages to deal with that. If I had a problem, I would go to a local shop and they would solve it, but that takes up some of your time.

On our last trip to rural France I had my laptop, and a new Samsung Galaxy. I have my mobile service with AT&T and I looked into the available options, and decided my best choice was to enroll for international data and phone roaming, and to cancel it as soon as we got back. Out of habit I threw my old cell phone in my pack, solely as a backup as you can’t test the international service of AT&T until you are there. I didn’t buy a chip for the phone at the airport, reasoning that it was only a backup and I could get one later if I needed one.

Once we got to Haybes, I pulled out my Galaxy to call my landlord to get the key to the gite. It would work only for emergency calls; AT&T had neglected to remove a block on roaming services I had had. Finding a chip was a major enterprise, involving driving to another town and doing a lot of walking. The new chip had everything in French, fast French, to fast for me and how do you tell a tape to slow down? It didn’t work after two calls, and there was no wifi in that area of France, so we were dead for two weeks. When we got to our next gite, which had wifi, I had AT&T remove the block, and all was well for the rest of the trip.

So I’m done with sim chips. I don’t do as much social networking as most. For me, the convenience of the AT&T plan is worth the expense, although I suspect that AT&T does not give you coverage absolutely everywhere; only a local provider will do that.

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Once more, my home cell service provider came up with a reasonably priced package for international service that fits my needs (making a handful of calls and availability for emergencies). While it may not be the cheapest or best option for you, IMO it’s worth a call for your cell service provider global service section.

A friend spent 30 minutes on the phone with ATT trying to unlock a phone, only to discover that it was still unlocked from the last trip! They bought a SIM for Italy from TIM and were very happy with the user-friendly-in-English service for Italy.