Cell Phone Tips: 2009
More and more travelers are using mobile phones in Europe. How does your US phone work in Europe? Have you found any great deals for buying or renting a phone once you arrive?
- Please don't post questions here. Use our Travelers Helpline.
Foreign sims card r problem if you can't read the foreign language
I took Rick Steve's suggestion and purchased SIM cards upon arriving in Paris. Steve's forgot to mention that non-English speaking countries' sims card instructions, messages, minutes updates, literally EVERYTHING isn't in English. We had no clue how to use the French sims card because we couldn't read the instructions. The salesclerk, who could barely speak English, managed to explain we had to phone Virgin (the sims card supplier) after inserting the sims card and wait for Virgin to text back with our new phone number. Well, the text back was all in French and included several numbers. Since we didn't understand French, we couldn't figure out which was ours. We finally found someone with more English abilities to help us. But then the on-going problem was all the French incoming text messages that we couldn't read. When the phones finally went dead, we assumed we'd used up all our minutes. We continue to receive French text messages on our cell phones even after switching back to our American sims cards and returning to the USA - not sure how that was possible - and of course, we have no idea what the messages are telling us. For all we know, we did something wrong and the next time we enter the country, we'll all be arrested!
Mr. Steves, please update your cell phone advice to include warning readers their European pre-paid sims cards will not be in English.
Red Wing, MN USA Sun 12/13/2009
Cell Phone Calls Overseas
The best advice I can give is to purchase an international SIM card from a U.S. company before you leave. On a recent trip to Europe spanning seven different countries, my calls were all around 50c/min. I found a company called OneSimCard - www.OneSimCard.com - that had the lowest rates when comparing other options, and they cover 175 countries.
Shop around for yourself though and good luck everyone!
New York, NY USA Tue 11/10/2009
Receive cheap calls from US on your European Cell
I recently visited Italy and bought a SIM card for my unlocked GSM cell phone. Like most European phones, this one had free incoming calls. I found a London-based service called Localphone (google for it) that forwards calls for a per-minute fee to international phones. This allowed me to give a domestic US phone number to friends and family, who could call me without figuring out international calling (and at no cost to them if they had free domestic long distance). The cost to me was 15 cents per minute to Localphone and free on my Italian cell. Cost varies depending on the country and whether you are forwarding to a landline or cell phone.
You can also use Localphone to forward to landlines. Say you will stay at a specific hotel for a few nights. Setup a Localphone forwarding number there, give it to your friends/family, and then they can keep in touch cheaply. Calls to a landline are even cheaper (2 to 3 cents a minute) than forwarding to a cell.
Portland, OR USA Tue 10/20/2009
I found and unlocked 2 quadbands
I'm just starting my research on phones for our upcoming trip to Europe. I've found the "wall" helpful. I found 2 quadband phones on local Craigs List. One was unlocked the other was not. Both are the same model - W490 Motorolas. I gave $20 for the one in better condition and $15 for the other "locked" one. Both seem to operate perfectly. I got an unlock code from T-Mobile for the locked one. I tried a expired Mexican SIM in both and they connected to AT&T (TelCel roaming partner). So the first hurdle has been overcome.
Excelsior Springs, Mo. USA Sat 09/19/2009
French SIM cards
We brought along our AT&T phones to France and had them unlocked before the trip. I was a little confused about which SIM card to buy and how to find one after hearing that some travelers had problems with Orange France so I got Mobiho SIMs and it was quick and easy to set up. There's a list of places where you can buy Mobiho SIM cards on their website. It costs 15 euros to get started and then you can recharge the SIM as needed. We get free incoming calls (you get a text message with your new telephone number after making first call), .29-.39 euro/min in France and .18 euro to the US. It seems like they are fairly easy to find at news stands and tobacco shops.
Cottage Grove, OR USA Tue 09/08/2009
calling centers and internet points
For those who are still confused and intimidated about using cell-phones or buying cell/renting cell-phones or buying local SIM cards: you have a cheap option. All over Italy, Switzerland, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, and several other places there are internet cafès that allow for easy and fairly reasonably-priced internet access AS WELL AS cheap phone calls. More and more I have found these internet points also have a few phone booths that allow for calls back to the USA or to other places in Europe for pennies per minute. It's not convenient if people need to get into contact with you, but for those who are stymied by cell-phones this option does allow one to stay in touch, make reservations, etc.
Harrison, NY USA Mon 08/31/2009
I bought a phone and SIM card from Telestial online right before I left for Italy in June. It arrived the night before our departure, so I didn't have time to fax our passport, as is required in Italy to activate the service. I activated it at a TIM store in Rome. It worked sometimes, but the phone would not hold a charge, so was essentially useless. Also, because I had bought it from Telestial, I couldn't add time to it as instructed (on the phone, or with a scratch-off card), so I spent lots of extra time looking for a place that could add credit to it through a computer sysem. In short, the whole thing was a nightmare, and I wouldn't recommend Telestial. I speak Italian fluently, and had the help of several Italian friends. No one could figure out the problems with this phone. Also, the phone (and SIM card) would NOT work in France, where I spent a few days before our return home. Bottome line: I would not buy a phone or SIM card from Telestial again.
Eugene, OR USA Sun 08/23/2009
International SIM card
When traveling in Europe, I take my US quad-band, unlocked phone and replace the SIM with a pre-paid SIM I purchased here:
Then I have an Estonian phone no. and can use the phone in almost any country I ever expect to visit. The minutes never expire, and I can reload it by phoning or by going online and adding minutes. I don't have to switch SIMs every time I cross a border. It's great!
Seattle, WA USA Sat 08/22/2009
Cell Phone Tips
We used Carphone Warehouse for a mobile phone in the UK. You can find locations online. We paid 4.95 pounds for the phone and put ten pounds on it. This ended up being about $25.00. Calls to the US were 16p for the first three minutes and 4p for every minute after that. It was great to be able to call home and for our kids to be able to call us. We also liked being able to call B&Bs if we were running late.
Haddon Heights, NJ USA Tue 08/18/2009
If you plan on using a multi-band cell phone in Europe that you used in the USA, be sure to get it unlocked long before you leave. We had to get an unlock code from the manufacturer for a Nokia phone and it took a while to get it via e-mail. The unlock codes we got from the internet did not work.
We purchased a SIM card in Ukraine that also worked in France.
Seattle, WA USA Tue 08/11/2009
Cell phone in Europe
Just returned from a trip to Ireland, London, Bruges, and Paris. Carried a phone ordered at GoSIM with an unlocked SIM card with $50 prepaid time--total cost was $125. Phone worked perfectly in every country without switching out SIM cards. Can buy SIM card without the phone if you like. Learned about this on Clark Howard. Phone served us well for the two weeks we were in Europe without having to add any additional time. Also got a toll-free number before leaving so that family at home could call us toll-free.
Rome, GA USA Sun 08/09/2009
Alert on SIM cards from vending machines
Be careful when buying SIM cards in vending machines in France -- Orange (France Telecom) has vending machines in the airports offering SIM cards for 15 euros including 5 euros credit. HOWEVER, to purchase additional credit you must FIRST activate the account, by mailing a form with a copy of your passport within a week, or (as I did) going to an Orange store or calling customer service and asking them to do it. You can't do it online yourself. The problem with this is that many agents don't speak English...a lot of hassle for a week or two in Europe. The card worked fine but nothing on the vending machine indicated this requirement.
Also, the account must be open at least a month to recharge by credit card, so you need to purchase recharge codes at tabacs or Orange stores.
I did not see vending machines for SFR or Bouygues Telecom so don't know if they have the same limitation. If you go to a store the SIM card will cost you at least 35 euros.
Chicago, IL USA Fri 07/10/2009
Cell Phone tips in Italy and Spain
Several people have written me private questions regarding cell phones in Europe. Here are my tips:
* I have two Sony T200 phones, cheap, Europe-band phones you can find on the Internet affordably. I bought these unlocked prior to my first trip. Lots of other phones work.
* I also have my Razr V9, a modern slimline quadband phone for AT&T. I got the unlock code from ATT and it works fine in Europe because it's quad-band
* Buy your phones before you go, using the Internet. Google "unlocked GSM Europe" and you'll find lots of cheap resources. You won't find retail bargains once you get there.
* Get your SIM chips when you arrive in Italy, not beforehand online. You can't find affordable mail-order SIMs. However, forget the train stations or airports, as the cell companies don't market to tourists. They don't make any money on tourists who use their SIMs for a couple of weeks then toss them.
* Before you go to Italy, Google Maps "Centro TIM" for a location near your hotel. The local TIM store will sell you prepaid SIMs and install them in your phones free. I paid $10 per SIM.
* Forget the roaming SIMs like the Passport. These have high per-minute fees, almost as high as roaming using your ATT account from the USA.
* Before you go, call the Centro TIM store that you plan to go to upon arrival. Make sure they have SIMs
* Some of the prepaid carriers have plans that allow you to call phone-to-phone cheaply. I got the TIM "Recarica Famiglia" plan, which costs $5 for up to 4 phones to call each other for one week. TIM also has a "TIM in 2" plan for just two phones to call each other. This phone-to-phone capability is super useful when in-country so you don't lose your partner.
* The reason why plans like TIM in 2 aren't translated into English and there is so little tourist information is that the phone companies don't want tourists as customers. But if you search out a TIM store they will help you and be friendly. But you have to find them and go to them.
* There are 3 carriers in Italy: TIM, Vodaphone, and "3". I used TIM because of their paring plans.
* In Spain I use Vodaphone, which has a twinned-chip prepaid plan. I bought these online from spainsim.com and they worked great.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada USA Sun 07/05/2009
really cheap calls
Get a nokia series 60, blackberry or idot phone and down load trphone.com on your phone. For GBP100/yr you can make unlimited calls to 38 developed world nations. With Al Qiada/internet cafes and 802.11 in most of Europe this will save big bucks on $1/minute roaming chgs on cell calls. if you're going to be there a while get a 3g data plan that you can use the smartcard for both internet and voip calls on your phone.
Winslow, WA USA Mon 05/18/2009
Prepaid Cellphone in Europe
I'll be traveling to Europe as a pre- MBA present this summer (starting at the end of June) for a month. Since I'm going alone, I wanted a cell phone as a safety precaution. I've heard that buying a prepaid cellphone in Europe is the best option, but I'm not sure the best place to buy the cellphone. I'll be starting in Munich, Germany and traveling through Austria, Switzerland, and France (ending in Paris). I'm wondering A. how one goes about buying a prepaid cellphone in Munich and B. how I activate for the countries I'll be visiting.
Chicago, IL USA Sun 04/19/2009
I used a company called Roadpost when I went to Italy (they cover all countries). My phone was not GSM so they supplied me with a phone, delivered, and supplied me a with a mail back envelope, $150 for a month. The phone worked most of the time but it was a little old and one of the numbers stuck, they credited me for the entire amount. I would absolutely use them again either getting their SIM cards on my new phone or renting the phone again.
Vancouver, BC canada Sun 04/19/2009
Prepaid GSM SIM chips for Italy
Forget taking walkie-talkies. In Spain, Vodaphone has a family talk plan. In Italy, TIM has a "Recarica Famiglia" plan that allows 4 phones to talk to each other for $.00 per minute for one week. I brought 4 unlocked GSM phones, bought TIM SIM chips for $10 Euro each, then paid an additional $5 (once) for the family plan. Then I handed out the phones and everyone could split up/reconnect at will throughout the trip. $45 total and I got $5 in outbound calling per phone. Inexplicably, the TIM store at Rome's airport can't be reached by arriving passengers. Instead, search for a TIM store here: http://Forget taking walkie-talkies. In Spain, Vodaphone has a family talk plan. In Italy, TIM has a "Recarica Famiglia" plan that allows 4 phones to talk to each other for $.00 per minute for one week. I brought 4 unlocked GSM phones, bought TIM SIM chips for $10 Euro each, then paid an additional $5 (once) for the family plan. Then I handed out the phones and everyone could split up/reconnect at will throughout the trip. $45 total and I got $5 in outbound calling per phone. Inexplicably, the TIM store at Rome's airport can't be reached by arriving passengers. Instead, search for a TIM store here: http://www.privati.tim.it/pr/pr_risultati/1,,,00.html?pag=1&tuttoS=true. Remember to type in the Italian city name (e.g. "Roma", "Firenze"). I bought Sony T200 European phones years ago for $50 on the Internet and they work great, less cost than a rental. Beware of roaming on your existing GSM phone, the charges can give you a post-trip nightmare. These plans are not marketed to tourists because there's no profit for a SIM chip that will be used a week or two, hence you have to scratch a bit. But the effort to find a store and buy the chips in-country has a handsome payoff.
Las Vegas, NV USA Thu 04/16/2009
The best SIM card for Europe is a brand called EKIT.
My wife and I tried one of these on our recent trip to Italy/France. We used our own unlocked GSM phone. People in US can can call our number toll free.
The best way to buy it is on eBay. On eBay search "Italy SIM" and you will see several listed at a discounted rate. The best thing about it is it works the same in ALL of western Europe, handy if you are going to be in more than one country. The number you get is a UK number.
Also, it works out to be cheaper US calling rates than if you were to buy an Italy SIM from cellular abroad or brightroam.
The SIM we found on eBay was called the "Passport" (you can see the plan on the ekit site) and we got it on eBay for a flat $20 with free shipping. I don't know why more people don't know about this. We almost purchased a confusing Italy SIM.
Springville, UT USA Tue 03/03/2009
UK SIM card on O2
Last Spring in London I located a local O2 phone store, fairly common in the UK like a Sprint store in the US, and purchased an international SIM. The sales guy was helpful and I was out of the store with a working UK number in 20 minutes. If you're going to the UK the language isn't a problem so I recommend buying a card in a store there. When the minutes got low I could buy a card from a local gas station that allowed me to "top up" minutes.
Springville, UT USA Tue 03/03/2009
I would also recommend buying a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) phone when you get to Europe. I bought one that cost all of £10, and it came with £1 of talk time that could be topped up at any newsagents. Virgin Mobile cost 20p a minute to call the USA. I also have a Skype-In number, and I set that up to forward to my UK mobile. It did cost me about 25 cents a minute to do that.
Laramie, WY USA Wed 02/25/2009
Call in Europe solution
I'm returning from Italy and was very very pleased by my Call in Europe service. I bought my phone and service delivered to my door for less than $50 and in comparison with my last trip I saved $150. Half the price of the ticket to return there in few weeks...
boston, ma USA Tue 02/24/2009
iPhone and data
To Mike's point, you need to be really careful with the iPhone and AT&T when roaming. Even if you have the International plan, it's still stupid expensive, the iPhone will continuously send out and receive data through the network (keep alives, web sites, e-mail checking, etc.) without you knowing, unless you disable the service. iPhone international data roaming is atrociously expensive because of some exclusive service agreements... best you turn your iPhone data off and use it sparingly (i.e. desperately need the google maps, etc.) Side note: I'd try calling and complaining to AT&T to reduce your bill. Who knows, in this recession some of my friends have gotten bills lowered just by asking.
New York, NY USA Tue 02/24/2009
I think I've found the best option for local calling in the UK - Pay As You Go - or PAYG phones. They can be bought for as little as £5 for the phone with a minimum buy of £10 talk time credit. So for less than $25 USD (currently) you have a working cel. (check the carphonewarehouse over there)
To call back to the states I would use Skype - though really I just rely on email. WiFi is free in a lot of places so why bother making the phone companies rich?
Bakersfield, CA USA Sat 02/14/2009
For anyone in the Vancouver area
For anyone in the Vancouver area (BC), go to Foreign Electronics at 111 West Broadway Ave. I saw a writeup about them in the Vancouver Sun (see: http://www.canada.com/Travel/story.html?id=1062775 ) and they were really helpful in all things relating to electronics and overseas use, with adapters, unlocked mobile phones, unlocking services, and even a list of GSM carriers in the countries I was traveling to. As a bonus, the staff are remarkably knowledgeable and helpful, without ever trying to "upsell" you.
Vancouver, B.C. Canada Fri 02/13/2009
Cellphone usage overseas
Be very mindful of how much you talk on your cellphone overseas. I took my iPhone to Italy last May and thought that I did everything necessary to make using my cellphone there as inexpensive as possible. I signed up for the International Roaming plan which made my minutes cheaper $0.99 as opposed to $1.29, and got Data Roaming for a whopping $60/mo extra for 25 Mb of data. But, I was unpleasantly surprised by a $400 cell phone bill when I returned, and by another $300 bill the following month since my stay straddled two billing cycles. Jeez! I got the most bang for my buck using the data roaming. I used Google Maps and email a lot. Avoid calling back home if you can. Good for emergency communication.
Dallas, TX USA Wed 02/11/2009
I just ordered a GSM tri-band cellular phone (MOTOROLA C123) for $19 and a French SIM for $19 from callineurope. Service was excellent and professional, received the items promptly. The cell phone is basic but I don't need anything fancy for this trip. NO CONTRACT! While in France, ALL incoming calls and incoming text messages are free, $.39 for local, US/Canada and most of Europe. While in another European country (ie: Italy), lcoal calls are $.39, $.69 to other Europe and $.99 to US/Canada. No roaming fees! This is the best deal out there. Will report back on the service once I come back.
Burnaby, BC Canada Wed 02/11/2009
calling from Europe
When i went to Europe last summer, i used my own unlocked American cell-phone and i purchased a Sim card for $19 from http:/www.callineurope.com. Their rates are amazing! I got all incoming calls for FREE! and my outgoing calls to the US were $0.39/min. and There is NO roaming fees, no activation fees, NO contract, so you can stop using it whenever you want!
Larchmont, NY USA Wed 01/21/2009