Helpline Question of the Month: A Reasonable, Simple Cell Phone?
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Before heading to Europe, a traveler named Rick (no, not that one) looks for advice on what kind of no-frills cell phone would be best for his trip, and where he might find one.
Tag along on his journey through our Travelers Helpline...
We'll be heading to England and France this fall. Wondering what would be the easiest solution to having a cell phone that would work over there (use would be very limited — just for emergencies, or call ahead to our hotel). Our present one wouldn't work. Haven't gone to Europe in 10 years, so not familiar with possibilities.
Pacific Palisades, CA
Buy a cheap unlocked GSM world phone from eBay for about $20 and a 10-15 EUR prepaid SIM card in Europe. Find the list of mobile carriers at prepaidgsm.net.
Or visit a CarPhone Warehouse in England, they are all over the place. Buy a phone/SIM package there.
Another option is MOBAL.com. You can purchase an inexpensive cell phone from them and get pay-as-you-go minutes. You will be assigned a UK phone number; it will work in all European countries. I don't remember the per-minute charge — it was not the cheapest rate I've ever seen, but I made only a few calls and it was the SIMPLEST solution I could fine. I didn't want to have to shop for a new SIM card every time I entered a new country. I own the cell phone and the UK number they gave me is MINE, until I decide to discontinue the account.
You might also have a look at the "travel phone" firms such as Roam Simple, Call In Europe, Cellular Abroad or Telestial. They can provide phones or SIM cards for rental or purchase, and I've found the costs to be very reasonable. These firms use SIM cards based with European networks, so the rates are much better than roaming with North American cell networks. On my recent trip to Europe, I was using a SIM issued by a U.K. phone network. The rates were consistent for travel in any of the countries in Western Europe (ie: there were no "roaming" charges when moving from one country to another).
After agonizing over what type(s) of cell phones to purchase either before leaving for Europe or in Europe, we came on a very simple solution. We set up a Skype account for our phone and can use our own cell phone (iPhone) to call from Europe for about 2 cents or so a minute. My husband even had a 3 hour conference call for less than $10. You can easily add minutes to your account and even set up a Skype phone number so people can call you. We have been in Europe for 10 days and haven't bothered to buy a SIM card for the unlocked quad band phone we brought.
So the iphone/skype thing actually works? I have a Motorola Droid with Verizon and I have Skype on it. I receive calls from people in other countries and I know that is free, but will I be able to use my phone on Skype while abroad if I pre-pay for minutes? Or will I be charged through Verizon for using my phone internationally?
Rick, we had one of those "free" phones you get for renewing a contract with a carrier in the US, and had it unlocked for use in Europe. We went to T-Mobile in the UK two years ago and signed up for cell coverage and also internet. It was not expensive, and cost me 5 pence per call to the States. We had 10 days of internet for 5 GBP on the iPhone.
Las Cruces, NM
Don't you have to pay for the internet charge to use your phone (iphone or droid) with Skype in Europe?
Watch out. From what I have read, the Verizon version of Skype does not use wifi. It sends the signal over Verizon's phone connection which probably means it won't work in Europe. The iphone to skype connection being discussed did use wifi.
I don't use Verizon, so I am open to correction (but I'm 95 percent sure I'm correct).
Rick, you may want to check with your mobile provider here. I have not checked recently, but, in 2007 if I had called 2-3 weeks before departure they would have sent me a Euro compatible phone to use while in Germany. Good luck
Winston Salem, NC
CellularAbroad has phones for use overseas, with free incoming calls.
Los Angeles, CA
Here are a few options I know about: 1) The US carriers can loan you (for free) a phone that works in Europe, and you pay for the minutes (about $1/min). 2) Find a friend with T-Mobile or ATT that has an old cell phone they don't use anymore and borrow it. 3) Buy a quad-band unlocked phone on eBay ($20-$30). 4) Buy the complete package from one of those companies selling phones for European travel.
For option 2 & 3 you can get an overseas SIM from one of the companies selling them online, wait to buy when you are in Europe, or buy a pay-as-you-go SIM from a US carrier (not sure how you can add money to it from overseas, though, should you need to).
I have Verizon Wireless and they informed me that they no longer have the program that provides phones that will work in Europe. We use Skype through the internet and have had no problems in our first two weeks in Europe.
"or buy a pay-as-you-go SIM from a US carrier (not sure how you can add money to it from overseas, though, should you need to)"
Unless this has changed recently, those using PAYG phones from North American carriers are not able to roam in Europe or other countries. As you pointed out, "topping up" while overseas is one big issue. The other problem is the aspect of billing, which is negotiated between carriers. There are agreements for those on contract plans, and the charges show up on the normal bill. However, I don't believe this has been done for PAYG customers. While a PAYG phone may initially work in Europe, I suspect the rates would be so high that it would deplete the "bucket of minutes" very quickly.
Pacific Palisades, CA
Skype via wifi (and the Droid phones have wifi) works exactly the same way there as it does here. Buy some Skype Out minutes to call home cheap from your smartphone or PC.
Los Angeles, CA
Ken, I think you're right about the pay-as-you-go plans. Thanks for pointing this out.
I knew an exchange student here in the US who took her phone back with her, so I assumed it would work in her country. She probably had to get a new SIM for it.
It all depends on how you use your phone and how many countries you are going to visit. If you are a heavy phone user, it's better to have an unlocked phone and buy local SIM cards. But if you are not going to make many calls within one country, buying local SIMS makes the calls very expensive, not to mention the hassle of buying SIMs and stashing them away every time you cross a border. I'm a pretty light cellphone user — mainly for confirmation of restaurant and hotel reservations and emergency contact back home. So, unless I am going to be in the same country for a couple of weeks, I bring my pay as you go Mobal phone. It can be easily topped up online before I travel, and in the unlikely event that I need more minutes, I can reload via my computer. On the other hand, when I am going to be in a country for a while, I have an unlocked Nokia phone that I got in China for about 25 dollars that I can throw a local SIM card into.
So, as in most matters here, it all depends on how you personally travel.
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