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How to use my smartphone while traveling internationally without it costing a fortune. Is there a trick to it?

(22 Posts)
Earlybird Sun 17-May-15 14:28:29

We are traveling to England and France this summer on holiday (currently living in America). Is there a good method for using our American mobile phones that doesn't cost an absolute fortune?

Last time we visited, I used my old English Nokia and simply bought a payg local sim card. That worked OK, but it was a pain to give friends/family the new number for such a short visit. That phone is now ancient (also not a smart phone), so I'd like to find another solution.

Verizon (my mobile company in America) has sent through a quite complex flyer on their plan for calling/texting/minimal data, etc. but I haven't been able to decipher if it is a good plan or not.

I keep thinking there has to be a better/smarter way. I'm not looking to make/receive lots of calls back to America - just want to collect my emails, have my English friends be able to contact me while we're in the country, and have the ability to send/receive a few texts. Don't think I'll need (or will use) much data.

Have you got it sussed, and if so, can you please share? In simple terminology for this technically challenged Mum? grin

fuzzywuzzy Sun 17-May-15 14:32:32

do you have whatsapp or viber, anyone else with that can recieve and send texts and phone calls for free using wifi connection.

FernGullysWoollyPully Sun 17-May-15 14:34:07

Phone your network provider and ask them to switch off your data roaming. They also do bolt ons that charge you an amount per day for using your contracted minutes and texts, my DH did it when he travelled for a stag do, it was £2.50 per day and every call was charged to his 'normal' minutes.

It's worth phoning to see what deals you can get. You don't want a gigantic bill!

dementedma Sun 17-May-15 14:36:13

WhatsApp for texts

Trumpton Sun 17-May-15 14:50:49

Only use free wifi and use a mixture of Viber and Skype with Whatsapp for texts.
Turn off mobile data in your settings .
I have just been to China and did not spend anything on my iPhone.

Earlybird Sun 17-May-15 20:15:17

If using WhatsApp to send texts, is it true that the recipient must have the app on their phone?

I don't really know how WhatsApp and Viber work. blush Should I just google to get an explanation?

Trumpton Sun 17-May-15 20:25:03

Yes the other person will need Whatsapp as well.

Viber is like Skype and again both need it, you can use Viber and Skype in wifi.

YonicScrewdriver Sun 17-May-15 20:27:12

Do you have iphone? You can FaceTime other iPhones on wifi.

YonicScrewdriver Sun 17-May-15 20:28:35

Can you ask your English friends to text rather than phone? Then just switch your cellular signal on every hour or so to get and respond to texts, then switch it off.

SummerSazz Sun 17-May-15 20:30:32

Vodafone here do the add on for £3 a day you get to use your home contract whilst abroad, although I'm not sure it extends to America. As Fern said, speak to your provider and check if they have a similar scheme.

cdtaylornats Sun 17-May-15 22:15:06

This website gives a simpler description but it boils down to needing a pone that can use the GSMS bands as opposed to the CDMA bands Verizon uses.

iPhone 5 and 6 and Samsung Galaxy should be ok.

Pippidoeswhatshewants Sun 17-May-15 22:18:44

Not sure how this works with American phones, but when we go abroad in Europe we just disable data roaming and connect to free wifi to get emails.

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 16:27:47

Since you are in USA at present, can I suggest checking TWiT.TV - there's the 'Tech Guy' Leo Laporte who himself has been to Europe quite a bit, and has a syndicated radio show from 11:00-14:00 Pacific on Saturday and Sunday, and has the website and a quick search for "Europe" showed a number of questions about 'using my smartphone'... 'using my iPhone'...

I also found a tag for "International Data" so here's a > LINK <

I think one thing which will matter significantly is whether your phone is GSM or CDMA (two standards used in N America), because Europe uses GSM. Next will be the precise model of phone you have, as it needs to support the European bands - 900 MHz, 1800 MHz or 2100 MHz in particular.

Try > < for specific frequency coverage for the phone(s) you have access to (perhaps borrowing a relative's phone if theirs may work on EU radio frequencies).

Pippidoeswhatshewants uses WiFi and that's a pretty good solution if you know your hotel offers free WiFi, for example. I have a sister with a home in France and she is also looking for some sensible option to keep costs low. A lot depends on whether you really need to SPEAK to people (bearing in mind the 6/5-9/8 hour time differences between France/UK and East Coast/ West Coast)... so E-Mail should be fine and any .

Of course, something else to disable, if at all possible, is automatic updating (if using Android, go into the Google Play Store and under Settings, just disable automatic updates and notifications so you don't get pestered {or worse, find your phone downloading umpteen MB of data every day}... also disable the mobile data settings so your phone is only going to be accessible for text and voice calls.

I suggest disabling automatic updates of Apps because WiFi in some hotels may not be free, and if they charge silly amounts based on quantity of data, then you don't want an unwelcome bill caused by apps being updated daily.

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 17:32:09

I've just checked with Three and their PAYG SIM (3p/ minute for voice, 2p / text, and 1p/ MB) can be used in various countries... such as France and USA under their > "Feel at Home" < scheme.

It's aimed at UK residents, but I put the scenario of a USA visitor spending 2 weeks in UK and then a week in France, and that would be fine. Sadly calls back to USA would not be very cheap, but you'd have unlimited data for Skype use, while in UK, and 25 GB {plenty!} for Skype in France. Just don't make video Skype calls!!

So, if your phone is unlocked and GSM, and you are coming to the UK first, you could get the Three PAYG SIM and a £15 Add-On of 300 minutes, 3000 texts and unlimited data (I suggest you buy it > in a 3Store < ).

Sorry it's not ideal, because you'd get a UK number, but with e-mail you could inform families and friends very easily, for emergency use... With time zones e-mail better option generally, I would think...

Three doesn't lock their phones, so you could spend say £130 to £160 and get one of the latest GSM Android phones, either the LG Spirit or Motorola Moto G - both are 4G giving you fairly high speed, and during the month from time of purchase (whether in Europe or USA) have the option to use e-mail, Skype, Google Maps (!) and web browsing (up to a limit of 25GB while outside UK). Plus you could use the photos option to copy all photos you take onto your Google storage...

From an insurance point of view, you might be better off keeping your Verizon phone at home and buying either a used phone or cheap Android while over here (or switching to T-Mobile before your next visit to Europe smile ). NB If buying a mobile here, do ask for one which is unlocked and 3G else the data will be incredibly slow... best to consider Android unless you can spot an iPhone for under £200! If it's a new Android and you don't want it forever, you could surely sell it again in USA to some other family planning a visit ?

There are few 'cheap' options for iPhones, even used (UK chains selling used phones with warranty for 1-3 months are CEX, CashGenerator , CashConverters and in the northern half of England, Grainger Games.

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 17:40:54

By the way, while in the UK, if you see information lines, etc, then the only ones which can be called (without costing a fortune on PAYG) are 0800, 0808 or 0500 numbers, or those numbers starting 01xxx, 02xxx, or 03xxx which are geographic numbers for various towns/cities with 03xxx which are business geographic numbers.

If you got the "All-in-One 15" £15 top-up, then calling 0800 etc would come out of your 300 minutes (and more expensive numbers like 0871, 09xxx, would be blocked. Also, don't call from a hotel phone - probably better to ask on MN for advice because there may be other options to call that won't cost you so much...

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 17:42:52

Finally - might be worth asking in the Expats area - some of the people there who are living in USA for a while may have some tips on what they do for short visits back in the UK... Enjoy your holiday.

TarkaTheOtter Mon 18-May-15 17:48:13

I have Irish and UK payg sims and just use a different number in each country so not much help, sorry. When I arrive back in UK I just a put a quick message on Facebook reminding people to use my UK number. Every six months if I haven't returned to the UK I put my UK sim in and send a text - that keeps my number in service. I picked a payg service which gives unlimited data once you top up a certain amount so I can use Skype if I'm calling someone in the other country.

Pippidoeswhatshewants Mon 18-May-15 17:51:37

Even if your hotel doesn't offer free wifi, most coffee places and McD do.

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 19:10:11

Tarka - might be worth mentioning which networks you use so others can learn. Incidentally, I think 90 days is a more common (UK) limit on how long before a network might cancel a SIM and any remaining credit, if it has not been used... so leaving it as long as even approaching 6 months seems a bit risky.

It won't help for the OP (unless they travel to Eire or Germany in future) but there's an Irish firm, with > website < that offers free WiFi in pubs, restaurants, bars, cake shops etc (currently mostly in Ireland, but a few in Scotland, 3 in London, and spreading slowly across Europe and also in USA).

NetworkGuy Mon 18-May-15 19:12:24

I was going to add that I know Three and Asda have credit which doesn't simply expire after 30 days (the way many UK networks now force on PAYG customers), but only if one doesn't buy an 'add-on' 'bundle'.

I still have some old Virgin Mobile SIMs from 2005 or so with free voicemail and just send a text every month or two to "keep them alive".

TarkaTheOtter Tue 19-May-15 11:15:08

I use O2 in UK and 3 in Ireland. O2 credit only lasts three months but they have confirmed to me that I can keep my number if I use it every 6 months.
Im not sure if O2 is the best payg deal it was just the only local shop when I needed to swap my contract sim for a payg one in a hurry before emigrating.

NetworkGuy Wed 20-May-15 14:47:48

Hoping that Earlybird spots this thread sometime smile

Thanks for the info Tarka - seems O2 are more flexible than some (such as Three, which seems unable to cope with transfer of a PAYG number to contract - even though that's likely to be better for them for income!). Also the clarification about 3 or 6 months - again, they seem to be happy to keep you.

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