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International phone plans advice

Hello! I am going to England for about 6 months and have plans to also travel to a few other countries (if everything goes well). I need advice on the best thing to do about my phone for that long of a stay. Would a SIM card be best and if so which one or is their other smarter more afforadable ways that anyone knows of. I mostly want it for the data so I can use my maps and whatsapp. I have verizon and they have international plans but they are kind of expensive. Any advice would be great!

Posted by
216 posts

We used Giff Gaff for our SIM card when we spent 6 weeks in the UK last year. Worked fine in the EU, too. They have monthly plans for data and you buy a top-off for charges that aren't covered by the data plan or for use in non-EU countries. We had ours sent to the US 2 weeks before our trip. I installed the SIM cards a week before and activated them online just make sure it all worked. then I took them out and stored them in a contact lens case with a paper clip taped to them. When we landed at heathrow and waiting for luggage, I installed them back into the iPhones and rebooted the iPhones. Worked like a charm.

For six months, I would also suggest looking at Google Fi. They have monthly data plans that work all over the world. I have a Dual SIM iPhone, so had my normal ATT plan on the E-sim and the Google Fi SIM card in the second slot. Once I left the US, I turned off the ATT e-sim and turned on the Google Fi SIM card in the iPhone settings. Worked great except for secure financial websites that used 2FA (two-factor authentication) and would send the text to the ATT phone number (which was turned off).

Avoid using the ATT international plan. The cheapest plan is $10/day- which is $300/month.

Posted by
4371 posts

Two years ago, we switched from Verizon to T-Mobile. Our plan and phones work the same at home in the USA and across the world, no extra SIM cards, additional international plans, or separate devices needed. You’ll want to ensure that you get a plan that works for you.

Posted by
204 posts

Our T mobile senior plan, called Magenta, covers everything international as well as domestic with unlimited talk, text, and data. The price is good, too, at $70 a month for 2 lines. They also offer excellent customer service and there are freebies each Tuesday.

Posted by
2981 posts

Depends on how much you use your phone for voice calls when not connected to WiFi. If you use it primarily for texts and international texts are free with your current plan you need do nothing. When overseas, I seldom make a voice call, so when I do, they are short, so less than a dollar per call since prices have come way down. If you’re like many who are continually on your phone, or you need to make work calls during the day, a prepaid SIM might be best. You can purchase them in many locations. So as not to use data for map I download Google maps of the areas I’ll be visiting for offline use. When needed, place the phone in airplane mode and use Google maps like you would at home. In airplane mode, the phone is really just a GPS. I’ve had good luck with the downloaded maps.

Posted by
31216 posts

sam,

As you're planning to be there for an extended time, the most cost effective approach would be to get a local SIM on a PAYG plan. Stop at the nearest Carphone Warehouse when you arrive in the U.K. and they will be able to recommend the best plan for your needs. Of course, the one important caveat is that your phone must be unlocked or it won't accept a SIM from another network. Using a local SIM also means that your number will change so no one will be able to contact you on your previous number.

It would help to have some idea on your country-of-residence and when this trip is going to take place?

Posted by
2673 posts

Just chiming in to reiterate "Using a local SIM also means that your number will change so no one will be able to contact you on your previous number." This was a shock to me on our first trip a few years ago, and it really messed us up because our overnight ferry was canceled and the ferry company called our regular (USA) phone number to notify us of the cancellation. We never heard that message until weeks later when we got home.

Since you'll be in England for months, this is probably less of a deal breaker, but do be aware. For example, if you get a local UK SIM card and go to the continent you may need to get another SIM for one or more other countries.

The T-Mobil international plan seems like a nice option. I was all set to do that but when I contacted my cellphone company (Credo) to unlock my phone, they told me they don't allow this. So I had to choose between a local SIM card in each country we were going to visit or keeping my USA phone number. I chose the latter, and it worked out fine. We just avoided using the phone as much as possible except when we could get WiFi.

Posted by
4513 posts

Dual SIM phones where you can leave your regular SIM in plus another and choose which to use to call out / text / data etc are quite common but less so I understand in the USA. I even find this useful going round the much less populous parts of the country as two networks have a better chance of coverage than one.

Posted by
245 posts

T Mobile is probably your best bet if you want to keep your number. I havent used them for a few years, but when I had them, going to/through Europe was easy and generally not terribly expensive. Network switched easily. I had an international plan which allowed for unlimited data at a reduced speed, so you may need to verify how much data you get, and what it costs to top up. I cant speak to Google Fi personally, though the few people I know that have tried it have reverted to another carrier. (I dont know if that is expense or service related.)

Another alternative is to get a local PAYG sim. Once you've done that, set up a WhatsApp (or equivalent) profile for the UK sim. Send a message to your friends and family with it to maintain communications (WhatsApp has voice, video, and messaging). Currently, a UK sim on the continent will allow you to use your UK minutes/data so you wouldnt need a third sim. Your phone needs to be unlocked for this, but luckily, cheap phones and PAYG are widely available if it isnt.

Posted by
1852 posts

I used a Vodafone UK SIM on my trip to Europe last fall, where I used it in Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. I haven't actually used it in England, as my trip there this year was cancelled. Of course, I would expect it to work quite well.

I bought it while still in the US, activated it and set it up in my older Verizon phone. I kept my Verizon US SIM in my "current" phone and used that in the hotel on wireless only.

I used the UK SIM (with a "Big Value Bundle") for Google maps for both walking and (1 day) driving, whatsapp, calls and texts within Europe, and tourist type lookups. I didn't come anywhere close to using a £10 Big Value Bundle during my 3.5 week trip.

You can read the details, including cost, at this thread:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/vodafone-uk-sim-card-for-use-in-europe

I carry a small balance on the UK SIM. Every 90 days (at most 180 days) I send a text from the phone with the UK SIM to keep it active.

Posted by
1852 posts

then I took them out and stored them in a contact lens case with a paper clip taped to them

Derek, I love this suggestion for storing SIM cards while traveling, thanks!