A long time ago AT&T was one of the only ones that allowed you to use your cell phone while traveling in Europe, at least that I could find at the time. That is one reason why we always remained with AT&T since we traveled overseas. Now I'm thinking of switching and having this possibility will be one of the deciding factors on who we go with. I wanted to ask my fellow travelers which provider they use and any pros and/or cons you have about that provider while traveling in Europe. I plan to do research but having heard what others think will help. Thank you!
Karen, I was hoping that someone from south of the 49th would chime in on your question, as I'm not as familiar with U.S. cell networks. I'll try to provide some information. As you noted, AT&T used to be the only US network that offered GSM roaming. However, Verizon and Sprint now provide that as well. However since they're primarily CDMA networks, the ability to roam will depend on the phone handset. Most Smartphones these days are able to operate on all frequency bands on both CDMA and GSM networks. Verizon especially seems to be especially accommodating to their customers that want to travel in Europe. If the customers phone wasn't capable of use in Europe, Verizon would provide a loaner or rental for periods of up to a month (as I recall). Presumably they're still doing that? Based on what I've seen online, Sprint isn't quite as accommodating but they will allow roaming AFAIK. One important question is whether the networks will easily unlock the phone if requested. That will allow the use of other SIM cards in the phone. You can ask each of them what their policies are for that. I'll have another look at this thread later when I can see the screen properly (using an iPhone is awkward). Cheers!
My understanding of Verizon smartphones is that devices operating on the 4G LTE (high speed) service are unlocked such as the iPhone 5 and newer editions and can accept sim cards when traveling outside the U.S. The iPhone 4S operating on 3G (slower) service can be unlocked by a Verizon representative if certain conditions are met and then capable of accepting a sim card say in Europe.
For 2G service (voice and text), T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM, and so are compatible with European networks, as long as your phone is quad band. Almost all smartphones are, and some (but by no means all) dumbphones are as well. The US uses the 850 and 1900 band, while Europe uses 900 and 1800. For voice and text, Verizon and Sprint use CDMA, which is totally incompatible with European networks. But more and more smartphones sold by these networks are "world phones," and have both CDMA for the US and GSM 900/1800 for Europe. With all these providers, some phones are sold unlocked, or can be unlocked for free by the provider after a certain time. If locked, you have to use the US carrier with its rates. If unlocked, you have the option to replace the SIM with a local or international one, for better rates. When you take your US phone to Europe and it works, you are roaming on the local country network. For instance, whether your US phone is Verizon or AT&T, if you take it to Italy, it's likely to be on TIM. So, I don't imagine much difference in service. It will depend much more on the individual phone model - some have better "radios" than others and get better signal. Since you are using the local cell network, you also are at its mercy regarding speed (if there's no 4G or no 4G LTE where you are, it won't matter which phone or provider you are carrying - you can't get it). However, the 2G network in Europe is much denser than in the US - except for really rural areas, coverage is great, including in metro systems. For more information, a great source is http://www.prepaidgsm.net/
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Thank you everyone for the advice and information!!
We do not have a smart phone of any kind although our 4+ year old phones are going to have to be replaced soon and there aren't many other options available anymore. We have them because we don't text, we don't use data, we don't email with them, all things that we will probably use, and have to pay for, when we get one. All we really care about is having a phone that is "global ready." We don't mess with SIM cards or care about how many G's the thing can handle. We sign up for the Verizon discounted travel rates for the brief time we are gone and cancel that when we get home. For the reasons listed above, and because only recently have there been many smartphones through Verizon that are global ready, we have resisted getting on that bandwagon. The ever increasing size (and weight if you put a cover over them) has also kept us from getting one. I will say that we have made 4 trips to Europe using these phones and twice the Verizon people who "helped" me set up the travel options, didn't know what they were doing. It didn't work when we got there and I had to call them from Europe to find out what was going on. One time they did it right and we had no problems. And this year, I did it myself online and it worked correctly. This year I compared the costs for the "loaner" phones vs. doing it the way I described above, and it was cheaper to do it the way we were doing it already. Whatever you do, make sure that you can call within Europe and back to the US, and turn off the data unless you can get some deal because you will pay a fortune for it. Also be aware that if we can get signal on our old phones anywhere we've been, yours should surely work if it is set up right. Every time we cross a border, we get a little message welcoming us to the new country and its network.
Karen we stuck with ATT through several trips; no issues with service. We pay for a couple of weeks of international text and data - not bothering with unlocking or local SIMs. No problems or complaints.
Okay but expensive option, use your phone internationally. To do this it has to work on the right kind of signal (I think if it works in Europe and the US it's called a quadband) that is used in Europe. Not every phone uses this.
Better option, if your phone works, unlock it and get a SIM card in Europe. That gives you a local number, incoming calls are free and outgoing calls (in the country you purchased the pin) are cheap.
I have a cheap phone I picked up in Europe for 25 euro. It included the phone, charger, SIM card and ten euro worth of minutes (at 8 cents a minute). I think it's hard to beat that. The phone is now my travel phone. I pick up a new SIM card in the country I'm visiting. It's a prepaid phone through Vodaphone (but there are other competing companies in Europe, Orange is another example), the biggest downside is you have to visit their store to buy more minutes (but they are all over).
I guess I will be a minority view. I have used T-Mobile in Europe on three trips a year for about a decade. I have had good results in places as diverse as the UK and Bulgaria and South Africa. Almost without exception I have had a signal where ever I was. Rates were "fair" but not cheap until recently: http://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-9455
Another minority view........ AT&T IPhone user here.........I turn off my cellular DATA and leave phone live for incoming and outgoing calls.....limited to emergencies.....I use texting otherwise .... Even to text pictures.....wifi is readily available in Europe and use that when I can... Never signed up for international plan....just got off plane and use asat home with exception of cell data off .
3 week trip to Spain including 10 days in morocco. With many texts including pictures and a smattering of calls increased my monthly bill $50