For overseas DATA use, local prepaid is best solution

Just returned from a trip to Germany. I took the SIMs we obtained in the U.K. on previous trips. As soon as I powered on the phone with one of those SIMs, I received a text message letting me know what the costs would be for calls and text messages while roaming outside the U.K. I also received a text telling me how to use data while roaming. I opted to purchase a "Euro Booster" package of 50MB of data for £10 (or $16.03 at today's exchange rate). When I had used up that amount of data, I got another message about obtaining data. A package could be purchased simply by sending a text message to the carrier. By the end of the trip, I ended up using two 50MB packages and one 20MB package (for £5). In total I spent £25 (or $40.07). Using the same amount of data from my U.S. cell carrier would have cost $15 per MB, or $1,800! Using the phone's data connection was so convenient, that I ended up not even looking for a wifi connection in most places. I'd use wifi if where I was staying at night had it, but that's about it. Because using data in this fashion was so easy, I freely used Google Maps on several occasions to help us navigate even though doing so uses up more data than retrieving email or basic web browsing. Messages from the cell phone company were in English. I called customer service a couple of times and those calls were in English as well. The only possible drawback is that I once had to program the APN settings on my wife's phone. This is a setting that tells the phone how to make the connection to the carrier's data services. On my phone, the system automatically set this itself. I think my wife's U.S. carrier had disabled that ability on her phone, but it wasn't hard to configure. I simply copied the information off my phone, but I'm confident I could have called customer service and been told what to do, too.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17716 posts

Paul, That's excellent information! It sounds like PAYG data access has become easier to get than in the past. Could you elaborate on which cell carrier your data plan was with? Also, are you using an Android phone or iPhone? Based on your description, I'm assuming your trip started in the U.K. and ended in Germany? At the present time, my phone doesn't have data capability but I'll be looking seriously at the iPhone 5 whenever it's released (?) so this information will be helpful for "future reference". Thanks for posting.

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Ken, I used the U.K. T-Mobile carrier. My trip started in Germany. I have some UK SIMs that we got on prior trips to England, one as far back as 2006. I keep them loaded with about £10 and keep them active by powering them up in the U.S. every 6 months or so and sending a text message to my U.S. phone. Recently, I discovered that I can buy top-up vouchers off ebay to add credit to the accounts without ever having to set foot in the U.K. or have a chip & pin U.K. credit card. The phones we used were Android. I know the iPhone takes a smaller SIM card, which I believe all the U.K. carriers offer, but I don't have any personal experience with what it takes to get an iPhone to work. As I posted in another thread, calls back to the U.S. were actually cheaper with the U.K. phones than with my U.S. carrier. (See thread titled, "disposable phones in Europe" in this Forum.)

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17716 posts

Paul, Have look at This Website for good example of a "worst case scenario" and what CAN happen for those that don't pay attention to the data roaming issue. Click the "1:52 video" button on the left side of the text to see the story. The phone company was VERY generous to drop $10,000 off the top, but it's still a HUGE bill! When or if I buy an iPhone, I'll definitely consider the method you suggested with a "local prepaid solution". Cheers!

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

We discovered a potential problem with data on our most recent trip. We loaded an app on my daughter's phone - an Android device - to keep track of her data to be sure she didn't accidentally use any. Her phone had her U.S. SIM in it so data charges would have killed us. We then turned off data roaming, etc. in all the settings we could find. She and her friends back home exchanged picture messages, or MMS. Sending them cost just $0.35 on our plan and nothing to receive when roaming outside the U.S. When we looked at her phone, however, yikes! she had 27 MB of data use showing in the counter app. What I discovered is that picture messages are treated as data by the phone, just not data data that burns up huge charges. Or at least I hope so. We're still waiting to see next month's bill. Sometimes international charges take a billing cycle or two to appear. Anyway, the take away is that we couldn't count on the data counter app to separate out the MMS data from Internet data. Still, we preferred to err on the side of caution. My daughter stopped sending picture messages.

Posted by Pierre
Longueuil, Quebec, Canada
4 posts

I'm bringing my unlocked iPhone 4 to Italy, for a little less than one month. When I get there, can I purchase a Micro SIM Card and an italian prepaid service that will let me use it for calls and data (internet and emails) while in Italy? Will this also allow me to tether wirelessly to my iPad? Thanks.

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Pierre, check out these message threads: SIM Card for Italy iPad in Italy Cell Phone Data Plan Making my ipad work in Europe AT&T data and call plans

Posted by Allie
Denver, CO, United States
2 posts

How much does it cost to get a SIM from a european carrier? I have an unlocked iPhone 4 and use Tmobile in the U.S. Also, is there a way I can get the SIM and set up the PAYG plan before I get to Europe? (If not, where would you recommend I go?) Do most of these European SIMs/PAYG plans work all over Europe? (or is there a specific carrier that you would recommend?) I'll be in Europe for about a month and I'm not yet sure which countries I will be seeing so I'd prefer a carrier with the widest network/coverage. Also, did you only use the SIM/PAYG plan for data? How about calls/texts? Thank you!

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

I have used a SIM from a carrier based in the U.K. The help messages are in English as is telephone support. That was helpful. This one SIM worked in several European countries. The companies want to enable their customers to travel outside their home country, so they expect and permit roaming. The costs are capped by law or regulation so they aren't as deadly as data roaming on a U.S. carrier. The major drawback of this method: You have to load enough value on your card while in the U.K. or figure out some other way to add value should you need to do so (I bought top-up vouchers on ebay U.K.). It costs very little. The SIM cards are basically free. You can get one with about $10 in credit for about $10. I don't know if you can get one before you get over there (you could try ebay). If you did, I'm not sure you could activate it until you were in Europe (but I haven't tried). Once you are there, you can buy SIMs all over the place. They are sold at phone stores, convenience stores, and so on. Finding one is generally not a problem. Yes, I used it for data (read the top of this thread for details) as well as calls and texts.