Help me sort out a phone for limited use in Europe

I need a phone to use in Europe (next trips are Italy and France). I've been browsing the threads here but I'm still confused and could use some advice. I need the phone for calling b&b's to let them know our arrival time, and to call places to check their hours. I don't need to text or to call back to the US. I don't own a smart phone and I'm on a tight budget. Thanks!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

I see you have been reading the other threads, and so have posted your exact needs well. Good job! If your US phone will work in Europe (check with your carrier), just use it in Europe. You'll pay about $1 to $1.50 a minute, but that's easier and cheaper than other options, if you just want the kind of limited use you're describing. If your phone will not work in Europe, you can buy a cheap phone there (similar to the "go phones" or "throwaway phones" sold in the US). It will come with a limited number of minutes, which you then "top up" when they run low. If you want to use the phone in another country, you have several options. To make this clearer, I'll use the example of buying a phone in Italy and then wanting to use it in France: 1. Top it up before you leave Italy, then just use it in France. The problems with this are a) It can be difficult or impossible to top up a phone bought in a different country. In theory, you should be able to do this on the phone company's website, but I have not always been able to get this to work.
b) You will go through your credit much faster in another country, as you'll be "roaming." 2. If the phone is unlocked, you can just buy a French SIM, which will have cheap domestic rates - particularly if you choose Lebara as your French carrier. I was told in a French phone store that all phones sold in France are locked. In France, I saw signs everywhere for "deblockage" and the cost is about 20 euros. I don't know if Italian phones are sold locked or unlocked; I don't remember seeing signs for phone unlocking in Italy.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

One word of warning if you buy a sim card in Italy and want to use it in France. I bought a sim in Italy for my unlocked AT&T phone. When I got to Germany I discovered it wouldn't work. I ended up buying another sim there. Last year, in my attempt to solve that problem, I ordered a sim card from Telestial. They are a UK company. The sim came with a US number and a UK number. I was able to receive incoming calls, but it never worked for me to make an outgoing call. I emailed the company and they gave me very detailed instructions for making an outgoing call. I still had no success. One problem with using your own phone is that you will be subject to receiving calls from people you may not want to talk to on your trip, and it will cost you. One trip where I just used my AT&T phone and got the International plan, I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by someone who didn't know I was in Europe. I had the phone turned on because I was using it as an alarm clock. Good luck With your quest for finding a good option. When you do, please post back and tell us how it worked for you.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

Simplest option is just to buy a cheap PAYG phone when you get there. They come with calling time already on them, which will probably be enough for your whole trip. On later trips, just buy a new SIM card for it (the original one will expire if you don't use all of the time).

Posted by Alyson
Chicago, IL, USA
410 posts

Thank you all for your helpful replies! Since my phone will not work overseas, it sounds like my best option is to get the pay-as-you-go phone. Sorry for my ignorance but I'm not a technically minded personhow do I find a phone like this? Do I need to go to a cell phone store? What are they called? I'll be flying into Milan, staying near the central station, so I'll be in a big city my first day.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1010 posts

Another option is to purchase a Mobal phone before you go. We wanted a phone for exactly the same uses as you. I'm remembering that the Mobal cost $30. There may have even been a cheaper one than the one we chose. You give your cc#, and any calls you make are charged. The advantage that I can see from what other posters describe is that you can use the Mobal in many different countries. Google to find the company, and buy on-line before departure. Comes with a set of adapter plugs.

Posted by Alyson
Chicago, IL, USA
410 posts

Thank you--that does sound like a good option. Did the Mobal phone and billing work out well for you?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17789 posts

H.S., The information posted so far provides a good overview of options you could look at. To expand on the information posted on Mobal or Telestial, there are a number of other "travel phone" firms also. Have a look at the websites for Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Call In Europe or TruPhone. It's a good idea to check a number of firms in order to get the phone that best fits your needs and your budget. I've been travelling with one of these services for the past few years, and have found that it works well. Some of the advantages (for me): > I have a working phone as soon as I step off the plane. No need to visit local shops or worry about menus in a different language. > Billing is often on a post-paid basis (calls charged to a credit card), which means no need to top up. > Rates are consistent through most countries in western Europe, so no worries about higher charges when roaming in countries other than where the SIM was purchased. The rates are slightly higher than using a SIM purchased in-country, but not much higher. For example, cost for outgoing calls in Italy is 69¢ per minute, which really isn't a huge burden on my travel budget. Sent texts are 69¢ each and received texts FREE. > Calling is usually done "normally" just by dialing the number along with the correct country prefix. Some travel phones use a "callback system" where the number is dialed, the phone is hung up, and then it calls you back when the call is connected. I find that awkward and not something I'd ever use. Most of the above firms sell only SIM cards, or a phone with a SIM. You could buy an unlocked phone off E-Bay and just use a travel SIM. I look at this as a "long term investment" as I use the phone on every trip. Good luck and happy travels!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

If you don't mind waiting until you arrive, it will be cheaper (both the initial purchase and the cost per minute). Of course, I do understand that you may want to have this settled before you arrive. And Mobal is certainly easy. As always, it's about trade-offs. The Italian word for a cell phone is "mobile" or "telefonino." The main carriers are Wind, TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile), 3 (Tre) and Vodafone. You will see stores with these logos all over (just like in US cities). If you ask at your hotel they will be able to direct you to a nearby store, which shouldn't be more than a few blocks away.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1970 posts

if you are arriving at the CDG airport, the Relay news stands, which are everywhere in the airport, sell a 35 euro payg phone with some minutes already loaded in. I don't know if it will work in Italy without higher roaming costs, but I'm sure a similar option exists when you cross the border.

Posted by Alyson
Chicago, IL, USA
410 posts

Thank you all so much for this information--I love this helpline!

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

H.S., one more option: Get a T-Mobile prepaid phone in the U.S. (but be sure it has the right radio frequencies to work in Europe). You can add credit to this phone on the phone and over the Internet so adding more credit won't be a problem. Here are three message threads that explain about using a U.S. prepaid phone overseas: Cell phones in Europe??? Using Phones in Europe between fellow travelers Has anyone used T-mobile no contract svc in Europe? I've not tried this myself yet, so I can't guarantee it is foolproof.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7213 posts

In Spain this spring I found two cell phone options for 25 euros that included 10 euros credit toward calls. The downside was you had to stop by a store to add value to your card (but they are everywhere). I'd probably do something along this line, but a phone at a kiosk in the airport, or department store or phone store downtown in your first city. Use that phone in your first country - adding value to the SIM card as necessary. When you get to the second country, use up the SIM card you have then buy a new SIM card for your new country. Your phone number will change, but for your purposes that really doesn't matter. I like Rick's technique of asking the store/kiosk to set up your phone for you and make a practice call before you walk away. They're simple to set up but the instructions and phone language probably won't be in English. After it's up and running, it's not different that using a cell phone here - except their phone numbers follow a different pattern than ours (don't expect 7 digits plus a 3 digit area code. Spain, for example uses 9 digits whether local or long distance).

Posted by Alyson
Chicago, IL, USA
410 posts

Thank you Brad. How do you find out what your phone number is? Do you just find that out when you put in the SIM card? I've recently been traveling to some small towns in France and Italy, and the places I'm staying asked me for a phone number to contact me ahead of time if needed.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

The number is part of the SIM card. The people where you buy the phone or SIM will show you the number and explain how to make calls, etc., when you buy the SIM. If you should change SIM cards, you also change numbers.

Posted by Michael
Kaiserslautern
13 posts

Lots of good advice from everyone. I moved from the USA to Germany last year. There are many phone options and we all hae our favorites, but here are my - keep it simple - recommendations for a first-time phone user from the USA. Some of them have already been mentioned. Wait until you get here. There are many cell phone stores, even at airports and major train stations). Look for stores with these signs: Vodaphone, T-mobile (more below). Purchase the cheapest phone possible (my Samsung was 25€).Purchase a SIM card for that country. I highly recommend Vodaphone. SIM cards come with a few free minutes, but you will also have to buy prepaid minutes (easy with Vodaphone - they have prepaid cards that you can use to add minutes from your phone; no need to go online or into a store). Another benefit of Vodaphone is that they are Europe-wide. That means that my German SIM works in France. However, I will pay a roaming fee so I rarely use my phone when traveling. If you will be making many calls in another country, then buy another SIM card in that country. Have the store install the SIM card and show you how to add minutes. Most stores will gladly do this for you.Voicemail: Forget about it unless you speak the language of the country. Most voice messaging menus are in the language of the country, without options to change it. Texting: Easy to use if you know the phone number of the recipient. Just like the USA.
Finally, I don't get a kickback from t-mobile or Vodaphone. I like them, and they are big, for a reason, they are customer friendly and easy to use.

Posted by Alyson
Chicago, IL, USA
410 posts

Thanks for your sound advice Michael. Finding the cheapest option somehow always comes natural to me :) . Hope everything is working out well for you in Germany.

Posted by Caitlin
Medical Lake, WA, USA
45 posts

You can purchase an "unlocked" phone that is the standard, small brick phone on ebay. Then, upon arriving in each country, you can buy a SIM card for that country (T-Mobile, Vodafone, movistar, etc...) at the train station or airport when you arrive. the SIM cards are usually about $30-40 and then they come with maybe $10 of credit on them that you can use and add more if you AT&T will offer will be cheaper, even if dialing the numbers are a bit more complicated.