Has anyone used these in Europe, particularly in France, who could make a recommendation whether this is a good way to keep in contact with family, etc., while in Europe?
My question too.....:)
I use a Virgin phone in England and a Vodafone in Italy and Greece. Love them both. I just buy the time I need and call home. Purchase a cheap, major label phone and you can use it for years to come by just purchasing a SIM card when you land in a new country. For major brands like Virgin and Vodafone you need their SIM card. I loan mine to friends when they travel and they have no problems.
And calling from Europe is so easy, you'd think you were calling ext door (if you stay aware of the time difference).
If you have an unlocked phone you can use any pre-pay SIM. Have a look at this company which specialises in international call SIMS. They also operate in France and if it is like the UK, you can buy them almost everywhere! http://www.lebara.com/
Mark and Kim, what type of cell service to use is a frequent question on these forums. You might have luck finding some posts a page or two back on the list of topics, or you could try to do one of the advanced google searches described in the post titled, "Get answers to your questions searching Rick's Archives." In a nutshell, here is what the usual responses are: Yes, using a prepaid phone (or SIM if you have an unlocked phone with the correct frequencies) is a great way to stay in touch with the U.S. as well to call local numbers. The rates aren't super cheap, but they are cheaper than you can get from your U.S. cell company (where rates are between $1 and $2 a minute). They have some disadvantages, primarily being that folks who want to call you will pay international rates when they call from the U.S. They will also have to be educated how to make an international call and you will have to get your number to them after you are in Europe, assuming you buy the phone/SIM there. Another option recommended by many is to get a phone/SIM from a travel phone company, Telestial, Mobal, Ekit, etc. There are lots. They will send you the phone/SIM before you leave so you'll know your number earlier. Disadvantage: they mostly charge higher rates than a local SIM (even a SIM that is roaming from one country to another). But the rates are less than what you'd pay to a U.S. carrier, depending upon the amount of calls you make. The travel phone companies charge an upfront fee in addition to the calling rates so you have to factor that amount in to get a true picture of the cost of making or receiving calls. With a prepaid SIM, you must fill your account ("topping it up") when it runs low. With most travel phones, they will automatically top it up by charging a credit card. Advantages and disadvantages to both options.
(Continued . . . ) A lot of the travel phone companies will also give you the option of a U.S. telephone number that others can call that will be forwarded to the European number (usually from the U.K.) that they give you. It costs you extra, but it saves your callers from the expense of an international call. Other options: Use a prepaid calling card, available at convenience stores overseas, and call from a pay phone. Cheapest rates, but pay phones are a bit harder to find than in the past. Also, no way for others to easily reach you. Or use a wifi connection and call with Skype (some say you can call with Magic Jack, too). Maybe this is the cheapest way to call. You have to set up a Skype account beforehand and learn how to make calls. You also must have a smartphone that can make Skype calls or use a laptop, tablet, or netbook that can do so. Disadvantage: still hard for others to reach you when you aren't connected. The only way to use data overseas over a phone connection is with a local prepaid SIM. Otherwise stick to wifi. Your cell company and the travel phone companies generally have rates that will eat you alive. This is getting better, though, and there may actually be a travel phone company or a U.S. cell plan that is halfway reasonable.
(Continued . . . ) I use and recommend using a local SIM. I use two from the U.K. and can top them up by buying credit on ebay. I must have data, though, so this approach works well for me. The easiest solution, though, and the one I think I would recommend to most people is to stick with you local U.S. carrier. You must have T-Mobile or AT&T and a phone that works, or arrange to rent/borrow a Verizon travel phone (Sprint users need to find some other solution). You have to be sure your carrier knows you may be roaming internationally. Then the trick is use your phone very, very judiciously. Forward all incoming calls to voicemail before your plane takes off. (Better yet, forward calls to a voice to text transcription service, such as google voice, so you can see who has called and read a rough translation of their message without having to call your U.S. voicemail service.) Tell those who need to contact you to send a text message. Don't call home just to chat - at least not on the phone. Use a wifi connection instead. Keep your texting to a minimum because at $0.35 a text, even that can add up. My family does a combination of these things. We keep our U.S. phones, but forward calls. We also have a separate phone or two with the U.K. SIMs. I also use Skype and some T-Mobile phones permit wifi calling over the T-Mobile network (it just uses minutes; no extra fees). I will admit, though, that it can get complicated. I enjoy mastering it; it is part of the challenge of travel to me. But for most folks, just do what is easiest, being cautious about costs.
Check out Vodaphone -- I travel often and found it best to purchase a basic phone and a sim card. Now there may be better deals around though, so check the site and others as well.