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Wifi trouble in Bern and Luzern

Hello,
Ask Rick Steves recommended, I tried using wifi at McD and Starbucks in Bern. He writes that we should be able to receive a code after entering our mobile number. However, I wasnt able to receive the text to make wifi work. Is that because I had my phone in airplane mode the whole time? I dont have the international option, but does this recommendation only work with international option? I am about to head to Luzern, and I see he also recommends that same practice around riverfront. Please help!

Posted by
6788 posts

I'm not familiar with how these businesses run their "free" wifi (I don't rely on using free wifi when traveling because, as you are finding out, it's often worth exactly what you've paid for it). But if some system is going to send you a text message, you will of course need to be able to receive text messages, which will require some kind of connectivity. If your device is in airplane mode, that's going to limit your ability to receive text messages (exact limits depend on your device, your service provider and other factors). Bottom line: if someone is sending you a message at your mobile number, that mobile number must be able to access the network.

Personally, I have found "free" wifi unreliable while traveling. You will probably be able to get a usable wifi connection eventually, but you can't count on that being available where or when you want (or need) it. If you want reliable connectivity, you will need to make other arrangements. Many people would just go into a shop and buy a local SIM for their phone.

Posted by
8889 posts

In order to receive a text message, you need phone connectivity (but not data, just phone), i.e. not aircraft mode, and with a connection to a network.
If you have a foreign phone (non-Swiss) you need to enter your number including the code starting from Switzerland:
+ {country code} { area code} { number}

Posted by
985 posts

If you turn off airplane mode make sure you have turned off your data beforehand.... or bing, bing, bing, here comes all of your notifications and updates!

Posted by
31 posts

Luzern has free wifi that you enter your visitor number to use, so no text needed there. That's on the card you get from your hotel that also gives you free bus rides.

Posted by
5687 posts

The Starbucks and McDonalds in Europe seem to have different policies in different countries. Sometimes the WiFi code is on your receipt when you buy something. Sometimes they want to text you a code. I know I once tried to get a code texted to me at a McDonalds in Germany and it didn't work - I never received the text to my US number. When I was in Ljubljana, Slovenia, last year, though, I was able to get a coded texted to me for the local free public WiFi to my US number. So it just varies. Also, I assume these places change their policies over time so it can be hard to keep up. The McDonalds in Lisbon now has a bathroom code printed on the receipt, too, so you can't automatically count on free bathrooms there anymore (though it's pretty easy to sneak in when someone else enters their code). Guidebooks that are not updated every month may not be able to keep up with the latest situation.

It's true that if your phone is in airplane mode, you can't receive a text message. Actually, you need mobile data enabled to receive texts - and of course that's what you are trying to avoid (to pay possibly an expensive roaming fee). If your phone simply has no service at all in Europe (maybe your provider won't even allow it at any cost), then no, you won't be able to receive the text message with the code.

There are lots of other places to get free WiFi, though. I have a SIM card in my phone so I don't really have to worry about it, but I do use free WiFi at Starbucks and McDonalds fairly often anyway when I travel, just to save data.

Posted by
533 posts

So what other countries do the text-a-code thing? When I was trying to connect to wifi in the Zürich airport, I learned that Swiss legislation requires that all suppliers of public wifi collect registration information for users. This usually means texting a code, which was a real nuisance for me because my phone doesn't work outside the US. (Not with expensive roaming charges, not with a replacement SIM card, not at all. It's a cheap pay-as-you-go phone that serves my needs just fine for the 97% of the time I'm not traveling abroad. And for the other 3% of the time, I've always been able to stay well connected with wifi, until I went to Switzerland.)

Fortunately, there were sometimes other ways to register, such as by scanning my boarding pass at the airport, or through my visitor card in Lucerne. And I could use wifi at my hotels just like in any other country, I guess because it's not "public." Still, it was an unpleasant surprise that I wish I'd been prepared for.

Posted by
27407 posts

I've encountered the annoying text-a-code practice in England, at a mid-market Latin American chain (Iguana something-or-other?).

Posted by
533 posts

Andrew: With respect, I didn't ask for a lecture about my phone. I'm glad you found a phone that works for what you need. I have different needs and preferences, so I made a different choice, and I'm still very happy with it overall.

If indeed the requirement for public wifi users to register is a matter of national law rather than corporate policy, it's not likely to change too much on a month-to-month basis, so it is something that guidebooks could reasonably cover.

Posted by
8889 posts

I got caught in a restaurant today ("somewhere in Switzerland"). In order to use the Wifi it wanted to know my name and e-mail. Then it said it would e-mail the passcode to me.
But, in order to read the e-mail on my phone, I need data enabled. But, I want to use the WiFi because I don't want to use my data. So if you need Wifi you can't use it. If you don't need it (because you've got data) you can use it. Logical thinking - not.

Most ask for your phone number and text you the code, which doesn't require data, just normal phone connection.
BTW, I also know places in Switzerland where you don't have to register, they just tell you the code. So it can't be a legal requirement.

Mention it in guide books - possibly, but also need to say which countries require ID and an address to sell you a SIM card.

Posted by
318 posts

Issues with “free” wi-fi are why I bit the bullet and started buying local SIM cards. I just didn’t have the patience.