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buying a Smartphone - in Canada or Germany for use in Germany & Greece

hello, i am 70 yrs old & have never bought one of these new phones. must i buy a "Smartphone".....or?
what i want is something which will provide me with walking maps, access to Guide books, and to be able to book hotels & airlines. first i shall be going to Berlin, then train-ing it to Munich, then fly to Salonika & then train to Athens. my entire trip will exceed a month, in the Springtime. (also, are there Senior's rates for trains?)
i have recently read some distressing information about buying a SIM card in Germany: in 2017 there was a new law stating that one had to show ID and after that, 'they' would mail the SIM card, but i don't have a German address.
also, i've read that these SIM cards only last 15 days. it's very confusing.
by the way, i really don't need the services of a phone in terms of calling home.
advice would be greatly appreciated,
:) a novice
p.s. when i went to Athens a few months ago there were NO maps for where i was staying; my Greek friend was angry that i didn't have a phone like everyone else.

Posted by
4933 posts

Hi there. The best thing to do is buy a smart phone at home and start playing with it. Get used to it a little before you even leave for Europe.

You can actually use a smart phone purely on WiFi without ANY SIM card, at least in a limited way. In other words, if you have internet with WiFi at home now, you can buy a smart phone and not yet buy a SIM card to start getting used to the phone. Use it at home at first. Download apps for guidebooks (like the Rick Steves guidebook, etc.) at home.

You could even take the phone to Europe and not use a SIM card there at all, either. Just use the phone on WiFi at your hotel and at restaurants and airports, etc. You can still book hotels, send texts and emails, etc. as long as you are still connected to WiFi, without needing to buy a SIM or pay for any mobile service.

A SIM card however will make the phone more useful for say getting walking directions or public transit directions on the fly, say as you are out walking around Athens. How do you get back to your hotel? Use Google Maps on the phone and it will tell you how to walk back or which bus to take back that is leaving soon. It's very convenient. But, without a SIM card, you won't have an internet connection unless you have WiFi - at a hotel, a restaurant, etc.

I suggest you worry about learning to use a phone just on WiFi at first, and then consider getting a SIM card for it to make it even more useful as you travel.

I have not tried to buy a SIM card in Germany. Each country has different rules. I last bought a Dutch Vodafone SIM card on eBay in 2017, and I was able to use it in other European countries because of their "roam like at home" rules, meaning I could use the SIM card in Germany or Greece, too. (I didn't use the SIM there; I used it in Slovenia, Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, but I'm sure it would work in Germany and Greece, too.) I figured out how to set up the Dutch SIM card before I left the US (I've never used it in the Netherlands actually). But I'm tech-savvy. Perhaps you would find that too intimidating, unless you can find a local in Canada to help you figure out how to set up this Vodafone SIM before leaving Canada. It may be easier to try to find a way once you get to Germany to buy a SIM.

It seems that you may be able to walk into a Vodafone mobile store in Germany, show your passport, and provide a Germany street address - say the address of our hotel. This may be enough to register a SIM.

At worst, you would still be able to use your phone at your hotel on WiFi without a SIM, as explained above.

Posted by
4933 posts

What kind of phone? I recommend an Android, because they are getting pretty cheap. I'm not sure what is available in Canada, but here in the US, Moto phones are getting very cheap for fairly nice phones. Unfortunately, I really don't know anything about what kinds of phones are available for you in Canada. The key thing: you want to buy a FULLY UNLOCKED phone with no service in Canada, not a phone through a carrier.

You could also buy a tablet - basically just a larger phone, really, if you don't need to make actual phone calls. I have an Amazon Fire tablet that is good as an e-reader too. Some of these don't have SIM card slots at all (use on WiFi only, others do so you can use them with a SIM or on WiFi or both). The phone is smaller and fits into your pocket. Really a personal preference.

Posted by
25 posts

thank you for replying so, i don't have WiFi - i have been warned against it because of the electrical waves. i have a 'stand alone' computer like i did at work before retiring 4 years ago. i am very cautious about the internet; i've heard such terrible things so i don't use my computer for anything other than research or email. yet...i thank you again and shall read your email with pointed interest in the morning when i am fresher.
:) night nite

Posted by
1017 posts

One way of staying relevant is to be open to technical advances, including the Internet, cell data, and WiFi connectivity. I don't know which Luddite warned you off of WiFi because of the electrical waves, but that is like not riding in a car because it scares the horses. If it really concerns you, you can wear a tin foil hat. Just kidding, but I am 70 and embraced science long ago.

Relax and get out there to take the plunge. I haven't had a land line telephone in 8 years except for the one in my office at work. All my connectivity, including my telephone, is done wirelessly, and it has freed me up to do the things I like doing. I have free maps, a telephone, access to the Internet, a fitness monitor, a library, numerous city guides and hotel booking services, newspapers, and a texting device all in the palm of my hand.

Ask your friends who their telephone carrier is. Do some research and ask the cell phone salesmen what the advantages are to various smart phones. You don't need the top of the line Buck Rogers cosmic transmitter, but your life can be made so much easier by embracing the incredible access to information that cell phones/smart phones provide.

Here's what you get with a smart phone. You look onto the map display and type in the name of a tire store, or a hotel, or a restaurant, or the Costco near Newhall, California. You can then "click" on the resource you are looking at to find out reviews, pictures of the place, a telephone number and a website address, hours of operation, and many other facts about it. Then, using only limited movements of your thumb or fingers, can direct your "phone" to provide turn by turn directions to the business. It is freaking magic. Just as an added perc, you can download music from the Internet to listen to while you read the New York Times or the Denver post. Want to book a train trip? You can do it on your phone, including paying for the ticket, which will be displayed electronically on your device. All while you are having a coffee in the cafe near your hotel.

The future is yours. Embrace it.

Posted by
31471 posts


It would help to have a bit more information on your circumstances......

  • Do you currently own a cell phone with any network and if so, which network?
  • Which part of Canada do you live in?
  • How likely is that you might have issues dealing with a small screen and keyboard? If that might be a problem, you might want to consider one of the larger "phablet" style phones.
  • how much are you planning to spend for the phone? Subsidized prices are available for those signing onto a term plan.
  • what guidebooks are you planning to download?

I'm in the same age range as you, and have been using a smartphone for many years. It's now an indispensable part of daily life and as I found out on a previous trip, it's almost essential for solo travel.

I'm sure that some on the forum would disagree with me, but my suggestion would be to buy an iPhone as they're more "user friendly" than other types, especially for us "older" users. Do you have cell phone shops available in your area where you could go and have a look at the phones and speak to the sales people?

A few thoughts on your phone situation......

  • I'd suggest buying a phone from one of your local cell providers several months before you'll be travelling. If they offer them, take a few classes in how to operate the phones (Apple provides classes, but I don't know if that's the case with all of them). There is a learning curve with smartphones, especially if you've never had one before.
  • If you obtain a phone in Canada, you might consider using a roaming plan with your home cell network. That way you won't have to worry about SIM cards, unlocked phones or things like that. The phone will work in Europe (and elsewhere) without any hassles. Unfortunately if your Greek friend wants to call you, he will have to dial your Canadian number.
  • Get used to using text messaging as that's usually the cheapest and quickest way to keep in touch with friends. Incoming texts are often free, and outgoing texts only a few cents (depending on the specifics of your plan).
  • If you obtain a phone in Canada, be sure to get an adequate cellular data limit on your monthly plan. As you're planning on using maps, booking hotels or airlines, etc. while travelling, that will require data access.
  • You'll have to setup E-mail on your phone as well.
  • You indicated that your trip would exceed a month - how much beyond a month? That's important as some cellular roaming plans have a 30-day limit, although that can be renewed if done so prior to the expiration of the previous plan.

You mentioned, "no, i don't have WiFi - i have been warned against it because of the electrical waves." Who warned you about that? I've seen several studies on the subject and while nothing definite has been decided yet, WiFi is generally considered "safe" so that warning appears to be a bit outdated. Do you have a Smart Meter on your electrical service? Unfortunately there's no way to avoid it this these days, as WiFi is everywhere so you'll be bathed in RF waves where ever you go. Having a phone and not using WiFi won't help avoid exposure. Keep in mind that the cellular phone also generates RF which is separate from the WiFi and Bluetooth in phones, in order to maintain contact with cell towers. Cellular data can be expensive and limited while roaming, so WiFi is the best way to access the internet to use maps, obtain information or whatever. Many hotels in Europe require a password to sign onto their WiFi networks, so access is restricted to guests of the hotel.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
25 posts

what is an android? (pls forgive me my ignorance but i have no friends with such knowledge).

Posted by
25 posts

replies to Ken:
no, i do not have one of those new cellphones or are they the same as mobilephones?

i live in Toronto
what is a "phablet"? i am already having probs (as you have guessed) reading small print even with my "readers" on
i have no idea what these new phones cost. i was wondering if it would be better to buy one in Germany. here, i have been looking into refurbished Smart phones - altho' i don't understand what is "Smart" about these phones??
about downloading guidebooks - can one do this? does it cost? i was thinking of Lonely Planet and DK's Eyewitness Travel.
yes, i have been asking at phone shops here but i am embarrassed to ask what does the "I" in "I"Phone actually means?
you seem to assume that i wish to use such a phone in CDA but i see no need. i want to be able to travel thruout Europe & the Middle East and need a map to do so.
yes, i plan to visit overseas for one to 2 months and then...perhaps eventually to move there for 6 months a year.
to clarify about WIFI - it's not just the electrical waves, i have been warned that if one is wired - as opposed to wireless - that
one is protected in that it is harder to thieve one's identity or corrupt one's computer.
is RF the dangerous blue light?
if i use only WIFI overseas then i presume i can't walk about a city or roam a forest with a phone map then...i want to be able to 'get lost' & then see where i am & what's available where i am standing. is that possible?
i really have no use for contacting anyone 'back home' so that's where i'm NOT interested in the phone capacity. i just don't want to have to take all those heavy guidebooks with me.

THANK you for patiently listening. i have already booked my air tickets & if this new not-yet-bought-device won't cover my needs, then i shall prob go as i always have just with a guidebook & my intuition.

Posted by
25 posts

to the person who used the expression a "Luddite" - i have no idea what that means. is it an American expression?

Posted by
25 posts

p.s. i will be travelling alone, as always. i am on a pension, altho' i was looking at refurbished Apple phones here; that's when i started wondering if it would be better to buy in Berlin (where i am landing) than here in CDA. since i am no longer at work, i no longer have 'friends' to consult; that is why i am writing you.

and...very thankful i am to you for responding in detail. :)

Posted by
31471 posts


I'll try to answer some of your questions and provide some further suggestions. It would help to have a first name to address you with.

To begin with, a definition of the word "Luddite" - "a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology."

Regarding your plan to move to Europe for six months raised some red flags. Are you aware of the terms of the Schengen Visa? Unless you have an E.U. Passport or obtain a long term stay Visa, you will be limited to stays of 90 days in each 180 day period.

I'm also on a Pension and also normally travel solo, so I can appreciate your position.

Some answers to your questions.....

  • Sorry, I should have explained the term "phablet" in more detail. That refers to larger smart phone models that are somewhat between a phone and a tablet. A Tablet is something like an iPad.
  • I would recommend buying a smartphone here rather than in Germany. If you buy a phone outright, they're usually very expensive. If you buy it at home and sign onto a term plan, the cost is more reasonable. Also, the European models may have slightly different specifications. It's very important that you learn to use the phone before you embark on the trip!
  • Yes, you can definitely download those guidebooks that are offered in E-Book format. Many of the Rick Steves books can be downloaded in several different formats - Kindle, iBooks, etc. The Amazon Kindle Reader is available for smart phones at no cost. However there will be a small cost to download the actual books. I've found that E-Books have a definite advantage in terms of size & weight when travelling, but are more cumbersome to find information in a hurry. I still prefer a paper book.
  • I don't know what the "i" in iPhone means? It's just a marketing name adopted by Apple, and might not mean anything. Perhaps it means "intelligent" (ie: smart)?
  • I asked whether you had a phone in Canada, as that would make it easier to upgrade to a smartphone. I thought you might have an older Flip Phone or similar. One thing to consider is how easy it will be to view maps on the small phone screen? Perhaps you could also look at something like an iPad or iPad Mini which have larger screens?
  • Yes, identity theft can be a problem with public WiFi systems. However, I've never had any problems using hotel systems that require a Password. If accessing websites that require some degree of security, I switch WiFi "off" and use cellular data.
  • I'm not sure what you're referring to as "the dangerous blue light"?
  • If you're walking about a city and need to view maps such as Google Maps, you'll be using cellular data and not WiFi. There are some mapping applications that can be downloaded and used off-line, but I'd have to do some research on those. I tend to just using maps for short term applications, so use cellular data. One thing to keep in mind is that smartphones access GPS systems, so the phone must be able to "see" the satellites.
  • As you're planning to travel in the Middle East, I would highly recommend checking the Government of Canada website for any travel warnings on the places you plan to visit. The website also has health information for each destination. Be sure to visit a Travel Medicine clinic to get your vaccinations up to date and get any specific vaccines for the places you'll be visiting.
  • If you buy a smartphone, there will be a monthly cost for the plan, even if you don't want phone capability. You'll have to ensure some way of paying that during the time you're away.

Good luck!

Posted by
607 posts


I am 57 and have a difficult time reading small print. I use a phone, but just to make calls and to text. I always carry an 8" Android tablet 24/7. The bigger screen makes it easier for me to read and to do stuff. I survive without a data plan. I just use wifi to access the internet and to download information. I use it to research and book trips. I use to download maps which can be used offline.

Android is an operating system. It is a competitor to the Apple iOS operating system. For you, i would suggest an Apple iphone if you want to get a data plan or an ipad mini if you can survive just using wifi. The reason is that you can get a lot of support and instructions from the Apple Store. Their customer service is first rate and they can teach you everything.

Posted by
25 posts

very kind of you to think of me. i realise now that i do NOT want a phone - i have no one to call and, esp overseas. what i do want is a GPS whilst i am walking around getting lost and....a download of handy travel guides for suggestions. i have heard that i could buy just a GPS; that i shall be investigating. i already have a little tablet but i've never experienced downloading; perhaps the library can help me.
thank you!

Posted by
31471 posts

If you just want a GPS unit, perhaps something like this model would work for you - .

It might be helpful to call this store or pay them a visit, and talk to the knowledgeable sales staff. I'm sure they will be able to recommend the best product for your needs - . Since you live in Toronto you'll be able to have a look at the various models in the store.