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Complicated phone needs abroad

I have a rather complicated travel phone situation, and am feeling over my head, so I'm looking to the Forum for expert advice. We plan to be in Europe for about 4 weeks this summer, in many different countries (details below). I have an elderly mother with dementia in an assisted living facility in the US. I need a way for her caregivers to be able to contact us in case of emergency. I would also like to have the capability of calling the US in the event that I need to be involved in lots of emergency planning for her (she has had 3 falls with broken bones in the past 2 years, so sadly this is a real possibility). If possible, I would prefer not to use my US phone number, because I don't need to answer everyday calls, nor do I want to pay for receiving them. Our carrier is Verizon, and unfortunately because of where we live, switching carriers isn't a good option, in terms of coverage. I am seeking a reliable and not overly complicated strategy, without having to spend a ton of money.

We will be flying into Vienna, then traveling to the Czech Republic. From there we will be joining the RS Best of Eastern Europe tour, which visits a number of countries with very short stays (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia). At the end of the tour we will be spending time in Venice.

Because of the short amounts of time we will be spending everywhere other than Austria, the Czech Republic, and Italy, it doesn't seem feasible to be able to purchase SIM cards in each country we visit (Also, I am a complete newbie to all of this....I've never purchased or used a SIM card ever, and it all seems rather daunting!!) I expect to be able to correspond via email from hotels most evenings. It is also possible to ask people to contact us via the hotels we are staying at (although that could be a challenge, since most people don't have international calling plans). But this combination might not be sufficient in case of emergency.

What do you suggest???

One other thing which is a "like to have" rather than a "need to have." There will be a total of 5 of us on our trip (2 families) and there is a probability we will split up at various times. It would be ideal to have a means of occasionally contacting one another to check in and/or make plans to meet up. So having a phone -- or 2 phones -- we could use in this capacity would also be great....but is not a necessity.

If you respond, please assume I know absolutely nothing about how any of this works!

Thank you.

Posted by
15578 posts

In have a flip phone with a universal SIM, calls at like 20 cents/min. Since I switched to T-Mobile, it sits in a drawer and will probably die there. T-Mobile has a $60 (all inclusive)/mo for 2 lines, 20 cents/min in Europe for voice, free text to/from the US and 2G data in Europe.

Posted by
8889 posts

A SIM card purchased in any EU country (and all the countries you list are in the EU) will work in any EU country. There will not be any surcharge for calling from another EU country (for example to your second phone.
But, I cannot guarantee that calling to or from the USA from a different country will not cost more than calling to or from the card's home country.

If you buy a SIM card as soon as you land in Vienna, it will be an Austrian card and will have an Austrian number. You will ten need to call your contacts in the USA to inform them of the number. You need to find oput hopw to add money to the crad when you are not in Austria, probably over the internet.

Posted by
456 posts

Hi Sam -- do you know if there is a minimum period you have to sign up for with T-Mobile to get the two lines with 20 cents a minute in the EU? Also, do you know whether people in the US can call you without being charged for international calls?
Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

Do you have a smart phone or a flip hone?

If you have a smart phone, install the Google Hangouts app on it. (Also install Hangouts Dialer if you have an Android.) This allows FREE calls home to the US from overseas! Even to landlines. It will work on WiFi or on mobile data if you have a SIM card with mobile data working in your phone. This works for outgoing calls only unless you get a Google Voice phone number, which is also free but a tad more complicated.

Google Voice is kind of like a forwarding service. You can't really make phone calls with it directly like you can with Hangouts, but they work together. When you sign up for Google Voice, you need to supply an existing eligible phone number (like your Verizon cell number) and they'll verify you that way. You'll get an entirely phone number (which won't change your Verizon number or your service at all). But if someone dials the new Google Voice number, it will forward to your Verizon number (if you used that when signing up).

When you go overseas, you may wish to turn off the forwarding to your Verizon number. That's easy - just a setting. But once you get a Google Voice number, it gets assigned to Google Hangouts, too, and you can enable incoming calls in Hangouts as well.

So...someone in the US can call your Google Voice number while you are in Europe and it will "ring" in Google Hangouts on your smart phone. If you miss the call, it goes to Google voice mail which you can also setup.

You don't even need a Eurpean SIM to use Google Hangouts in Europe. You could leave the phone in airplane mode then turn on WiFi and use it only at hotels or at restaurants or whatnot when exploring during the days. Check your voicemail for missed calls once you get to WiFi.

You can setup Google Hangouts and Google Voice right now at home and try them out - but again, you must have a smart phone. None of this works on a flip phone.

But if you want Hangouts to be accessible everywhere, buy a European SIM. Verizon smart phones aren't locked. And because the EU has done away with most roaming fees, a SIM you buy in one EU country should work in the others for no extra cost - at least for data. And as long as you have data, you can use Google Hangouts. No need to worry about voice minutes with the SIM.

Posted by
2 posts

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/dutch-vodafone-sim-card-for-use-in-europe

this post by Andrew H has helped me immensely. There's an add on package to send/receive calls to the "World" that would likely interest you. I'm going to western Europe in May and wanted to have my phone ready. Recently changed, the dutch vodafone gave a 25% addition to your first credit you add on. I did it yesterday and received 100% additional ie I put 30 Euros on my credit and now I have 60. I've looked around at other sims an this seems to be a winner for me. Hope this helps!

Posted by
4689 posts

I switched to T-Mobile on and off a few times in the past. I last switched to them before a trip to Europe in 2016. I got service for just over a month before switching away after my vacation. At the time, you could get T-Mobile plans for only $50/month and there was a way to get a free SIM. Now, you have pay $70+/month, plus it's probably $20 or more just to get a T-Mobile SIM. So it gets pricey.

Outgoing calls are 20 cents/minute to the US or to any international number on the T-Mobile plan. People calling you don't pay anything extra - they are calling the same T-Mobile number you'd have in the US - but you are paying 20 cents/minute while talking to them.

FYI, Sprint has the same roaming plan that T-Mobile has. AND...Sprint has a crazy deal right now where if you have an eligible phone (not a flip phone), you can switch to them now and get a full year of free Sprint service! I just switched last month. It might be worth looking into. If you have Sprint service at all where you live at home, even if not great, switching for 1-2 months while on vacation then switching back when you get home (if you have crappy Sprint service at home or whatever) might be worth doing. Sprint's promo is called the BYOD plan:

https://www.sprint.com/en/shop/offers/free-unlimited.html?ECID=vanity%3A1yearfree

"Free" means about $3/month in taxes and fees, though - but still a sweet deal!

I don't think you are in a contract when you switch to this Sprint deal. Even so, if it's a year at $3/month, not exactly a big loss if you have to eat that amount for a year if you need to switch back to Verizon.

Posted by
8889 posts

Also, do you know whether people in the US can call you without being charged for international calls?

If you retain your US SIM card and number, people who call you pay the same wherever you are. You pay the extra for transferring the call across the Atlantic (called a "roaming charge").
If you have a European SIM card, it has a phone number from whichever country you bought it. Callers from the USA have to dial that number (which will be an international call) and pay the appropriate rates. If you are in the country the card belongs to or any other EU country you pay nothing to receive the call. If you are in a non-EU country you may have to pay "Roaming charges" to receive the call.
Note in European countries you do not pay to receive calls on a mobile phone (as long as you are within the EU), the caller pays. This is achieved by having special "non-geographic" area codes for mobile phones.

Posted by
337 posts

I have Verizon and I am able to make WiFi calls when I have WiFi in our hotel or at free WiFi spots. Here is a link to FAQs regarding WiFi calling with Verizon: https://www.verizonwireless.com/support/wifi-calling-faqs/. This is no additional cost. I generally leave my phone on airplane mode and stick to WiFi.

I also purchase the $40 a month international plan. I am currently in Italy for a month. I use it for calls to Italian numbers as I get 100 minutes, anything over will be at a reduced cost, I also get some data so I can check google maps when I get lost. I take my phone off airplane mode when I need to do these tasks.

I leave my phone on airplane mode but turn on WiFi. When I enter my hotel or get WiFi, I see the symbol VZW Wi-Fi in the upper left corner. I can receive voicemail, calls from US numbers and make calls to US numbers. Just on WiFi. I can also send and receive texts.

You need to make sure your phone is enabled for WiFi calling. I discovered this accidentally last year when I received a phone call in the middle of the night in Europe when my phone was in airplane mode but on WiFi. What a pleasant surprise. I hope this is helpful in deciding what to do. What is nice is no need to change plans, providers or phone numbers.

Posted by
456 posts

Thanks, everyone -- it looks like I have several good options to investigate!
JVB, do you know whether the Verizon international plan can start on any date, or does it need to start on the 1st of the month? We will be traveling at the very end of one month, but if we decide on this option, I'd want to be sure it was in place and working before we left home. Also, I'm guessing the $40 is per line, rather than for all the phones on the account?

Everyone in my family is currently using an iphone.

I'm going to investigate Google Hangouts, etc., the vodaphone, and Verizon's plan for starters. This is really helpful!!!

Posted by
3320 posts

Ruth, We have Verizon phones capable of being used internationally without any additional hardware. One of our phones is a Samsung smart phone (not sure which one) and the other is an older flip phone. But the capabilities of your phone(s) may be different than ours.

At any rate, anyone who needs us simply calls our regular number and the Verizon system finds us anywhere and connects the call. If we need to call back to the U.S. we simply highlight the number in our contact list, hit send, and the call goes straight through without any special instructions.

All costs are charged to our phones. We've never uses a "plan" -- just paid the going rate as we use them rarely when overseas.

We've found that simply calling Verizon's regular number or going into a brick and mortar location leaves a lot to be desired -- ask the same question of three people and you'll get four answers. However, Verizon has a dedicated Global Customer Service Department. They have always been very knowledgeable, helpful, and they will know the ins, outs, and capabilities of your phones. Give them a call and see if they can help. Number is 1-800-711-8300.

Posted by
4689 posts

Verizon also has a $10/day plan (per phone). And you pay the $10 only if you use the phone that day.

The Dutch Vodafone SIM mentioned above that I have written about worked great for me last year. One big benefit is that you can buy it ahead of time and set it up before you leave the US. So your phone will work as soon as your plane lands in Europe. You won't have to hunt for a SIM or figure out how to make it work in your phone - you can get it set up (mostly) before you leave, though you wouldn't want to use the phone in the US (expensive roaming). If you insert the Vodafone SIM into your phone and get a "Welcome to the United States!" text message, then you know the SIM is working in your phone before you leave.

Otherwise, you can just buy SIM cards after getting to Europe and try to use one SIM in each phone the rest of the trip.

Google Hangouts + Google Voice doesn't cost anything and is certainly worth trying now. Your goal should be to be able to put your smart phone in Airplane mode, then turn on WiFI, then call a landline. You can do that just by installing Hangouts, without Google Voice. To receive calls in Hangouts from phones, you need to take the next step and get a Google Voice number. If you can make it work in the US, it will work the same in Europe.

However - one little caveat about making calls to the US from Europe: sometimes you need to add a +1 to the front of US phone numbers to call them from overseas. I needed to do this in Google Hangouts when making free calls to the US from my phone with the Vodafone SIM in it. Just be aware. Depending on how your phone is setup (Verizon roaming? Foreign SIM?), you may or may not need the +1 in front.

Posted by
337 posts

Ruth, you can select the date for the plan to start. For example, I started the plan on January 31st because that’s when we arrived in Rome. It will end February 28th, that’s how they counted one month. It coincides with the day we fly back to the US.

It is $40 per line. I have the plan but my husband does not. However, his phone is enabled for WiFi calling. He keeps it on airplane mode but can call and receive calls to/from the US just like at home, send and receive texts over WiFi for no additional charge.

Posted by
10837 posts

Ive been doing the TMobile plan for about 5 years now. From Montenegro through Bulgaria, to Ukraine and Russia, France and England; and even Iceland; flawless.

Posted by
2525 posts

If I understand correctly, Google Hangouts lets you make phone calls at no cost and you could optionally add Google Voice which includes a unique phone number, voice mail and allows texts...all free. Still, you will need a connection to the Internet more than while near a WiFi hotspot such as at restaurants and most hotels. Assuming smartphones in hand, I'd opt for purchasing one or more local SIM cards at a shop and have staff install and modify the settings. Confirm the plan associated with the SIM cards include data (Internet connection). Then make sure you've loaded Google Hangouts or my solid stand-by Skype, to make calls while out and about. Make sure all folks back home have your new telephone numbers and your e-mail addresses. Oh, same as Ruth, her named carrier is the premier and costliest firm in the region and other carriers offer less to significantly less geographic coverage even around relatively urban areas. T-Mobile and Google Project Fi are out of focus dreams here.

Posted by
771 posts

There is an option that gets good reviews but hasn't been mentioned here. I am leaning towards this for my trip this summer. It's an international SIM card called KnowRoaming and is either a SIM card that replaces your own SIM for a defined period of time, or a SIM sticker that attaches to your own SIM and switches from your own cell plan to the KR international cell plan automatically whenever you leave the country. You can read more about how it works here.

It's a lot cheaper than the roaming plans I can get from my own cell provider here in Canada, but it's not as cheap as a true EU SIM card that you buy there. However, you can buy it and install it before you leave. You can also get a U.S. phone number to go with the U.K. phone number it comes with, which makes it easier for others to call you, and you can use What's App texting for free whether you are on wifi or on cell coverage.

Something a little different than the options above, but as I said, I haven't tried it myself yet. If I end up with it this summer, I'll review it when I get back.

Posted by
4689 posts

Bruce:

If I understand correctly, Google Hangouts lets you make phone calls at no cost

Free calls to the US only. You can call other countries, but the cost is a few cents per minute (like Skype). And also like Skype, you need to buy credit in $10 blocks from Google to make non-free calls.

and you could optionally add Google Voice which includes a unique phone number, voice mail and allows texts...all free.

Correct.

Still, you will need a connection to the Internet more than while near a WiFi hotspot such as at restaurants and most hotels.

Maybe, maybe not. Obviously, if you aren't on WiFi and don't have some sort of cell service, you can't receive anything. But if you don't need to be reached constantly and are able to check voicemail occasionally while on WiFi, you could use Hangouts + Google Voice purely on WiFi, without a SIM or any cell service at all. You could even forward calls from your regular cell number to your Google number while you are traveling so you get voicemails on Google and can call people back with Hangouts - or email them/text them your Google number to use while you are traveling.

Assuming smartphones in hand, I'd opt for purchasing one or more local SIM cards at a shop and have staff install and modify the settings.

SIM cards are cheap enough to buy a local SIM overseas these days that it's kind of silly not to get one. (AT&T phones may be locked, though; Verizon phones aren't.) I suspect for most people, it's more about the hassle of swapping SIM cards than the cost (maybe 20 to 40 Euros for a SIM and some sort of plan or package for say a month). And occasionally, one hears a story of some agent at a mobile shop unable to get a SIM to work in some customer's phone.

This is one reason to consider buying a SIM ahead of time like the Dutch Vodafone SIM, just so you can skip the trouble while in country to get the SIM going. Buy a SIM on eBay, activate it online and in your phone in the US, create a My Vodafone account (in Dutch, but use say Google Chrome to translate to English), and use that to add credit to the SIM with your US credit card. If you aren't worried about the tiny risk of not getting your SIM working in Europe, waiting until you get there to buy a SIM makes sense.

Posted by
4689 posts

Nelly:

There is an option that gets good reviews but hasn't been mentioned here. I am leaning towards this for my trip this summer. It's an international SIM card called KnowRoaming and is either a SIM card that replaces your own SIM for a defined period of time, or a SIM sticker that attaches to your own SIM and switches from your own cell plan to the KR international cell plan automatically whenever you leave the country.

I have heard of KnowRoaming, but I've never considered it because it looks to be so much more expensive (for me) than just buying a SIM from the Netherlands or the UK or some other country that allows you to activate a SIM ahead of time while not being in country. The big advantage seems to be some simplicity - add the sticker to your existing phone, no messing with SIM cards. But as the article you link to points out, data is really expensive - could be $60 per week if you want to use data every day without paying at high per-MB rates. The Dutch Vodafone SIM I bought cost me $30 USD for a month, including buying the SIM on eBay and a package of 3GB of data for a month.

If you aren't from the US, you don't have the Google Hangouts/Google Voice option for free calls. You can make calls with Google Hangouts or Skype for a few cents a minute back to Canada (buy Skype or Google credit in $10 blocks). Incoming calls while you travel could be more of a challenge. For some countries, you can still buy a Skype phone number and receive calls on that - about $18 per three months for incoming calls, so not really that expensive. For some reason, you can't buy a Canadian number on Skype; not sure if there are other options for call forwarding. Could be KnowRoaming makes sense for Canadians who need to receive incoming calls from Canada from phones while they travel. Or use WhatsApp etc. to receive calls from others who also have the app.

Posted by
484 posts

Ruth, i know this is a stressful time, because you want to be in two places at the same time. We have verizon and have had absolutely no issues by using their International plan, which you can start on any day. We did best of Adriatic tour with it and so many more trips. The only thing is the limited data plan. But find our how to turn off your data. (Go into the Verizon store and ask). You'll have a lot of calls, but if you don't recognize the number ... don't answer it. Put the important numbers into your phone ahead of time and then they will come up with a name.
I call my parents when away and I always get the same things from them... "wow, are you home now?.... No< I'm in XYZ Country.... "You sound right next door"....
It really is a no brainer... don't worry about it and loose sleep... Talk to Verizon and if they give you any difficulties. IM me. I mean we have done this 2X a year for the last 4 years. So easy.

Posted by
771 posts

not to drag this thread down a siding, but @Andrew - yes, Canadian options are more limited and more expensive. I found a Vodafone NL card like you bought for sale on Amazon.ca - for $35! I'm going to keep looking, not sure KnowRoaming is the right solution for me, but thought it might be for Ruth as it gives you a U.S. number automatically as well as a U.K. number. The gap in data is the reason I'm not sold on it, and What'sApp is not the same as data to use for my Google Maps (I get lost veeeerrrry easily)

Posted by
4689 posts

Nelly, as I pointed out in the Vodafone SIM thread I started (linked elsewhere in this thread), you can buy the Dutch Vodafone SIM on eBay - currently for $8 USD shipped. Search for "vodafone NL you". The seller is "cheapeusims," the same one I used last year. The SIM comes with no credit - you have to add it later. I was able to add credit online with a US credit card; I'd guess a Canadian card would work as well.

Posted by
2430 posts

Why not have a temporary US based advocate available for your Mom's caregivers to make any immediate emergency decisions and then just use email or IM etc for details to resolve any longer term matters? This way you can perhaps relax on vacation a bit more as well.

Posted by
99 posts

Other posters have offered numerous good options. I just want to throw this one out there in case you, or others, are interested. We plan on getting a Modal International Cell Phone for our trip this summer. With the phone plan we have here in the US, this is just what is going to work best for us because we don't plan on making many calls. We only plan to buy the flip phone because we use other devices for accessing the internet when connected to wifi. In general we prefer to enjoy our vacation, live in the moment, and unplug from technology and events (work) going on back home! We also like that we don't have to purchase anything when abroad, don't have to worry about topping up a balance, and can use the phone on future trips as well. It certainly won't be for everyone, but for our simple needs, it will work.

Posted by
1169 posts

Do you have an iPhone? If so you can put it in “do not disturb” mode and then put in the allowed numbers for your moms caregivers. The phone will block all calls except the allowed numbers.

I have T mobile unlimited for 55+. It is $50 a month for unlimited data including international roaming.
You must have T mobile for at least the same amount of time as when you’ll be overseas. So for a one month trip you’ll need to be a customer in the US for a month.
To get the T mobile for seniors you have to go in person to the store and show them your drivers license or some other Government ID.

Posted by
11154 posts

Just two notes about the T-Mobile plan that Sam has linked:

1) As you can see from the link, it is only available to those 55 years of age and older. I know, because I'm counting the days - in less than a week I'll be eligible!

2) If you only want one line, it's $50 per month (I had thought you had to get two lines at $60 per month, but you don't unless you want to).

My mother is currently using it with two lines (got it last August, a few weeks after it became available). It's working great for her, but as always, you have to make sure it's a good deal for you.

Posted by
23587 posts

Completely off topic, sorry Ruth...

Harold said

in less than a week I'll be eligible

ah you 're just a kid. Still wet behind the ears! Wait until you get a few years on you before looking for old folks stuff. 😁

Posted by
456 posts

Hi everyone -- wow, this is incredibly helpful, and I think I have several options. I am going to need to think it through a little more over the next few days....and then I'll likely be back with more questions.

Switching from Verizon to another carrier probably isn't worth the hassle. The other carriers' coverage where we live isn't good; plus we have a Verizon discount through our employer...changing and changing back would be complicated and I suspect not my best option.

I think Google Hangouts, Google Voice, etc. definitely make sense, and hopefully my daughter would be able to set these up pretty easily. I'm thinking she'll want to have them on her phone for the trip, too. If I am understanding correctly, if I use Google Hangouts etc. AND a Vodafone SIM card, then I can get only the critical calls (since only our house sitters and my mom's care givers would have the Google number). Is this correct? They could call me without international charges, I wouldn't be 100% reliant on Wi-Fi, and I could call the US? So I need to find out the cost of the Vodafone SIM with the world access...

The problem with the Verizon $10/day plan is that if there is a real emergency or an ongoing low level emergency, it could get expensive. The other problem I can foresee with keeping my original number is that I can't just program certain numbers into my do not disturb, because I won't know all the potential numbers I do want (doctors, hospitals, etc) plus there would be a strong likelihood of low level emergency calls coming in in the middle of the night from the caregivers who cannot figure out the time difference. I want to be readily accessible, but not necessarily in the middle of the night.

I have engaged a Geriatric Care Specialist to be the "go to" person for my mom while we are away. But my mom is 93 and I am her only child. In case of a real emergency, I need to be available.

Thanks again!

Posted by
484 posts

Ruth,
Do you understand that with the Verizon international plan when you call an USA number you do not incur international fees. It is like using your phone here with a lot of calls and texts free. The data (when you are not on wifi) is very limited. but they will let you know and then you'll pay for another small amount of data. So calling another person in your group who also has the Verizon international plan should be just like calling them in NY.
Please call Verizon and get someone who understands all this. If you want to use Google whatever... be advised that if you are not on free wifi, then that will use data and that is costly. Also wifi can be good or bad in many hotels.

T.

Posted by
3320 posts

If you've not done so, call the Verizon Global Customer Service Department. They are know all the ins and outs and should be able to clarify using your current Verizon number abroad. You can talk to a real person by calling them at 1-800-711-8300.

Posted by
4689 posts

Ruth:

I think Google Hangouts, Google Voice, etc. definitely make sense, and hopefully my daughter would be able to set these up pretty easily. I'm thinking she'll want to have them on her phone for the trip, too. If I am understanding correctly, if I use Google Hangouts etc. AND a Vodafone SIM card, then I can get only the critical calls (since only our house sitters and my mom's care givers would have the Google number). Is this correct? They could call me without international charges, I wouldn't be 100% reliant on Wi-Fi, and I could call the US? So I need to find out the cost of the Vodafone SIM with the world access...

Yes, that's basically correct. Google gives you a US phone number, so anyone at home calling it would not have to pay an international rate to call you on it.

You need not get a Vodafone SIM. You could get ANY SIM card, as long as it gives you mobile data. The benefit of the Dutch Vodafone SIM is that you can set it up before you leave and not have to hassle with it once you arrive in Europe. There are other SIM cards you can buy ahead of time too but only from a few countries (like the UK and the Netherlands). I recommend the Dutch Vodafone SIM only because I used it myself and know it worked great for me.

You haven't said what kind of phone you have (make/model?) but generally a Verizon smart phone should work in Europe with a SIM. Still, I'd confirm that this is true. You can look up a phone's specs with the make/model number. (And if there's some setting you must change to get your phone to roam, it would be nice to now that.)

I wouldn't wait to try Google out. I'd set it up ASAP and start using it now in the US. It will work the same in Europe (except, as I said, if you make calls with the Vodafone SIM in Europe, you'll have to add the +1 to the front of numbers. People calling you WILL NOT have to change anything, however - just call the Google number with no +1 for them. Only for you when you call out.)

That said, I have been using Google Hangouts + Google hangouts for about a year as my primary phone service. (I just recently switched to Sprint though.) This is a budget approach to phone service; my phone was completely free when on WiFi, and I paid for only a cheap prepaid data plan per month to use it when not on WiFi. Having used it a lot for the last year, I have to say that Google Hangouts isn't perfect. It has some quirks. But it also works amazingly well for being free. Still, you should use it a bit ASAP to get used to it, so you aren't freaking out about simple issues with it in Europe. For example, when someone calls you and you answer...it may take a second or two until you hear the "beep" in the phone for the person to hear you. I don't even think about this anymore, but it was a little odd at first.

Occasionally I "lose" someone I'm talking to for a few seconds during a call but almost never get disconnected. It's kind of like the old cordless landline phones I used to use - if you stray too far from the base station, the call can kind of break up until you get back in range - know what I mean? Again - I got used to it, and very rarely I need to ask the person to repeat what they just said for the last 5 seconds. I've had hour-long calls with Hangouts more than once, though, and although this is rare, it can happen. Asking someone to repeat something once or twice during an hour-long call isn't a big deal to me.

As a backup plan, I would sign up for Verizon's $10/day plan anyway. If you never use it in Europe, it won't cost you anything. Bring your Verizon SIM with you, and if for some reason you get stuck with some SIM issue, you can always switch back. I've made plenty of long calls from Europe with Hangouts, though, and I don't worry so much about needing a backup plan.

Posted by
4689 posts

tgreen:

Do you understand that with the Verizon international plan when you call an USA number you do not incur international fees. It is like using your phone here with a lot of calls and texts free. The data (when you are not on wifi) is very limited. but they will let you know and then you'll pay for another small amount of data. So calling another person in your group who also has the Verizon international plan should be just like calling them in NY.

To be clear, there are two different plans in discussion here: a monthly plan (two options - $25/month and $40/month) and a $10/day plan. The $10/day plan is unlimited for the day you use it (or rather, data and minutes go against your US allotment, I think).

https://www.verizonwireless.com/solutions-and-services/international-travel/

The $40/month plan gives you very little data and only 100 minutes; the $25 plan is even worse and probably not worth having in my opinion.

Please call Verizon and get someone who understands all this. If you want to use Google whatever... be advised that if you are not on free wifi, then that will use data and that is costly. Also wifi can be good or bad in many hotels.

If she gets a SIM card, then it should have a lot of data and not be costly. My Dutch Vodafone SIM had 3GB of data for a month. In my experience, Google Hangouts uses about 2MB of data per minute.

Could be the Verizon $40/month plan would be easiest for Ruth - no foreign SIM to mess with - but also use Hangouts sometimes (like at the hotel on WiFi) and use those 100 minutes sparingly otherwise and not use Hangouts when not on WiFi.

But if she gets a SIM like the Vodafone SIM, she could use Hangouts everywhere and not worry so much about data use. And she could use the phone for other things like navigation (Google Maps) which I personally have found extremely useful for walking and public transit directions. If she had the $40/month Verizon plan, she would probably want to limit that kind of use because that plan gives her so little mobile data.

Posted by
456 posts

TC -- I will definitely call and talk to a human being about the options -- thanks for providing the number!

Andrew, we all have iphones. Mine is 3 years old (iPhone 6) but I'm assuming I should be able to load and use all of the Google hangout apps with it??? We aren't leaving until the end of May. If my daughter decides to come home for college for her spring break next month, I'll wait until then because I think it will be that much easier. If not, I'm sure I can find someone at work who can help me out.

If I don't discover the perfect solution when I talk with Verizon, I think the idea of getting their international plan ($10/day) as a backup is a great idea. I'm thinking I'll try to do the Google/Vodafone options with my phone, and have one of my family members sign up for the "only if we need it" Verizon international plan (Unless it's automatic for all the phones on the contract. In either case, it would make sense to not have to switch out SIM cards, especially as we'll all have phones with us.

Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

Your iPhones are new enough that they ought to work just fine in Europe.

You need only to install the Google Hangouts app (you don't need "Hangouts Dialer" too) for an iPhone.

It's really not hard to install and use Google Hangouts to make calls yourself. On your iphone, go to the apps store, search for "Google Hangouts," and try it out. You will need a Google account of some sort, though (one thing Android users find easier, because most Android users sign into a Google account when they set up their phone). If you have a Gmail account already, just use that. Google may require you to verify your phone number the first time before you make calls but it should be self explanatory. (If not - ask!)

Receiving calls with Hangouts is more complicated as I said - you need a Google Voice number for that - but just making calls out with Hangouts should be pretty easy, as the first step. If you wind up using a Verizon plan too, could probably get away without a Google Voice number. Just use Hangouts to make calls out from the hotel while on WiFi, or if someone calls you on your Verizon number, call them back with Hangouts for free on WiFi.

Posted by
4689 posts

Ruth would still need a Verizon SIM to use WiFi calling, though (which works only on WiFi, obviously). Sounds like she still wants to be reachable when not on WiFi - so the $40/month Verizon plan seems the least she could get away with if she wants to use WiFi calling too. When not on WiFi, she'd have to use her 100 minutes (part of the $40/month plan) over the course of her month in Europe. That's doable I guess; receive a call that requires some time on the phone and call them back on WIFi later if possible. But that plan has so little data that the phone isn't going to be very useful when not on WiFi, other than receiving occasional quick calls about her mother. Getting an international SIM means you can use the phone anywhere not just for calls and things like maps and walking directions - the one thing I personally find invaluable now from my phone when I travel.

I'm sure getting the Google Voice number and using Hangouts for calls seems complex and daunting to some people. I guess since I've been using this Google approach for so long it seems simple to me and reliable. But - that's why I suggest she play with it now and get familiar with it. Setting up the Google approach doesn't change anything else, anyway - she could decide the last day before leaving for Europe just to stick with Verizon after all. Sure doesn't hurt to have Google Hangouts on your phone, too.

Posted by
337 posts

It works for me very well. I was in a similar situation and needed to be accessible and was not very tech savvy. I like simple.

Posted by
1029 posts

The whole local SIM card and google voice/hangouts set up sounds much more complicated and difficult than it actually is. I’ve done both, I’m not particularly tech savvy and I haven’t even stayed at an holiday inn express ;). If you can follow directions it’s fairly easy. Especially easy with folks like Andrew H around.

The important point that Andrew made that I would emphasize, is that you should set it up and test it out prior to your trip. That way you get used to how it works and any quirks. It also allows you to determine if it will work for you on your trip. If it doesn’t work, then you have time to find other options

Posted by
484 posts

to Andrew H. and also Ruth..
before you leave the USA go to google maps and download any maps you will need..
no need for any data usage fees, because they work entirely off line. Great navigation.

Posted by
4689 posts

Thanks, Rocket. I wish there was an easier way to describe the whole Google Hangouts/Voice approach. Maybe there's a YouTube video demonstrating it - I haven't looked to see.

tgreen, I have used Google Maps offline to drive overseas. Driving in Slovenia last year, I downloaded the Slovenia-area map on WiFi (could also do it anywhere you have WiFi, even from the hotel while traveling - don't necessarily have to download it from home). Google Maps offline works OK and is very usable for sure - for driving (not walking - see below). My Android would occasionally display a "cannot display map" error, but if I hit the back key it would resume right where it left off. I had plenty of mobile data on my phone; I used the maps offline just as a test to see how well it worked that way. Using Google Maps with data is a little better plus also allows traffic information for real-time routing. Given how cheap SIM cards are these days ($30 USD for my Vodafone SIM for three weeks seems well worth the cost), I am not sure why I wouldn't just buy/use one.

Google Maps offline doesn't work for walking/public transit directions, though - you need a SIM or mobile data for that. Another good reason to spend the small amount needed to buy a SIM. I would say this is the number one most useful thing - smart phone walking/public transit directions - I need from my phone, one that makes the cost of the SIM well worth it.

Posted by
4 posts

I’ve found the Maps.me app works wonderfully on foot and driving. Free, download while on WiFi.
Safe travels!

Posted by
484 posts

Okay Andrew H.
I'm going to be open minded about the SIM card, but can it be used in multiple countries? I'm going to Portugal, Spain and France for 4 weeks this spring.
So my husband and I would both need to get the card. Then we can't use our own phone number, right? We get another? When I come back to USA do I get my old phone number back?

What kind of phone charges to I get when I call the USA with this SIM card?
What kind of phone charges do I get when calling in Europe with the SIM card?

We really haven't had any problem walking or taking metro with the google maps download... maybe certain places are not as covered????

Posted by
4689 posts

tgreen:

I'm going to be open minded about the SIM card, but can it be used in multiple countries? I'm going to Portugal, Spain and France for 4 weeks this spring.

The EU has done away with most roaming fees, so a SIM purchased in any of those three countries should work in the others. (Or, a SIM from any other EU country e.g. UK or the Netherlands should work in any other EU country...though Finland seems to have opted out.) If you buy a SIM from one of those three countries, you need to wait until you arrive there, however - those countries require the SIM to be activated by showing ID (a passport), something you can't really do remotely. The UK and Netherlands SIM cards don't have this requirement, which is why you can buy them on eBay and activate them without visiting that country.

"Roaming" in the EU means you can use data and make calls home to your home country (or the "home country" of your SIM) for no fees, but calling other EU numbers may mean a long distance call. So calling Spain from Spain may be free or cheap; calling Portugal from Spain may not be. These mobile companies all have different plans and rules, so you have to look and see which plan covers what. Because I only care about the data when I buy a SIM, I don't worry about local EU calls.

But you should have free incoming calls (and texts) if you have an EU SIM, and your EU AirBnB hosts may appreciate having an EU number to call/text vs. a US number, which would be an international call for them. Calling/texting THEM may not be free, depending your plan.

Some EU mobile companies offer "traveler" SIM cards that have more minutes for calling internationally.

Each SIM and company offers different "packages" or "bundles" for their SIM cards. E.g. the Dutch Vodafone SIM offers "You" bundles with various amounts of data (and some local Netherlands calling minutes) for a set price for 30 days. It varies by the company and the country, so check around. This blog is a good source for each country's SIMs I have found:

http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Spain
http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/France
http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Portugal

[response continued below]

Posted by
4689 posts

tgreen:

So my husband and I would both need to get the card. Then we can't use our own phone number, right? We get another? When I come back to USA do I get my old phone number back?

Right. When you replace your existing SIM with an EU SIM, you'll get a new phone number for that country, for each phone/SIM, and you won't get your old number back until you put the old SIM back. You won't lose your old phone number as long as you keep paying your mobile bill in the US. (Tip: you may be able to "pause" your US mobile service for a month if you are gone that long, to save some money. Doesn't hurt to ask!)

What kind of phone charges to I get when I call the USA with this SIM card?

Varies by the SIM and the plan. Some mobile companies offer traveler SIM cards that include some international calling minutes.

This is why I recommend Google Hangouts: free phone calls to the US (even to landlines) from a smart phone, either on WiFi or with mobile data. You don't need a Google Voice number to make outgoing calls to the US - all you need for that is the Hangouts app (and for Android, also the Hangouts dialer app) - free and easy to install from your phone's app store. If you have flip phones, don't bother - you can't use Google Hangouts with a flip phone. In that case, look for a "traveler" SIM that includes some international calling minutes. People calling you on your flip phone with an EU SIM would need to make an international call, though. This is why you might want to get a Google Voice number (if you have a smart phone and install Hangouts) so you can receive incoming calls on a US number as well - no extra charges for US phones to call you on it, and it has Google voicemail too.

What kind of phone charges do I get when calling in Europe with the SIM card?

Again - varies by the SIM. You can also use Google Hangouts or Skype to make international calls for a few cents per call. But only for smart phones. And you have to put credit on Google or Skype (Microsoft) in $10 blocks to make any non-free calls.

We really haven't had any problem walking or taking metro with the google maps download... maybe certain places are not as covered????

Unless something has changed, Google doesn't support walking or public transit directions in Google Maps anywhere without an internet connection:

https://support.google.com/maps/answer/6291838?co=GENIE.Platform%3DiOS&hl=en

If you are on the hotel's WiFi and get directions, you can leave the hotel and follow them, but if you are somewhere without WiFi (and no mobile data) and try to get walking directions, it won't work. You will get driving directions. You can also see your location on an offline Google map without data, just as a reference point, even if you can't get actual walking directions.

There are other navigation apps besides Google Maps, and some of them may have offline walking/transit directions. I'm not sure.

Posted by
484 posts

thank you Andrew H.
Your explanation was consist and to the point.

I understand SIM cards to a greater extent now.

What do you know about the Mobile Hotspot purchasing?

Posted by
4689 posts

tgreen:

What do you know about the Mobile Hotspot purchasing?

People mention them from time to time, but they always seem too expensive to me to be practical. I use my Android phone as a hotspot with whatever SIM I am using instead. Not every SIM allows use of data for hotspot, though. My Dutch Vodafone SIM definitely allowed it. I have read that sometimes this won't work on an iPhone, however.

Posted by
457 posts

You might consider Skyroam so all of you can share data and wifi wherever you are.

Also you can use WhatsApp to make calls

Posted by
456 posts

Update (and a few more questions). So here's the plan we're going to try:
I have installed Google Hangouts and Google Voice on my phone. Seem to be working okay, although I definitely want to practice and make sure I'm comfortable with these.
Andrew H -- could you let me know how to install or set up Google Voicemail?
I am also planning to purchase the international SIM card. When I go overseas and turn off the forwarding on my regular Verizon number, how do Google Voice calls reach me? If it is through Google Hangouts and I have the SIM card, is that sufficient.....or does it only work via Wi Fi if my Verizon forwarding is turned off?
I am probably going to need to put my phone on total Do Not Disturb lockdown every night, because I'm pretty sure my mom and her caretakers won't remember not to call and with the time difference we'll be getting calls in the middle of the night.
As a backup, one of my family members will use the Verizon $10/day plan if necessary on a different phone. I called the number for Verizon's international services (you were right -- the woman I spoke with was extremely knowledgeable and helpful!) and was told there was nothing we need to set up in advance, as there is an auto activate smart feature.
So far, so good. Next I need to try to find the Vodaphone to purchase.
Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

Great! First of all, have you been able to make a voice call with Hangouts to some other number to test? Remember, add +1 to the front (to call US numbers) while in Europe.

Go one step at a time here and don't get overwhelmed. Once you get one thing working, go on to the next - or feel free to ask questions if you get confused.

Did you get a new (additional) phone number when you signed up for Google Voice? You should have. It would have required supplying your existing phone number and a verification call or text - did you go through that? Do you know what your new Google phone number is? If not, go to the Google Voice website in a browser and make sure you go through the process of signing up for a Google Voice account (part of your regular Google/Gmail account) which includes choosing the additional Google phone number, which (at first) will just forward to your existing number.

Let's say you've already got your Google Voice number - say it's 505-555-1212 . You can give that new number you were assigned to people who need to call you in Europe. To get it to "ring," go into Google Hangouts settings, click on your email address, and you should see somewhere on the next page your "Google Voice (number) ( in green), and below that, a setting for "Incoming phone calls." It is turned OFF by default - slide it on so it's green. Then when people call 505-555-1212 (or whatever your Google number is) it will ring Hangouts and you can answer it and talk.

To setup Google voicemail, you DON'T want to switch your regular cell number voicemail to Google. Instead, try this, from the phone number you used (probably your cell number?) to setup Google Voice in the first place:

https://support.google.com/voice/answer/115069?hl=en

You can check Google Voicemail by calling if need be and entering your PIN. But if you have the Google Voice app on your phone, voicemails should show up there and you can just listen to them (while you have an internet connection) or read the transcriptions.

To use Google Hangouts to make or receive calls, your phone needs an internet connection. That can be either WiFi or mobile data, doesn't matter. The mobile data connection could be Verizon or Vodafone or whatever SIM is in the phone - doesn't really matter, as long as it puts you on the internet! (But add the +1 in front of US numbers if you use a European SIM in Europe.)

FYI, don't try to use the Google Voice app to make calls - it will work in the US but not in Europe. Use Hangouts to make calls instead.

So...test it out. Make a call to someone. Have them call you on your new Google number and answer it in Hangouts. (First: put your phone - the one with Hangouts on it - into Airplane mode...then turn on WiFi, assuming you are on WiFi. You won't use the phone in Airplane mode in Europe, though, if you buy a European SIM.)

Posted by
4689 posts

FYI, you can change Google Voice settings on a desktop or laptop web browser, too - just go to https://www.google.com/voice/ . Sometimes it's easier to change settings for Google Voice that way. Your Google account on your computer is linked to the one on your phone. Change a setting in your Google Voice account on the laptop and it will change it on the phone, too.

You might want to disable forwarding to your Verizon number (the one you used to setup Google Voice?). This is a "linked number." When someone calls your Google Voice number, Google will forward calls to the linked number, but you can UNcheck the box next to that number, so calls aren't forwarded to it. (Don't remove the linked number - just tell Google not to forward your calls to it anymore. You'll receive them in Hangouts instead.)

Let's talk about the Verizon forwarding once you've got everything else figured out!

Posted by
456 posts

Thanks, Andrew! Yes, I have a new phone number. I verified I can get calls on it, but haven't yet tried it in airplane mode. That's the next thing we'll try. I changed the setting so that the incoming phone calls is switched to on. It also appears the google voicemail is automatically set up, because I received a welcome message. I'm a little confused about setting up a message (following the link you provided) however, since I don't have a PIN and am not sure where to get one! Thanks again for your help....I'm getting there, I think!

Posted by
4689 posts

I've had a Google Voice number for years, before I had a smart phone! I'm used to editing the settings on my laptop, not on my phone. So if you have a desktop/laptop, see if you can login that way. (You can probably do this on your phone too - but I know how on a laptop from years of doing it that way.) You can also listen to/"read" voicemail messages that way FYI.

You can get to Voicemail settings via Google Voice settings (a few clicks) on a laptop/desktop...or just go there directly here:

https://www.google.com/voice/b/0#voicemailsettings

You can record a greeting there and setup a PIN. FYI, to record a voicemail greeting on that page, Google will call your linked phone and guide you through it. You might be able to do all of this with the Google Voice app on your phone. (That app will still work overseas, but you will have to make calls via Hangouts overseas.)

You can use your new Google number for texting, too - the Google Voice app has built in texting. Because I'm a touch typist and don't really like "phone typing," I send most of my text messages via my laptop using Google Voice!

Posted by
4689 posts

You may also want to "unlink" (not DELETE - don't try to delete it) your Verizon number in Google Voice settings. All that means is that Google won't forward incoming calls to your Verizon number. (Some people want the forwarding. I use it sometimes - for example, I don't use my Sprint cell number, don't even know it off the top of my head; I use my Google number for everything, and when people call my Google number, it forwards to my Sprint number. I can get a new number and just link it to Google and not even care what the mobile number is. Liking having a disposable cell phone number.)

You probably don't want your Google calls to forward to Verizon. Otherwise, sometimes Verizon's voicemail will pick up before Google's does. And you're trying to use Google as a completely separate phone service, really.

Back to Verizons's forwarding: after you have unlinked your Verizon number from Google, you can do the opposite (while you are out of the country): forward Verizon calls to your Google number. Then you can receive your Verizon calls from anyone while traveling, for free, using Hangouts, and get the voicemails from Google voicemail. You'll want to turn this on right before you leave the US and turn it off as soon as you get home. But you might turn it on briefly while at home and test it. Set up the Verizon forwarding, then have someone call you and see the call come in via Hangouts.

The trick here probably is to figure out exactly how to turn Verizon forwarding on and off easily. Before smart phones, I used to do this with some little app on the flip phone (sort of an app), where I could key in the number to forward calls too...and then later go back in and turn it off. Maybe there's some Verizon app for that now. Again: before you try Verizon forwarding, unlink your Verizon number in Google Voice first!

Posted by
456 posts

Hi again -- I'm addressing this to Andrew H, but welcome responses from anyone else who might want to chime in, as well! Could you tell me what would happen if I install a European SIM card to use with Google hangouts/voice and do NOT turn on forwarding from my Verizon number? Would someone who called the Verizon number still get through to my standard Verizon voicemail? I am thinking about doing this and waiting to deal with the Verizon voicemail messages until I return home.

The reason I am asking is that I am trying to figure out the best way to deal with the fact that my mother (who has moderate dementia) is used to calling me every evening at 7:00 p.m. Some of her caregivers will remember that there is a 6 hour time difference but others won't. I would prefer not to receive calls at 1:00 a.m. and I would prefer not to put the phone on 100% do not disturb due to the possibility of an emergency call. I was thinking that if my mom were to call the Verizon number per usual and get the Voicemail, she could just leave a message. She probably wouldn't remember that she may be leaving messages on multiple days. I am thinking this may be the best way to keep things feeling as "normal" as possible to her; meanwhile, I will call her periodically at other times. (I am trying to avoid reminding my mom that I am in Europe. In her current condition, we are really concerned that if she is aware of this, she might then do something to force me to have to cut the trip short and return to her. I know it's a terrible thing to say; obviously in the case of a true emergency I would cut the trip short....it is the fabricated emergency situation or deliberate accident that concerns me -- this is a big deal vacation and I really don't want to have to cut it short unnecessarily!)

On the other hand, if I DO turn on forwarding from the Verizon number to the Hangouts number, what voicemail would people hear -- Verizon or Google? (I have still not figured out how to configure the Google voicemail, but I also haven't had a lot of time to look into this yet). I'm thinking this would be my 2nd choice option, only because I am really in need of a vacation from caregiving and the stress it has put on me and my family members the past 24 months, and getting a lot of calls and voicemail messages from my mom would be stressful...I tend to have the physical "oh no!" reaction every time I see a call with her area code because there are always so many major and minor crises. I know this is moving from the realm of technology to psychology....so I'll avoid getting into this further!

Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

If you forward Verizon calls to Google, then callers would get Google voicemail. Obviously you wouldn't do that until/unless you have set up Google voicemail. It may seem a little different to callers, especially if you don't record your greeting in exactly the same way, but of course you can try.

I guess I would set everything up and test it first before deciding whether to forward or not. Set up Google voicemail, then from another phone call it and test, so you know what it sounds like. Figure out how to call your Verizon voicemail (if you don't forward) and retrieve it with Hangouts. Figure out how to forward, how to un-forward.

Not to complicate things too much, but Google also lets you set schedules for calls - you can specifically not have the phone ring at certain times of day. I won't get into how to do this until you've got everything else down. To simplify things, you could also get in the habit of changing the ring setting in Hangouts to "off" before you go to bed and back "on" every morning. You might forget...but Google can also email you about every missed call (even if the caller doesn't leave a voicemail), so if you forget, you'll see "missed call" emails from Google.

For real emergencies, so someone from the facility can still reach you, give them your SIM's new European number - an international call but at least possible in an emergency. Then Google wouldn't ring overnight but your phone's "real" number still would work.

Having given you all of this advice, Ruth, I am getting nervous that you are going to wait too long and not get this all figured out before you go! I don't want to feel responsible for leading you down this path and finding out you couldn't make it all work at the last minute because you got confused about a few things. I understand some of these things may be complicated for you, but I feel you can manage if you take the time ahead of time to test it all out, and I or others can answer your questions when you are calm and not stressed about leaving for vacation next week(!) I'd even test using your phone this way in the US for a day to see how it's going to go with you - your mother may even call you and know what it's like to call you on Hangouts. As a backup plan, I'd still set up Verizon's $10/day plan so you can use it if need be if you simply give up on the Google approach. You won't be charged anything if you don't use Verizon that day.

Posted by
456 posts

Hi Andrew -- I still have 2 months before we leave, so I think I'm okay. I'm juggling a ton of things right now but I plan to order a SIM card this weekend. Once that arrives I can play around with it. In the meantime, I need to do some more work to figure out how to get the password Google Voicemail is asking me for in order to set up my Voicemail.

Do you know what would happen to calls on my primary number if I choose not to forward the calls (leave Verizon to Google forwarding off)? Will the person still get my Voicemail? I am just thinking that would be the least stressful situation for me....or at least an option.

I promise to follow up on this soon (and I'm sure I'll have a few more questions). Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

If you don't forward your Verizon calls, and your phone is off (or Verizon SIM not in your phone), calls should go immediately to voicemail. You can check your voicemail with Hangouts by calling your Verizon number and then hitting * or # and entering your pass code. Voicemails will all be waiting for you when you get home if you don't listen to. Not sure how you can get Verizon texts without your Verizon SIM or if the could get forwarded - otherwise, they too will be waiting for you when you get home.

Posted by
456 posts

Okay, Andrew H, you spurred me to action! Voicemail message is set up and I tested to make sure I could receive both calls and messages in airplane mode. Also ordered the Vodafone SIM. So.....I'm making some progress. I will continue to practice, and also think about the forwarding option pros and cons. I'll probably check back when the SIM arrives, and if you have other suggestions of things I should work on/practice before then, let me know. Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

Sounds good! Have you tried checking your Verizon voicemail from Hangouts? Put the phone in airplane mode then enable WiFi to try it. Make sure you can interrupt your Verizon VM greeting with # or * then enter your code to listen to voicemail.

Also, you won't use the phone in airplane mode with the Vodafone SIM in it. You're doing that now just to test with your Verizon SIM in place.

Posted by
456 posts

Hi Andrew -- I have no idea what my Verizon pass code is, so I'm going to need to sleuth that one out first! :) But it's on my list...

Posted by
5318 posts

Ruth, I don't see this mentioned, but your phone must be unlocked in order to change to a new SIM. We got written instructions from our carrier, AT&T ... but when we tried it on our own it did not work. Went to the AT&T store this weekend for expert assistance and they couldn't do it either. We are now waiting for a replacement unlock code to be emailed and then it's back to the AT&T gurus. So make sure you have that part of the process underway well before you leave.

Posted by
4689 posts

Laura, FYI, Verizon - unlike AT&T - has historically not locked its LTE phones - or any of its phones for the last few years. Only recently has Verizon announced it will now lock its new phones again by default as a so-called "security measure" - perhaps so, perhaps a way to prevent people from using them on other networks and make more money. I've not heard that they will re-lock existing phones, so I'm fairly sure Ruth's phone is safely unlocked unless she buys a new Verizon phone that happens to be locked.

In any event, Ruth is planning to obtain a Dutch Vodafone SIM card like I used before her trip; when she inserts it in her phone in the US before she leaves, she'll see for sure that her phone isn't locked - because the phone won't even turn on if it is locked, without asking for a code.

One simple way to see if your phone is unlocked is to put another carrier's SIM card in and turn it on. With AT&T, you need to use a non-AT&T SIM (for example, don't use a Cricket SIM as a test - they are owned by AT&T and use AT&T's network, so you don't need to unlock your AT&T phone to use a Cricket SIM). A T-Mobile SIM is a good unlock test of an AT&T phone, so if you have a friend with T-Mobile, ask if you can borrow their SIM and try it in your phone.

Posted by
5318 posts

Andrew, thank you for clarifying about Verizon phones NOT being locked. My AT&T phone (Samsung) is definitely locked, as was proved by the Vodafone NL SIM, which was purchased based on your excellent recommendation.

Posted by
456 posts

Update -- I used google hangouts this afternoon to chat with my friend in Canada over wi fi with the phone in airplane mode. It worked perfectly! I think I am now set to both make calls over wi fi and to receive calls from the USA, with my google voice mail set up and working.

But of course now I have more questions!

Andrew H, I could not find anywhere on my phone where I can forward from Verizon to my google number. But I am thinking I really won't need to do this. The emergency contacts for my mom will have my google voice number. And I think that if anyone were to leave a voicemail on my Verizon number, I would be able to retrieve it if I put my phone on airplane mode and then enable Verizon's wi fi calling from my hotel at night. I am correct in my assumption that I will be able to access my Verizon number voicemail messages this way?

Now I am wondering about texts. Could someone tell me how this works using Verizon in airplane mode with wi fi? This is not going to be a major issue for me, but it could be for my daughter. Are there any hidden charges that happen if the phone is in airplane mode and wi fi is on? Is it also possible -- and more important, is it also free!!! -- to text photos in airplane mode on Verizon wi fi? I want to make sure my daughter isn't inadvertently breaking the bank by texting photos while we are traveling!

I also purchased a Vodafone SIM card, which arrived in the mail yesterday. I plan to put it in my phone soon to ensure it functions, and then to get on the Vodafone site to add money to it. However, I am super confused about purchasing a bundle. Do I need to purchase a bundle? If I just wanted to be able to make and receive calls using google hangouts and google voice while not connected to wi fi, do I need a bundle? What would the bundle provide that I'm not getting elsewhere?

I have read about the Vodafone "you" bundle and "world" bundle but don't see these on their website. Could someone explain the bundle options and the features of each....or direct me to a page with this information?
Thanks!

Posted by
4689 posts

Update -- I used google hangouts this afternoon to chat with my friend in Canada over wi fi with the phone in airplane mode. It worked perfectly! I think I am now set to both make calls over wi fi and to receive calls from the USA, with my google voice mail set up and working.

Sounds good. Did your friend dial your number or did you dial your friend's number? (Or does your friend have Hangouts too?)

I would still make sure people can call your Google number and HANGOUTS rings (not your normal phone ringer) and that you answer in Hangouts.

Just a reminder: "Airplane mode" is only for testing. I'd probably stop using it that way now. You won't use the phone in airplane mode while in Europe with the Vodafone SIM - that would defeat the purpose.

One last thing to confirm about Google Voice: make sure you have turned OFF the forwarding FROM Google TO your Verizon number. (Forwarding in the opposite direction is a different discussion.) Have you done that in Google settings? UN-check the box for forwarding to your Verizon number? It's important because otherwise, your incoming calls may forward to Verizon and go right to Verizon voicemail. You want to receive calls in Hangouts only.

(I'll address the other things in a moment.)

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Andrew H, I could not find anywhere on my phone where I can forward from Verizon to my google number. But I am thinking I really won't need to do this. The emergency contacts for my mom will have my google voice number. And I think that if anyone were to leave a voicemail on my Verizon number, I would be able to retrieve it if I put my phone on airplane mode and then enable Verizon's wi fi calling from my hotel at night. I am correct in my assumption that I will be able to access my Verizon number voicemail messages this way?

The forwarding is a "Verizon thing" not a "phone thing." If you have a Verizon app on your phone, you might set up forwarding with that. Or on your laptop, if you have a Verizon login, you might be able to set the forwarding there. You can probably even call Verizon and say, "Please forward my calls to this number" and they can either do it or tell you how to do it.

But you're right - you don't HAVE to forward from Verizon to Google. Just let Verizon calls go right to voicemail while you are traveling. Without your Verizon SIM in place, you will most likely have to call your Verizon number (with Hangouts - remember to add the +1 in front), then type in your access code and then listen to your voicemails that way. There may be some other way to retrieve your Verizon voicemails with an app - not sure. I would test this NOW to make sure you know how to do it: call your Verizon number from Hangouts and enter your passcode. If you don't know your passcode, NOW is the time to set it up!

Verizon's WiFI calling won't work if you don't have the Verizon SIM in place. You could swap out the Vodafone SIM (turn the phone OFF first before removing a SIM card), then put the Verizon SIM in and keep the phone on WiFi only, but that sounds like too much of a hassle to me. Just dial your number from Hangouts instead.

Now I am wondering about texts. Could someone tell me how this works using Verizon in airplane mode with wi fi? This is not going to be a major issue for me, but it could be for my daughter. Are there any hidden charges that happen if the phone is in airplane mode and wi fi is on? Is it also possible -- and more important, is it also free!!! -- to text photos in airplane mode on Verizon wi fi? I want to make sure my daughter isn't inadvertently breaking the bank by texting photos while we are traveling!

Same thing as above: you'll probably have to put your Verizon SIM back in to retrieve Verizon texts with your phone, but I'm not sure. Instead, I'd tell your daughter to text you using WhatsApp...or, text to your Google number. Hangouts doesn't do texting, but the Google Voice app does. Install the Google Voice app on your phone if not already. I assume texts to your Verizon number will all just be waiting for you when you put the Verizon SIM card back into the phone. If someone knows of a way to retrieve your Verizon texts in a different way, please say so. You could also call Verizon and say, "I won't be using Verizon roaming in Europe and will use another SIM. Is there another way to text on my Verizon number?"

Otherwise...have your daughter text you now as a test on your Google number. See if it arrives via the Google Voice app. It's a different texting app, I know - something else to adjust to.

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I also purchased a Vodafone SIM card, which arrived in the mail yesterday. I plan to put it in my phone soon to ensure it functions, and then to get on the Vodafone site to add money to it. However, I am super confused about purchasing a bundle. Do I need to purchase a bundle? If I just wanted to be able to make and receive calls using google hangouts and google voice while not connected to wi fi, do I need a bundle? What would the bundle provide that I'm not getting elsewhere?

I have read about the Vodafone "you" bundle and "world" bundle but don't see these on their website. Could someone explain the bundle options and the features of each....or direct me to a page with this information?

Please read my original writeup on the Vodafone SIM:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/dutch-vodafone-sim-card-for-use-in-europe

You will want a bundle - data is far cheaper than paying the expensive per-megabyte rate you'd pay otherwise. A bundle is good or only 30 days from the time you activate it; after 30 days (or when you run out of data) you need to buy another one, but you are only there four weeks, probably not an issue.

Here are the basic steps:
1. Activate the Vodafone SIM in your phone (in the US). I had to roam on the T-Mobile network in the US (a Vodafone roaming partner). If your phone doesn't automatically connect to T-Mobile, turn on roaming and find "Cellular networks" in settings and choose T-Mobile. Once I did, I got the "Welcome to the United States" text.
2. Create an account (My Vodafone) on the Dutch Vodafone website (you MUST use the Dutch site - if you use Google Chrome it will translate most of the Dutch to English; on a PC or laptop, right-click on any page not translated and choose "Translate to English" ).

https://www.vodafone.nl/account/inloggen

Signing up for the Vodafone account involves sending a text to your new Dutch phone number, so you can't do it until the SIM is in place and you can receive texts. If you didn't get the "Welcome" text, go back and make sure you go it - because you won't be able to create the account until your phone can receive texts using the SIM. Data roaming on the phone must be enabled too.

  1. Add credit to your SIM using the Vodafone website. Don't add too much. (You'll also get a small bonus.) I'd try to add 20 Euros of credit - you might get 25. There is no credit on the SIM initially. A "You" bundle with 3GB costs 20 Euros. Any credit you add expires in a year.

  2. JUST BEFORE you are about to use the SIM, login to your Vodafone account and, using the credit you added prior, buy a "You" bundle, which is good for only 30 days after you buy it. So if you are on a four week trip, I'd set a reminder to yourself to activate this bundle a day or two before you leave the US or do it as soon as you land in Europe. (You don't need the Vodafone SIM in place to purchase/activate the bundle.) Buy the one for 20 Euros to give you 3GB. If you run out of data, you can either try to buy another bundle (add more credit) or buy a local SIM as you are traveling, whatever is easier.

--

So: I'd to steps 1-3 ASAP - add the credit now but don't activate the bundle until you are about to leave for Europe.

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So I wasn't clear about my daughter and texting -- sorry! My daughter will be with us on the trip. She will have her iPhone and she will not have a SIM card. I'm wondering whether she can put her phone in airplane mode, activate Verizon wi fi, and get and receive texts from the US? If so, would sending/receiving photos also be free? Like the majority of college students, she is used to sending and receiving a lot of texts...I don't want any unpleasant financial surprises because of this!

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So I wasn't clear about my daughter and texting -- sorry! My daughter will be with us on the trip. She will have her iPhone and she will not have a SIM card. I'm wondering whether she can put her phone in airplane mode, activate Verizon wi fi, and get and receive texts from the US? If so, would sending/receiving photos also be free? Like the majority of college students, she is used to sending and receiving a lot of texts...I don't want any unpleasant financial surprises because of this!

Yes, if she has Verizon too, AND her phone supports Verizon WiFi calling (not all phones do I guess), she can stick to WiFi to text and call people Otherwise, she might look into something like WhatsApp for texting.

Maybe she can get a SIM card once you get to Europe? I think she'd still be able to use WhatsApp to text her friends at home (on WiFi or otherwise), but I haven't used WhatsApp so can't say for sure.

Can't help with sending/receiving photos by text.

However...she can test this all now by putting her phone in airplane mode at home then connecting to WiFi and trying to text someone. It will work the same way in Europe. She needs to make it work now before leaving.

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I was able to call Canada using Hangouts. And I have tested receiving both calls and voicemail in hangouts. I have already turned off forwarding from Google to my Verizon number. And I have been able to call my Verizon number from hangouts, enter my PIN, and retrieve voicemail. So far, so good!

Just a reminder: "Airplane mode" is only for testing. I'd probably stop using it that way now. You won't use the phone in airplane mode while in Europe with the Vodafone SIM - that would defeat the purpose.

I was thinking that I would have the Vodafone SIM if I needed to make receive calls while away from wi fi, but use Verizon wi fi when wi fi is available to save $$. But I guess I didn't think about the need to keep changing out SIM cards. Am I correct in thinking I can still use the phone in airplane mode at the hotel and use hangouts to get my Verizon voicemail even with the Vodafone SIM card in the phone?

Meanwhile, my daughter could just airplane mode and Verizon wi fi to retrieve her messages (which are likely to be 99% texts)?

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I'm still super confused about the two Vodafone credit purchases:

Andrew H wrote:

1.Add credit to your SIM using the Vodafone website. Don't add too much. (You'll also get a small bonus.) I'd try to add 20 Euros of credit - you might get 25. There is no credit on the SIM initially. A "You" bundle with 3GB costs 20 Euros. Any credit you add expires in a year.
2.JUST BEFORE you are about to use the SIM, login to your Vodafone account and, using the credit you added prior, buy a "You" bundle, which is good for only 30 days after you buy it. So if you are on a four week trip, I'd set a reminder to yourself to activate this bundle a day or two before you leave the US or do it as soon as you land in Europe. (You don't need the Vodafone SIM in place to purchase/activate the bundle.) Buy the one for 20 Euros to give you 3GB. If you run out of data, you can either try to buy another bundle (add more credit) or buy a local SIM as you are traveling, whatever is easier.

1 -- seems pretty straightforward. It sounds like I'm purchasing the power to make a later purchase?
2 -- I don't see anything about "you" bundles on the Vodafone site (maybe I'm not on the correct site?) Where do I find this? Assuming I can find it, am I correct in thinking this will be all I need to send/receive calls to the US using my google hangouts and google voice number? If I am using the Vodafone card, do I still use hangouts as my means of sending/receiving?

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Andrew H -- I just texted my daughter (she's in Wisconsin and I'm in NY) and asked her to enable Verizon wi fi, put her phone on airplane mode, and text me. She was able to text and text a photo, and was able to receive my return text. Success! I may suggest she get WhatsApp as a back up. I'll try to learn more about it first. Thanks!

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I was thinking that I would have the Vodafone SIM if I needed to make receive calls while away from wi fi, but use Verizon wi fi when wi fi is available to save $$. But I guess I didn't think about the need to keep changing out SIM cards. Am I correct in thinking I can still use the phone in airplane mode at the hotel and use hangouts to get my Verizon voicemail even with the Vodafone SIM card in the phone?

There is no need to put the phone on airplane mode while on the hotel's WiFi, if you have the Vodafone SIM in place - it won't use the Vodafone's data. You might put it in airplane mode if you have the Verizon SIM in place, I guess, so you won't accidentally trigger Verizon's $10/day roaming plan.

But yes - you can call your Verizon number from WiFi (or just using the Vodafone SIM while not on WiFi) with Hangouts to check your Verizon voicemail, if you have already tested it at home. Will work the same overseas except for putting the +1 in front of your number when you call it.

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1 -- seems pretty straightforward. It sounds like I'm purchasing the power to make a later purchase?

Yep!

2 -- I don't see anything about "you" bundles on the Vodafone site (maybe I'm not on the correct site?) Where do I find this?

This is the correct Dutch site (prepaid only):

https://www.vodafone.nl/shop/mobiel/prepaid/

Assuming I can find it, am I correct in thinking this will be all I need to send/receive calls to the US using my google hangouts and google voice number? If I am using the Vodafone card, do I still use hangouts as my means of sending/receiving?

Yes. Hangouts uses the internet to make/receive voice calls. It doesn't care whether you are using WiFi or your phone's SIM card data, just like it doesn't matter when you search for a restaurant in a web browser on your phone - could be on WiFi, could be using your SIM when not on WiFi. Hangouts doesn't care. The Vodafone SIM is just a way to give you internet access while not on WiFi.

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Ninety percent there, I think....and about 5 weeks to go until the trip! I confirmed that the Vodafone card works and was able to set up my account. I was able to leave an email message on my Verizon number while the Vodafone card was in the phone and the phone was in airplane mode; then I was able to use google hangouts to call my Verizon number while in airplane mode, and was able to retrieve the Verizon message. Which means my mom can call the number she knows, get the voicemail she recognizes, and leave a message....and I can retrieve it. Meanwhile I have been able to use hangouts to make and receive calls and to leave and receive messages.

The only remaining glitch is trying to get the 20 euro credit to appear on the Vodafone account. After a couple of failed attempts, it appeared the transaction went through and the message said I would receive confirmation once the transaction was processed. Waited awhile and no text. Eventually I needed to change out the SIM card so I could use my phone, and I'm not sure I'll get the confirmation text now that I'm back on Verizon. Looking on line nothing has posted yet. I figure I'll give it another 24 hours and hope the credit appears before I try to troubleshoot. If anyone has been through this and has any advice, I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks again!

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Ruth, how are you trying to buy the 20 Euro credit? Did you create a My Vodafone account on the Dutch website? That's the first thing I did. It involved providing my Dutch phone number so Vodafone could text me there to confirm I owned the number.

Did you do that and get the text? Obviously that doesn't add any credit - just creates the account.

Once you create the account, login to it (I use my laptop). From there you can add the credit. You no longer need the SIM in place to do this once you've created your My Vodafone account - and I'm not sure you will even get a text message confirming the 20 Euros you add. Instead, it should appear in your My Vodafone account.

I just added some credit last week to my Vodafone SIM to use on an upcoming trip. I added 10 Euros in the My Vodafone account. I haven't had my Vodafone SIM in place since last May. (Hope I can still find it!!!). But I saw immediately in my My Vodafone account that I had an extra 10 Euros of credit, so I know it went through. Not sure if I'll have a text message waiting for me or not when I insert that SIM into a phone - we'll see!

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The credit has posted! I'm not sure why it didn't show up yesterday, but when I logged in today I see I have 25 euro credit on the card! Thank you, Andrew H, for all your assistance along the way! It looks like all I need to do now is to activate the "you" plan right before I leave....and compile all the helpful hints about both Vodafone, google hangouts, google voice, etc. onto one piece of paper I can take with me as a cheat sheet.

Thanks to everyone for all of your help and suggestions and support along the way. You helped make what felt completely overwhelming manageable!