I'll be in Europe for about 2 weeks in October and have an iPhone with AT&T. I'm thinking about using AT&T's Passport plan for $30 (valid for 30 days and expires automatically). It provides unlimited text messages, $1 per minute to talk, and 120MB of data. I have the 300MB-per-month plan at home and never come near to going over, so I think this would work. Do I need to unlock my phone before signing up for the plan? If you used this service, were you happy with it? I've never traveled internationally with a smartphone so this is all new to me and I appreciate any advice!
I used that plan on a recent trip for the second time in two years, and I have no complaints. I have an ancient clamshell phone, and there was no need to unlock it. Sorry I can't advise about the smartphone.
We used it in Ireland last year, more for the free texting than the data. It was great to be able to stay in contact with people back home.
The data plan, I give mixed reviews. The passport locations were never near us, my husband's phone worked better than mine (that could have been the phone). His relatives would send us messages using Facebook so we could access that easily. It was great to have that piece of mind that we wouldn't get hit with a huge bill.
You don't need to unlock you phone. You would only need to do that if you were buying a SIM card at your destination..
We are going to Greece this year in Oct, I definitely plan on signing up again for the trip.
Whether you use this plan or not, I suggest getting a Google Voice number (free), then install Google Hangouts on your phone, so you can make/receive free phone calls to/from the US while you are traveling. Then at least while you are on WiFi at a hotel or something, you don't have to spend $1/minute every time you need to make a phone call.
That 120MB of data may get used faster than you think. I don't use much data on my Android, either, most of the time, but when I'm traveling I find I use my phone's data a lot more than at home. Try to use WiFi as much as you can while traveling.
AT&T is a little expensive, as I talk--no texting.
We switched over to T Mobile's $50 monthly rate for unlimited everything. Voice is $.20 cents out of the U.S.
What' nice is that if you have a GSM unlocked phone, you can sign up for it, use their plan for a month and cut off their service when you return home. T Mobile's avoiding the 2 year contracts AT&T and Verizon are so famous for.
T Mobile is the country carrier for a number of countries in Western Europe. Our 2 year old granddaughter called us in Budapest on her mother's speed dial--seamlessly just like she was calling us at home.
The cellular world is changing all the time.
I have T-Mobile but it's not a great option for everyone. I live in a city and reception for me is great almost everywhere, but some people in more rural areas seem not to get good T-Mobile coverage.
And T-Mobile's international roaming doesn't cover every country. On my recent trip to the former Yugoslavia, T-Mobile worked in Croatia but not in Slovenia, Bosnia, or Montenegro. My phone is unlocked, so buying a local SIM card in the latter two was easy and cheap, however.
I also have an iPhone (4s) and am on an AT&T plan and have used their passport/international plans in: Amsterdam, Istanbul, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Nice and have not had any problems. Here are some tips:
- If you are not constantly surfing the net or sending text/e-mails with photos or other large files, your data selection should be OK. Just keep in mind not to allow apps that require data to run in the background. One huge, yet often invisible, data user is the map/GPS.
- Data comes in handy if you want to have all your photos geo-tagged. I have enjoyed using this feature as it allows me to know exactly (or close to it) where all your photos were taken, but beware, it uses a lot of data.
- The benefit of using the AT&T plan is that you can continue using your phone with the same number as if you were back home. Folks from home can call you like it's a local call and if your traveling companions are also using such phones and on similar plans, you can call/text each other the same as you would back home (although you may need to dial a country code in front of you 9-digit number, which on a cell phone is the "+" sign, so, if your number is 510-123-4567, your traveling companion would call/text +1-510-123-4567, but folks back home would still just call 510-123-4567).
- No need to unlock your phone. You would only need to do this if you plan on swapping out your SIM card/chip for another one, such as a locally purchased one.
- AT&T's international plans are priced by the month. When I used them in the past fro my 1-2 week trips I would cancel it as soon as I got back home and the cost would be prorated.
- You will enjoy using your iPhone's map feature with GPS (you can use this feature regardless of if you have any kind of international plan or not, but not having a plan and just using the roaming data rate from your carrier would cost you a fortune). Say you just got out of the train station and are trying to find your way to your hotel. Just open the map, click on the arrow in the lower left corner of the screen (on an iPhone 4s) and the phone will locate you on the map with position so you can make your way.
We used AT&T's Passport plan in December - Germany, France and Prague. We sent many, many texts back home - with photos and didn't use any data doing it. The AT&T rep told us that if we posted photos on Instagram, that would use data, but not sending photos with our texts. Turns out he was right.
If we wanted to check maps or anything else that used data, we just made sure we were connected to wifi.
We'll use the same plan for our trip in September.
The problem with T-Mobile is they have absolutely horrid service near me so there is no way I would change just because they claim to have free international. I would rather have a phone that works in Atlanta then Paris since unfortunately I don't get to live in Paris LOL!
We went with the passport for this trip on my AT&T phone. I like the fact that it automatically expires, last year I forgot to turn off the monthly package for international and paid for an extra month!
Using it right now. It is great for texting family back home and travel companion here.
Thank you all for your suggestions. KC, you brought up a lot of good points which other posters touched on too. I don't use my phone much at home and wanted a data plan in case I would need to use the map / GPS (i.e. have a brain fart and not be able to find my way to / from an area). I close all apps, including Safari and the map, as soon as I'm finished with them, by swiping them up out of the screen, so nothing is running if I'm not using it. I didn't know you had to do this to actually close apps, so the first month after I got the iPhone 5, I received a $150 bill when I expected to pay $20! The rep took pity on me and reduced the bill, which was very nice, and I learned my lesson!
I never geo-tag my pictures so that kind of data usage won't be an issue.
I wanted the voice feature in case I have to make calls home or to local hotels or other businesses, and so that others don't need to remember a new number to get in touch with me. My parents are worriers and want to know exactly how they can get contact me as quickly as possible, should anything happen. For part of my trip I'll be traveling with a German friend who lives in Hamburg, so while I'm with him, if we need to make calls we'll use his phone.
I'll use wifi as much as I can, and plan to use Skype or Facetime for longer conversations with family and friends back home.
And I'll have paper maps of every city I visit. I usually enjoy figuring out where I am and how to get where I need to go.
maps.me allows you to download maps for your countries for offline use. You can get turn by turn directions as well.
I've used AT&T's middle option ($60.00) and traveled successfully in Malawi, Ethiopia, Germany, Turkey, and Iraq. I text lots and even made airline arrangement in the middle of the bridge spanning the border between Iraq and Turkey. The Turkish Airlines app worked well and we boarded in Siirt after a breathtaking taxi ride through the mountains from Silopi.
So, it works. My traveling companion's Verizon phone wouldn't hook up, even though he was pretty sure Verizon had gotten him set up before he left.
Oh, I travel with an AT&T iPhone 5s.
Just My Experience,
KC gives some very good advice here.
I used the AT&T Passport Plan on three trips to Italy last year, and I was extremely happy. It's not the absolute cheapest option, but it's the hands down winner for convenience. You log in to your AT&T account, set the date when you want the service to start, and it expires automatically 30 days from the start date. You keep your phone number -- no unlocking or switching SIM cards. And there are no hidden charges. I am going to Turkey this fall, and there is no doubt that I will stick with AT&T passport.
You still will need to keep an eye on your data usage, which it sounds like you do already. It's a good idea to go into Settings -> Cellular on your iPhone, and turn off cellular for all but the most essential apps. Also, when you get on the plane headed for Europe, try to remember to "Reset Statistics" at the bottom of the Cellular page. That's the easiest way to keep an eye on your data usage.
The 120MB plan will probably be fine. I got the larger plan on one of my trips, just to be on the safe side, and it was overkill. I don't think I ever hit even 100MB on any of my trips, even when I was trying to use data toward the end of a trip.
The AT&T WiFi hot spots are so few and far between that I never worry with them.
Finally, I strongly second the suggestion to get the MapsWithMe app. The app stores all the maps locally and uses miniscule amounts of data, if any. It's incredibly accurate, even in Venice. I wouldn't dream of going on a trip without it. I think that I used Google Maps one time to try to locate an ATM machine. Otherwise, it was MapsWithMe all the way.
I'm back from my trip and have my bill. Everything worked great in Europe and my bill was just what I expected, an extra $30. Well worth it to know family members could just text me at the regular number that they always use. I used a small amount of data only because I found wi-fi available at most locations
Thank you all for your tips and advice. Looks like I'll go with the Passport plan, then. And I checked out the maps.me app - it looks like it would be a great help.
I put the Maps.Me app on my phone and I'm downloading the UK maps now. Thanks to the poster who mentioned it! :)
Just got back from two months in Europe where I had the AT&T Global plan that you're talking about, same pricing and everything. I never used it to call anywhere, since I had an old Iphone that I bought a SIM card for in Spain to make local calls. In general the Global plan worked well. I found sometimes that I had problems with IMessage. I had to go into Settings and switch off IMessage so it would only send out SMS, even to other IPhones. It seemed most problematic texting to European IPhones. That seemed to be the most challenging, but after I changed the settings, it worked much better. Another option for texting is Whatsapp, which is a free app that seemingly everyone in Europe uses to text. I only used it when I was on Wifi, but I was paranoid about using my 120MB of data for some reason. Also, be aware that you can't text pictures on the Global plan (at least I never could). I'm very glad I had it, even with the issues, because it allowed me to stay in touch with friends in the US for relatively cheap.
I was able to text photos on global plan and I didn't need to redo any settings. It must depend on the phone that you have.
Additional question -- how do you get the service to continue if you're going to be in Europe for more than one month ?
to LauraB. Sign up for AT&T Recurring Passport.
In case it hasn't been mentioned already, I wanted to remind all that the "free" services via apps like Viber, WeChat, Skype, and others, are only free in that you can text, talk, etc. via wifi. So of course, if you are not within wifi range, then those same text/talk services will default to using cellular data, which is where services like AT&T's data portion of their Passport plan come in to play. And if you're using that same data to transmit voice, it's going to be depleted much sooner than a simple text.
This is something to keep in mind because if you are the type that likes to talk and text on the go and not "wait till you are at a cafe that has wifi or back at the hotel where there's wifi," then these free apps/services might not be as helpful and you're better off getting a mobile data plan such as AT&T's passport. An example might be, you and your travel group/companion are separated and need to communicate each other's whereabouts and maybe you need to do so rather quickly, rather than find a wifi hotspot.
I'm a little bit dense while trying to understand.
My family will be able to call me by dialing the same number that they use now? My Dad is older and I'm trying to avoid having to have him dial a bunch of number prefixes (001 and 011 etc)
And how are incoming calls billed?
No doubt, if you get the AT&T plan, you'll use the same number in Europe that you use at home. (Otherwise, why would you even bother with AT&T? Why not then get your own SIM card for far less money?) From what Sarah says above, incoming calls would be billed at $1/minute.
If you want to save money, get Google Apps setup on your phone. Then you can take an incoming AT&T call on your phone - either answer it and pay $1 for the first minute - or see the number and let it go to voicemail (should be free). Then find WiFi and call back for free using Google Hangouts, for a longer call. If you want a free incoming US phone number as well (while on WiFi and/or mobile data), sign up for a free Google Voice phone number and use that with Google Hangouts.
WhateverLA, yes, that is correct. That's one of the big benefits of signing up for the AT&T plan (or any similar plan available from other carriers), is that folks back home can call you on your regular number, exactly as they would if you were back at home. This is helpful if you want to make it easy for them to call you without having to figure out how to dial international. Also, it costs them less because it would be like making a local call.
Even if you didn't sign up for AT&T's international plan, folks back home can still call you on the same number, but it will cost you much more (international long distance rate + international roaming charge).
Thank you so much KC, you answered my exact questions! Now I don't have to worry about having my dad (who is 84) trying to dial a European SIM number. Also, that makes sense about the "local call for them" aspect of it! I signed up for the Gold Plan because of the amount of data that I anticipate using!
I am going to Italy, France and Spain in two weeks. I have an iphone 6 and AT&T is my carrier. On their $30 Passport plan, it is stated that "no wifi is included". On the Passport $60 plan it states "unlimited wifi".
Prior to reading this, and being told by the AT&T representative that without purchasing the $60 plan, I would have "no wifi", I had previously understood that if I had turned off cellular data on my phone, I could still use wifi at any wifi hotspot (i.e. my hotel). I am totally confused now. Must I pay for the AT&T Passport $60 plan in order to access any wifi?
The AT&T representative repeatedly told me that I must pay for the $60 plan in order to access any wifi. But those posting on this thread seem to state otherwise. Help!!!
Of course you can access wifi just like you would at home. Use the settings feature of your phone. I think the representative was referring to the ATT hotspot wifi locations. You can certainly use hotel, restaurant, etc. wifi without any difficulites. I used the $30 plan in June/July and was on wifi networks frequently. I found this to be a good plan for me and it worked exactly as it should.
I had the exact experience with an AT&T rep last night—we've always been able to access free wifi in hotels, cafes etc while traveling in Europe, but he insisted this had changed and that now we would be unable to access any wifi anywhere in Europe unless we purchased the more expensive $60 plan. I was suspicious—can anyone else confirm whether there's some change in AT&T policy, or if all the plans can freely access free wifi provided in many spots, and that the more expensive plans that cover wifi are only referring to AT&T hotspots? Thanks!
ksb1949 and dvlsh, the AT&T rep isn't be clear enough.
Regardless of whether you're with AT&T or some other carrier or whether you have signed up for a global plan or not, your phone will always have the ability to access the web via wifi if there is wifi within range and if you've paid for it (unless it is free). As an example, if the hotel you're staying in offers free wifi all you need to do is turn on your phone, go to the settings/wifi screen, select the wireless network for the hotel and enter the password they give you (unless they don't require a password), and that's it. Another example, you may visit a cafe where they have wifi available but you need to pay for it (say a few euros an hour). Once you've paid you'll be able to use it. Even airlines now offer wifi (usually for a fee) on their planes. This will have nothing to do with your service provider.
What I believe AT&T is trying to tell you is that if you sign up for one of their global plans, you will be able to access wifi for free at hotspots they have arrangements with, for example certain hotels, cafes, etc. that might otherwise have to pay for.
So basically the question of how to access the internet on your phone while traveling boils down as follows:
Option 1: Don't sign up for any global plan and just use the phone like you would at home to get on the internet using 3G/4G. This is THE most expensive option because you will be paying for international/roaming data and AT&T will charge you by the bit.
Option 2: Don't sign up for any global plan but ONLY use your phone to access the internet via wifi (whether it is free, such as in your hotel or some cafes, or paid).
Option 3. Sign up for a global plan and access the internet using the allotted data included with the plan (for example, 300MB). Of course this will mean you need to keep track of how much data you are using so as not to exceed the limit. And because you've signed up for a plan, you will also be able to access the internet via AT&T hotspots for free. Lastly, you will still be able to access the internet via wifi as in Option 2 above.
Ultimately how you decide to proceed will depend how internet dependent you need to be. For example, if you like to use the photo GPS feature on your iPhone (this feature allows all the photos you take on your phone to be tagged with a GPS location), you would likely need to sign up for a global plan with a high data limit since you'll constantly need to be connected to the internet (or whenever you're taking photos). If you only plan on using the internet once a day to check e-mails then you can probably wait till you're back at the hotel, if the hotel offers free wifi, in which case, you don't need to sign up for any plan at all.
Thank you, KC, for such a clear and cogent explanation. The only thing I would add is that I specifically asked the AT&T rep (twice, in fact) why we couldn't just access the free wifi at our hotels/cafes as we've done in the past. I said perhaps when he referred to wifi access for which we needed to purchase a plan, he was referring to AT&T hotspots (which seem unnecessary to us because there's plenty of free wifi in Europe.) No, he insisted, things had changed and even if we were using our hotel's free wifi, we would still be using a European IP address and wouldn't be able to use our devices to do so without buying a plan with free wifi from AT&T. So either the rep was new/misinformed, or AT&T (or its reps) are willfully misleading customers about what's required. We'll try to change our plan, which hasn't yet been activated, but meantime, I'd encourage other travelers with AT&T to be wary.
dvlsh, thanks for expanding on that. Sounds fishy indeed. If you put your iPhone into airplane mode, basically disabling it's use as a cell phone, then getting on wifi would be no different than doing it on a computer/laptop. I'd love to hear from AT&T users if they've heard the same info as you.
Our family just go back from Europe after 3 weeks visit. After checking the reviews from this site, we got the AT&T's Passport plan for three iphones $30 each(valid for 30 days, includes free texting and $1 minute for per call plus 120MB data). Texting was great and also no problem with voice. We were checking for free Wi-Fi in the cities that we visited. Some Free Wi-Fi require valid email to login then off you go. We never turn off the cellular to use the Wi-Fi except when we got to the place we were staying. Over all we didn't do web surfing while we are out and about. We waited till we got to place we stayed in to use the web surfing. The passport plan never tells you that you are using it and if you exceeded your data usage. The only way you know the passport is working because you can text and you can make phone call if need be. When we got back from out trip, we were surprise with big bill from AT&T that we exceeded the data usage. The data plan is a big issue because you have no idea if you are using the passport data or hotspot or any free Wi-Fi for that matter.
It is only good for the texting and voice but I wouldn't recommend it if you intend to use the data part. My next trip no passport plan for me. I can just use my iphone with Wi-Fi. Europe everywhere you find free Wi-Fi.
I just spoke to a representative in AT&T's international support department. She confirmed for me that you CAN access wifi with just the Passport plan, anywhere that wifi is available. The phone should work as it always does. You don't need to go to the AT&T hotspots to have wifi access. She was also able to sign me up for two months (instead of my having to worry about having to re-sign after the first month), and was able to set an end date so that I won't be charged past that time. The number I called was 916.843.4685.
Regarding incoming calls. They're charged at whatever rate you're paying for outgoing. I'll be using the Gold Plan and I'll be charged $0.35 cents for incoming as well as outgoing calls. The upside is that the folks here in the states will be calling your regular number, most likely a local call for them and they won't incur any charges.
And with the Passport Plan (Silver & Gold only) you will have unlimited time at their AT&T sponsored "hotspots" These "Official Hotspots" are far and few between at best! So you'll be relying on the free wifi that you'll also be able to use as you do in the States, some cafes will require a password, your hotel will require a password, etc
Here is a helpful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUgh5fY6T8g
Another link about AT&T WiFi Hotspots: http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/international/global-countries.html
I hope this helps,
For those of you with iPhones who used AT&T's Passport plan, did you have to turn data roaming on or off? (It's found in the Settings app under the Cellular tab.) I will call AT&T next week and ask them about this, but sometimes the representatives don't know the correct answers to questions like this. My data roaming is has been off since I got the phone 2 years ago and I've never seemed to need it, but I don't know if that makes a difference with an international data plan.
Thank you Maria for confirming what I suspected regarding being able to use wifi on the phone regardless of whether or not you've signed up for a global plan. Like I said, with your phone in airplane mode (meaning, you will not be able to use data or make/receive calls), wifi usage will be like that of a laptop, tablet, or similar device. And as a side note, our usage of the term "data" means accessing the internet or sending/receiving texts (whether with or without images/media) via cellular data as opposed to doing the same but through wifi.
Of course, you do not have to set the phone on airplane mode to access the net via wifi, doing so just eliminates any chance that you may accidentally switch over to cell data once you're no longer within range of wifi. As an example, say you are in your hotel lobby surfing the net, checking e-mail, etc., all via the hotel's wifi. If you continue to do this as you step out of the lobby and into the streets eventually you'll leave the hotel's wifi range and the phone will transition to using cell data.
So, you do not need to switch to airplane mode or turn off the phone's roaming cell data feature to use wifi. Doing either one of these just eliminates the chance that you might accidentally use cell data once you're no longer within range of wifi.
Sarah, I keep data roaming ON. At the same, I have a long history of monitoring my data usage: I know which apps chew up bandwidth, and I keep cellular turned off for all except for the most critical apps. In particular, play close attention to the data usage on your web browser, which will eat up roughly 1MB for every web page you load. Also, don't go anywhere near Pandora, YouTube or any kind of streaming app. And, I strongly recommend using an off-line map app such as Maps With Me. Google Maps can eat up a lot of data unless you are very careful with it. Overall, I have never come close to hitting my data limits on international trips.
On the other hand, if you are not comfortable managing your data usage on an app-by-app basis, I would strongly recommend keeping data roaming OFF.
I paid for the AT&T silver passport and hardly got to use any of the "free" wifi because I went over the 300 MB limit after only about four days. I also had trouble accessing the "free" hotspots. And it turned out that all the places I stayed had free wifi, so I would have been better off saving my $60 for beer!
I am looking at the AT&T plans on my screen right now. It clearly states that the wifi access in lauded with Silver and Gold plans is for the "participating hotspots." If you have free wifi at your hotel or apartment you do not need that.
The included MB of cellular data are for when there is no wifi available and your phone is using the cellular network to access the Internet. Be careful if you do this and monitor usage carefully. Data usage can add up quickly even when you think you are not using it. I suggest you keep data turned "off" except when you are actually using it.
In addition to the apps mentioned above, there are some other features you will want to monitor to make sure they aren't using up all your data, such as making sure location features are turned off. For any app that offers to "use your location" to better enhance your experience, you will want to turn that off. Using the GPS feature on the map app also requires data (in fact, I think it uses data regardless if you are using it as an actual GPS for turn-by-turn direction, or just using it to look something up).
Just a few more things about maps, data usage and location services.
When Location Services is turned on, the iPhone may use cellular data, but it generally doesn't use very much. It will first try to determine your location from the GPS satellites. The GPS does not use use any cellular data, but you have to have line-of-sight to the satellites. In other words, you have to be outdoors or next to a window. If the iPhone can't get your location from the GPS, it tries to triangulate your location from cell phone towers, which does use a tiny amount amount of data. The cell tower triangulation is not quite as accurate as a GPS satellite, but it's the best you can do indoors. The final fallback is to use WiFi, which doesn't use cellular data and is the least accurate method.
So, yes, Location Services can use cellular data, but it uses a tiny amount.
What eats up data is using on-line maps in real time --- Google Maps, Apple Maps, or whatever. If actual map image has to be downloaded via cellular you will eat up your data plan in no time. 'Tis better to get something like Maps With Me, where you download all the maps for a country before you begin your trip. You can still keep Location Services on and use a tiny bit of cellular data to help track your location.
And here's some more about data usage. I haven't reset my cellular data statistics since last February, and I just took a look to see how much cellular data various apps are using. Keep in mind that I keep cellular data turned off completely for as many apps as possible, especially data-intensive apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc. (Go to Settings -> Cellular to turn off cellular on an app-by-app basis.)
Here is my average monthly data usage:
- Safari: ~35 MB/month -- with no casual browsing via cellular. I try to use it only for emergencies. Safari can eat up data in a hurry if you aren't careful.
- Location Services: ~20 MB/month -- and I use it very liberally over cellular with no restrictions, both at home and abroad.
- Dark Sky: ~9MB/month -- Yes, I use it a fair amount when walking my dogs.
- Mail: ~8 MB/month. I keep automatic fetch and images turned off.
- Milebug: ~3.4 MB/month (a bit higher than I expected)
Everything else is well under 1MB per month. Maps with Me, by the way, averages ~0.3 MB/month
My records are also showing 4.5 MB for Google Maps, which I used once in Venice last spring when I was desperate to find an ATM machine. (It's nice to have cellular data available when you really need it.)
So, the bottom line is that one can live quite comfortably within the AT&T Passport data limits. Just stay away from streaming and images.
I called AT&T about data usage with the Passport plan and the rep said to turn on cellular data and data roaming when I use data (away from a wifi connection). When I'm finished, I should turn off cellular data and data roaming. This will prevent the phone from using data without my knowledge. At home in the U.S., I close all apps after I finish using them. They still run in the background otherwise.
I just followed the prompts on my phone screen. It's actually easy to set up, however, for us, the WIFI part was a total waste of money! We were able to use it once in London, but for the 9 days we were in Paris we could only use it twice. I called AT&T to complain and they told me it would cost more to have the plan refunded because we would still have to pay for the data charges, which were more than the plan itself - so, I guess it pays to have it to cover the data charges, but definitely not the WIFI.