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iPhone 5 in London

I am travelling to London in January 2016. I have an iPhone 5 on Verizon. I do not need my data... my phone will be used as a camera and to call my parents each night via Facetime (my host has wifi).

I am phone dumb, unfortunately. I have been told previously that a phone would work overseas only to get there and have it become a paperweight. What do I need to do to make sure my phone works? Again, I don't need any data. I just need it to be able to connect to wifi so I can use facetime to call my parents, and possibly text via iMessage on wifi as well.

I'd prefer to do whatever I need to do stateside, if possible. I have read before that all I need to do is call Verizon and they can "unlock" my phone so it will work in London? Is that true? If I need a SIM card...where can I get one? Honestly, I don't even know what that is or what it looks like, or where it goes in the phone!

I called Verizon and told them that I was travelling to London and just wanted talk and text on wifi. They told me I'd need to add a $40 plan to do that... is that true? I am of the understanding that I can use my phone for free internationally on wifi.


Posted by
5646 posts

Put your phone in Airplane mode, then turn on WiFI. That should turn off data and regular calling, at least it does with an Android (I've never used an iPhone). You can try it now. See if you can make regular calls (you should not be able to), then try Facetime via WiFi. Try it that way when you aren't connected to WiFi (that is, WiFI is turned on but you aren't home or something so WiFi not in range) and try to use the phone and try to use data. It should tell you you aren't connected. If so, then you should be good.

If you want to buy a local SIM? As I understand it, Verizon cannot lock phones that use LTE (which I think iPhone one does), per agreement with the FCC. This seems to confirm:

So you should not need to do anything with Verizon if you replace the SIM. However, for an iPhone, you will need a "nano-SIM" (very small), not easy to find sometimes.

Posted by
824 posts


Since Facetime (and other video/audio over IP) will work with only a WIFI connection, all you need to do is put your phone in Airplane Mode when you get on the plane and then re-enable your WIFI (in settings).

When you put an iPhone in airplane mode, all radios (cellular, WIFI and Bluetooth) are turned off by default. WIFI and Bluetooth can, however, be re-enabled while in Airplane mode so you can connect to networks and other devices. If you happen to open an application that says it needs a Cellular connection, close the app - Do Not Re-Enable Cellular until you return to the States.

If you change your mind about getting a cellular connection for voice and data while in London, it takes about 5 minutes and around GBP20.00. Reportedly, all Verizon iPhones are GSM capable and have their GSM radios "unlocked." (I am NOT a Verizon customer so I have no direct experience.) Just remember to remove the GSM SIM (easy to do with a paperclip) upon arrival to the States otherwise your phone will not connect to the Verizon network.

Good luck and have fun.

Posted by
32051 posts


I don't use Verizon so can only provide some general suggestions. To begin with, it sounds like the Verizon rep didn't understand your question, as his suggestion of adding a $40 plan was based on being able to use the phone to call / text while travelling abroad. If you're planning to only use Wi-Fi, that's not applicable.

As the others have mentioned, the easiest approach is probably just to place the phone in "Airplane mode" when you board the plane in the U.S., and then enable Wi-Fi only when you arrive in London. Just to be safe, I'd probably switch the Cellular Data "Off" as well. One caveat to mention is that if you turn the phone "Off" at any point, be sure to check the settings when you switch it "On" as they may have changed.

You only need to have the phone unlocked if you're planning to use a SIM card from another network in your phone. That doesn't seem to be your intention in this case so not something you'll need to be concerned with. If you're only using Wi-Fi you don't need another SIM card.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks! So I can leave my phone in airplane mode and just toggle WiFi on as I need to call/text? Will I be able to send iMessages over Wifi? I'd prefer to text, honestly, since I am really just sending short messages to let my family know I've landed and to check in with them.

Will I still receive texts? I'm going to advise my friends not to text while I am away, but I don't want any crazy charges because they forget!

That is so much easier than a SIM card or a Verizon plan. The last time I was abroad, albeit with a different phone, the phone itself was just dead in the water. It turned on but basically didn't do anything else. I'm assuming technology is better than it was 5 years ago when that happened, and iPhones are different. As long as I am connected to wifi, I can use facetime for free?


Posted by
5646 posts

I doubt you will be able to receive text messages on your regular number while in London, but I'm not sure. If you install Google Hangouts on your iPhone and get a Google Voice number before you leave the US, you can send/receive text messages on your Google Voice phone number, using Google Hangouts. You can also receive voice calls on this Google Voice phone number (free) from cell phones and landlines and even forward your Verizon number to this new Google number while you are traveling, so you can even get calls and get voicemail (Google's voicemail via Google Voice) while you are away using only WiFi. I'm not sure you can forward text messages this way, however. Maybe.

I have not been a Verizon customer for years myself, but I happen to be using a Verizon Android phone I bought that I use only on GSM (on a T-Mobile 4GLTE network) in the US. I put my own SIM card in it and removed Verizon's. I plan to use it the next time I go overseas with a local SIM card. Although my Verizon phone was not technically locked, it was not simple for me to turn on GSM mode, probably by design. (I'm tech-inclined so not worried about it myself.) How easy this is to do varies by the make/model of the phone. I assume your iPhone is different, maybe better. I post this partly for the benefit of other Verizon customers who may wonder how/if they can use their phones overseas with a foreign SIM card.

Posted by
544 posts

Hi Cate,

Your Verizon iPhone 5 is a world phone and can work pay-as-you go roaming in Europe. Please talk to Verizon again or read this website to get details on costs:

You're right that you can iMessage and FaceTime over wifi for free anywhere in the world.

People on this forum that suggest to "leave your phone in airplane mode" are totally right. It's the way to keep your phone from connecting to networks in Europe.

If you do pay-as-you-go texting it's 50¢ to send and 5¢ to receive text messages. Calls are $1.79 a minute. Data is extremely expensive pay-as-you-go at $2 a megabyte, so it's best to have data roaming disabled on your iPhone (the default setting if you bought it directly from Apple).

If you add the $40 thing you get 100 minutes and 25¢ a minute over 100 minutes. Incoming text messages are free, after 100 messages each text is 25¢. You get 100mb a data, which could come in handy in an emergency to look up a phone number or use maps.

Let us know if you have anymore questions!

Posted by
32051 posts


"Will I still receive texts? "

Using the method you've suggested, you'll only be able to receive texts when you have Wi-Fi available. You could use something like Viber for texting, as it won't cost anything if using Wi-Fi.

Posted by
824 posts


SMS text (green) messages won't work when only on WIFI but iMessages (blue/iDevice to iDevice) will. So will Facetime.

I would still recommend a local pay-as-you-go SIM for maximum flexibility.


Posted by
101 posts

I have a Verizon iPhone. From the 5 on up, they can work all around the world.

  1. If you don't want to pay for international calls or data, be sure to turn off cellular data on your phone.
    I recommend doing things in the following order:
    Settings > Cellular > Voice & Data Roaming > OFF, ...
    Settings > Cellular Data > OFF ...
    And then, to be super-safe, put it in airplane mode as well. AFTER putting it in airplane mode (which turns off the wifi), turn the wifi back on manually.

  2. In my experience, texts from one iPhone to another will work over wifi, but regular texts (from other devices) will not. Tell your friends to email you instead. If you have a google account, you can also install Hangouts as a way to communicate over wifi.

  3. If there is any chance you might want to use the phone internationally (on cellular), Verizon has a new travel plan that you can consider, called TravelPass. It basically lets you use the data plan you already have for $10/day in certain countries (including the UK). Any time your phone accesses data overseas, you are charged for that day. You would need to activate this feature if you want to use it by calling Verizon or changing it in your account online. I turned this on for my account, even though I don't intend to use it too often. My reasoning is that if I DO need to use cellular data for any reason while I'm overseas, I would rather pay $10 than the much more expensive rates for someone who doesn't have that feature set up.

Posted by
7 posts

I think you might get a better deal if you get a SIM card in England. You never know when you might need to use GPS. I'm using an iPhone right now. Annoyed with Vodafone in other countries, but, I've heard they are good in England, also look at Orange and Three.

Also, I use Whatsapp it's free for the first year you can call/text just like you would with your phone. The other thing you never know if wifi will go out and then you need to use your data.

Download Citymapper if your in a large city for getting around.

Posted by
5697 posts

Or, if you are really sure that you NEVER want to make calls / use data except when you have WiFi connection, you can ask about putting your phone on vacation hold (works best for longer trips) so that there is no way you can accidentally run up expensive bills. We have done this twice for one-month trips, using the phone for photos, WiFi device at the hotel, and offline maps using citymaps2go.