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Traveling with iPhone 5s on Verizon

We've decided to take our iPhones to Europe with us in September. I plan to use it for free wifi in hotels, cafes, etc., and for the map apps. We also plan to use it to call each other in case we get separated. Since the lowest useable global plan from Verizon is $40 with voice time whereas the pay-as-you-go rate for calls is $1.79 per minute (up to 22 minutes to break even) we figure we might not use it at all or only for a few minutes if we're lost trying to find each other. That would also allow us to receive emergency calls from home. My question is when do you start getting charged for calls. For outgoing, I assume the time starts the second you hit the Call button and it can eat up several seconds (minutes?) waiting to get connected. For incoming, I hope the timing doesn't start until you hit the Answer button. That way we can ignore any calls that aren't from family without getting charged for the time it spends ringing.

Anybody know if I'm correct on the timing?

Posted by
823 posts

Rest assured, your cellular provider is going to do everything they can to maximize their charges. It's just a fact of (cellular) life...

Are your iPhones paid off or are you still "on contract?" If they are paid-for, you can call Verizon and have the GSM radio "un-locked" for use with a foreign provider. You will pay MUCH less by purchasing a pay-as-you-go SIM and plan in Europe. The major benefit is you'll also get a good amount of data along with the voice minutes/texts and the opportunity to add more data as needed. The data comes in really handy when trying to figure out where you are and how to get where you want to go.

While in London, it took me 5 minutes and 20 pounds to have a SIM with 2.5GB of data and 300 minutes of voice ($0.05 to U.S.) installed at an O2 store. Best thing I've EVER done while traveling overseas!

Even if you are still "on contract" you may be able to get Verizon to unlock your phone. Give it a try.

Posted by
77 posts

Since we don't plan on needing to use any voice minutes, the pay-as-you-go method is a lot cheaper than any other alternative - if we don't make any calls, it's free! No extra plan charges and no SIM card required.

In the well over dozens of out of country trips we've taken in the last 49 years, we've never had to make a phone call or receive one and we're not expecting to make any this trip either. But as I've gotten older I do appreciate the ability to make/receive calls in case of an emergency like getting separated. It seems my wife can wander completely out of sight just by my turning my back to look at something. In the past I found her by just walking around in the local area, but nowadays my ability to put in the miles walking is limited plus there's the worry factor.

For the same reason, this trip will be the first time I've planned to use online maps instead of relying on paper maps. I just downloaded City Maps 2 Go and it looks outstanding. Our mode is to wonder around and enjoy the ambiance, but at the end of the day finding the shortest route back will be very important and the bus/tram info on City Maps plus the you-are-here feature will be useful.

Posted by
31516 posts


A few comments on the "timing" questions......

For outgoing calls, the charges will normally start as soon as the call is answered either personally or with voice mail, as that's when the connection is actually made. Roaming calls are normally billed to the nearest minute, so if the call lasts 10 seconds you'll still be billed for one minute.

For incoming calls, you'll be billed as soon as you answer. However, if you choose not to answer and the call goes to voicemail, you'll still be charged (again to the nearest minute).

The cheapest way to keep in touch will be via text messages. Sent texts are usually quite reasonable and received texts are often free. You can avoid sent text charges by using something like Viber or iMessage and limiting use to Wi-Fi areas. Another way to save money is to leave cellular data "Off" and only accessing internet-based services in Wi-Fi areas. Data will likely be the largest portion of your cellular expenses when travelling.

Posted by
2 posts

I also have an iPhone 5s on Verizon, but I haven't used it to make phone calls in Europe. You would probably have to ask Verizon exactly how they do their billing for incoming/outgoing calls, they could give you the exact breakdown of when the charges start and all scenarios you would encounter. Also depending on where you are going in Europe, what type of coverage they have for thoes areas/who their partner is there. It may not be worth leaving cellular on.....also you would need to make sure all your apps, mail, etc are switched over to Wifi only, otherwise it will be using data to refresh constantly in the background.

Although I have the cellular data turned off the whole time, I DO use the wifi on the phone to stay in touch back home, using apps like Skype or Whatsapp (awesome and free!) My mom and I spend lots of time in Europe together, and we have gotten separated several times (she likes to wander!!). Our plan in that case is to each find wifi, usually at a cafe or a starbucks, and then to message each other on Whatsapp. Takes a little extra time, but there are no charges. Depending on who you need to keep in touch with back home, this could also work. By doing this, I have NEVER had any charges when I travel.

I think realistically look at what your needs are, and what is the easiest way to achieve it. If you need to check on somebody back home that doesnt have a cell phone/text messaging, then it would be worth doing the pay as you go rate.

Posted by
77 posts

I talked to Verizon and got some answers. First on the timing question - incoming calls are charged only when you answer the phone. If you don't answer and the calling party leaves a voice message you are not charged. If you listen to the message later you are charged for the time. Second, outgoing calls are charged only when the called party answers. The final question was about text messages. If you put the iPhone in Airplane mode and then enable the WiFi, you will get text messages when you're connected to the internet.

For my personal travel needs, our plan is to only use the phone for communicating if we get separated. First choice would be to send text messages since the pay as you go rate is only 50 cents to send one and 5 cents to receive one. Second choice would be to turn Airplane mode off but leave no roaming on and make a voice call at $1.79 a minute. Since the plan with minutes and data coverage would have been $40 and we don't expect to need to make any calls at all, we're a lot better off with the pay as we go plan.

Posted by
544 posts

You're totally right, except the part about getting text messages in Airplane mode with wifi connected. On wifi in airplane mode you will be able to make and receive iMessages, the blue messages, but not text messages, the green ones. The green text messages will only go through if you have voice roaming enabled on the phone.

I did the same thing that you do when I had Verizon, voice roaming on, data roaming off, and it worked just fine. I only got charged for the text messages and calls I made and received. It wasn't bad at all. I did pay the $25 for 100mb of data on a couple of trips, just to be able to turn on data roaming and use Google maps if I needed it.

Posted by
77 posts

Things are coming together. I've been using City Maps 2 Go driving around in airplane mode here in Denver and it does show where you are continuously. It even tracked me walking to the mailbox from my house.