Cell phones and service --- UK, Belgium and France

I'm trying to find out the best way to keep in touch with my party while traveling on our trip. Somewhere I heard about SIM cards, but don't know much about it or the costs. I was also wondering if it's best just to buy a pre-paid phone in the UK, and what the prices are there. I know in the States, you can get the phone and service for as little as $30/month. Does anyone have experience in what is best and most efficient, but cost-effective? My phone company here charges anywhere from $.99 to $1.29/minute.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

hi, if your phone is unlocked quadband?, then you can use anyones sim, if i understand how phones work. i just got my first unlocked quadband phone in the UK last year. you may want to check with your provider and see what rates are for roaming in other countries for calls/texts/www and such. im sure if im in error, others will make the corrections. just an fyi, they do the PAYG overthere and imo, its way less than contracts here. also, any received calls are FREE! you can look at "carphonewarehouse.co.uk" and they have some of the different providers, cost and such. this is where i bought my phone and sim. im sure its not the only place to look, but it was convenient for me and i get on idea on costs and what was available. they do have inexpensive phones that are unlocked and are quadband, it just whatever floats your boat. fyi, the quadband unlocked phone w/sim and memory cost me ~ 60 USD. the talk/text/www time was 10 pounds (15 USD) worth. again, check with what your provider charges and if your phone is unlocked and go from there. happy trails.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Linda, It would help to have a bit of further information. For example: > Do you currently have a cell phone and which network are you with? > What are you planning to use the phone for - mostly in-country voice calls, text messages, calls back to the U.S.? How much are you planning to use it? > Is your present phone a Smartphone (ie: iPhone, Galaxy, Blackberry)? Just to clarify, SIM Cards (Subscriber Identity Modules) are small electronic chips which are used in GSM cell phones. These contain the phone number and account data of the user, and other information. These are available in several sizes from mini-SIM's to micro-SIM's to the newest Nano-Sim's. Some carriers (especially in North America) supply phones which are "SIM locked", which means their phones will only accept SIM cards from their network. SIM cards are only used in GSM phones (AT&T, T-Mobile). Verizon used to operate only a CDMA network, but some of their phones now have GSM capability. Sprint is strictly CDMA as far as I know, so they won't use SIM cards and their phones won't work in Europe. The best answer to your question will depend on your answers to the three questions above. The cheapest way to keep in touch is via text messaging. Sent texts are very low cost and received texts are usually FREE. Happy travels!

Posted by Kevin
near Ringwood, Hampshire, UK
521 posts

Basic mobile phones are so cheap, it's surprising they aren't giving them away free in boxes of cornflakes. There is no need to spend more than £10, but you usually have to buy a £10 PAYG topup at the same time. PAYG SIMs are free from the carrier I use, Vodafone, again with a £10 topup. Given that you have to have a quad-band, GSM, unlocked phone, a cheap handset purchased here sounds the easiest option. My PAYG charges on Vodafone are 25 pence per minute for calls to landlines and 12 pence for texts. Receiving calls and texts is free. That is in the UK. If I took my phone to Belgium then roaming charges apply, so it would be 28 pence per minute to make a call, 7 pence a minute to receive a call and only 8 pence per text, which seems odd but that's what it is!

Posted by Linda
Boulder, CO, USA
48 posts

Wow, thanks for all the information. My husband has a smart phone and I have an old-fashioned cell phone. We're with Verizon and have to pay quite a fee to unlock the Smartphone. I mainly want to use the phone to keep in touch as he might be working and I sightseeing. Although, he might have some calls from the States. What's GSM mean? Verizon can rent a phone your travel for about $20, but it still has high per minute costs. I quickly looked at the carphonewarehouse website, and saw some good prices, but do they require a contract? I would only be using it for a month. We will be staying near the Aylesbury, Buckingham area and I was wondering if there were places there that you could go into and pick it up?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Consider popping into either of the two larger Tesco supermarkets in Aylesbury. You can leave with Pay-As-You-Go cheapie phones only phone for under £10; buy £10 of credit for a phone and you can get quite a decent phone for £15. Have a look at http://phone-shop.tesco.com/.

Posted by Kevin
near Ringwood, Hampshire, UK
521 posts

GSM is the digital mobile phone technology used all over Europe. I think it may be different from what you have in the US, but I don't know. The prices I mentioned are for PAYG, or Pay As You Go. There is no contract, you just buy topups for the carrier concerned. You can get those everywhere - supermarkets, petrol stations, ATMs, or online or by calling from your phone.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

I quickly looked at the carphonewarehouse website, and saw some good prices, but do they require a contract? I would only be using it for a month. @ linda, with regards to a contract to buy the phone, only if you want to do it that way. I bought mine as a Pay- As- You- Go (PAYG). Its like using a payphone in one of those phone booths, you remember those? you get X amount of time for Y amount of $$$. If you decide to go with one of them, VERIFY you can "topoff" on some minutes. I am having issues doing it over here in the US. Overthere, no problemo. afa topping off, you can get a topoff card in stores too. whoever/whereever you choose to buy from, make sure you can add minutes by either on the web or by calling and using YOUR credit card. if you check out that website again, they have store locations all around London. There are other sellers around too, its just a matter of what you want and like. happy trails.

Posted by Linda
Boulder, CO, USA
48 posts

Okay, I need to clarify top-off with respect to cell phones. Does that mean charge more money to the account? Do you have to always leave a certain minimum balance? That's also a good point about doing it via the web. I guess I'll check more into the web-sites. I briefly looked at the Tesco site as well, and I'm wondering if the phones from there are for the UK only, or could I use it in Belgium and France?
Anymore information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by Linda
Boulder, CO, USA
48 posts

One more thing... is it still easy to find phone booths? I'll be traveling around in the Cotwolds, and hope they still might be available if needed. Would the local pubs have them?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

They can be used in Europe as well as the UK, roaming prices apply which vary from provider to provider. The intra-European roaming charges are being forced down by EU legislation. When we were just in Rome my wife's PAYG phone was £0.085 per text sent, £0.00 per text received, £0.28 per minutes voice calls to landlines and mobiles, £0.07 per minute received voice calls. "Top-off" may be an Americanism. It is not used here. The term here is "Top-up". Top up is what you do when you take your car to a filling station for a few litres to fill the tank just before you return a rental car. Top-up is what you do when your mobile phone credit is running low and you want to put on more credit so you can still call. Usually in multiples of £5 it can be done with a card from a supermarket, on-line, or by sending a text to the provider. Or at a corner store, or a provider store, or many other ways. It is easy. Phone booths. Rarer than hens' teeth. If you find one which has not been vandalized or used as a toilet (sorry, its true) the minimum charge is something like 50 pence (cards only, no coins at most now) for something like an up to 30 minutes call. No more "A" and "B" buttons now.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

hi again, oops. i ment "topup". happy trails.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17792 posts

Linda, Just to clarify, GSM ( Global System for Mobile Communications) is the predominant cellular technology used in about 85-90% of the world. It's a different technology than the CDMA used by Verizon and Sprint. The newest variant of GSM is called LTE (Long Term Evolution - aka "4G" which offers higher data speeds). Given the circumstances you mentioned, there are a few choices you could consider: > Pay to have your husband's Smartphone unlocked. Call rates would be high and you'd have to make sure to disable the data portion of the phone. > Buy a cheap PAYG phone from CarPhone Warehouse when you arrive in the U.K. This would provide the cheapest rates in the U.K. but wouldn't allow your husband to receive calls, unless his contacts want to dial an international long distance number each time. When travelling in Belgium and France, you'd deplete your minutes more quickly as you'd be "roaming" so topping-up would have to be done more frequently. > Buy a cheap unlocked quad-band GSM phone off E-Bay and use with a SIM from one of the travel phone firms such as Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Call In Europe, Telestial, Mobal, EuroBuzz, One SIM or Max Roam. You could also buy a phone with SIM from one of the firms. The rates are slightly higher than with a UK SIM, but the rates will be consistent in all the countries you're visiting. Many of these use a UK number and offer post-paid billing (calls charged to a credit card) so no need to ever top-up. More importantly, at least one also offers local (U.S.) number capability, which you could forward your husband's phone to. Check their websites for the details or give them a call. Cheers!

Posted by Linda
Boulder, CO, USA
48 posts

Thanks to all for your replies. I think I'll get a PAYG phone when I'm in the UK. My husband checked on getting the Int'l plan on his phone, which he won't have to use a lot, since he will use Skype at his computer. Since we're staying at a house with a land line, it will be easy to call in and out of there locally. I checked out Carphonewarehouse and the Tesco sites more closely and they have good deals, so that's what I'll do. This way I can keep the phone and hopefully use it again when I return to Europe.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

@ Linda, This way I can keep the phone and use it again when I return to Europe. i correct it for you! Now youre thinking. btw, can use the phone here in the US too. all you would need is a sim card from your favorite provider. happy trails.