One of the challenges we faced when arriving overseas was avoiding the international roaming charges from our cell provider. Of course they offer a plan to allow you to use your phone as is but it will be expensive. We were coming from the US so our plan was outrageously expensive compared to what we could get in the EU so our plan was pretty simple.
1. Arrive and find a service that offered pay as you go.
(You should do this ahead of time if you can. We had wi-fi at our destination so it wasn’t a huge rush)
2. Buy a new SIM Card, pop it in and have a new phone number
3. Port our old US Cell numbers to Google Voice so we could continue to receive SMS, Voice Messages, etc.
(What we didn’t expect was that we would have to receive a call from Google to verify our numbers in order to port them over. Turning on the international roaming for a quick verification code solved that problem.)
Obviously if you plan to keep your original cell service for when you return you should skip #3. Also note that your phone has to be unlocked so you can change out the SIM Card.
Changing the SIM is very simple, you can basically do it with a paper clip. Just push the end of the clip into the hole where your sim card is on your phone and it pops out a little drawer with your card. When you buy a new SIM the store will help you with this so don’t be afraid if you need to swap out cards yourself later.
You may also want to know that the SIM card you buy is most likely going to have a PIN code associated with it. When you insert the SIM your phone will ask you for the PIN. If you guess wrong 3 times your SIM locks and you have to check Google for how to unlock it because I have never had that problem. 🙂 But the good news is that as soon as you unlock the SIM you can change the PIN to something you will remember, and you can even turn off the PIN so your phone won’t ask you for it. On the iPhone you go to Settings, scroll down to Phone, scroll down to SIM PIN and you can do all of that fun stuff there.
We spent a day or two researching our options for cell service and settled on A1 here in Austria. There are other services but for me the bandwidth was the selling point because neither of us really uses the phone part of the phone, and everything else is just data so we needed to be sure our data performance was pretty good. I ran some speed tests (using AT&T, XFINITY and NetFlix’s tools) on the wi-fi we have here and our speed when tethered to the A1 cell service. This first set of measurements is for the wi-fi which we found to be unreliable at times. In fact, I can’t even load simple web pages at times on this service and the range of scores verifies that experience:
Compared to being tethered to the A1 cell service:
Honestly for the past month I have primarily used the tethering through the phone for anything internet related on my laptop and have had very few problems. I know you are probably thinking, “WOW that has to be expensive to use that much data!” but you won’t believe the plan we were able to get.
For â‚¬20 I get 20GB of data. That’s the entire plan. Outgoing calls and Outgoing SMS are extra.
When I’m not tethering I use around 4GB of data in a month on my iPhone. This month I am just over 12GB so far and I’m not sure if I will be able to use up all of the data by the end of the month. The plan recharges in increments of â‚¬10, so for â‚¬10 you get 10GB of data. You can also add money toward voice or SMS if you want to, and you may so you can make restaurant reservations or whatever other fancy things you need to do.
I can use the data everywhere in the EU which means I will always have a map to see where I am, I can always look up directions to where I want to go, I can purchase tickets for the public transit, I can do everything I need and I don’t have to spend a fortune for it.
It was a pretty simple process and if you are going to travel it is something you can easily do by bringing your old phone with you on the trip and using it as your International Phone. Think how important that makes you to have an “International Phone”! Besides, we all know you have an old phone, iPad or whatever lying around needing a charge, so don’t be afraid to put it to work.