How Do I Use My Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe
Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe – In today’s connected world, it’s more important than ever before to be able to access our network at any time. Fortunately, these days we have plenty of different options, Verizon, T Mobile, AT&T, and Straight Talk.
You can still use your cell phone while traveling to Europe if you plan properly and use all of the tools at your disposal. One word of advice: Don’t just use your plan without speaking with your provider. You could rack up hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in roaming fees. Compare this to something simple like a $10 a day extra fee — just by a bit of pre-planning.
Avoid sticker shock with your next phone bill by being smart and planning in advance.
Many travelers prefer to use their own cell phones while traveling to Europe. Some people even like to bring their other mobile devices for email, communications, watching videos, browsing the Web and so on.
The good news is, it isn’t that difficult to use your smartphone in Europe (or Traveling to Asia) to access the Internet, make calls or text. The following explains everything you need to do.
Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe
Using My Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe: Talk To Your Current Provider
Your current provider probably has some kind of international plan that will allow you to use your cell phone while traveling to Europe. People go on vacations all of the time, so it is not outside of the realm of possibility that they have some sort of package that would work best for you.
Your Smartphone cell plan provider in advance and speak with them about your options. Make sure that you cancel your international plan when you return home! Tips for Traveling Internationally
How to Use Your Smartphone in Europe
If you are from the United States, Canada, Mexico, or another country, traveling with your smartphone in Europe means additional fees, be it for calls, text or other types of data access.
If you are going to use your own phone, decide first how you intend to use it (for calls only, for text, the web, etc.). You can use your regular plan for calls, text and web browsing, but it will be more expensive.
There are international service plans you can sign up for a lower cost, i.e. flat fee or limiting you to a specific number of megabytes.
Before doing any of these, make sure first that your phone does work in Europe (you can check with your carrier), and then check the international rates.
Before you go to Europe, activate your phone’s international service or call your carrier and ask them to turn on international roaming for data, voice, text or whatever service you plan to use.
Once your phone has been set up, you can access Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi hotspots, which are pretty common in the continent.
What type of phone do I have
The easiest way to find what type of phone you have and what phone model, is to check the settings in your phone.
- Go to the Settings or Options menu, scroll to the bottom, and click on ‘About phone’.
- The name and model number of your Smartphone will be listed.
Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe and Smartphone Data Plans and Texting
If you want to use smartphone data plans and texting in Europe, keep the following things in mind.
- First, Europe uses the GSM (“Global System for Mobiles”) system.
- All American carriers use GSM except Verizon and Sprint that use CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).
However, this should not be an issue since most smartphones today can connect to both network systems.
European SIM Card
The easiest way to use data plans and text services in Europe is to use international roaming as suggested above. If you find it too expensive, you can sign up for an international data plan which is something your carrier and other services will offer.
The cost will depend on how you plan to use your mobile device, and it’s certainly going to be more expensive if you’re going to watch movies or YouTube videos.
Plan ahead for e-Learning success as well, including a language while you are on holiday. Even a simple language translator website will be helpful for specific words and phrases as you need them.
Get a Local SIM Card
Depending on where you’re traveling, it might make a lot of sense to get a local SIM card. In order to install your SIM card, you will need to unlock your phone. Many carriers will allow you to do this as long as the phone is paid for.
If your carrier pushes back on unlocking your phone, you can always have it unlocked once you arrive in Europe. There is no real standard of excellence for having your phone unlocked by a local shop, so make sure that you check around and get solid references before you go this route.
Once your phone is unlocked you can use your local SIM card with ease! Make sure that you keep your American SIM in a safe spot because you’ll need it when you return home.
Using a European SIM Card
The simplest and most practical option is to use a European SIM card, and you can get these from various European mobile carriers. In most cases you’re going to have to unlock your phone so it can use the SIM card from other carriers.
The majority of US smartphones are locked, and you may want to get in touch with your mobile company for assistance on unlocking it. If you’d rather unlock your smartphone yourself, download software that unlocks smartphones and use their codes to unlock your device.
There are several services like these available online and the process is fairly straightforward:
- Pay the fee
- Provide some info about the phone on the website
- The service will email you the code to unlock your mobile
- Once your phone is unlocked, you can look for a SIM card in mobile phone stores, electronics counters and in some cases, vending machines.
These SIM cards cost anywhere from 4 to 8 euros, and they don’t come with any commitment or contract. If you want a SIM card with data access good for a month, expect to pay around 13 to 25 euros for the card.
Before you buy, take a look at your smartphone and make sure that the card is compatible. Some mobile devices like the iPhone use a different type of nano-SIM card, so make certain the card fits your phone.
Talk to the clerk and check the rates for calls and to and from the European countries you will be visiting. Use the same approach for texting.
- Once you’ve got a SIM card that works with your smartphone, ask the store personnel to install it and do a test call.
- Turn your mobile on, enter the PIN and if necessary switch the language to English.
- Don’t forget to record the PIN number and ask how to check the credit balance.
In some European countries, your SIM card may have to be registered along with your passport for security reasons. Follow the instructions and after an hour or two you’ll be able to use it.
If you run out of SIM, you can get one in any mobile phone store and tell the salesperson how much credit you want. The clerk is either going to give you the credit over the phone or you will be given a voucher with instructions.
Best Data Plan WiFi Hotspot Devices for Travel
Charging Your Cell Phone in Europe
One of the most common mistakes people make is thinking that you’ll need a costly voltage converter to charge your mobile. In fact, the majority of mobile devices, tablets and laptops have battery chargers that can work on 220 volts used in Europe and countries in the world, as well as 110 volts (the US).
Cell phone chargers can work with different frequencies from 50 Hertz to 60 Hertz. Unless your mobile device specifically says to use a converter, don’t use it because it could actually damage your mobile because it already has a converter.
If you want to know if your cell phone has dual voltage capabilities, read the words on the charger.
- If your cell phone has dual voltage you will see something like “Input 100 – 240V, 50 – 60 Hz.”
- Then, if your mobile phone is dual voltage, you still need to use a plug adapter, but not a voltage converter.
Before going on a trip, you have to keep in mind that all countries have their own electrical system, and that will determine what type of plug adapters you have to use.
In Italy for instance, the majority of outlets are compatible with two round prongs, but bathrooms have three-pronged grounded outlets.
If necessary, you should purchase a multi-country plug adapter if you’re not sure which type of adapter to use. Better yet, you should research the plug adapters that are used in the countries you’re going to visit. Thanks to the Internet, this should be easy, and if you’re not really sure you can always send an email to the website and get clarification.
If you’re only going to bring a cell phone, a single adapter will do. However, if you’re bringing a laptop, tablet, and other devices, it’s best to have several adapters as your hotel room might only have a few electrical outlets available.
In some cases you also have to plug an adapter into another before you can use it. For instance, you can put plug a two-pronged adapter onto a three-prong European adapter to make it work.
No matter how many plug adapters you buy, make sure the plug fits in properly.
Prepaid Cell Phones in Europe
There’s no lacking of prepaid cell phones in Europe, but when you buy a GSM prepaid wireless and/or a SIM card, make certain call time is included.
Charging Your Cell Phone in Europe
If you’re in Germany, you can get a Handy for less than 60 euros which includes a refillable SIM card with prepaid minutes. The set up is usually pay per minute but the cost varies per country.
Almost always, however, it’s cheaper compared to international roaming.
Another option is to buy a GSM phone before leaving for Europe, but if you decide to do this, check the various services online to make sure you get your money’s worth. Once you’ve got your cell phone you can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi available throughout the continent.
Set Up a Mobile Hotspot
If you don’t need to make phone calls, you can always invest in a mobile hotspot. Companies like TEP Wireless, Skyroam, and Keepgo all have mobile hotspot technology.
A hotspot will enable you to log into the internet without using local Wi-Fi. If you want to browse the internet safely and rapidly, a mobile hotspot is really the best way to go. Many accommodations offer Wi-Fi for free, but in hotels there is usually a fee.
The Wi-Fi signal also varies, as in some places it’s great and in others it is less than ideal, which is the reason why many prefer to get a data plan.
Generally speaking, the speed is almost always good enough to send email and browse the web, but it’s not as reliable for watching HD films or video. If you have a dedicated data plan however this won’t be a problem.
All these prepaid cell phones can take advantage of Wi-Fi wherever they’re available, and in most cases, your best bet will be a café. Starbucks and McDonald’s also have Wi-Fi.
You can also get Internet access in popular tourist destinations as well as city squares, some public transit hubs and even trains and buses. In some cases, you will need to register and get the network password to gain access.
As you can see, you can use your cell phone while traveling to Europe in many ways.
With a good data roaming plan plus free Wi-Fi in certain locations, you should have no problem keeping in touch with those around you anywhere they are. Remember, if you have a prepaid cell phone and need more minutes, you can easily buy more airtime.
There was a time when using your mobile device and cell phone while traveling to Europe was expensive, but with all the options now available, you can save money without compromising signal quality.
TEP Wireless vs Skyroam vs Keepgo When Traveling to Europe
One of the first things that you need to consider before embarking on your next whirlwind vacation to Europe is how you will stay connected. There are plenty of providers out there, but TEP Wireless, Skyroam, and Keepgo are the top three choices.
Let’s explore TEP Wireless vs Skyroam VS Keepgo when traveling to Europe.
Keepgo is a fan favorite these days and it’s easy to see why. It offers 4G service that can be used on any corner of the planet, and you can access Keepgo through a variety of different devices.
Get Keepgo SIM cards for your existing smartphone or smartwatch, or use one of their hotspot devices. The data is a little bit on the expensive side, but it is always reliable and you can access it from almost anywhere in the world, making Keepgo a great option for business travelers.
If you need less connectivity and are worried about your pocketbook, the prices might be a little too steep for you!
In the battle of the hotspots, Skyroam clocks in at more affordable but less speedy than Keepgo. It’s a great option for those who want to make sure that they have the internet at their fingers, but don’t necessarily need top speeds.
With coverage spanning the world, Skyroam will relieve you from the hassle of having to tap into unreliable or insecure WiFi when you want to hop online.
It’s a legacy player for a reason, and has amassed something of a cult following since it first came onto the scene. The only real downside is that you won’t be able to get the speeds that you would with a company like Keepgo. If you need service for business purposes, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
TEP Wireless has hotspot devices that work with your smartphone or watch. You can also buy or rent a Teppy device, which acts as its own mobile hotspot and lets you get internet anywhere. One of the beautiful things about TEP Wireless is the sheer volume of different options that you have!
When it comes to fast internet, TEP Wireless is a great option, up to a point. They do start to throttle your speed after a certain amount of internet usage, which could become a problem for those who want to use it for business purposes.
As with Skyroam, TEP Wireless can’t compete with Keepgo for the speediest coverage. Alternately, it is a cost-effective option, and TEP Wireless has been around for a long time, so you know that they are a solid company to work with.
So, who wins the battle of TEP Wireless vs Skyroam VS Keepgo when traveling to Europe? It all depends on exactly what you’re looking for from a wireless service provider.
Each option has different strengths and weaknesses, but all of them cover the vast majority of the planet and will work in a pinch if you need wireless service right away.
Find WiFi and Use Chatting Apps
You can also rely on local WiFi for your internet usage. Use caution when selecting which WiFi options you will tap into. Try not to put in too much personal information, especially passport numbers, photos of identification, etc., and don’t access banking data or other sensitive websites when you’re tapped into public WiFi.
Assume that everyone can see what you’re doing because that is probably the case!
There are plenty of chatting apps that allow you to communicate with loved ones back home. Skype, WhatsApp, and Messenger are just a few options.
Public WiFi could be a good option for people on shorter trips who just need a little bit of internet for places of interest, hours of operation, maps/directions, language translation and look up, currency questions, and other general travel information.
FREE iPad iPhone Travel Apps for Your Cell Phone While Traveling to Europe
FREE iPad / iPhone Travel Apps – I’ve had my iPod Touch for about two months now, and I’m falling helplessly in love with it more and more every day. It’s my personal assistant, I use it for just about everything.
From reading books, storing recipes and workout exercises to converting currencies, booking hostels and checking the bus/train timetables.
I suppose you could call me an ‘iPad NERD’ – if there is such a thing…
Yeah, I admit I have also found some awesome applications which ONLY work for the iPhone, so I won’t lie and say I never wish I had one of those as well – but then again I like my cellphone, it’s pink!
Anyways, today I am going to share with you the best FREE Travel Apps out there right now! These are free iPad / iPhone travel apps.
This is an application that finds you the best deals by searching through every hostel website, all over the world. You have Hostelbookers, Hostelworld, etc. all in one place. From here you can book your stay from anywhere. I love it, very easy and simple.
If you are an avid HostelWorld fan and just want to book through them, they have their very own application for you to book your stays.
With this on your iPad you’ll never have to carry another of those brick-like-heavy books in your backpack ever again! You can download hundreds (probably more) of books for FREE on your iPad (yes, in all genres).
Finds many outdoor activities (walking, mountain-biking, skiing, etc.) for you to do, anywhere in the world
Shows countless types of knots and how to make them step by step, a skill that can be crucial to know when backpacking, camping, or hiking through the jungle etc. Trust me, you never know when you’ll need it!
Skype (only for iPhone):
Now there really is a cheap way for you to call to other countries.
Translates whole sentences into heaps of different languages. The good thing about this one is that it doesn’t only translate to or from English but from all kinds of languages: Hebrew to Korean, or Hindi to Galician, it’s your choice 😉
Keeps track of your spending and income, how much you spend per day/week/month/year, and what you spend it on (food, clothes, entertainment, beer, etc.). It’s really good to keep you from asking, ”What happened? Where did all the money go??” and can help keep you on track with your travel budget.
Convert Everything is a complete currency converter. What more do I need to say? This way you know exactly how much your paying anywhere in the world and can quickly determine the value.
Now you can search for flights and hotels with the best online travel search aggregates right from your iPad!
The application is free, and you get a Phrase book and one Guide for free. But the rest you’ll have to buy. But if you plan to bring a Lonely Planet guide, I highly recommend you pay for the digital version and bring it in your iPad. It sucks having all that extra weight when you could have it all in your hand.
I love looking at the earth globe – it really gets me into a happy state. I get so excited seeing all these places I want to visit, all cultures I want to see. So what is better than Google Earth?
This way you don’t have to run around all streets and corners desperately looking for a Wi-Fi connection, the JiWire application does the job for you.
If you know of anymore apps which I might find useful on my travels, please link me below in the comments! 🙂
messaging apps for traveling
Using my SmartPhone While Traveling to Europe FAQ
What should I do with my phone when traveling to Europe?
Your options for being able to use your phone while traveling Europe, including how to see if you can get an international plan, how stay connected to 3G by getting a local SIM card, and why a pocket Wi-Fi device might be a good option.
Europe EU recently ended cell phone roaming and roaming charges. Stay connected while on your Europe trip.
Do I need an international phone plan for Europe?
Unless you travel to Europe frequently and your stays are longer than a vacation, it is simpler, more cost effective and easier to set up your own cell phone with international calling and international data plan through your existing cell phone service provider.
Do US cell phones work in Europe?
If you have an iPhone 4s or newer, then yes. But you still need an international roaming plan from your SmartPhone cell plan provider. If you have an older phone or a non-iPhone, it depends on the phone and your carrier.
Europe uses a cell phone system called GSM (Global System for Mobiles) but Verizon and Sprint use CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). All the other major US carriers use GSM, so if you use a mobile service provider other than Verizon and Sprint, you should be able.
Using Your Smartphone while Traveling in Europe
How many times a day do you grab your phone? Most of us do it far too often–but who can blame us? It’s how we chat, text, check our emails, and find a nearby restaurant. These days when you’re traveling, you’ll be tempted to do the same. If you’re not careful, these impulsive phone sessions could cost you dearly.
However, there is some good news. With a little pre-planning, it’s possible to use your phone while traveling abroad for a variety of purposes (calling, texting, emailing) without getting stuck with a huge bill when you return.
Read through this quick tutorial and, I promise, you’ll be well positioned to make the right decisions about your phone needs for your upcoming trip.
1. Don’t do nothing (if you’re going to use your phone).
“Just winging it” with your smartphone in Europe can be a very costly mistake.
A few words for travelers who feel like hiding their head in the sand and saying, “I don’t want to think about this. I’ll just try to limit my phone use in Europe and we’ll see what I get charged when I get home.” Don’t do this.
First of all, you might find that your phone doesn’t work at all. Some American carriers simply don’t work in Europe, and thus you won’t be able to make calls or text (although you would be able to use the Wi-Fi). Other carriers require the phone to be enabled for international calling, texting and data. While others are set up to allow international use by default.
Chances are, however, that you’ll be able to use your phone. But crucially, you need to know how much your usage is going to cost you.
2. Understand the international phone plans
Your phone carrier will most likely have an international plan to sell you that makes using your phone abroad more economical.
As you’ll see below, phone companies offer special international plans to cover just this situation. These are plans that you will “add on” to your existing plan, and which should cover the duration of your trip. In most cases, you can call your carrier to add the plan to your account, although most will let you add these online if you prefer.
In this tutorial, I’m focusing mostly on AT&T’s plan (as of February 2015), as it’s the most popular iPhone and Android carrier in the US. However, each carrier’s international plan is different, and you should obviously call or visit your carrier’s website for more information on the plans available to you.
Here are AT&T’s three plans for iPhone and Android phone use throughout Europe:
|No plan ||“Passport” plan ||“Passport Plus” plan ||“Passport Pro” plan |
|Price|| – ||$30 / 30 days||$60 / 30 days||$120 / 30 days|
|Messages sent |
(Text, picture, video)
|$0.50 /text message |
$1.30 /picture & video message
|Talk||$1.50 /min. ||$1.00/min.||$0.50/min.||$0.35/min.|
|Data||$0.0195 /KB ($19.97/MB) ||120MB |
As you can see, if you use your phone extensively without a special international plan, you will probably wind up paying dearly for it. On the other hand, if you have very limited phone needs (maybe you’ll make a couple calls, but you won’t send text messages or check your email), you might find out that none of the special international plans make sense for you.
The point is, it’s worth spending 15 minutes to asses your phone needs and understand what your charges will be before you hit the ground in another country. Let’s continue!
3. Assess your own phone needs
How do you want to use your phone during your trip? This will affect which kind of package you should get.
Now we need to figure out what you’ll be using your phone for while traveling. This will determine if you should get a special international plan from your carrier or just wing it without a plan.
How will you be using your phone? Here are some options:
• Making and receiving phone calls: If you plan to use your phone to place or receive calls, you should consider a phone plan. If your phone is enabled for international calling, you’d be able to make and receive calls without a plan, but those calls will be more expensive without a plan than with a plan.
For AT&T customers, for example, placing or receiving calls is $1.50 per minute without a plan, or $1 per minute with a $30 “Passport” plan. Seriously consider how many phone calls you’ll expect to make or receive during your trip. While that $.50 per minute savings isn’t huge, it can add up if you’re planning to make and receive several calls a day.
• Texting: Sending and receiving text messages comes in handy when traveling, and it’s far less expensive than placing phone calls. If your phone is activated for international use, the texts you send will be less expensive with a plan than if you “go commando” without a plan.
For AT&T, texting without a plan is $.50 per text sent ($1.30 if it’s a picture or video), while that same $30 package gives you unlimited texting. I send about 10 texts a day while on the road–so without a plan I’d already be spending $5 per day in texting charges alone.
• Email, Internet web browsing, and apps: Using your phone to send and receive emails, browse the web, and use apps while on the road is certainly convenient, but it also uses a lot of data. In the next point, I cover how to estimate data needs, but suffice it to say that this can get expensive quickly.
This is the biggie — AT&T’s $30 “Passport” plan comes with a 120 MB (megabytes) of data transfer, while using data without a plan will cost a $0.0195 per KB (which is 1/1,024 of a MB — do the math and you’ll see that they’re charging a whopping $19.97 per MB!).
4. Estimate your data needs
How much data will you use during your trip?
Now, if you’re like me, you’re left scratching your head. How much data is a KB? How much data will I need? (It’s almost enough to make you stick your head back in the sand and say, “Whatever — I’m just flying solo without a plan.” Please don’t! Stick with me here.)
Here’s a quick overview of estimated data usage, based on averages. These will vary depending on the email or webpage. (These estimates are from AT&T’s helpful data estimator. It’s definitely worth checking out to estimate your own needs.):
• Sending or receiving an email (without attachment): Approx. 20 KB per email
• Sending or receiving an email (with “standard” attachment): Approx. 300 KB per email
• Loading 1 webpage: 1 MB per page
Whoa — interesting, right? This means that AT&T’s $30 “Passport” package, with 120 MB of data, will allow you to send and receive more than 6,000 emails (without attachments), if you don’t use your data for anything else. Without AT&T’s Passport plan, each email (sent or received) will cost about $.39 each.
And we’re just talking about emails without attachments. Once you send that photo of you smooching at Notre Dame or download a photo of your cats back home that your neighbor just sent, your data use takes a big jump. And don’t get me started about checking a website — you can do it, but know that it blows through about 1 MB each time a page loads (and much more if that page contains a lot of photos).
A word of caution for those who want to use their phones for apps: Do it for free while connected to Wi-Fi (see below). Here are some typical usage stats for common app uses:
• Streaming music: 500 KB / minute (30 MB / hour)
• Posting 1 post on social media with photo: 350 KM
• Streaming video (standard quality): 2 MB / minute (120 MB / hour)
Get the picture? If you fire up your phone while traveling without a data plan and stream a standard video on YouTube, you’ll pay a budget-busting $39.94 per minute! That 10-minute video clip just cost you $400.
5. Remain calm and remember Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi networks let you use your phone for free.
And now, for some good news: You can use your phone abroad to make calls, surf the web, and even use your favorite apps for free. Just stick to free Wi-Fi networks and keep your cellular data switched “OFF”.
Free Wi-Fi is going to be your best friend when trying to stay connected abroad without using expensive data. It’s increasingly easy to find free Wi-Fi in most European hotels, restaurants (McDonald’s and Starbucks, along with many local establishments throughout Europe), train stations, libraries, stores… even parks!
Once you connect your phone to a Wi-Fi network, you can surf away on your browser and load up your apps. And we’re not just talking about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram–you can also fire up telephone apps, such as Skype, to place calls for free (if calling another Skype user) or pennies a minute (if calling a telephone number).
A word about texting and Wi-Fi: Yes, you can also send text messages on your smartphone through a Wi-Fi network. On the iPhone, for example, you can use iMessage. However, these messages can only be sent and received when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, and are thus a bit different from standard text messages (which zip through the air in real time via your phone carrier). My solution is to turn off my iMessage feature on my phone while traveling and only send regular text messages. I want to be able to send and receive these text messages in real time.
I know that there’s a lot of information here. You might be curious about how I handle my iPhone (with AT&T) while traveling. For years I told readers to simply put their phones in “Airplane Mode” for the entirety of their trip, use Wi-Fi networks, and get a texting plan. However, my carrier, AT&T recently changed the plans that they offer–they dropped their texting plan, and replaced it with the three “Passport” plans listed above.
So, I’ve been forced to evaluate my own phone needs, estimate my data use, and go with one of the new plans. (I’m not complaining, as the new plan includes unlimited texting and gives 120 MB of data, which allows me to check emails and Google Maps when I don’t have a connection.) This is what I do:
• I call AT&T the day before I leave and set up the 30-day Passport Plan.
• I make very few phone calls while traveling, no more than one or two a day, when really necessary, and I keep them very short.
• I text a lot, as the plan comes with unlimited texting. I text my travel companions to set up meetings and I text home to set up Skype chats with loved ones.
• I take full advantage of Wi-Fi, using the free internet connection to download emails, surf the Web, and use apps, especially Skype and Facebook.
• I’m careful to keep my cellular data switched off at all times, except in those brief moments when checking emails without Wi-Fi.
• I reset my cellular data usage counter to zero, in order to monitor my data usage. (On an iPhone, you can find this under “Settings > Cellular”.) I’m careful not to let the usage get too close to my 120 MB limit.
This last point is important. Monitor your cellular usage. This will give you a sense of control over this situation, and also help calm your nerves about using your phone in the first place.
Now, make a call.
The last section is just what I do. You might have more data needs, or realize that you don’t need a plan in the first place. The important thing is that you understand what your carrier will charge you for the service that you need.
Armed with this, make your own call. If you’re signing up for a plan, I’d recommend calling your carrier and signing up over the phone. It’s worth talking these points through with a sales agent, as plans change and they can help clear up any misunderstandings.
Using A Cell Phone In Europe Made Easy and Affordable
What you need to know about how to save money using a cell phone in Europe, SIM cards, and data roaming.
Here are our best travel tips for getting fast, reliable data in Europe as you travel.
Using A Cell Phone In Europe: How to Save Time, Money and Hassle
Having fast, reliable cellular data on your mobile phone is a must when traveling Europe.
Are you wondering “Can I buy a phone in the US and use it in Europe?” The short answer is yes, you can use your own phone and phone plan, but it might be incredibly expensive.
Can I use my American or Canadian cell phone in Europe?
Almost all modern mobile devices are compatible with European cellular networks, so you should be able to use your phone in European countries without interruption. So yes, you can buy a phone in the US and use it in Europe.
However, you may get dinged pretty hard with unwelcome, and expensive, roaming fees from your home cell phone plan.*
If you just want to use your American smartphone and buy a local SIM card, you’ll also need to make sure your phone is unlocked however more on that later.
*Some budget cell phone plans don’t allow European roaming, like our cell plan in Canada with Public Mobile (though they do offer USA-based roaming add-ons).
Can I use my Verizon cell phone in Europe?
Smartphones on the Verizon network in the USA should work perfectly well in Europe, using Verizon’s international roaming plans.
The problem is that Verizon’s roaming tends to be pretty darn expensive. You can get the Verizon TravelPass plan, which works in over 185 counties. The TravelPass plan currently costs $10 per line per day, which is great for really short trips, but adds up pretty quickly if you’re gone for a week or longer. On this international plan, you’ll get unlimited calls, unlimited texts, and whatever data allowance you had on your domestic plan.
There’s also an International Monthly Plan for longer trips that lets you add a bundle of minutes, texts and data. The International Monthly Plan costs $100 /line per month, which is definitely cheaper than the TravelPass for longer trips. You’ll get 250 minutes, 1000 sent SMS, unlimited received SMS, and 5 GB data total. Sure, 5 GB of data sounds like a lot for day to day things however Netflix says you’ll use 1 GB of data (per device) for every hour you stream a Standard Definition show.
Will my cell phone work in Europe on AT&T?
Your AT&T phone should work perfectly well in Europe, using an AT&T roaming plan. However, AT&T doesn’t offer a lot of roaming options, and the AT&T International Day Pass is a little expensive for my taste. You’ll pay $10/day for the AT&T International Day Pass, which gives you unlimited data, talk and text in over 210 destinations.
How to unlock a smartphone
If you want to avoid expensive roaming fees, you can remove your American or Canadian phone’s SIM card and replace it with a European carrier’s SIM card. For most travelers, this may be the best way to use your phone in Europe.
Back to basics: What’s a SIM card?
A SIM card is basically a thumbnail sized card or chip in a slot in your phone. Your SIM card is what stores your phone number and cellular data plan. If you remove your phone’s SIM card, you’ll no longer be able to make phone calls, or use your cellular data plan, but you can still use your phone on Wi-Fi (you just won’t have a cell number or data). You can remove your SIM, and replace it with a European SIM, which will give you a European cell number and data plan (assuming data is included).
International travel eSIM for Europe
Before we get into the basics of SIM cards, let’s talk about one of the best ways to save money with a local SIM in Europe: eSIMs.
An eSIM is exactly what it sounds like: an electronic SIM card. However, an eSIM is embedded in your phone (meaning it’s not removable), and it can be reprogrammed easily.
An eSIM lets you change your wireless carrier, data, or service plan through software, without removing a physical chip, and inserting a new one. Most times, all you need to do is scan a simple QR code to switch your eSIM from one carrier to another. An eSIM can also let you use two different cell lines on the same device (like a home and work line), or let you switch between different plans depending on where you are in the world.
Several companies offer eSIMs for travelers, such as Holafly.
However, not all phones are compatible with an eSIM unfortunately, though it is arguably the best way to use cell phone in Europe. All three major US carriers support eSIM on recent iPhone and Google Pixel models, but not on Samsung models sold in the USA or Canada. So, when choosing an International eSIM for travel, first make sure that your phone is compatible.
Here’s what’s cool though: iPads and some laptops support eSIMs. Apples iPads have an easy eSIM interface, where you can simply choose your plan and provider from a menu on the iPad. Some laptops from Dell, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Samsung and Microsoft laptops support eSIM, but Apple laptops don’t support eSIM at this time.
Important: your phone must also be carrier-unlocked to use an eSIM.
Using an eSIM in Europe is pretty simple for most users. First, make sure your device is eSIM compatible, then buy the eSIM online, and finally scan a QR code and turn on data roaming from your settings. When signing up for a eSIM service, you’ll also need an email address to get your QR code.
After that, you can call and message all your existing contacts on a bunch of free chat providers like WhatsApp or Skype, as if you’re in the same country. You can even keep your original SIM for phone calls if you wanted to continue using your existing provider.
Buying a Physical SIM card for Europe
If your phone does not support eSIM technology, you still can buy a physical SIM card for your travels. You may need to swap out your existing SIM card, but if you’re lucky, your phone will have two SIM card slots.
If you get a foreign SIM , make sure:
- your phone has a SIM card slot, and that the European SIM you buy fits your phone.
- your phone is unlocked. If your phone is locked, you will have to choose from European cell phones rather than use your own.
So, how do you choose the best SIM card for Europe with data?
There’s a little more to choosing a good European SIM card than simply picking the cheapest option.
First, determine which size of SIM card your phone takes.
There are regular, micro, or nano sized SIM cards. Most European SIM card companies carry all three sizes, so that shouldn’t be a problem. A European SIM card for an iPhone will likely be nano or micro.
Next, buy extra texting, talk or data plans that you need.
It is possible to buy a bare bones SIM card without any data. If this happens, you may have a cell phone with a number, but no added minutes, no texting, and no internet data plan. Be sure you get the data and/or text and talk plan that fits your needs. The good news is that cell service in Europe is generally great, and high speed data plans for travelers are usually affordable.
Finally, insert your SIM card in your phone.
The location of the SIM card slot is different for different phones. However, it’s generally a small and fiddly process that requires good lighting, and a table so you don’t drop the SIM on the floor. SIM cards are tiny, and easily lost and damaged. You’ll likely need a paper clip, pin, or special tool to open the SIM card slot however all phones come with one and if you can’t find yours just grab a paperclip or you can buy them online fairly cheaply.
Looking for other options for how to use your cell phone in Europe?
If you don’t want to pay for roaming fees from your home carrier, and don’t want to fuss with getting a European SIM card, another option is to only use wifi on your phone.
While it can be tricky to get high speed Wi-Fi when traveling, it’s definitely possible. You can use apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Chat to get the most out of your mobile phone when traveling, rather than relying on a data connection.
To travel Europe using Wi-Fi only, just use Wi-Fi at hotels, airports, restaurants and even malls or you can bring along a Wi-Fi hotspot, like the Solis or Glocalme. A lot of apps these days from Netflix to YouTube to Spotify to Google Maps also allow offline saving so you while you can’t connect with family and friends while on the go like with an eSIM or regular SIM card, you can at least enjoy your media on the go.
Some European companies even rent cell phones in Europe, however since most modern North American phones will work fine with European carriers, it may just be easier to take your phone overseas and use an eSim.