General Question

swordfisher's avatar

American using cell phone in Europe for the first time.

Asked by swordfisher (9points) June 11th, 2010

My son is going to England, the Netherlands and Portugal this summer for three weeks. I have never left the US and am at loss as to how to explain using a cell phone while abroad to him.

We have a GSM phone that was purchased in France last year that accepts SIM cards. I am told that he can purchase SIM cards in most public spaces in Europe. I am unclear as to how that creates a phone number for the phone, and how you add more minutes onto the phone. Should he use a prepaid calling card to call the US? Will he need a different SIM for each country, or is there one that will work throughout Europe?

When a friend’s daughter went to China, she had a cell phone with a SIM that was linked to a credit card. Unfortunately, when she went from China to Hong Kong, she had to get a different SIM, and lost the original one that was tied to the credit card. Not realizing it was lost, she didn’t tell her parents. Someone found the SIM and ran up over $800 in phone charges, with the company refused to write off because the SIM was not reported lost.

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10 Answers

LeotCol's avatar

I don’t know a lot of information on this, but I’ll answer what I can.
You can purchase sim cards all over the place. Each sim has a unique phone number. To add more minutes to a phone you purchase credit. You can buy this phone credit in the majority of newsagents and shops. You can also phone (depending on your network) and top up the credit using a bank account.

Depending on the network provider of the sim (Vodafone, 02, Orange etc.) you can use the sim all over Europe. But there will be Roaming charges, though each network probably has there own offers or plans you can sign up to so that you get the best value for your money.

I would look up network providers in the country that he is first visiting so that he can know what pay plans they have etc. so he knows which sim he is going to choose. Though it will probably end up cheaper if he buys 3 sim cards, one for each country. As they only cost ~€20. It might save him having to sign up for Roaming plans etc. Though that would mean 3 different numbers for the 3 different countries.

Hope that helps.
Anyone else please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

kwhull's avatar

Some US based cell phones can be used in other countries. When my son was in Iraq, he could use his cell phone like normal. There are additional charges, however. It was about $2.59 per minute to call back to the states, but we did not have to buy anything special to make this work. Check with your existing cell provider for more info.

cazzie's avatar

If it’s a SIM card purchased in Europe, it should be ok. The SIM card with comes with a pin number and then he might have to make a phone call to a customer service desk to get it activated. Here in Norway, you even have to give them your Norwegian Personal Number (they’ve made it hard for non-residents to get these types of phones due to some criminal activity or something…)

You buy credits to top up the prepaid amount and they’re mostly available through corner stores, petrol stations, even grocery stores.

I would look up network providers,like @LeotCol, said, so that you get as broad coverage and as decent rates as possible. There are pretty good reciprocal arrangements between cell coverage providers here, so ‘roaming’ isn’t much of a problem.

My husband has an account type cellphone registered here in Norway and he travels all over the world with it with no problems except in two places….. The Republic of Congo and in the USA.

perspicacious's avatar

You are going to get answers all over the place here, most of which will probably be the wrong answer for you. You should call your cell service provider to find out how to use your cell phone in the countries to which you are going to visit. You will need a GSM quad band world phone (being a GSM phone may not enough if it only works on two or three bands; you can also find this information by talking to your cell service provider).

cazzie's avatar

@perspicacious The GSM phone was bought in France. Chances are, it will be fine here in Europe, but they need to call or talk to the company they are going to buy the SIM card from, I guess… in England if that is where he’s starting out. Every country has it’s quirks…

Is he taking a laptop? Why doesn’t he and you have a skype accounts to talk to each other with? Internet telephony is great. So many places have wireless networks. And it’s free.

perspicacious's avatar

@cazzie I agree about internet phone; I would do that if I were traveling out of the country myself. It doesn’t help with communicating locally while there though (not the VOIP I have anyway).

cazzie's avatar

Well. Skype can be used to use call landlines and cell phones too. And it’s cheap. You buy credits as you need them, just like a pre-pay cell phone.

lilikoi's avatar

I visited two other continents not long ago and I had a TMobile phone w/ SIM card that was functional all along the way…for a hefty price. I was paying over a buck a minute from the other side of the world to call home in the U.S. But convenience can sometimes be worth it.

cazzie's avatar

Just now, my husband was in an airport in Portugal with his iPhone. The iPhone didn’t connect automagically to the phone service, but he had wireless in the lounge, so he went online and called my computer using Skype. Free. He could have called my cellphone from skype and it would cost… hang on, I’ll look it up. It says… from as little as 2.1cents a minute.

swordfisher's avatar

Thanks for everyone’s responses.

A friend’s daughter took a T-Mobile phone to France last summer, with a SIM purchased in the US. She could not figure out how to load more minutes on it after it ran out over there, so she purchased a phone in France, and an Orange SIM card. She could not understand the directions on how to load the phone, despite being fairly fluent in French, so she used a land line and a prepaid card, which worked well for her calling home, but no one could call her.

He’s not taking a laptop, and is planning on using internet cafes. Purchasing an iPhone for him, while under discussion for a future date, is not an option as we just renewed the contract with Sprint two months ago. I will have him try with a new SIM and load extra minutes on there. Hopefully he will have better luck than the original owner of the phone!

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