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Still confused about US iPhone use in London and Paris

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Okay, we have two iPhones, both unlocked, a 4s and a 3g (the other 4S is under contract, AT&T won’t unlock it). And, as I just posted, AT&T. We’re also taking an iPad mini, but it needs wifi, so I don’t need to worry about cellular data on that.

I tried to piece together info, but got seriously confused. I’m hoping this thread will help others, too.

What are our options and what do I need to do for each? This is what I know:

1) I know we can pay AT&T for an international plan. I believe that would let us keep our phone numbers, which would be convenient in case of problems at home (my MIL’s health is stable, but not great). I also believe that this is kinda expensive and you still have to be careful to not overrun.

2) I know we can buy a phone there, but how does that work? And I’m assuming that a smartphone would be a bit costly, but apps would be nice. And I know I’d need a different SIM card for each country.

3) I know we can take our phones and buy SIM cards for each country (that’s why I got these unlocked), but how does that work?

3a) Following advice on these fora, I did try for Lebara SIM cards. I got two from France, nothing (yet) from UK. But how long are they good for? I got them about 2 weeks ago, but we’re not going to be in Paris until May 5, London from April 23-May 5. Will they still be good? And, assuming that they fit, what the heck do I do with them?

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