Cell phone use in Europe for dummies

Old Mar 21st, 2011, 06:58 AM
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Cell phone use in Europe for dummies

Okay, I know there is a lot of cell phone usage questions on here but I'm still confused. Can someone please just answer my questions in simple, non-techie terms for me? We've traveled abroad many times but this is the first time we feel the need to have a working cell phone, as this is our first trip abroad since having our twins and I need to be able to reach my in-laws, and vice versa, as they will be watching the girls.

1) I have a Blackberry Torch. It appears as though I can use this in Europe. Do I need to purchase a special SIM card? I'll be traveling in Germany and Italy.

2) I read on slowtrav that it may be really expensive to use my cell overseas even if I can purchase a SIM card because of the roaming charges. If this is true, is it better to consider renting a phone with a specific plan?

3) If I choose to rent, can someone recommend a company to consider?

Thanks!
Tracy
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:18 AM
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Will you be bringing a laptop or a notebook computer? Because then you could communicate inexpensively using Skype (assuming your inlaws have a computer and webcam). It would be nice for the twins to see you and you them.
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:28 AM
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Hello Mimar! Yes, we are planning on bringing our laptop so we can do webcam calls to see the girls. My concern is that the grandparents will need to get in touch with us when we are out. I need to make sure they can reach us at all times.

Thanks!
Tracy
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:43 AM
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Make sure the phone is unlocked and buy a German or Italian SIM or have roaming activated by your phone company so they can reach you under your common US number. Roaming with your original SIM will be at least $1 per minute. You phone company will inform you obout the rates for making and recieving calls abroad.

Or you can get a German/Italian SIM with a German/It. phone number. Incoming will be free in the country where you bought the SIM and 18ct/min in the other country. Calling the US depends on the SIM you use and the country you're in. Lowest German rates are 9ct/min to US (lidl) or 1ct with a one time fee of 15ct (lebara).
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:46 AM
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Thanks logos! Do I just walk into a cell phone store in Germany and Italy to buy the SIM cards?
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:50 AM
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Hi Tracy! Glad to see your Europe plans progressing.

Okay, with the caveat that I don't know specifics for BB (other than that it should work on the BB system overseas)...

1) Is your service in the States through AT&T/T-Mobile or Verizon/Sprint/MetroPCS? If it's the former, you *can* swap out the sim for a local one.

However, there are pros and cons:
Pros: Cheaper rates. Prepaid sims are easy to use, and in my experience they all have instructions in English as well as the native language. You buy the sim which includes a local phone #; when the initial amount on the card is used up, you take it to any shop selling that company's cards and get a refill.
Cons: Not having a # to leave with the grandparents before you go. Plus, to really maximize cost benefit, you'd want to get a different local sim for each country you visit. (Otherwise, you'd be roaming in Italy on a German sim or vice versa. Not as pricey as using a US sim, but not the cheapest option either.)

2) My experience overseas with a prepaid local sim is that it's cheaper to receive calls from the US than to make them. They were pricey, but because the sim is prepaid and refillable, you can manage those costs up front.

My last trip was to Italy, and I decided to do a little experiment and continue to use my AT&T sim for the very limited amount we needed a phone. While it wasn't cheap, it didn't break the bank: what I didn't like was not knowing how much I'd spent until I got the bill!

How comfortable are you - and the grandparents - with sending and receiving text messages? With a prepaid sim, my experience has been that texts are really cheap; mere pennies in fact. My family and I set up a system where we'd send a text first; if a call was needed, it would say so in the text. (I even got medical advice for my asthma in China that way-!)

3) Can't answer that one, but I know there have been a couple of threads in the last few months that went through this in detail...
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 07:54 AM
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And yes, you just walk into the store to buy the sim. In some places, you might even find a phone shop or kiosk in the airport when you land.
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:13 AM
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tcreath, in Germany, I'd first order the free SIM from http://www.lebara-mobile.de/?isoCode=en_GB to the hotel and hope that it's there when you arrive. Activate it by either calling them or on the Internet (They specialize in the immigrant market and speak all the languages of the planet (At least it seems so ). Calling German numbers cost 9ct/min, calling the US 1ct/min plus one 15ct fee.

Or you can go go to a Lidl store and buy a Lidl SIM http://www.lidl-mobile.de/html3/. Activate it over the internet or a 800 number. Calls to German or US numbers are 9ct per minute. Recharge by buying vouchers from Lidl. They ask for your bank account when activating, but you can just say you on't have one.

Many more options exist..
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:30 AM
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If you want something easy have a look at http://www.CallinEurope.com

I have used them on 2 trips to France and 1 to Greece and things have been flawless each trip.
They will send you a SIM before you leave or even a phone and SIM. That way you know the number before you go. I like the fact that they bill to my credit card... I don't need to worry about running out of time.

They are no longer as inexpensive as they once were and I plan to use Lebara myself on our next trip but for ease of use and convenience CiE is hard to beat.

Rob
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:33 AM
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Topping up via credit cards works with Lebara, but not with Lidl, however Lidls are plenty, shops that sell Lebara SIMs and recharge cards may be even more in the cities. (There's a tiny indian food store across the street, wonder if he ever sells much food, but he sells Lebara SIMs just like the call shop next to him).
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:34 AM
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Last year I bought a phone from Mobal.com, I think it was $35 or so. Then with the account I opened with them, I only get charged for calls I make or receive or texts I send, which are charged to the credit card they have on file for me. Incoming texts are free. I travel to Europe a few times a year usually, and while I don't anticipate having to use it, it was worth having it just in case home needed to reach me. I did end up using it locally in Paris to confirm a taxi to the airport the next day and it was fine. So essentially it was just the phone cost outlay up front, and then pay as you go after. You'll always have the same phone number for future travels.
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Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:41 AM
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tracy - who is your service provider in the US?
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 06:59 AM
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Point is, and that is important to know, the rates for incoming calls or accessing your voicemail in Italy (or elsewhere in EU-Europe) with a common German SIM card (and vice versa) are always (far) cheaper than those of the "international SIMs" listed on the site above. i.e. if you use a German SIM in Italy and someone calls you from the US, you'll be billed at max. 18ct per minute before July 1st 2011 and 13ct after that date.

If you make a call to Germany in Italy with that German SIM, you pay 46/41 cent per minute.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 12:34 PM
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Not always logos....ekit has several cards available on ebay where reception of calls is free throughout Europe...on most of these cards you get both a +44 (UK) number and a +1 (US) number...when you're in almost all of Europe you receive calls made to the +44 number for free...calls made to the +1 number cost 19¢/minute rounded up to the next highest minute)...0,13€ is fairly close to 19¢ when it happens. If you're from the USA, you would probably prefer people to call you using the USA number rather than the cost to a UK mobile which has a surcharge.

Calling to the USA while roaming on a non local sim for the most part is very very expensive...calling to the US on e-kit is always charged as a call to a landline at 49¢/minute plus a 35¢ set up fee for each call....very cheap, no but better than you can do with a non local sim card (in Italy with a German sim card or vice versa)...have to go through one's calling pattern to figure out best deal!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 12:55 PM
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xyz123, ekit as nice as it is, will be deactivated, if you don't recharge at least $10 every 9 months and they set my balance to zero after using it in Italy because instead of calling back, it just connected me. (Same LG KP500 that worked well on the german networks...) Not being a EU SIM, those $10 lasted about a minute. The "US number" is only a forwarding service, operated by a third company, that may or may not work. I'd rather pick my own forwarding service.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 01:02 PM
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So if you keep in mind that the callback solution may completely fail and are fast enough to hang up in that case, ekit is good. Otherwise, always dialing *123#.... is a must.

I'm using ekit, but I deeply mistrust that company
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 01:09 PM
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For your purposes, I'd say just take the BB. You will need to tell your carrier you want international service. This will be an additional charge (I have T-Mobile and it's either or $12 or 21 per month, prorated I believe for shorter periods). Notify them when you return to discontinue or it will continue on your monthly bills. Tell your friends not to call your number for idle chit-chat. All out-going calls, whether to US or locally in Germany or Italy are 99 cents per minute. All incoming calls are the same, even if the call goes to voice mail (hence the no chit chat phone calls).

Since you mainly want to be reachable by your in-laws with a minimum of hassle, this should work beautifully. Otherwise you can stay in touch by the other methods you have in place. Since I started travelling with the BB, can't believe how easy it all is and well worth the $50-100 dollars it costs for the average monthly trip.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 05:37 PM
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FWIW - I just returned from Italy. My friend gave me a jailbroken/unlocked iPhone to take with me. I bought a TIM card (Italian SIM) at the Rome airport for 10 euros and put 30 euros worth of call time on it. When I tried to use the phone, it didn't work. Invalid SIM. After trips to several phone stores, I was finally told that the phone has to be jailbroken with Italian software or it won't work. Something I wish I'd been told in advance, but... live and learn.
I relied on a good old fashioned phone card, which turned out to be much cheaper anyway. A 5 euro card got me about 3.5 hours of talk time to the US!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2011, 10:49 PM
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look11....having bought the sim card, didn't any of the phone stores suggest a very cheap gsm 2g handset which would have worked fine at least for voice (or was it your intent to use data)
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Old Mar 23rd, 2011, 04:56 AM
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look11. I thought an unlocked gsm phone was just that. Are you saying that my unlocked gsm phone will not work in Italy because it wasn't unlocked in Italy??
I have used it in Portugal and France with no problem. Just pop in the local SIM.
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