A lot of travelers prefer to use their own cell phone while traveling to Europe, and some 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.
Using my cell phone while traveling to Europe
How to Use Your Smartphone in Europe
If you are from the US 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.
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). But this should not be an issue since most smartphones today can connect to both network systems.
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.
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, and 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.
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.” 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, but 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 here, but when you buy a GSM prepaid wireless and/or a SIM card, make certain call time is included.
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.
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, and 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. And if you have a prepaid cell phone and need more minutes, you can easily buy more airtime from companies like Recharge.com.
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.