So you’re headed to Europe for a much-needed vacation. You probably can’t wait to text or video chat your family members to tell them about your travels. And, of course, you’ll need to be snapping gorgeous photos of the main attractions to make everyone on social media jealous (or at least to capture the memories to look back on later!).
To do any of that, you’re going to need a phone. You’ve probably heard a horror story or two of people accidentally accruing international roaming charges when they totally thought they were connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi. The best way to use a phone in Europe with peace of mind is to either set up (and confirm) an international plan with your existing phone carrier, or set up an unlocked phone with a SIM card for international use.
But what even is an unlocked phone, where do you find one, and how does the process work? Here’s everything you need to know about finding an unlocked phone on a budget for your European adventure.
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GSM vs. CDMA
It’s important to first understand the two radio technologies that phones rely on: GSM and CDMA. GSM stands for Global System for Mobiles, and CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access.
Your eyes might be glazing over while looking at this alphabet soup. While you don’t need to necessarily understand the nitty gritty of these technologies, you should at least know this — Europe primarily relies on GSM. But many phone carriers in the U.S. use CDMA.
That means you’ll need to check that either an old phone you already own or a new, unlocked phone you purchase for your trip will use GSM and can be used on your trip to Europe. Many modern phones operate as “dual band”, meaning they work for both.
Alternatively, if you have a newer phone, it may not use either of these technologies, and it can actually be even easier for you to use a phone in Europe. Many U.S. carriers are switching away from GSM and CDMA, instead relying on 4G and 5G networks. If this is the case with your current carrier, you may want to consider learning more about various international plans available for using an American phone in Europe.
Purchasing an international phone plan through your existing provider is becoming more and more common. But SIM cards are still an option if you don’t want to risk running over the plan limits and incurring surprise charges on your next bill.
The Best Option? An Old Phone You Already Own
You don’t have to purchase a new phone to use a SIM card if you have an older phone that will work just as well. Raid your junk drawer for an old phone, which you may be able to use with a SIM card for Europe. Old phones are almost always unlocked, because the carrier is required to unlock a phone once the contract has ended and you’ve finalized any existing payments on the device.
How to Unlock an Old Phone
Have an older iPhone on hand? You’re in luck. An iPhone will automatically unlock itself with software updates sent out by the carrier. For other devices, you’ll need to contact your carrier.
Verizon devices unlock automatically 60 days after purchase. T-Mobile requires a 40-day waiting period after purchase, and you can unlock it by following the carrier’s instructions here. AT&T also requires 60 days of use after purchase, then you can submit a request to unlock the phone, which AT&T will respond to about two business days later (meaning don’t wait until the day before your flight to start the unlocking process!).
Once a phone is unlocked, it should be fine to work with a SIM card of your choosing. Just be sure the phone itself is compatible with European networks, meaning it is a dual band or GSM phone.
What to Look For in an Unlocked Phone for European Travel
Maybe you don’t have an old phone lying around, or the ones you do have aren’t going to work for international travel. You may need to buy a cheapo unlocked phone instead.
There are a few key terms you want to include when searching for unlocked phones. “Unlocked” simply means the phone can be used for different carriers and SIM cards. Phones are typically unlocked either because they are sold by the phone manufacturer (like buying an iPhone from Apple) or another shop (like Best Buy or Amazon).
Other terms to look for include “dual band” or “dual SIM”. “GSM” and “international” are also important to look for if you don’t see dual band options. Here are a few options to consider that you can order online for quick delivery:
- Alcatel 1 – $53.28
- ZTE Blade – $59.35
- Nokia C01 – $82.70
- Samsung Galaxy A03 – $101.76
- Samsung Galaxy A12 – $171.97
Note: Before you purchase a phone for your trip, triple-check that it will work with your SIM card or carrier and that it will work in Europe.
If you can’t find a phone that works for your budget, you may also find a more affordable option once you get to your destination. Many newsstands across Europe sell bare-bones phones, so you can at least take some photos and send off a few quick texts to friends and family.
How to Use a SIM Card While Traveling
We have entire guide to buying SIM cards in Europe, complete with detailed instructions on how to set up the SIM card. But really, it’s easy. Turn off your device. Open the small compartment that holds the SIM card. Remove the existing SIM card, if there’s one inside, then insert the new SIM card. Turn on your device, and activate the card by dialing the number included with the new SIM card packaging.
This essentially gives you a European phone number. If you took out a SIM card from the phone, make sure to store it away. If you lose it, you’ll lose your regular number in the U.S.!
You may find SIM cards for international travel, regional travel throughout Europe, or even for specific countries:
Consider A Plan With Your Existing Provider
One of the most efficient options for using a phone in Europe is to use your existing carrier. Some carriers have international plans built right into your existing plan in the U.S.. The plan will switch into “international mode” when you touch down in your destination.
With some carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, you can simply add on an international package to your existing plan. That way, you can use your existing phone as normal for a fixed rate. AT&T charges $10 per day for up to 10 days within a billing cycle, and additional days are free until your billing cycle resets. Verizon similarly offers a $10 per day plan with unlimited texts and calls or, for longer trips, a $100 per month international plan with 1,000 sent SMS and 250 minutes of calls included.
Other carriers, like T-Mobile, have international use baked right into their U.S. phone plans. Just be sure to call your carrier and confirm what your plan includes to avoid a billing surprise later.
There are many options for using a phone in Europe. You can add an international phone package to your usual monthly bill or go the SIM card route. You don’t necessarily have to miss your weekly calls with family or lose out on posting your selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower to social media sites. Enjoy your trip while staying connected with loved ones … and do it all on the cheapo.
The post How to Find or Buy a Cheap, Unlocked Phone For European Travel appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.
Source: Euro Cheapo