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Using an AT&T iPhone in Spain's wine country
August 2, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Using an AT&T iPhone in Spain's wine country without breaking the bank. Advise me, if you please.

We are heading to Spain for a driving holiday. We will arrive in Barcelona and stay a couple of nights before picking up a car and heading to the Priorato, Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions and then depart out of Madrid.

We won't need to be in regular contact with anyone here in the states, but will need to be available for emergencies and ideally we'd like a local number so we might make calls/inquiries to bodegas, restaurants and attractions while on the road.

We both have iPhones with AT&T. I found this old thread, but imagine things may have changed a bit since then. What are currently the best strategies for using an iPhone from the states while in Spain?

If it matters:
I'm planning on getting a GPS for the rental car unless coverage is amazing and data is truly reasonable.

Neither phone is unlocked or jail-broken (do people still do that?)
posted by FlamingBore to Travel & Transportation around Spain (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I went to Europe earlier this year and I added a roaming plan for the country I was visiting. I also had to do some setting to my phone to make it work. I added the plan right before I left, then I cancelled it when I returned.

CALL ATT and tell them that you want to do the same.

Not to be snarky, because I get that it's no fun to actually call AT&T, but for something like this, honestly, shouldn't that have been your first stop?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:53 AM on August 2, 2012


Don't even bother with a non-US number, just roam. Its not worth the hassle if you are making an occasional phone call. You don't need to cal ATT if you really don't want to. I always set it up on line. Make sure you have data off, or sign up for a data plan. Data is unconscionably expensive.
posted by JPD at 11:58 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Data is punitively expensive internationally. Just don't use it.

Calling on the other hand, is expensive but not outrageous (around $1 a minute, I think). So, using it for emergency situations is totally reasonable. I would seriously consider buying a local prepaid phone in Barcelona before you head out for making calls in-country. If you're going to do it with any amount of regularity while you're there, it will come out to be worth it.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:05 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have an iPhone 4 (or older), you can unlock your iPhone through AT&T, and it's easy and legit. From there, you can just grab a local SIM when you land, and you'll be fine.

As an aside, GPS doesn't count as data use. You can grab an offline maps viewer like City Maps 2Go, and preinstall maps of the regions you're traveling to. It won't give you turn-by-turn, but it's a live map with your location on it. You can then turn off all cellular data, 3G, and Data Roaming on your phone (Settings>General>Network), so that you don't rack up any charges. If you don't need to call regularly or reliably, you could also just use Skype over WiFi.
posted by themadthinker at 12:06 PM on August 2, 2012


I should have mentioned that I've done the international data plans and the roaming in the past and that's when I was being very judicious in my usage. That is categorically what I do not want to do. It'll wind up costing me at least $65 extra before I even make a call and I *know* we'll need to make calls. That's part of the plan - be flexible and go with the flow.

And yes, themadthinker, we both have 4 or later. Thanks for the tip on City Maps 2Go, I'll check that out.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:10 PM on August 2, 2012


I went to Germany last year and completely forgot to set things up. While in Germany I got a call from AT&T warning me that I had racked up over $800 in data usage over the course of a few days. I immediately signed up for the international data plan (I think it was $60 or $65 per month at the time) and they even applied it retroactively so I wouldn't have to pay the crazy charges. I guess I got lucky there. Anyhow, yeah, make sure you get yourself an international roaming plan and, if needed, and international data plan. If you don't get the latter MAKE SURE to turn data off. Not sure if they're always as lenient as they were with me.
Also, pro tip: don't forget to unsubscribe from these plans again when you're back or they will continue to charge you every month.
And, as has been mentioned, these add-on plans can be ordered and added online.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:18 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have an iPhone 4 (or older), you can unlock your iPhone through AT&T

The model of the phone is not the determining factor. It's whether the phone is still associated with a contract that counts. AT&T will only unlock an iPhone that is no longer associated with a contract (either because the contract has expired, or you've paid an ETF). Many iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS handsets have been bought in the last year that are still very much under contract.

You could try one of the services that lets you rent an international SIM card for exactly this purpose. They do some trickery such that the SIM card presents itself to the phone as if it were an AT&T SIM, so it works just fine with a locked phone. I haven't personally used one, but it seems like a decent option.
posted by Nothlit at 12:30 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The options are 3:
Roam
Buy a prepaid cell
Jailbreak your phone and buy a prepaid SIM.

Its sounds like you want 3 if you are going to make a bunch of calls. But just using your phone in spain is .99 a minute + the world traveller plan you sign up for on their website. If thats too expensive for you then consider buying a prepaid phone or having your phone jailbroken.
posted by JPD at 12:33 PM on August 2, 2012


The model of the phone is not the determining factor. It's whether the phone is still associated with a contract that counts. AT&T will only unlock an iPhone that is no longer associated with a contract (either because the contract has expired, or you've paid an ETF). Many iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS handsets have been bought in the last year that are still very much under contract.

Sorry, yes, you're totally right. I wrongly assumed that people would have bought early in the product cycle, which is my own bias talking. Like you said, the end of the two-year contract, or else buying out via ETF.
posted by themadthinker at 12:54 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jailbreak your phone and buy a prepaid SIM.

Is this accurate? I would've thought you only need it unlocked, not jailbroken.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last time I was in Europe, I discovered that you can get a route using the iPhone's builtin maps app while you are connected to wifi. Then if you look at all the steps of the route before leaving the wifi zone, the route gets cached on your phone and you can follow it without using data. This is useful for walking around towns.
posted by monotreme at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2012


Jailbreak your phone and buy a prepaid SIM.

> Is this accurate? I would've thought you only need it unlocked, not jailbroken.


Right, the phone needs to be carrier-unlocked, which is separate from jailbreaking. The confusing part is that depending on the model and iOS version, it may be possible to unofficially unlock it after jailbreaking it - this is possible on any iPhone 3G and older iPhone 3GSes, and not possible on an iPhone 4 or 4S. Here's a guide to unofficial unlocking that I maintain. Another option mentioned there that doesn't require jailbreaking is buying a Gevey SIM, a tiny piece of hardware that fits into your SIM slot and allows your phone to use unofficial carriers - available for iPhone 4 on iOS 4.x and iPhone 4S on iOS 5.x.

Unofficial unlocks require putting some time and patience into the process, but if you have an old iPhone 3G or 3GS lying around, it can be a decent option.

(Also, yes, people still jailbreak their iPhones - millions of them!)
posted by dreamyshade at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2012


If you have an unlocked phone, Mas Movil has been mentioned before and is still the best value for prepaid voice/data in Spain.
posted by wutangclan at 7:13 PM on August 2, 2012


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