Cheap Cell Phone Service in Europe
May 25, 2009 6:52 PM   Subscribe

What is the cheapest option available for using my iPhone (AT&T) in Europe?

I will be traveling to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in the coming summer and am curious what the best option is for voice and data usage on my (unlocked) iPhone. I would love to use Google maps to get around and be able to call family back home as well as friends coming along with me. However, if data prices are exorbitantly high, I can forgo my beloved Google maps and settle for voice usage alone.

So far, AT&T offers a $6/mo. + $1/min. under its World Traveler plan. Data is far worse at $25/mo. for 20MB and $0.005/KB thereafter. I do not know if incoming calls are free as they are under certain European plans (I doubt it).

Can I get anything cheaper if I were to use European providers? Would it be possible to use the same service/SIM/number throughout the 3 nations without having to switch with each one? I would like to purchase a non-contract only service (e.g. pre-paid).

Furthermore, if it is possible to get better voice/data rates using a European provider, where can I purchase service? I will be landing in Amsterdam Schipol Airport and will also be passing through Amsterdam Central Station.

Thank you so much for your help!
posted by mahoganyslide to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could, theoretically, unlock your iPhone and use prepaid SIM cards purchased in your destination countries.

Unlocking instructions for iPhone 3G
Unlocking instructions for the original iPhone: Mac / Windows

Beware: doing this is almost certainly against both your contract with AT&T and your license agreement with Apple. It may irreversibly damage your iPhone and will void your warranty and Apple Care agreement, if any.

Frankly, I would recommend just getting an unlocked smart phone (if data is important) or unlocked regular phone (if it isn't) and using prepaid SIMs. T-Mobile Netherlands has prepaid phones from €19.95, for example. The Airport Telecom Shop at Schiphol sells and rents Nokia phones. I imagine they probably also sell prepaid SIMs for various providers.
posted by jedicus at 7:45 PM on May 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you jedicus for the unlocking instructions, but my iPhone has already been unlocked. I appreciate the link for the 3g though!

I'll be on the lookout for the telecom shop, it seems really nifty.
posted by mahoganyslide at 8:54 PM on May 25, 2009

Yup, pick up a pre-paid sim cheap. I walked into a T-mobile store in Holland and grabbed one for 10 euro or so. I'm not sure about the data plans on such, but they were very helpful to me when I had questions in the store. Refills consisted of going to a store and buying a refill.

Caution, under AT&T incoming calls are NOT free, unless something has changed lately (doubt it). Also, incoming calls may/may not be free when you switch countries, ask before buying the pre-paid sim. it may be cheaper to simply get another sim in the next country if you're going to be there for any length of time.
posted by defcom1 at 9:14 PM on May 25, 2009

Sorry, missed the parenthetical. Yes, if your iPhone is already unlocked, then you can use a prepaid SIM from a European provider. There is no European provider that operates in all three countries, though, so you won't be able to avoid roaming unless you buy a new prepaid SIM for each country.
posted by jedicus at 9:22 PM on May 25, 2009

I recently traveled with my (locked) iPhone in the Netherlands and Belgium. I used the data plan and was glad I did, because the map application was helpful. I followed the tips in this support topic to keep costs low. I used 18 MB of data in two weeks of travel, which included checking email twice a day, using Google maps about 10 times, and very limited surfing.

There was a decent data signal (often Edge) everywhere. If you've changed regions and data doesn't work, turn the phone completely off and then on again.

I can also guarantee that incoming calls from outside your current country are in no way free on the AT&T World Traveler plan.

I'll warn you that I found very few free wifi signals. Even the hotels that claimed to have free wifi had it only in the lobby. And don't even get me started about the wifi at the Amsterdam public library (infamous Dutch bureaucracy in full bloom). Just hang out in the cafe that's on the first floor and use their free signal.

If you find the free wifi that eluded me, you could use the new Skype app on your iPhone for international calls.
posted by PatoPata at 9:31 PM on May 25, 2009

Also, if you need a map of amsterdam, you can download a fully self-contained one for your iPhone here.

note: self-link, I wrote this app. I think the answer is appropriate for this question, but if I'm breaking the rules, please delete this comment
posted by DreamerFi at 3:24 AM on May 26, 2009

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