Am I just over-thinking this?
July 27, 2009 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Bringing my iPhone to to ensure absolutely no international roaming is charged?

I can't quite find the answer I'm looking for with The Googles and AT&T c.s. didn't really answer it either.

I'll be traveling to Europe with my iPhone 3g (3.0 os) and I know I need to turn off data roaming and 3G network. But while testing it here at home, it automatically reverts to the EDGE network.

Is that going to cause problems? If so, how to make it stop?! I want to set it up so that it'll only use Wi-Fi while over there.

Thanks much and apologies if someone with better Google-fu skills finds the answer and makes the googling look easy!
posted by Zoyashka to Technology (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
To be absolutely sure, physically remove the SIM card. I don't have an iPhone, so I don't know where it is, but there's got to be a slot somewhere on the phone.
posted by Alterscape at 12:22 PM on July 27, 2009

Well, it reverts to EDGE at home because you're not roaming. When you get outside of AT&T's network, it will cut off all cellular data.
posted by martens at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2009

If removing the SIM card will keep the rest of the phone's functionality intact, that's a sure-fire option.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:27 PM on July 27, 2009

I know I need to turn off data roaming and 3G network.

Those are two unrelated things, and turning off the 3G is pointless, since as you say all that does is make your phone "fail" to a slower EDGE network. The only reason to turn off 3G is to preserve battery life, or if you are in an area with poor 3G coverage but good EDGE coverage, in which case you may want to stop your phone from using the poor 3G one. Rare situation.

I travel a lot with my iPhone and have grown good at preventing surprise charges. :)

If you are trying to turn off international data roaming, you have already done so. No worries. Data roaming is the killer for travelers, and all the $30,000 horror stories are about this.

If you wish to turn off international call roaming, though, the traditional pre-internet kind, you need to put your phone in airplane mode, which will stop it from connecting to any cell tower for any reason. You can then deliberately turn Wi-Fi back on (the airplane mode indicator stays active), and now you are carrying an iPod Touch: music, GPS (always free) and WiFi, but no phone connections at all.

Of course by doing this it is not a phone anymore, so you can't make or receive calls. As long as you realize that, you're golden.
posted by rokusan at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

When you get outside of AT&T's network, it will cut off all cellular data.

Not true. Turn off 3G and it will still roam for voice calls using regular old pre-3G GSM.

After all, an original iPhone has no 3G, and it definitely still roams all over the world.
posted by rokusan at 12:30 PM on July 27, 2009

Settings -> General -> Network -> Data Roaming = Off

That's it.
posted by Mwongozi at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2009

1. Never answer the phone.

2. Turn off Visual Voicemail, which from the UK means dialling 1760 and listening to a recorded message. Apparently, AT&T customers have to call customer service (which seems ridiculous).

3. If someone calls, text them back (international texts are cheap compared to calls).

4. Turn off push, set email checking &c. to manual.

5. Only check mail/surf after you're sure you've connected to a wireless network.

Or if you actually want to use the 'phone: jailbreak, unlock and buy a cheapo prepay SIM when you get to Europe.
posted by jack_mo at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2009

Turn off 3G and it will still roam for voice calls using regular old pre-3G GSM.

Well obviously, but you can just... not answer the phone?

Texts will still get charged tho, so if you want to avoid that as well, then yes you could remove the SIM card... or turn on airport mode.

4. Turn off push, set email checking &c. to manual.

If you just turn off data roaming you don't need to do any of this. The iPhone isn't suddenly going to override your choice to check email! (I'm currently abroad, data roaming is off, whenever I'm not on wifi email doesn't get checked)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:41 PM on July 27, 2009

1. Take out the SIM: push a paperclip firmly into the hole in the slot on top of your phone, put your SIM somewhere safe. That is indeed sure-fire.
2. Enjoy.

The rest of the phone's functionality remains intact: you can even use the Skype app on Wifi if you want.

Because I jailbroke/unlocked, I always do jack_mo's suggestion to use a prepaid SIM in GSM countries. That also works nicely.
posted by xueexueg at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2009

I paid like $20.00 for a plan for cheaper data and stuff when I went to Europe. I left the phone largely off, but checked it a few times. I even called a potential client back. There was no huge charges.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:43 PM on July 27, 2009

I did this is Europe (Paris and London) in March. The guy at the Apple store showed me what to do. Very simple.

Settings: Airplane Mode ON, Wi-Fi ON.

That's all. The Airplane Mode keeps cellular, 3G and Edge off. But you can still use the Wi-Fi.

I was in each city for a week, used open wi-fi where available, and pay wi-fi in the airport, and had absolutely no roaming charges when I returned
posted by kimdog at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

(what rokusan said)

if you still want to make calls -- once you've turned off "data roaming," the phone will not revert to Edge or whatever for data. trying to browse the web will simply fail, for instance, unless you're connected to Wi-Fi. (I travel internationally all the time with my Canadian iPhone, and have never been hit by unexpected charges.)

if you don't even want to make calls, then you may as well just put the phone in airplane mode, and take it out of that mode only when you are somewhere you can use Wifi.

oh, and anecdotally -- I tend to turn off 3G while abroad, for the battery life reasons mentioned above. I also used to have occasional problems associating with a local wireless provider in some places with 3G enabled (and have not had similar problems on the non-3G networks), but nothing you couldn't work around.

I recommend downloading the Skype app before you leave.
posted by chalkbored at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: This is all fantastic advice...thanks everyone!
posted by Zoyashka at 12:50 PM on July 27, 2009

Mwongozi's got it. If you disable international data roaming you won't be charged for data roaming. Any time you're not connected to wifi and use an app that needs data (like maps, mail, weather, Safari, etc) a notice will pop up saying you'll need to enable data roaming to work. As long as you don't go into your settings and enable the data roaming, you won't be charged.

Note that AT&T does not enable international data or calls by default so you need to sign up for it by calling 611 before you leave. If you don't have international roaming for voice and data on your account you won't be able to receive calls or make calls, and of course the data won't work.
posted by birdherder at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2009

nb: whilst in airplane mode, you can still turn wifi back on. Then you have an extra speedy Touch with a camera, compass and gps - awesome! There are offline maps that will work with your gps in airplane mode, too.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2009

The no data roaming setting is probably the Right Answer, but Airplane + 802.11 would be my gut instinct too.
posted by unixrat at 12:53 PM on July 27, 2009

While turning on airplane mode as described will make you roam-proof, you also won't get much useful help from your phone. The map application in particular is very handy when you're traveling. If you want to use your phone for data but avoid big charges, follow the tips in this Apple support topic.

Before a recent trip to Europe, I signed up for one of the smaller international data plans because I need to check email several times a day for my business. I was able to check email and use the map application to get un-lost with no alarmingly big charges. It's important to reset your data usage to 0 when you get off the plane and check it periodically to make sure you don't go over: Settings > General > Usage > Reset Statistics.

I was in the Netherlands and Belgium and found that wifi was less common than I had expected, so I was glad I had the data plan.
posted by PatoPata at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2009

When I was in Costa Rica I simply turned on airplane mode. As by the grace of god mentions, you can then turn wifi back on and be good to go.

I found an app named WiFiTrack (I assume there are others) which was useful for finding open access points and automagically checking to see that they actually routed data.
posted by phearlez at 1:58 PM on July 27, 2009

If you have gone the Jailbreak route, you can install an application called BossPrefs (via Cydia) that allows you to selectively disable services. I don't pay for a data plan on mine, so I have disabled Edge and Push through this app. The application provides controls via a series of toggles and is very simple to operate. I keep my SIM in and can use the phone in the wild worry-free.
posted by tmt at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2009

If you sign up for an international roaming plan like PatoPata suggests, it seems the phone's usage meter may not be entirely accurate. Leo Laporte recently went on a trip to China. His usage meter said he used just a hair over 100 MB of data on the trip, but AT&T claims he used 250 MB.
posted by Nothlit at 7:55 AM on July 28, 2009

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