How to use an iPhone in Spain without running up a ridiculous bill?
November 14, 2009 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I use my iPhone in Spain without running up a ridiculous bill?

I talked to AT&T, and, not surprisingly, their plan is nonsense. You pay an extra nominal fee and get (a whopping!) 25 megabytes of data before they start issuing major fees.

I basically want to use my phone while there to check email, use Google Maps, access Wikipedia, etc. Nothing fancy.

What should I do? Is there a reasonable way to go about using an iPhone in Spain? Or am I out of luck?

FYI: I also have an old iPhone that I would be open to hacking/jailbreaking if that would be of any use, as well. Would rather not mess around with my new 3GS.
posted by scooterdman to Technology (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure someone else will be able to help you with a more sophisticated hack, but failing that- doesn't the wifi still work if you put it on airplane mode? You won't be subject to fees if you hop onto local networks.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:10 PM on November 14, 2009

I took my iPhone to Germany recently. I had wifi where I was staying so I did most of my email there, and then got the 20mb package so I could use Maps when I was wondering around. It worked out well for me, but I suppose it depends on how long you'll be there for, and if you have some access to wifi. I'm pretty sure they also have larger "cheap" international data packages available.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2009

If you use the phone in Spain with "data roaming" turned off and the wifi on. Use wifi hotspots for all your email/maps/etc needs. You should be able to find lots of free and paid wifi in the cities. Not so much in the country or smaller towns. You'll still be able to make and receive calls (at astronomical rates) and text. After learning my lesson with a $600 data bill I've found that paying even for a month of wifi from a carrier abroad is cheaper. It is amazing how much data you can burn through doing just mundane tasks. Do some research on the towns you'll be in and the availability of wifi. I've been in tiny places and still found wifi. Get the international data package so those 25mb are cheaper than having to pay it from scratch. As soon as you get off the plane in many countries you'll get a text from ATT warning you of the cost for data. For Mexico, for example, it says it s $19.99/mb. If you have the ATT 25MB bucket at least you can get online in the middle of nowhere Spain for less.

What will happen when you try an app that wants data like Maps or Safari (or Shazam) or Weather and you're not near a wifi hotspot it will say you can't unless you go to the settings and enable international data roaming. Mail will let you read older mail that had been downloaded, but while always whine about needing the data roaming to check for new mail or download partially downloaded messages.

You only need to use airplane mode when you want to turn of the ability to make and receive phone calls.

The other option is to unlock the 3GS or old iPhone and buy some sort of prepaid data plan from a carrier in Spain. You'll just swap out the US SIM card with what you buy in Spain. I've done that on my non-iPhones when traveling to save money.
posted by birdherder at 12:43 PM on November 14, 2009

Your options are to rely on WiFi, unlock the phone and use a local SIM, or live with AT&T's offensive rates for data roaming. If you'll forgive a self link, I have some notes on making AT&T roaming bearable. Note that the $25 plan isn't your only option, although all the plans work out to be about $1 / megabyte.

One specific tip: avoid Google Maps if you're paying for bandwidth. Get OffMaps and pre-load the maps you need from home.
posted by Nelson at 12:57 PM on November 14, 2009

You don't say how long you are going to be there for, but I was in Japan for just over a week recently and did Google Maps and daily e-mail and small amounts of web surfing and kept usage under 50MB. I had paid for the 50MB package, which is 59.99. I thought that was fair. No wifi used at any time -- none available.

What is worth noting is that you have to keep the plan on for a whole month-long billing cycle. If you turn it off when you get back, they "pro rate" the charge (so give you a discount on the 59.99) but also pro-rate the usage, so allow you to have used somewhat less than the 50MB. That happened to me and they were happy to correct it for me. No complaints at all about AT&T so far.
posted by galaksit at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2009

I'd love to piggyback onto this thread.

Once you've jailbroken your phone is it easy to return it to normal once you get back from the trip?

I'm heading to Germany for two months, and I'm trying to decide if it's worth unlocking my phone so I can keep using it, or if I should just buy a cheap phone and SIM card.
posted by geryon at 5:26 PM on November 14, 2009

With your jailbroken phone, you will be shocked at how insanely cheap pre-paid service is in Europe. Currently, the best deal in Spain is with MASmovil: EUR 0.10 per min voice and EUR 0.03 per megabyte with their automatic top-up prepaid plan. Yes, that's right: per megabyte, not per kilobyte.
posted by randomstriker at 6:18 PM on November 14, 2009

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