Cell Phone Unlocking for Dummies
December 24, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Can Ask MeFi help me understand how cell phone unlocking works? I'm traveling to Europe and looking to use an old Motorola RAZR for making phone calls.

I'm traveling to France for the month of January and have been trying to figure out the best option for using a cell phone in France. After research, research, and more research, I've found out about GSM cell phone unlocking which seems like the best fit for my needs.

I called AT&T (my wireless provider) and they happily provided me with the unlock code for my old Motorola RAZR phone. However, the process manage to confuse me. According to the customer service rep, when the phone is unlocked, it will be associated with my current wireless number (which is currently attached to my iPhone). This befuddles me... shouldn't I have a French exchange if I put a French SIM card in my phone?

Many thanks for any assistance provided!
posted by carterscott to Technology (4 answers total)
You put a French SIM in your phone and it will have a French number. The customer service rep at ATT tend not to know what they're talking about.
posted by birdherder at 12:24 PM on December 24, 2009

Best answer: This varies as a function of the kind of phone. CDMA2K phones (Verizon and Sprint) associate the phone number with the phone itself. GSM phones (AT&T and most of Europe) associate the phone number with the SIM chip.

As BirdHerder says, if you replace your SIM with one gotten from the local French service provider, it will have a French phone number as well, and the French service provider will do the billing. If you leave your AT&T SIM in it, then you'll use your American phone number, but you'll pay a lot of roaming charges, and AT&T will do the billing. (And anyone in France who calls you will pay long distance to reach your American phone number.)

What "unlocking" does is to make it so you can use that French SIM chip. If the phone is locked, then when you put the other SIM in, the phone will tell you that it cannot operate with that chip. Once the phone is unlocked, it will take any SIM at all.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:06 PM on December 24, 2009

You can do "none of the above" with a MAXroam SIM. People in France call you on a French number and pay local standard call rates; people in the US call you on a US number and pay local call rates. Outgoing calls you make would be 32 cents a minute, to the US or to France - way cheaper than roaming.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:53 PM on December 24, 2009

Just a note - there are a lot of ways to expensively buy European SIM cards targeted at travelers online, but I've found that as soon as you get to a place, going in any mobile phone shop and asking for a prepaid SIM will get you one for under $10, including some credit. Try to figure out how to load more funds on while talking to the salesperson (maybe buy it in the airport or somewhere super touristy if your French is less than amazing) because you won't be able to easily figure out the customer service afterwards (in my scandinavian experience).
posted by R a c h e l at 9:13 PM on December 24, 2009

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