A prepaid with international roaming?
April 29, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm traveling from the US to the UK next week (first time international traveler), is there a prepaid cell phone that will work both places? Will my non-chipped credit card work?

I don't currently have a cell, normally I would buy a $10 tracfone, but it looks like international calling is complicated with them. Perusing t-mobile's site, it looks like some dual-frequency GSM phones would work, but it looks like they may have poor coverage in Scotland. Basically, I need to be able to call home, and call work if there are flight problems. I have stopover in Amsterdam, so working there would also be helpful.
I read online somewhere that UK credit cards have chips embedded and US cards may not be accepted. I suppose I should get some cash also, where would be a good place?
posted by 445supermag to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
While I can't speak to the phone question, I do have some info on your CC. First and foremost, CALL YOUR CREDIT CARD COMPANY. I cannot stress this enough. Call them and tell them you're traveling overseas. Otherwise, their fraud-bots will likely see these strange charges and shut off your card. Second, while you have them on the phone, find out about the interest rate on cash advances. I used my CC at ATM machines in the uk and got a favorable exchange rate and a decent interest rate. Have fun!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 12:00 PM on April 29, 2010

Can't help you with phones. I've never dealt with pre-paids.

I've never had a problem with any of my non-chipped credit cards being accepted in any country and I've been doing extensive traveling abroad over the last few years. That is, of course, assuming the company does put a hold on your card because they think it's been stolen.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2010

Dunno about phones either, sorry.

I spent several months in the UK last year, and my non-chipped cards worked without many problems. Some retailers may give you puzzled looks, just tell them it's a swipe card. I also noticed that at some ATMs, and also at the London Underground's Oyster Card kiosks, you could only withdraw/add a certain amount of money on each visit if you used a non-chipped card. There wasn't a message telling you this, I had to figure it out through a lot of trial-and-error. I wish I could remember exactly what the limits are, but unfortunately I can't recall, hopefully someone else can help out with that.

To avoid charges, I did most of my spending with cash that I'd gotten from ATMs. There are plenty around.

And yes, do call your credit card company to tell them you'll be abroad. It should only take a couple of minutes, no hassle.
posted by goateebird at 12:10 PM on April 29, 2010

Are you flying into Heathrow? Last time I was there (a year ago) the arrivals terminals had cellphone vending machines. International calls on pre-pay might be expensive though, but SMS works.
posted by randomination at 12:18 PM on April 29, 2010

I would wait until you arrive, go into a Car Phone Warehouse and buy a phone and prepaid minutes. Here's some of the cheaper packages.

Some retailers and some ATMs will not accept your card. As long as you are prepared for that, you are ok.
posted by vacapinta at 12:25 PM on April 29, 2010

As to the last two suggestions, buying a prepaid when I arrive is an option, but, I don't have a cell that works in the US right now, so I'd have to get 2 prepaids to have trip-wide coverage. And, I'd like to be able to make a call right when I arrive so I can alert the person picking me up. Prepaid aside, people travel to the UK all the time, what do you need: GSM? (whatever that is), 900 & 1800 MHz?
posted by 445supermag at 12:40 PM on April 29, 2010

Oh ok. When I first came on a visit to the UK, before I moved here, I just brought my Motorola that was signed up with T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile is GSM so it worked in the UK just fine - heavy roaming charges of course. A GSM Phone is what you are looking for.

Later, I took that same phone, unlocked it, and got a pay-as-you-go contract here with O2.

I dont know if that helps...
posted by vacapinta at 12:45 PM on April 29, 2010

Have you thought about getting phone cards when you get there?
posted by Gor-ella at 1:00 PM on April 29, 2010

I'm British but live in the US. I have a mobile phone here (US) that also works in the UK, but when I visit home, I use a cheap PAYG virgin mobile, and top up my minutes online using my US bank card. Roaming charges from either phone to the opposite country are spendy so I have skype on my computer as a third option. I pretty much have it all covered, that way.

You can pick up a PAYG phone very cheaply at most locations (evens supermarkets like Tesco) around $20 or so. Virigin lets me buy a bundle of minutes online and that is very good value.
posted by poissonrouge at 1:20 PM on April 29, 2010

Your non-chip card should be fine, as long as you go somewhere that has a cashier. ATMs work as well, generally. I used ATMs to withdraw cash, though Wachovia charged me up the wazoo for the convenience.

However, if you end up at a train station without a manned ticket booth, your credit card WILL NOT work in the ticket machine. I learned this the hard way. I was there in Jan. 2010.
posted by inmediasres at 1:39 PM on April 29, 2010

Does anyone know about frequencies? I'm new to this, but it looks like the US uses 850 and 1900 and the UK uses 900 and 1800. Looks like only the expensive phones will work in both countries.
posted by 445supermag at 4:25 PM on April 29, 2010

I'm currently in the UK, and my non-chipped credit card is working fine. It doesn't work with some card readers that some stores have, and they have to run it manually, which takes longer, but it still works fine. It confused the poor new guy at the car rental place, and the manager had to show him how to do it.
My credit card did work in train ticket machines in London and Liverpool, fwiw.

I got some cash in pounds from my bank before I left, and have been using ATMs since I got here.

My t-mobile (blackberry) phone is working fine here on the t-mobile UK system, and roaming to other companies when out of t-mobile range. I'm trying not to use it much at all to avoid roaming charges, but it's worked fine when I've needed it to, and that was cheaper for me for a short holiday than getting a new phone.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:16 PM on May 1, 2010

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