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March 12, 2012 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Can we use our US iphones in the UK and Ireland?

A Verizon 4S and an AT&T 4 are going to be with us on our short trip in the UK and Ireland. Can we use them with wifi? Do we have to set something up special beforehand? We are hoping for light internet usage (email mostly) and the ability to text our host. Probably no phone calls. How should we handle this?
posted by troika to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
AT&T will work as a phone, Verizon will not. Both wifi will work. Definitely call AT&T and set up an international calling plan before you go, and then when you get home switch back. They will charge you a prorated amount for the days that you're "signed up" for the international plan.

Upon preview, if it's ONLY texts, you may be ok without the plan, but they might be kinda pricey texts.
posted by Grither at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2012

I would check on the texts though -- while calltime with my AT&T phone was superexpensive in France vs. US, texts were 25 cents versus my usual 20cents. To/from either French numbers or back and forth to the US.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2012

If you'll have WiFi access, you can use your phones with WiFi for internet access and iMessages without getting an international calling plan.

I think that you'll want to turn off cellular data on the AT&T iPhone while you're abroad to avoid paying international data charges. Go to Settings>General>Network>Cellular Data and make sure that it's turned off.

If you do want to make phone calls or send messages, try getting a Skype account and installing the Skype app on your phone. You can make phone calls and send messages over WiFi with a Skype account.
posted by golden at 12:03 PM on March 12, 2012

A cheap option is to unlock your AT&T phone before you leave home, then buy a new SIM while you are there. We did this for a trip to Scotland last summer. A £10 prepaid SIM lasted us for two weeks worth of phone reservations and a bit of light GPS data-use in the car.
posted by bonehead at 12:16 PM on March 12, 2012

This site suggests that while a Verizon iPhone 4 can't use GSM roaming, a Verizon 4S as the OP has probably can. OP: you'll need to check this out with Verizon but the article seems to imply that Vodafone SIM cards might work in your handset. If this is the case, your cheapest option for the 4S would be to get a prepaid Vodafone SIM when you arrive in the UK. Good luck!
posted by fearnothing at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2012

AT&T will work as a phone, Verizon will not.

A Verizon 4S has GSM capabilities, and can be unlocked to use a local pay-as-you-go SIM, as #1 describes here. AT&T doesn't unlock for international use, so turn off mobile data.
posted by holgate at 12:38 PM on March 12, 2012

I just returned from a trip to the UK (and France and Belgium). I have a Verizon iPhone 4S and decided to minimize voice calls, mostly text and completely avoid using data -- WiFi only. The easiest but almost certainly costliest option, which I ended up doing, is to use International Roaming.

All you have to do is call Verizon up, tell them what countries you are going to and for how long, and they will set up international roaming for your phone. Rates quoted to me, which I confirmed online, are $0.99/minute for voice, $0.50 to send a text and $0.05 to receive a text message -- it varies by country, but UK/France/Belgium were identical and I'd expect Ireland to be the same. Note that text messages from the US will continue to come in (and you will be charged for them since you can't decline texts, unlike voice calls) so if you choose this option you might want to ask friends and family to refrain from texting your US number while you are abroad.

I did not look extensively into data -- you can sign up for some sort of global data plan, but I remember it being pretty expensive -- and if you don't sign up for the plan data is very expensive, on the lines of $20.48/MB. Where there was free wifi it is identical to connecting to wifi in the States, although I noticed that the UK seems to like free wifi "networks" where you have to sign up for free accounts (like The Cloud, which is annoying but harmless.

(Note that I have not yet received my monthly bill, but I don't expect there to be any issues.)

Once I arrived in the UK and turned on my phone, I made sure to switch off "Cellular Data" (Settings > General) which remained off my entire trip. "Voice Roaming" must be on (I normally have it off in the States), and I would have seen a choice for "Data Roaming" if I had chosen to use data. It took a couple of minutes to connect to the network, which in my case was almost always vodafone UK, but once it did I didn't have any problems with it. I also received a couple of free text messages confirming the rates for text, voice and data.

Buying a SIM card is definitely cheaper, I think, but the reason I personally didn't do it is because this was a short trip of just over a week and I was going to be in three countries, which would have necessitated my purchasing 3 different cards, and given the short extent of my stay in France and Belgium in particular it wouldn't have been worth it. I was willing to pay for the convenience of not changing my number and not having to get a new SIM card in each country, and I wasn't making a whole lot of phone calls or text messages anyway. YMMV depending on your perception of value and how long your trip is.
posted by andrewesque at 2:49 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I travel home to Ireland I always ensure (my AT&T iPhone) has data roaming turned off which is usually sufficient and allows use of the wifi. I still have an Irish cellphone so I don't need to use the phone function so sometimes I'll switch the phone to airplane mode and turn wifi back on if I don't want to receive texts. Data is charged at about $20/MB and has resulted in very high bills anytime I or my fellow Irish ex-pats have made the mistake of turning it on at any stage so don't do this unless absolutely necessary or if you have setup the international plan advised by others. Since you said it's only for checking email and some texting you probably don't need to set up an international plan and you're good to go as-is. Texts are 25c to Irish cellphones. I'm not sure if you also get charged a roaming fee on top of that.

The good news is that free wifi was available in quite a lot of coffee shops (any of the 'Insomnia' chain should have it, as do most non-chain coffee shops in the city centre) and bars in Dublin the last time I was home back in September.
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:40 PM on March 12, 2012

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