I need to be plugged in while in Europe.
May 20, 2012 10:30 AM   Subscribe

US resident here who has traveled extensively to Europe...pre 1990. Haven't been back since and will likely need to travel to Europe at least 2 times for > 1 week each trip in the coming year. Might be as many as four trips. Back in the day, one's only contact with home was via landline/long distance calling cards etc.. Now there are cellphones, computers, wifi, skype, and the need for on the go data. To be clear, I need to be as nearly plugged into the "grid" as I am while at home. What are modern day US-to-Europe travelling hacks, particularly in regards to staying plugged in?

Some of the things I'd like to have a better idea of are:

What is the best way to duplicate my home experience of having a 24/7 cellphone in my pocket +/- generous data? Buying an unlocked phone in US? buying something in Europe?

Ability to tether to a laptop or tablet when wifi not available?

Will be in major cities almost all the time (London, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Frankfurt, and maybe Zurich; I may not be in all of these cities, but they are likely candidate destinations), how specific must my communications plans be based upon my destination? Is Europe more standardized (GSM) than the hodge podge of US carriers (I have CDMA with Verizon here?

Cost is not a huge object. I don't need to accomplish this on the cheap. Just within reason.

Any other tips, communication-specific or not appreciated!
posted by teg4rvn to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Most phone companies here have a deal for overseas use. I used my phone when I needed to, including internet. It wasn't that expensive.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2012

here's my setup, which I use to stay connected&avoid roaming charges:

I bought an unlocked phone in the US (nothing fancy--just a $30 dumbphone to make calls and get text messages), and each time I go to a new country I buy a local SIM card and minutes. Which is great because they charge per-call and not by any kind of monthly contract, and it's always helpful to have a local number in your pocket. I do have to change SIM cards depending on which country I'm headed too--although some of the bigger companies will be multi-country, but it's just a one-time upfront cost, and if you return regularly to these countries, it makes life much easier.

I use Skype call forwarding to send my calls from the US directly to my local number (which saves money) and I generally wait to return phonecalls till I'm around WIFI, and then I used Google Voice to return calls on my computer which is also free.

I haven't needed it yet because most of places that I've stayed have had WIFI, but I'm considering investing in a surf-stick for mobile internet.
posted by geryon at 10:56 AM on May 20, 2012

The cleanest option is to ensure you have a GSM phone (Verizon offers one) and then use an International data plan, as Ironmouth says. That way you only have one phone number where people reach you - much better than SIM card swapping. The phone will work across the US and Europe. This is not true for CDMA.

What I do actually is have a Tru SIM. It is one SIM card but you can attach different International numbers to it. That way if you are in the UK, for example, you can give a UK number to a client there instead of having them call some US number to reach you.
posted by vacapinta at 11:00 AM on May 20, 2012

Pretty much what geryon said, but if you get something like a GSM Galaxy Nexus, you can tether with Wifi or USB for Internet access on your laptop rather than buying a separate data stick. You still only have one number to hand out because you set your US SIM to forward to your Skype/VoIP/whatever number that then forwards to your international number. From other people's perspective, nothing changes due to your location. (extra US minutes are far cheaper than international roaming if I end up talking too much)

As an aside, I find it mildly annoying when people pay at&t and T-Mobile's exorbitant roaming/long distance fees. They only get away with charging that much because people use it. They charge a buck a minute in many countries, but their cost is less than 10 cents a minute. In the early days of GSM in the US, Omnipoint had reasonable roaming and long distance rates.

One of the more annoying and non-intuitive things about using carrier roaming is that you pay for calls you don't answer. First, you pay a minute for the carrier to forward the call to you overseas. Then, when you see that it's a call from someone you don't care to talk to, you pay at least another minute for the voicemail forwarding back to the US.
posted by wierdo at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2012

I was in Amsterdam, Berlin, and a smallish (but touristy) town in Southern Germany last fall, and I was surprised to find that wifi is not ubiquitous like it is in the US. Some hotels and cafes have it, but many don't, so be prepared for that.
posted by ezrainch at 11:39 AM on May 20, 2012

My Verizon/vodaphone sim card did NOT work in the UK, despite the verizon shop worker's assurances that it would when I bought my droid. Vodaphone was also unable to help me in London.
posted by brujita at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2012

Wifi is ubiquitous in Europe, but from my experience most access points seem to come directly from the ISP and ship with passwords enabled. So unless you sign up with Fon or luck into a local cafe with free service, your chances of nabbing some loose bandwidth apart will be slim.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:25 PM on May 20, 2012

I would use Maxroam for simplicity.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:20 PM on May 20, 2012

If this is due to your job won't your employer provide some solutions to help you out here? What I mean is that my employer provides me with an iPass account that helps with connectivity a lot when I am using my laptop and they also give me a smartphone which they pay for. And there is an iPass app so between these tools and accounts my connectivity needs are by and large covered.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2012

What I mean is that you should confirm what options you have already through both your current employer provided or personal services so you can work out what you really do need in addition.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2012

Germany, in particular, is famous for being wifi-unfriendly. Nobody gives it away for free.
posted by zaelic at 12:00 AM on May 21, 2012

Response by poster: OP here -- in doing further research, I found this company.

For $14.95 a day one gets unlimited data in up to two countries. My hotel research re: internet charges reveals that major European hotels charge between 15 and 21 Euros a day; at $15 unlimited/mobile this looks like a real good option for someone wanted to stay plugged in.

If money were no object, I'd get a Galaxy Nexus from the google play store for $400 and keep this mobile internet with me at all times. Heck, I could even tote around my CDMA Verizon phone and make/receive VOIP calls over WiFi (notwithstanding that I have no idea how reliable or fast the connection might be)
posted by teg4rvn at 12:29 PM on May 24, 2012

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