Cellphone options for senior travelers in London
May 23, 2012 3:08 PM   Subscribe

The recently-retired senior generation of my family is traveling from US to London in October. They are arriving separately and splitting up for a couple of different side trips, and want to be able to stay in touch by cell phone. What are the easiest, cheapest options for cell phones that they can purchase ahead of time?

Currently, everyone is on Verizon (ruling out SIM cards), and they don't have tri- or quad-band phones anyway. They would like to have the phones with them when they arrive- they really don't want to spend the first days of their trip trying to sort out phone options, and need to be in touch almost immediately since members of the group are flying into Gatwick and Heathrow from several different US locations. They only need two basic phones that can call each other (and maybe text)... no smart phones with data needs. Anyone have suggestions for cheap (or used) phones that could be bought ahead of time, as well as SIM options?
posted by kimdog to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lebara are a weird little company with flyers all over London. Seems like they specialise in international calls (5p/min to US). The handy thing is that they appear to have unlimited free calls inside their own network, which sounds very handy for keeping in touch. It doesn't appear like they send SIMs to addresses outside the UK, but I'm sure you can get hold of one somehow. I'll be happy to send some across if need be.
posted by Magnakai at 3:50 PM on May 23, 2012

If it turns out you can't arrange for phones ahead of time, getting a cheapish phone is not that difficult: when my husband and I traveled to London in 2010, we dropped by the closest phone shop to our hotel, which turned out to be Orange, and explained to the clerk that we needed the cheapest phones possible with cards that could be topped up. It took about fifteen minutes, and ten minutes of that was standing around waiting for the other clerk to finish with the register so he could ring us up. The phones cost around £12 each, and we got £10 cards. Came in handy when our bank decided that our cards had been stolen and froze our accounts!

(I'd offer to sell you ours for a vastly reduced price except that we moved last summer and I can't find them!)
posted by telophase at 4:00 PM on May 23, 2012

You could buy a couple of cheap SIM-free phones on Amazon and have them delivered via Amazon Locker Delivery (check for that under Amazon's 'help' system) to somewhere convenient for you to pick up.

As ever, for information about rates, deals, etc., I recommend you peruse Ken's Tech Tips.
posted by davemack at 4:30 PM on May 23, 2012

All phones in the UK also text.

Pre-purchasing is a bad idea. When we had a similar thing for a UK wedding, I popped into the nearest Argos and bought a phone with a prepay SIM on a network that's not 3 for about fifteen pounds and handed it to my now-father-in-law. Do that. It doesn't take the 'first few days' of the trip, it takes 20 minutes for the first group to land in London.

Prepay phones in Argos ordered by price, ascending. Store locator centred one block east of the corner of Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road. Enter the postcode of whatever hotel they're staying at.

By way of example costs, calls from T-Mobile UK cost about £0.25/minute and texts are about £0.12 each. Almost every convenience store in the land sells vouchers in £10 increments.
posted by genghis at 7:35 PM on May 23, 2012

Yeah, there's no real advantage in seeking out phones in advance; I'd go with buying from Argos or Carphone Warehouse or one of the network shops. "Pay as you go" is the more common term for pre-paid, and the good thing about the PAYG system compared to the US is that you don't pay to receive calls, so there's no double-billing. It is a very quick process.

(As for phones, perhaps something like this Nokia 1800, which has good battery life? It's available on Orange's Camel plan, which gives you an hour of international calls for every £10 of credit.)

It doesn't look as if Gatwick has a mobile phone shop in arrivals or even before security on the departures side, which seems daft to me, but there are a few around Victoria, at the other end of the Gatwick Express. There are limited options on arrival in Heathrow, too -- again, it may be better for them to wait until they get into London proper.
posted by holgate at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2012

Hi everyone... just an update. I convinced my family members just to wait until they arrived in London to buy phones. As several of you suggested, they were able to easily and cheaply buy phones as soon as they arrived without any trouble. They are happy to have them for future trips.
posted by kimdog at 11:13 AM on November 20, 2012

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