How would a prepaid sim work with my iPhone?
October 21, 2012 8:36 AM   Subscribe

What should I know about using a prepaid sim in my iPhone when overseas?

Popping over to England from the Netherlands for a few days this week. Last time I went to England I was intrigued by a vending machine (!!) with prepaid sim cards, but just used my T-Mobile iPhone for voice and data and sucked up the roaming fees.

This time I'm wondering if I should grab a cheapie prepaid sim so I can cut down on costs. What are the logistics/drawbacks? I'm aware that iPhones are 'locked', but don't know what 'locked' means, and I'm not committed enough to jailbreak my phone. Being able to use data is obviously a bonus, but I'd mostly just like to use voice and text.
posted by nerdfish to Technology (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Depending on when you got your phone, it's either already unlocked or Tmobile will do it for free. Then, it's just a matter of swapping your sim for one of the prepaid ones you get in England.

Geez. Europe is so civilized compared to the US.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:49 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

'Locked' refers to SIM-locking: a SIM-locked phone can only be used with a SIM from the carrier you have the contract with. As Betelgeuse says, as a person with a T-Mobile NL iPhone, you're in luck: your phone may never have been locked in the first place, and if it is, you can unlock it for free. You can find out by borrowing a different-carrier SIM from a friend, or getting a cheap PAYG one, and trying it in your phone: if it's locked, the SIM won't work (and the phone will probably complain about an invalid SIM).

Beyond that, you'll need to know what model of iPhone you've got in order to get the right kind of SIM: a 3G or 3GS will take a regular SIM card, a 4 or 4S will take a micro-SIM and a 5 will take a nano-SIM.

You'll be able to get a prepaid SIM in any phone shop, as well as from vending machines and various other places. Whether any of them will work out cheaper for you than T-Mobile's roaming costs is another question; it depends on how much you expect to use the phone while you're over, and whether you'll be calling Dutch or English numbers. PAYG deals are usually geared towards paying a fixed amount to receive a bundle of minutes, texts and data, typically valid for a month: for instance, top up by £10 and get 250 minutes, 250 texts and 100 MB of data. However, calls and texts to foreign numbers aren't likely to be included in the allowances; you'd need additional credit on the phone to cover those.

It can be tricky to find out what your options are - especially from overseas - but I've just found the useful-looking mobilephonechecker website, which has a comparison tool for different PAYG deals. I haven't looked, but I hope details of per-minute call costs to foreign numbers etc. can be found if you drill down. Be warned that although Giffgaff comes out very well in the comparison, Giffgaff SIMs can only be obtained by post and probably need a UK-registered credit or debit card for activation. O2, 3, Vodafone and the rest of them have a high street presence and will be easier for you to deal with.

The only drawbacks I see: people with your Dutch number won't be able to reach you; as mentioned above, calls or texts to Dutch numbers will fall outside any free minutes/texts allowances (so you'll need credit on your phone as well as whatever you've paid for your bundle) and may be very expensive.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:45 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

TMobile is a snap in the UK. I'm on a £15 pre-paid tariff that gets me 500MB of data, 100 minutes and some hundreds of text per month. (iPhone 4S, for the record.)
posted by skybluepink at 1:09 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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