iPhones in London (his hair was perfect!)
May 30, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Family of four traveling to London for two weeks. Four locked AT&T iphones, four sets of circumstances. I've checked all the options, called AT&T, and have thoroughly confused myself. Any help would be appreciated.

I have some idea of what I need to do, but it's still a little murky. Our flat has wi-fi.

Husband has iPhone 4s, needs heavy business usage for two weeks. AT&T Intl Roaming voice and messaging will need to be added and I'm pretty sure the two top plans of 200 minutes and 200 messages will be enough. This is a necessity, I'm pretty sure. We can use Skype whenever possible, but he has heavy usage and needs to be available all the time.

Next is me, Mom, iPhone 3 and year-old iPad (iPad does not have data plan). All family emergency callers can be told ahead of time to call husband's phone if necessary. I plan to keep my phone in airplane mode and only use wifi. While I am usually the navigator, I have a copy of London A-Z, but would like to use the apps I've downloaded occasionally for help. I know I can use wifi for that, right? I have Facetime and Skype on the iPad, Skype only on the phone. What happens as far as data and phone usage with incoming texts and voicemails coming TO my phone? I would like to check those occasionally. Imessage is enabled on my iPad. If I get a text from another iPhone, it would be free on my iPad using wifi, correct?

Two adult offspring with iPhone4s use their phones ALL THE TIME, as usual. Same question for them, basically. If they keep their phones on airplane mode, but turn them on occasionally to check voicemail and texts, will they be charged? Can they text when we are on a wifi system without charges? Using iMessage? Can they Facetime on wifi with no charge?

I'm thinking of changing our voicemail messages, informing all callers to not leave a message, but to contact us via email, and call husband's phone in case of emergency. I'm having trouble figuring out the incoming side of the equation. Please help me using small words and short sentences. I'm looking for the practical applications and step-by-step instructions. I have visions of popping in to a pub once a day and using wifi to check in. Is this the correct scenario?

Thank you so much.
posted by raisingsand to Travel & Transportation around London, England (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You have the right basic idea, I think. You want to make sure that cellular data services are off for all phones. For the three of you who don't need cell service, it's easiest to leave it in Airplane mode, but turn on WiFi. You should be able to iMessage, etc. with that setup. For your husband, it's a little more complicated, but the basic thing is to make sure that Data Roaming is turned OFF (Under Settings->General->Cellular) - that should prevent the punitive fees that AT&T charges for international roaming. Actually, if you are ever going to connect to the mobile network in England, you should make sure that ALL of your phones have data roaming disabled.

If you want to check messages (Text messages and voicemails) on the other three phones, you can do that, but you'll pay for it. Actually, receiving text messages is apparently just like in the US and you'll pay per minute for voicemail. If I were you, I'd check voicemail over Skype (i.e. call your phone number using Skype and hit * when it goes to voicemail).

As long as you're on WiFi, you won't be charged (for iMessage, Facetime, whatever), but the big thing is to make sure that cellular data is ALWAYS off; it's ridiculously expensive.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:04 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You will definitely want to turn off Data Roaming. That will prevent you from seeing insane data charges. I think that, unless you have specifically authorized it, you will not receive texts or calls while in the UK. You can activate them for a not insane rate (like $1.00/min for calls, $0.10/text or something), and if you ignore a call you are not charged for it, but you are charged for all texts received, whether you like it or not, so that is something to consider for heavy texters.

As far as Visual Voicemail and iMessage. I'm not sure. I think neither will work without data, but I am not sure if they will work with WiFi data. Keep in mind that if iMessage fails, it will attempt to switch to regular texting, so if you have international texts enabled, you will end up paying for it.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:06 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing data roaming off.

I have visions of popping in to a pub once a day and using wifi to check in.

Free and open wifi isn't always easy to find in London; a lot of the larger networks are semi-gated through providers like BT and The Cloud, so you'll need to create logins there, even if there's no charge for actual use. James Cridland's 2012 run-down of wifi-friendly chains and other locations is worth a look.
posted by holgate at 3:36 PM on May 30, 2013

iMessage works over the internet unlike SMS texts, so you can use it for free whenever you have wifi.

The easiest way to use the phones would not be to turn on airplane mode, which will disable the wifi and GPS. You just need to turn off the cellular data connection. That way you can keep the phone part on, and won't have to worry about roaming charges. That way you can still look at any maps that you have cached ahead of time, which I find very useful. Also, you'd be able to send/receive calls or txts in an emergency, which might be useful if you all get split up.
posted by skewed at 4:00 PM on May 30, 2013

If you need access while out and about, some pay-as-you-go MiFi might be useful.

This deal for example would give you 1GB for £50 or 3GB for £60, and you could maybe figure a way to sell the device after you don't need it any more.
posted by philipy at 5:28 PM on May 30, 2013

You will pay for each text sent and received so I suggest keeping your phone service off all the time and only using wifi. Check your voice mail by Skype. If you turn on your phone once every couple days to "check messages" you will get all the text messages sent and be charged for each one so no different than leaving it on all the time. I have totally been burned by this in the past.
posted by saradarlin at 5:31 PM on May 30, 2013

Check out the services on ebay that "miraculously" get your phone unlocked. Now that AT&T is officially unlocking phones, there's some sort of after hours backdoor where you can pay through these(semi shady, but they work) providers to get your phone actually unlocked.

It's like $10, last time i checked. this BIN sale is the type of thing i'm talking about(no affiliation, etc etc). There's hordes of people on there somehow doing this, check around.

If i ever travel i would buy this a few weeks in advance and test it beforehand to make sure it was working with a cheap prepaid sim or something.
posted by emptythought at 5:55 PM on May 30, 2013

Seconding emptythought. Don't ever do roaming data, and many cities lately don't really have unsecured wifi spots. Get your phones unlocked and get prepaid sims. It worked beautifully for me.
posted by suedehead at 7:30 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you all. Made a checklist for when we leave the US.
posted by raisingsand at 9:21 AM on June 1, 2013

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