Use of European cell phone in the US - how?
September 26, 2005 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Temporary use of European cell phone in the US – how?

My parents will be coming to the US from Spain for three weeks. My old man has a tri-band GSM cell phone that it would be nice if he could use while here as well. Is there any way to get his phone hooked up to an American network for those three weeks without having to commit to a long term plan or getting a (pay-as-you-go) new phone?

If at all possible, it would be best to be able to do it through Verizon. And if it matters, the phone is a Sony Ericsson P910i, and its unlocked.
posted by AwkwardPause to Technology (10 answers total)
Best answer: a P910i is tri-band GSM phone supporting the 900/1800/1900 frequencies, which means you're stuck with T-Mobile (which is a bad thing if they haven't got good coverage in your area). T-Mo will allow you to sign on on a month-to-month basis. (call ahead to make sure though, but that's what I've been told.) you'll get a SIM card - just pop open the phone (under the battery on most) and pop the little card in and you're ready. the store should activate it for you too. a Cingular SIM card won't work as they use GSM 850. (T-Mobile actually uses GSM 1900.) you will get a US-based number in whatever area code you're in.

btw, make sure that's a P910i - that i means it does GSM 900 instead of GSM 850. if it's just a P910 then you should be able to get service though Cingular too. T-Mo will work regardless.

no hope to get on Verizon, though. Verizon is not GSM, they're CDMA-based. (fwiw, phone model/locked status is very helpful.)
posted by mrg at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2005

For that length of time it would probably be far less hassle to get roaming setup with the Spanish provider.

Verizon isn't GSM, so that isn't going to happen. You should be able to buy a Cingular or T-Mobile SIM card fairly easily though.
posted by cillit bang at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2005

Your cellphone is a GSM phone with tri-band capability, 900/1800/1900 MHz. The USA uses 850 and 1900 MHz. Accordingly, your phone will automatically roam on any 1900 MHz GSM networks it finds in the U.S.

Verizon uses CDMA, not GSM, so your phone and Verizon's network aren't compatible. You will likely find yourself roaming on Cingular/AT&T or T-Mobile networks (depending on where in the U.S. you're going, of course).

Roaming charges depend on your Spanish cell plan; if Spain is anything like the U.S., they're probably expensive, on the order of $1.75/minute or so for long-distance + roaming.

The U.S. is not nearly so strong on pay-as-you-go SIM chips as Europe is. But you may be able to find one. Personally, I would try to just minimize use of the phone and keep it for emergencies and short calls. But if you know you're going to use the phone a lot, you can try to buy a SIM chip from T-Mobile or Cingular to use while you're here.
posted by jellicle at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2005

I'm not sure the 850mhz thing is hard fact; while AT&T started going in that direction they did have 900mhz support in places. What's happened to that in the last 2 years (when I had a 900mhz AT&T phone) I could not tell you.
posted by phearlez at 3:29 PM on September 26, 2005

Suggest you check with your parent's spanish provider website and see which/if they have agreements with U.S. cell providers..or maybe phone their spanish assistance number...but I guess you already did and askmeta is last resort ?
posted by elpapacito at 3:41 PM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, gang! T-Mo claims decent coverage where we'll be most of the time (95003 ZIP), so I'll look into that.

And in light of my experience with Verizon I can't say that I'm too surprised it wont work through their network (and I do realize that's its not really their fault, I'm just not their biggest fan).

On preview: Of course, little daddy.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:42 PM on September 26, 2005

I have used my UK GSM (and later GPRS) mobile to roam to the the continent (Spain, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands) and the US (Miami, Texas, Boston, NY, NJ, LA) many a time. The Spanish system is fairly similar to the UK one I think.

I'd say the most convenient idea is to just stay with the Spanish provider (as prev. mentioned) and let the phone figure out where it is (international roaming) when you land in the US - in many phones, there is a setting you can change that causes the phone to either search for a 'preferred' network (usually the one you have the contract with) or automatically attach / connect to any network that will let it (usually international providers have 'recipricol' agreements that allow phone to 'roam' between them). This setting is most useful in your parents' situation where they will be away from their 'home' / "provider's" network in another country so you can set the phone to just connect to any provider that will let it (and as it's tri-band, it will find SOME network(s) that will let it in in most US states I think).

You may have to give the phone a helping hand to find the network by changing the setting to 'automatically detect and connect to' a network if the setting has been set so the phone is forced to 'train' to its home privider's one and not look for another network if it doesn't find the one it wants though. This is usually under the 'settings'->'network' or 'phone'->'settings'->'network' or 'tools'->'settings'->'connectivity' or ... (you get the picture, there are 'millions' of phone models). (When I say 'network' by the way, I mean - for example - any one of AT&T wireless, Vodaphone, T-mobile etc)

Re: the choice of WHICH network they hook up to when they arrive in the US, looks like it's already been covered & as I don't live there, I don't really know but usually, my phone(s) seem to find AT&T wireless and T-mobile and alternate between the two as I go in and out of each coverage area. If you wanted, you COULD by trial and error, find out which networks the phone can connect to then force it to stay on one with the setting described above.

Note that depending on the local (in this case spanish) provider, if roaming is not already set up / enabled on your phone account, you will probably have to call them and have it set up / enabled and this will often lead to additional fixed monthly charges on the account, charges when the phone actually hooks up to the network abroad (in this case the US one) and possibly VERY steep call costs when the phone is used abroad. If the budget is a large factor then roaming may NOT BE THE OPTION FOR YOUR PARENTS. There are aging scars on the bottom of my jaw that have their origins in the witnessing of a few of my earlier bills after roaming internationally.

The way the costs usually work when the phone is on the overseas (US) network are:
1. If someone calls the phone from, the caller pays the cost of the call to the spanish number - from wherever they are calling - and the account-holder (your parents) pay the cost of the call 'hopping' to the US network and coming out of your parents' phone. In other words, it costs the caller whatever it would normally cost them but your parents pay extra to receive the call.
2. If your parents make local or international calls, they will often be charged at peak local or international (i.e. whatever the US provider they've hooked up to charges normally but on the maximum tarif) standard rates.
posted by azure at 3:58 PM on September 26, 2005

I used this service to order a pre-paid SIM card for myself before arriving in the US last year and it was happily waiting for me when I arrived in Minnesota. T-Mobile though - check the coverage maps carefully. It was easy to recharge at Walgreens etc.
posted by keijo at 10:54 PM on September 26, 2005

Both making and receiving roaming calls is invariably really, really expensive. If they are planning on using the phone for more than emergency calls, then it is not the right choice.
posted by grouse at 2:10 AM on September 27, 2005

First, make sure that your phone is unlocked for all networks. To check if it is, put in a SIM card from a different network and it that works, you're in luck.

Getting a local card is very handy. T-Mobile and Cingular offer Pay-as-you-go, but T-Mobile charge a lot (around $50) for the card. Cingular tried to charge me $20, $10 and $0 for the card at different stores, so look around. I got 2 for free, I just had to buy $10 worth of call credit at the time of purchase.
posted by quiet at 7:40 AM on September 28, 2005

« Older Why is Spotlight a bit dim?   |   What should I do about my PHB? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.