Moving to the UK from the US: How do we avoid buying new phones?
January 24, 2014 7:00 AM   Subscribe

We are moving to London and we'd like to bring our American mobile phones to use with whatever British network provider we decide to sign up with. We will no longer have a contract with our US carrier once we move. What do we have to do in order to use UK (and other European) SIM cards in our phones and have them work as well as they did in the US? Complication: Verizon

My wife has an iPhone 4s. Although the phone runs on CDMA in the US (being 3G on Verizon), it has GSM capability. From what I've gathered, all she has to do is ask Verizon for an international unlock and then once we move to the UK she'll be able to sign up with any British 3G service of her choice and install their SIM card in her unlocked phone. Easy-peasy, yes? Is there a catch?

The real question is about my phone. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3, also on Verizon. It seems that a software update last year may have already turned this into a global phone allowing 3G GSM use. But I've received lots of conflicting info from Verizon and I can't get a clear picture of exactly which frequency bands this phone will support now and if it will allow data usage on overseas networks. Lots of people have reported that when they tried to use it outside the US with locally purchased SIM cards they were limited to voice calls and texting and were not able to use data. For others, calling/texting was only possible with certain providers. Many couldn't connect to any overseas networks whatsoever.

A big part of the problem seems to be with adding an APN after inserting the new SIM card, but I have seen hints that there are ways to do this. I am game to try anything to make this phone work in the UK, including rooting and modding. So is there a way to use the Verizon Galaxy S3 to its full voice and data capabilities (I'm not expecting LTE) on a UK network? As a bonus, does anyone have any recommendations for UK networks?

In case it's relevant, I'm currently running Android version 4.1.2 (build VRBMF1). I've been avoiding the Android 4.3 (build VRUCML1) update that Verizon keeps trying to push until I get this question resolved.
posted by theory to Technology (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I took my sister's old phone from the US to the UK last month. The phone is a Motorola Razr and was on a Verizon plan. She had to call them to get it unlocked (not sure if this was necessary or not) and it worked fine. Other phones I've brought here on different plans didn't require any unlocking.

I use Giffgaff in the UK because it's cheapest and they do everything online. The SIM card is delivered to your home, you put it in your phone, and it just works. This has been true for three previously US-based phones so far.
posted by stinker at 7:23 AM on January 24, 2014

I just traveled to the UK with a Verizon 4s, having switched from an S3 because of the APN issue. The 4s will definitely work (presuming you've verified with Verizon that it's unlocked), although you may have to connect it to iTunes when you first put it a new SIM.

The S3 will fully support UK networks; the issue, as you've found through your research, is that Verizon has disabled editing of the APN info. You can get around the APN issue on the S3 by rooting the phone, although that's sufficiently difficult with Verizon phones that I didn't bother.

I used Three while I was in the UK and was perfectly happy with it. My girlfriend used EE (T-Mobile) and was also quite happy. (These were both pay as you go plans.) One thing to note is that if you go with a PAYGO/prepaid plan, you won't be able to top up or activate the SIM using an American credit card. We went to Carphone Warehouse to get SIMs and activate them.
posted by asterix at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2014

There's advantages/disadvantages to most of the UK providers. Just wanted to chime in to say that if you'll be going back to the US quite a bit, Three now has no roaming charges in the US. That means your UK phone just works back in the US and you're on the same plan/price of voice/data/text.

I can verify this works as I took my Three phone on a US trip a couple weeks ago.
posted by vacapinta at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say Giff-Gaff is a great short-term solution while you're checking out plans. And, when you get to London and are shopping around, be sure to negotiate when in-store. I let a few of the chains know I was shopping around and got calls with better offers in the following days.
posted by abecedarium radiolarium at 9:46 AM on January 24, 2014

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