iPhones in Europe/Israel. Talk to me like I'm sloooooow. Please.
February 8, 2014 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm so overwhelmed by the information I get when I go online… can someone give me the for-dummies explanation here -- tell me what to do and exactly how? I need to be told how to use either an iPhone 5S or a 4s, in Italy and Israel, to be able to make/get local calls and texts, and access interactive maps, without incurring surprise fees.

I am in the USA. I would like to be able to use either an iPhone 5s (currently on AT&T in the USA) or an old iPhone 4s, in Europe and Israel, for about a week apiece.

1. I would like to be able to make and receive LOCAL calls, in Italy and Israel, without worrying about price, or finding a wifi spot. I would also like to be able to send and receive local texts. But the volume won't be high on either of these -- probably not more than ~5 calls a day of a few minutes apiece, stuff like making reservations, etc.

2. I also need to be able to call my partner's iPhone (traveling with me in Italy/Israel) and receive calls from it, for times when we are separated while traveling.

3. I would like to be able to use interactive map functions, without freaking out about price and having to find a wifi spot.

I don't mind waiting until I am in a wifi spot to do stupid stuff like check email or Facebook.

I can download whatever app you suggest that will achieve this. I have Skype, Google Voice, and Talkatone already, but am not clear on how they are to be used to achieve my goals. I have a Google Voice number. I can get my partner one, if it would help.

What do I need to do to achieve these goals for reasonable costs, without incurring any surprises?

BONUS: the other day I was reading about some sort of magical app that basically eliminates roaming charges in Europe… but of course I can't find it now. Do you know what I am talking about?

posted by fingersandtoes to Travel & Transportation (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hopefully this augments the info in the previous answers...I was in Israel and Italy last year, so this is still fresh in my mind.

1a. Is your phone unlocked? Unless you paid full price for the 5s (likely more than $500), it is probably locked. Generally AT&T will make you wait 2 years or until you are out of contract before they will let you unlock the phone. The 4s has a better chance of being unlockable, due to its age. You can always find a service that will unlock your phone, but some of those are scams.

1b. Get a local SIM. I've been traveling in Israel a lot recently and i rented a SIM from Talk and Save. I don't know if they are the cheapest or best, but for $6/day plus tax, I got unlimited local calls in Israel, unlimited calls to US numbers, and unlimited local texts and data (but not unlimited international texts or texts with photos). They also give you a US number, so if someone with a US phone wants to call you, its a domestic call for them. They have English speaking tech support who are mostly helpful. Again, may not be the cheapest, but it was pretty simple and low stress. There may be an activation fee, but you'll know that upfront.

In Italy, I got a SIM from the TIM store in the first big city I landed in. The store staff spoke perfect English and helped me set up the phone. For about $30 I got unlimited local calls and more data then I could use for two weeks. I had to cancel the account before I left, which I neglected to do. But there is an English speaking person running the TIM Twitter and she was able to help me cancel the plan over email.

2. Will your partner have a local SIM as well? If so, then making local calls to each other should be easy and cheap. If not, then the Talk and Save solution will work for you, but not as well for your partner (who would presumably be roaming on a US carrier). The TIM solution will be less successful, as their plans don't usually include free calls to US numbers. However, if you have unlimted data, then you could use Skype or Vibre or Facetime to call your partner's phone. There could still be some charges, but that depends on how your partner's phone is setup and whether you are using Skype to call a cell phone or calling a Skype account or a Skype phone number. There are a lot of variables in those scenarios. But if you have unlimited data, any additional costs on your side should be low.

3. Google maps will save your map to your phone while you are connected by wifi, for use later when not on wifi or data.
posted by jindc at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: PS make sure you know exactly which SIM you need: there are several sizes. I think the 5s uses a nano-sim and the 4s uses a micro-sim, but you will want to confirm.
posted by jindc at 2:49 PM on February 8, 2014

Best answer: In order to use interactive map functions, get CityMaps2Go

The problem with using Google Maps or Apple Maps while traveling is that you need a data connection of some kind to continuously update the map as you move. With CityMaps2Go, you download the map at home or the hotel, where you have a data connection, and it remains resident on your phone as a file. You can store as many of these city maps as you desire. When you go out and start to explore, the app uses GPS to display your position as a moving blue dot on the map, so that you always know where you are.

Using CityMaps2Go I frequently have natives approach me and ask for directions. It always amuses them that the American, who (usually) can't speak their language, can help them find their way around, and it's a great way to make new friends. It's also very helpful to be able to hop in a cab and point to where you want to go, with the driver being fully aware that you will know immediately if he doesn't take the most direct route.
posted by dinger at 5:21 AM on February 9, 2014

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