How best to use an iPhone in Europe
April 30, 2014 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I am taking my iPhone to Europe and want to use it wifi-only. I use StraightTalk as a provider. Is there anything in particular I should know before I go?

I don't mind not being able to make calls - I have a Google Voice account and can find wifi if necessary. I am not the most tech-savvy individual ever and want to make sure I'm not accidentally setting myself up for huge roaming charges or a completely useless phone.


- This will work, right? If I am at a hostel with wifi, I can get online and download apps and look up directions and send emails and make calls with Google Voice?

- Does StraightTalk charge any kind of fees for international usage that doesn't come from turning data on??

- What kind of damage are we talking here if I have to turn on data to make an emergency phone call?

- Is it possible to have my calls forwarded to my Google number for this month?

- Is there any other tips or helpful advice that you would recommend?

posted by amicamentis to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Putting the phone in airplane mode will ensure you don't use any sort of voice or data roaming, but you'll still be able to do wifi. You can even do voice calls using FaceTime to anyone else with an iPhone. It's pretty great. I have never yet felt the need to pay for international phone usage.
posted by something something at 5:57 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

something something has it - although I think (I don't have an iPhone to hand to check) that after you've enabled Airplane Mode you then need to turn Wifi back on (since activating Airplane Mode turns off all the wireless communication functions including Wifi).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:04 AM on April 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

You may or may not be able to forward your calls to Google Voice with StraightTalk. If you have TMobile through Straight Talk, you can't forward calls at all. I don't know about other StraightTalk partners. Also it seems like StraightTalk doesn't let you roam outside of the US at all, so on the plus side you won't run up any charges but on the down side if you think you might need to make an emergency call it's probably worth your while to spend $10-20 (or euro) on a local sim (ask at the hostel, in most countries you can buy one at any newsstand or drugstore). You *might* be able to call the local 911 equivalent even with your StraightTalk sim - same as you can call 911 even if you haven't paid your phone bill - but you probably shouldn't count on it.

Turn it to airplane mode though anyway, because otherwise the phone will waste a lot of batteries looking for StraightTalk.
posted by mskyle at 7:04 AM on April 30, 2014

- Is there any other tips or helpful advice that you would recommend?

Depending on the country, it probably won't take very long to buy a cheap pre-paid phone to make calls and texts with if you need to. Like $40 will get you an old-fashioned feature phone and like an hours worth of international calls pre-paid. In spain, you can even recharge it at ATMs (maybe in other countries).

It took me about 30 minutes of shopping around in Madrid to find one.

You can also google around for it now and order it so you have it before your flight, even.
posted by empath at 7:12 AM on April 30, 2014

Also, it might be handy to download the CityMaps app and then download the maps you might need over there. The maps reside in the phone so you can use them where you don't have wireless access, too.
posted by Don_K at 8:26 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Free wifi doesn't seem to be *nearly* as common in Europe as it is in the US. Most hotspots I found required an account with some wifi service.

Otherwise, using an iphone in wifi only mode works fine. If you look up a route in maps, study it in detail while you have wifi. This will cache the map data on the phone so you can refer to the map en route.
posted by monotreme at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2014

I'm in Germany right now and free wifi is scarce here( at the moment the Irish pub next door has it). In the UK most of the takeaway places have it( and I've been able to find hotspots too) but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

Piggybacking:T-MOBILE(punkt)'s site tells me if I pay a fee for a certain length of time I can get Internet access. Does this mean similar to 4G in North America or wherever they have hotspots?
posted by brujita at 11:13 AM on April 30, 2014

I was also surprised that decent wifi in England was harder to come by than I'd expected it to be.

I used Google Voice for phone messages (getting them transcribed is great), and WhatsApp for free international texting. I also did most of my map-checking, email reading, and looking things up when I was at hotels or friends' houses so I knew I had good wifi.
posted by vickyverky at 12:15 PM on April 30, 2014

What @EndsOfInvention said is true: you need to manually turn on wi-fi back on if you put the iPhone in airplane mode.

Personally, I would not actually put it in airplane mode myself, because that also turns off roaming voice access and text messages. Text messages will cost more while roaming, but if it's only a few messages, it won't be too expensive. (My carrier charges $0.50 per msg.) For me it's important to have in case someone needs to contact me – YMMV of course.

If you don't want to use airplane mode but want to prevent data charges, you can turn off cellular data separately. In iOS 7, in the Settings app, find the "Cellular" item near the top (4th item down from Airplane Mode), then toggle "Cellular Data" to off, and check the "Roaming" values.

My carrier (Verizon) charges a ludicrous $20 per 1 MB for data roaming, and $1.29/min for voice roaming. The carrier sends a text when I arrive in another country, explaining the terms. I don't know if all carriers do that.
posted by StrawberryPie at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the Netherlands you can ask for "wifi" (vee-fi). In Germany, it's W-LAN (veh-lan).
posted by kamelhoecker at 5:43 PM on April 30, 2014

Yeah, I've seen a WLAN Frei sign at a café.
posted by brujita at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2014

accidentally setting myself up for huge roaming charges

To be safe, I would remove the SIM card from your iPhone before your plane takes off. That way, your company would not even know the phone was overseas. I've heard of people who got charged for an international call because someone left them a voicemail while their phone was not in the US. That is not common, but it is possible in theory. Also, it will prevent you from getting charged if you accidentally turn Airplane mode off.
posted by soelo at 8:51 AM on May 2, 2014

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