please help me europe-anize my tmobile prepaid phone
May 26, 2014 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I currently have my iPhone4 on tmobile's $30 for 100 min and unlimited data, prepaid plan. I need to spend a week in Barcelona soon. I was told by customer service that I will not be able to roam in Barcelona using this plan; any tips for how to make my cell phone experience in Barcelona as close as possible to what I have here?

I saw this question, but the OP started in Spain and solutions offered seemed to use that as a tool. The O2 offer looks reasonable to me, but I'm not sure how to implement it from here in the US or once I would arrive in Spain.

Here's the highlights of what I would like:
1. The ability to make calls to Spanish and American phone numbers.
2. No limits on data or simple method for topping up (for example, Tmobile told me that I could use a more expensive plan in order to have 10- 100 Mb data available in Spain, but once that bucket is empty, I could not roam any more -- I don't want to worry about running out)
3. Simple billing so that I show clearly my costs, since I can be reimbursed by my company -- it would be better if I just paid a lump sum for the week, but that's not an absolute requirement

All suggestions welcome even if they don't perfectly meet all these requirements

Regarding buying a Spanish SIM:
I'm willing to buy a Spanish SIM, but where and which plan? I have read the Orange site and it seems like the Ballein or DElfin plan PAYG plans would work, but how does the international calling add on fit in to that? how do I pay for the per minute charges and will it be a messy bill?
I'm also willing to use a different American PAYG if it would allow roaming - but I looked into AT&T so far, and they just don't even have a mechanism for any international roaming.

I should have WiFi sometimes and will try to depend on that, but one of my colleagues is there already and says that he would have been hindered in making necessary calls if he didn't have the ability to use his cell. (things are stilling getting setup at our Spanish site, so it's really best to be self-sufficient...)

tl;dr simplest route to getting something like the cell service I have here, so that I can concentrate on getting my work done while there...
posted by Tandem Affinity to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Could you switch for one month to the $50 simple choice plan? It has free unlimited data and texting while abroad (though apparently the data can sometimes be at dial-up speeds), and 20 cents/min international calling while roaming (free if done via wifi).
posted by vegartanipla at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2014

I just used the Simple Choice plan while in Germany and Hungary and it worked flawlessly. It's not high speed data but it was fine for maps and basic web and the occasional photo upload.
posted by kcm at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2014

Wow, vegartanipla and kcm; that seems to be exactly what I need. I am puzzled why Tmobile couldn't point me to their own plans to meet the needs I asked about, but I guess that's why the world needs Metafilter...

can you guys comment on switching back and forth between plans (i.e., how do I go back to the $30/month plan later?) Right now, I authorize $30 from my credit card and then magically I get the same plan every month; it's been a mystery to me how I would switch if I wanted to...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2014

Good question: I was on a similar prepaid plan since it was such a great deal, and had to get a new SIM and credit check to go to postpaid. It wasn't a problem credit-wise, but getting the new SIM was unexpected and required a visit to a physical store since I was on vacation (in the US) at the time.

As I recall, you won't get a pro-rated refund from prepaid plans, so call them to discontinue the auto-pay and it'll just stop working when it's up, and you can switch to postpaid then. Make sure you've done the legwork before that, though.
posted by kcm at 12:56 PM on May 26, 2014

can you guys comment on switching back and forth between plans (i.e., how do I go back to the $30/month plan later?) Right now, I authorize $30 from my credit card and then magically I get the same plan every month; it's been a mystery to me how I would switch if I wanted to...

You can switch between the standard monthly, daily and per-minute plans from the website and adjust your auto-pay settings appropriately. (Though with T-Mob, I've found that it sometimes needs a support call to get that squared up.)

However, the $30/mo plan is a special offer that's only available on new activations, so I believe the only way to downgrade is to get a new SIM, activate it with the $30 plan, and port your current number across to the new SIM.

It may be less of a hassle to get T-Mobile to remove the carrier lock on your phone and get a Spanish SIM.
posted by holgate at 1:10 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

As i remember tmobile never sold the iphone 4 or 4S new, the first one they got was the 5. So i can't see how you wouldn't already have an unlocked phone?

Because if so, just buy a sim when you get there. US international roaming plans always suckkkk compared to just getting a cheap prepaid sim when you arrive.
posted by emptythought at 1:33 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was in Barcelona in 2012, they wouldn't sell me a spanish sim card unless I had my passport with me. A state driver's license wasn't enough. We also looked but didn't see anywhere to buy a sim card inside the Barcelona airport, but that could have changed since 2012.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 1:57 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

To reiterate, my US international roaming plan on T-Mobile didn't suck. It worked perfectly for data, texting, and calls.
posted by kcm at 2:53 PM on May 26, 2014

To clarify on what i meant by sucking, it's that the bang/buck ratio is terrible. You can pay like $20 or even close to half that and get something that gives a decent number of minutes, a bunch/possibly unlimited texts, and a decent ice cream scoop of data. The rates on tmobiles postpaid plans are like "this tiny amount and then everything over that is a bajillion dollars a megabyte/text/minute".

Switching your plan and the resulting afterwards hassle isn't worth it in that context. Basically every european country my friends or people i've talked to about it have traveled to had some cheap PAYG/prepaid sim deal like the one i'm describing. in the UK it's giffgaff as i remember, but there was something along those lines everywhere someone i've talked to has gone. Spain has gotta have several.

It's functionally fine to use tmobiles, but the downsides and costs of doing so can be pathetic and make it a bad transaction.
posted by emptythought at 5:54 PM on May 26, 2014

Thanks for everybody's thoughts -- I have gone with the Simple Choice plan because I could take care of the whole thing today (well, getting all the questions asked and the purchasing done).

It was actually free to buy a SIM card and there was no activation fee with the "purchase" of the SIM. Thus, it will cost $20 + 20c/min more than my usual plan, which is very simple to document for my expense report. And I can just leave my other SIM at home with the $30 plan on break for a few weeks (it conveniently expires during my trip, so I don't lose much with the overlap).

It may be more expensive this way, and that would definitely be a consideration if I were paying for my own use during a vacation, but this option will interfere the least with my work in Barcelona. Thanks for all the input that got me to my decision!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:49 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're welcome, glad to help! I actually knew about this plan for precisely the same instigating reason - I'm going abroad soon and Verizon is surprisingly bad at providing competitive international services so I did some research and switched to T-Mobile to get it.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:30 PM on May 26, 2014

Followup to this experience. I had a little trouble signing up on the Tmobile website - I don't remember exactly what the issue was but it was some picky little thing on the website that wasn't obvious or known of by the e-chatting rep that was trying to help me. I should have just phoned in to sign up. Especially because there is some issue with tmobile's website that caused me to receive an early termination fee of $200 once I cancelled service. I was able to have that reversed by phoning customer service but it was not simple and required a 20-min conversation and talking to two different reps... at the end of it all, the rep told me that this was a problem unique to signups on the internet and would not have happened if I had signed up on the phone or in a store.

Despite that ETF thing, I still plan to use this setup on my next trip. Despite how sucky I find tmobile coverage to be here at home, I had awesome coverage while in Spain and a layover in London. The tmobile reps had told me that data would all be 2G, but it was plenty fast enough for everything I wanted to do (mostly email and reading metafilter and facebook...). Voice was great. The no-roaming fees for data went off flawlessly (no 'accidental billing' there) and I also have an itemized bill of all my 20c/min calls to submit for work. One other weird thing that happened was that one of my Spanish colleagues could not get through to me from her SPanish cell at this number - she had no issues calling my other American colleagues. We never figured out what the deal with that was....maybe she had my number entered wrong, but full disclosure just in case.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2014

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