Best/cheapest smartphone access in Israel
March 25, 2015 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Traveling to Israel in May. What are my best options for using a smartphone while in-country without breaking the bank? I won't need a lot of data, but I'd like to be able to check email and consult Google Maps. I have an iPhone 6 on Verizon in case it makes sense to use that. Thanks!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Travel & Transportation around Israel (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Thanks. I do want to be able to make phone calls. I don't expect to make many, or perhaps even any, but I would like that option.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:04 PM on March 25, 2015

I don't know how easy it is to unlock your iphone, but if you can, I found the cheapest local SIM was with Golan telecom, though you need to safely store the account password so that you can cancel the subscription when you return. There aren't many shops which sell/activate their SIMs, but with Google translate I found one close to where I was staying.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:07 PM on March 25, 2015

Verizon iPhone 5s are sold already unlocked for some legal reason that escapes me currently. Their iPhone 6s likely are too. When I was abroad last year, I just had to purchase a local pre-paid SIM card for phone and data service and pop it in my iPhone. Check with Verizon to see if this might be an option for you.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 3:09 PM on March 25, 2015

The iPhone 6 is listed as "Global Ready" on the Verizon site, which for all intents and purposes means "unlocked". I took my phone to India without doing anything special, you should be able to use it in Israel with a local SIM card just fine.
posted by yeahlikethat at 3:10 PM on March 25, 2015

Yeah - Verizon is GSM unlocked for complicated reasons. I look forward to hearing a clear answer - sooner or later I'm going to end up in Israel on short notice. And you don't realize how much you miss your smart phone until you are without it in a foreign place.
posted by wotsac at 6:20 PM on March 25, 2015

Response by poster: So I bought a SIM card at a tiny little telecom shop in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra'anana, but it didn't work out so hot. The good news is that it only cost me 100 shekels ($25). But the guy told me it was for unlimited talk and text and 5 GB of data over 4G for one week, which is how long I was staying in the country.

However, as soon as the card was installed, I got an automated text message from the provider (YouPhone) saying I had 1,500 minutes of talk, 1,500 texts, and one gig of data over 14 days. What's more, the phone only worked on 3G. Of course, the guy (kid, really) who sold me the card offered classic Israeli bullshit that yeah, yeah, the text was wrong, the deal was exactly what he said, and also that some spots (apparently including his store) didn't have 4G coverage, but I'd get 4G elsewhere.

Of course, I did not. That wasn't such a problem, and I knew I wouldn't hit the talk/text limits, but the data proved to be an issue. Even though I knew the "5 GB" was b.s., I foolishly used my phone as a hotspot for my laptop one night and burned through a lot of data. I thus hit the 1 GB cap with still a couple of days left in the country, which left me scrounging for WiFi wherever I could find it.

So if you go to Israel in the future, I would suggest buying a SIM card at the kiosk you'll see at Ben Gurion Airport as you're leaving the terminal (it's on the right side after you pass through customs). I skipped that kiosk because the line was annoying and I was eager to get to my cousin's house, but I suspect you're likelier to get a straight deal (albeit a more expensive one) there than at some random store.

Also, for the curious, I didn't need to return the SIM card when I was done, and I assume that's the case generally—I just chucked it and reinserted my U.S. one.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:08 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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