Virgin mobile phone in Europe? or ANY phone?
September 23, 2019 7:41 PM   Subscribe

I am baffled by the conflicting information I find online about using my Virgin phone while in England and in Greece. Would really appreciate hearing anyone's experience here. My phone is a cheap android smartphone, my plan is Virgin, I'm based in the U.S.

I downloaded Whatsapp on the phone. but apparently even data won't work in Europe. I guess I could buy a SIM card once in London, but will that work in Greece? And what if I need to be contacted in Europe, and I have a different phone number? Do I write down the contacts who may need to contact me, and text them once I'm there? Maybe I should change plans to find a plan that allows me to retain my number in Europe?

Seems to be these are solved problems for which I should easily find answers, but. . nope!
posted by goofyfoot to Technology (12 answers total)
Can you rent a pocket Wifi? I've had luck with those travelling overseas. It's basically a local data sim card in a little device that allows you to connect to it through wifi. It's a little expensive but you get to keep your number and not have to worry about switching out sim cards, losing your contacts etc. If you can share the cost and use with someone else travelling with you it helps a bit. Here's an example, there should be others more suited to your budget and needs (I searched "pocket wifi greece").
posted by satoshi at 9:31 PM on September 23, 2019

Virgin Mobile US operates on Sprint, which I don't think is compatible with the networks in use outside the US. If it helps: all of Europe, including UK, uses the GSM standards. The UK is mostly on 4G LTE now, with some fallback to 3G in poor signal areas.

If your phone is compatible with local networks, a UK SIM card will (for now) work perfectly in Greece without any additional roaming charges. If your trip is after 31 October, this may not be the case. You'll have a UK phone number starting +44 while in the UK and Greece.

Without knowing the specific make/model of your phone, no one can tell you whether it'll work or not in Europe, and whether a local SIM card will work in it. I didn't know you could rent a MiFi type device, but I'd probably second that suggestion so you don't spend any of your holiday fiddling with SIM cards and worrying about device compatibility. No one needs that on holiday.
posted by winterhill at 11:46 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Virgin USA doesn't have international roaming, but It's possible to use a local SIM card if your phone is capable of operating on the GSM standard that European networks use. You can't determine this unless you identify the exact model number of your phone. To find this out, do the following:
go into SETTINGS
[the rest will depend on what version of Android you're running]
scroll down to ABOUT or ABOUT PHONE
When you tap on ABOUT, you should see MODEL NUMBER or possibly PHONE IDENTITY
If you post the model number here, I can help you figure out if it'll work on GSM networks (or you could look this up yourself). If it is compatible and you do intend to buy a SIM card in Europe, you'll need to tell Virgin that you want to unlock your phone for international usage. *You must do this before leaving the US.*

With the disclaimer that all bets may be off in a post-Brexit world, you definitely can buy a SIM card in the UK that will also work in Greece. Vodafone operates in both countries, for example. But UK-only networks will allow roaming in other European countries too. This may not be worth your time, but when you get to London you could visit a Carphone Warehouse (they're all over the place, like Radio Shack used to be in the US). Tell them your travel plans and data/calling requirements and they'll help you pick a plan and SIM card for whatever network best suits your needs.
posted by theory at 3:52 AM on September 24, 2019

I've used my Virgin mobile phone in the UK. There's no roaming, which means that you need to do a work-around using WiFi--you can get a Skype # that will allow you to make calls, or you can rely on texting, if necessary. I've yet to find a Virgin phone that allows you to swap out the SIM card, but there may be one out there that I've not encountered.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:15 AM on September 24, 2019

Three networks in the UK will continue to offer free roaming even post-Brexit:
Concerned Brexit might put a stop to all that good stuff? Worry not. If the law changes, we’ll give you free EU roaming just the same.

So you could pick up a Three networks card in the UK, and use it for the rest of your trip.

To be honest I trust that statement as Three's free roaming today works not only in the EU but also the US and other places.
posted by vacapinta at 8:01 AM on September 24, 2019

Thanks all! Model is LGLS676.

A friend inspected the phone and said that the SIM card could be switched out. Another said no. I'm afraid to mess with it, but once I take the back cover off, it looks just like this one.

Mostly I need to be reachable in emergency, find my travel companions once in Greece via text/SMS, and use maps. It'd be nice to be able to call home once or twice but not absolutely necessary - but can probably use my chromebook for that.
posted by goofyfoot at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2019

You might need to do some research on your carriers. 2G data is essentially unusable on modern apps and almost all are shutting down anyway. Your phone is not going to have any of the 4G/LTE bands used in Europe. Have a look at your phone's entry on FrequencyCheck. Check the bands for UK/Greece and try to pick a carrier that has one of the better compatibilities.
posted by wnissen at 11:24 AM on September 24, 2019

That model should be able to work on some GSM networks according to these specs from the manufacturer LG (scroll down to 'Frequency' under 'Technical Specifications') and also according to this site.

Further on that second link, these are the networks that your phone would be compatible with in the UK and in Greece. You wouldn't get LTE (4G) service in either country, but 3G service would be fine for your purposes.

If you think you might want to get a SIM card in another country, call Virgin Mobile customer care while you're still in the US and ask for an international unlock. Their policy for allowing this seems to apply only if you if bought the phone from Virgin, have had your account for at least 12 months, and are fully paid up. Follow the instructions here under 'Android devices' to make sure your unlock request has been processed.
posted by theory at 11:32 AM on September 24, 2019

Oh, and to your question if it's physically possible to swap out the SIM card: Yes you can. It looks like the slots for the SIM card and for the microSD card (if you have one installed for extra storage space) are stacked one on top of the other.

Here are instructions for swapping out the SIM card. It's located underneath the microSD card (if you've got one). And here's a YouTube clip showing how to do it on a similar model.
posted by theory at 2:31 PM on September 24, 2019

I've found a brick-and-mortar Virgin store in my city and will go talk to them about this on Saturday. They'll surely try to upsell me, so it's good to have all this information.
posted by goofyfoot at 6:21 PM on September 25, 2019

The best way is to get new sim cards as you go. That is how I did it when I traveled to Europe and Asia the first time. Now I useT-mobile which has free international data in most countries. This blog list the countries. However, it's capped at 2g so it is really slow. They list the countries here.

I think getting a new sim is your best bet. According to this site about traveling Greece, you can get a few gigs of data for around $20. Which seems affordable.

I also had a friend that just tried Google Fi. Which is a little more expensive but means you don't need to switch cards all the time.

Hope that helps!
posted by nomdicstephen at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2019

Update: I called Virgin a few weeks before I left the country, and went through a process I was assured would unlock my phone. It didn't work, which I didn't know until I was in London. At that point I couldn't do anything but buy another SIM card and try for the best. Nothing worked.

I contacted my carrier via their online complaint form. My partner back in the U.S. called them. The upshot from Virgin was that they'd see about unlocking my phone in 48 hours. It's been almost a week, and they haven't done shit. I'm back in the U.S. now.

They have lost my business.
posted by goofyfoot at 4:41 AM on October 22, 2019

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