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June 23, 2006 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Options for temporary mobile phone access while in Western Europe?

The lovely fiancee and I are going to be spending about a month in England/Ireland/Paris. While there, we'd like to have a mobile phone for making connections with various friends/family members.

We're both Verizon customers, and have CDMA phones (without SIM cards) so our phones won't work on the GSM network in Western Europe. Verizon rents GSM mobile phones, but at $4 a day we're up to about $120 before we even use the $1.50 a minute airtime.

So, what kinds of options do we have? Can we buy one of those pay-as-you-go phones here, assuming we can find one with GSM capability, and buy minutes here for use over there? Or can we buy the phone here and buy minutes there that will work with it?

Or, would it be possible to buy a pay-as-you-go phone there, not being a resident and thus having no billing/credit history in Europe? We could do the calling card/pay phone route, but there's not always a pay phone around when you need one, and it would be a lot easier to have a mobile if the price is right (less than $50 for a mobile, excluding minutes, if at all possible).

I'm hopelessly ignorant about this sort of thing, so any advice would be most welcome.
posted by pdb to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Buy a tri-band or quad-band unlocked GSM phone off of ebay (in the US) and buy a PAYG SIM in Europe. You won't need a credit history, but you might need some sort of address.

Just make sure you get a charger that works with 240V.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on June 23, 2006

There are very cheap new Pay as You Go phones available in the UK (with a sim). Even at Woolworths: approx £30 up - often with £5 or £10 call time thrown in.

You could perhaps also buy a 2nd hand phone from a pawn shop (in the UK) cheaper? I haven't looked at the prices and then get a sim to go in it.

I have an old Siemens something or other, you can have that if you have a place I could send it to (I haven't used it for 4 or so yrs) - but might be expensive to post airmail with the charger being heavy.

You don't need to have ID to get a PAYG sim card, the sim card alone (if you had a phone it will work in) can be as cheap as £3 but max of £5 in most corner shops (for any of the networks).
posted by selton at 3:46 PM on June 23, 2006

I would get a pay as you go plan in like this one (25 pounds for a dual-band phone, including 15 pounds airtime; though that is an online deal) in the first country you visit. In the UK, at least, you won't need a credit history.

If you get a dual band phone, you can use it in all three countries. You could roam (perhaps expensively) in the other two countries. Alternatively, if you get a Nokia phone, you can unlock it (i.e. make it possible to use a SIM from another provider) by paying $5 for a code here. Then you can buy new SIMs in the other countries for use there. Other brands are often unlockable too, but it may not be so straightforward.
posted by beniamino at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2006

I use cingular, and I just take my normal phone and use it with no problem. (make sure its GSM tri or quad band).

It is ridiculously expensive (~ $1.00 or $2.00/min), but it has the advantage of being simple. So far, I have done this in England, France, the Netherlands and India.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 4:22 PM on June 23, 2006

I have never heard of any country in the EU requiring anything more than an ID when buying a pre-paid/pay-as-you-go sim card. I've bought them in at least 5 countries and might as well have been buying them from a vending machine.
posted by jedrek at 4:28 PM on June 23, 2006

Orange Pay-as-you-Go is pretty good for the UK (geeky me and my technophobe mother are both very happy with them, and their network is pretty extensive). You'll need a new SIM for each country, though, if you're not going to have roaming charge nightmares.
posted by athenian at 4:34 PM on June 23, 2006

My O2 phone worked fine in Ireland, UK, and France.
posted by k8t at 5:10 PM on June 23, 2006

Seconding beniamino's suggestion of the Virgin PAYG option - that Nokia 1100 is actually an astonishingly good phone for the money. Buy one when you get over here; you can have it activated within hours. Or, order one before you leave and have it deliviered to your hotel.
posted by blag at 5:50 PM on June 23, 2006

Get a GSM phone that supports the 900 and 1800 MHz, and get prepaid mobile phone cards for each country via eBay.
posted by Sharcho at 9:49 PM on June 23, 2006

Email me your address and you can have one of my old phones, then buy a prepaid SIM when you get here. I didn't need any ID when I bought mine (Virgin) in London two years ago.
posted by goo at 3:41 AM on June 24, 2006

Bear in mind that if you buy a pay-as-you-go phone, it will often be locked to the network you buy it from, and so you cannot switch SIM's and use it with a different network (because networks subsidise the phones).

This is defiantely the case in the UK and France, and it can be dificult to find an unlocked phone (whereas here in belgium, it is illegal to network-lock a phone!).

Therefore, if you want to have a UK SIM to use in the UK, a French SIM to use in FR and an Irish SIM to use in the republic of Ireland (and thus avoid incomming call charges when roaming), make sure that the phone you buy is not network-locked.
posted by nielm at 1:47 PM on June 24, 2006

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