renting a cell phone in London
April 1, 2007 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I live in the U.S. and want to rent a cell phone in London next month (for a week.) After spending time trying to nail down a company there - I got nothing, except for Sprint and they seem kind of pricey. Can anyone recommend a good cell phone rental? (or warn me of ones to stay away from?) thank you
posted by mrmarley to Shopping (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What is your current provider? T-Mobile works in the UK under your current plan, it would probably be your best option.
posted by geoff. at 2:39 PM on April 1, 2007

Consider getting your current cell phone unlocked (if it's a GSM phone) and grab a sim card in london for pay-as-you-go style service.
posted by patr1ck at 2:50 PM on April 1, 2007

my current provider is Sprint - I don't have a GSM phone. Sprint is an option. $45 to rent phone +$20 shipping / $1.29 a min. is this reasonable???
posted by mrmarley at 3:18 PM on April 1, 2007

If you don't want to use your existing SIM, keep in mind that you can just buy a pay as you go phone for between £10-£30. You can then just sell it to anyone for probably half what you paid. I do this when going the other way.. UK to the US.. I just buy whatever cheap PAYG cellphone I can get.
posted by wackybrit at 3:19 PM on April 1, 2007

For all non-USians: most mobile phones in the US (apart from those in large cities) are not GSM because apparently GSM doesn't have as far of a range. So most Americans don't have phones with GSM or SIM cards.

I would recommend buying a used phone through ebay. I did and I'm very happy about it. These are extremely cheap, just make sure you buy one from someone with a massive ebay rating because otherwise you may be buying a stolen phone. It needs to be GSM and unlocked. ">Here's a decent search.

Looks like there are tons of phones you can keep for under $40, a lot better than renting. The only issue is that calls to the US may be more expensive than $1.29/minute; I don't know.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:34 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

seconding wackybrit, it's probably simplest. You can find a PAYG phone online (with or and have it delivered to where you're staying, or just buy one at Comet, Woolworth's, a large supermarket, Argos, ASDA, or any number of other major retailers or a dedicated phone outlet. The 4 networks (Orange, O2, T-Mobile and Vodafone) all have decent coverage in London so you can just go with the cheapest (probably either O2 or T-Mobile). You can hang onto the phone for future UK trips and just top it up when you return to the UK.
This one would be about $50 including $20 of calling credit (plus shipping, I guess).

Alternately, look at this or another package, check the per-minute-rates, estimate your usage, estimate what the whole trip will cost you for phone use....then call Sprint and ask them what kind of plan/rates they can put you on using the phone you have. See if they'll beat the price of jst buying a PAYG phone in London. (Remember, in the UK you only pay for outgoing calls, not any incoming calls) They'll want to keep you as a customer.

For calls back to the US you'll probably want to pick up a prepaid phone card from virtually any small shop. Get a card, call their free number, punch in the PIN on the card, and you're dialing the US at 3-5p per minute--coming off the 5 pounds you paid for that card.
posted by Martin E. at 3:43 PM on April 1, 2007

$45 to rent phone +$20 shipping / $1.29 a min. is this reasonable???

No, that's $65 for a phone you don't get to keep, and extortionate rates per minute. You can buy a new phone and some minutes for less than that. Walk into a Carphone Warehouse, and you can buy a new Nokia 1112 for £29.95, which includes £10 worth of calls at 15p/min.
posted by grouse at 3:44 PM on April 1, 2007

Buy a PAYG phone in London; use the prepaid cards; don't use it to call the US. Instead, use a regular phone with a calling card. (You shouldn't be charged to receive calls from the US, but check first.)

If you were to take the eBay option before you leave, you'd need to find a GSM phone with 900/1800, which is rare across the newer low-end models (850/1900) sold in the US. An older triband (900/1800/1900) would be fine though.

Probably better just to go to one of the many British PAYG providers and grab their bottom-tier model. You'll end up paying about £30, which includes a decent amount of airtime credit, and you can pass it on (sans SIM) when you leave or keep it for the next trip.
posted by holgate at 3:50 PM on April 1, 2007

call Sprint and ask them what kind of plan/rates they can put you on using the phone you have.

That would be 'no plan at all': Sprint uses CDMA exclusively.
posted by holgate at 3:53 PM on April 1, 2007

If you truly want a cell phone rental, then I would suggest Adam Phones. I've never used their phone rental, but my organization uses them to provide all our cell phones and their customer service is fantastic.
posted by smcniven at 5:12 PM on April 1, 2007

Unless for some reason you want to have your NorthAm cell number connect while you're over there the best bet is to just buy a cheap GSM phone, as has been said a few times already.

Be aware that while cellphone wharehouse does have great prices, those guys are totally on commission so it will pay you to read the fine print on the Pay As You Go (AKA 'top-up') phones. For example, O2 has a nice feature they call a bolt on (one time fee of, I think, 5 pounds) which thereafter allows for 25p calling to three countries of your choice, including NorthAm and Western Europe. Very handy for short trips over there.

You can also bring your own unlocked GSM phone and just buy a SIM card and put some cash on it. Be aware though, O2 requires 10pounds min top-up, which most other carries only require 5. So keep that in mind when choosing a carrier to go with.
posted by tiamat at 5:15 PM on April 1, 2007

Providing you decide on buying an unlocked phone that would work in Europe (which I think sounds like a good idea), I highly recommend Mobile World through Carphone Warehouse. When I moved to Scotland a year ago I was able to buy the SIM for ten pounds and that came with ten pounds credit. Calls to any US number were 10p a minute, SMS for 7p. Similar rates within the UK. 10 pounds = approx 19 bucks = about 15 minutes? You're going to use more than that, so might as well not pay exorbitant prices per minute.

Renting a phone sounds like no good to me. Super expensive. $1.29/minute? Crazy. And I had friends who would pick up unlocked phones at hostels for 20 pounds: people moving on in their travels who didn't need the phone anymore and wanted some quick money.
posted by mosessis at 7:33 PM on April 1, 2007

I'd propose a slightly different approach than what I've read so far; when I moved to London in 1997 the bank I was working for put me up in a suite for about six months while I got acclimated.

The hotel rented me a telephone during that period. It wasn't the cheapest option however it certainly was the easiest and presented the least hassle. Perhaps best of all, it rolled onto my room bill so there was only a single invoice to reconcile.
posted by Mutant at 10:51 PM on April 1, 2007

Before you rent / buy / whatever, ask your Brit friends if they have an old GSM lying around that they can lend you. Chances are at they will (people change phones in Europe like they change hairstyles). Pop-in a prepaid SIM card, and you're ready to go.
posted by randomstriker at 10:54 PM on April 1, 2007

I have several you could use. Email in profile if you're interested.
posted by goo at 1:22 AM on April 2, 2007

Yeah, renting a phone seems like a really weird idea -- I've never seen anywhere that does it. You can seriously just buy a crappy (works fine, but has zero features) phone from a supermarket like Tesco for very little money. Some mobile phone stores even have vending machines with cheap phones in. There's certainly no need to spend more than £30.
posted by reklaw at 2:48 AM on April 2, 2007

Carphone Warehouse is mentioned as a place to find the SIM cards. But what other types of stores? I'm bringing a GSM phone with me for 2 weeks, and want to quickly upon arrival find a SIM card for it so I'm reachable. I'm staying in The City; where should I start looking?
posted by stevil at 3:51 PM on August 21, 2007

stevil: You can find SIM cards at any mobile phone store. To the best of my (slightly outdated) knowledge, the major companies in Britain are O2, Vodafone, Orange, and T-Mobile. There are some stores (like Carphone Warehouse) where you can buy a SIM card for any of these companies. Or, if you know which company's SIM card you want, you can go directly to their store and buy it from them. There are tons of storefronts all throughout Britain. And then when you want to "top up" (or "add credit" on your pay-as-you-go plan), you can buy the top up card from the specialty store or from many corner shops and post offices.

p.s. I know this is super late, but I thought I'd put it here for future reference
posted by mosessis at 8:21 PM on November 7, 2007

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