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Roaming with Cell Phones in Europe
Pauline Kenny with additional information provided by Roz (Slow Travel Talk message board moderator)
International roaming with a cell phone (mobile phone) in Europe. This information is for Americans and Canadians traveling to Europe. Europeans traveling within Europe do not have these same concerns; they can use their cell phone easily in other European countries (but they pay roaming fees).
Read about the basics of cell phones in Europe - what type of phone you need, how to choose.
If you are traveling to more than one European country on a trip, your best option for a cell phone is to get one that works in all of Europe - a cell phone that allows you to "roam" through Europe with the same cell phone rates. You can use a cell phone and SIM card for one European country (e.g. Italy) in other countries (e.g. France), but you may pay for incoming calls and you will pay higher rates for outgoing calls when roaming. (See below for new EU caps on roaming rates.)
If you are traveling to one country in Europe, the answer to the cell phone question is simple - get a phone and SIM card for that country.
If you are traveling to more than one country, the question is a bit more complicated because you need a SIM card that works well between the countries. These are some of the options available.
Buy a GSM World Phone and a SIM Card for one Country
If you have a GSM World Phone and a SIM card for a European country, you can use it when roaming in other European countries.
As of August 2007, there is a cap on roaming rates within the European Union: a maximum 0.49 Euro for making a call and 0.24 Euro for receiving one, plus tax. The plan is called "EuroTariff" and must be offered by all cell phone providers in the EU. Read more on Europe's Information Society Portal.
This option allows you to use your country-specific SIM card when traveling in other European countries. For example, you can use your Italy TIM SIM card if traveling in France. Check the rates for your plan and be sure you are getting the new EuroTariff rates.
Use Your US GSM World Phone
Some US cell providers let you use your plan in Europe but you pay for both incoming and outgoing calls. This is a good option if you do not plan to use the phone often. Read more on our Cell Phones in Europe page. Note that people in Europe calling you have to dial a US number.
Buy a GSM World Phone and an EU SIM Card
Many companies offer inexpensive GSM phones and SIM cards to use when traveling to more than one European country. Most offer free incoming calls, but outgoing calls are more expensive than with the country-specific SIM cards.
Cellular Abroad, Talk Abroad International SIM Card
Cellular Abroad has partnered with National Geographic to offer the Talk Abroad Travel Phone. Rent the phone and SIM card for $15 a week, purchase for $199, or purchase just the SIM card for $79 to use with your unlocked World Phone.
The price includes 30 minutes of outgoing calls, gives you a UK phone number and voicemail, and is valid for 12 months each time the SIM is recharged (talk time is added). It offers free incoming calls, $0.90/minute outgoing calls in most EU countries ($1.15/min to call cell phones), no connect fee.
Talk Abroad cell phone
Telestial offers the Telestial Passport SIM card to use with your unlocked World Phone. The cost is $49 (includes $10 airtime). You get a UK phone number and voicemail. It offers free incoming calls and outgoing calls from most EU countries are $0.49/min with a $0.25 connection fee ($0.74/min first minute, $0.49 remaining minutes).
Read more - Telestial Pack More cell phone and Passport SIM
Mobal World Phone and SIM Card
Mobal provides an inexpensive option for purchasing a GSM phone with the Mobal World SIM card, if you are not going to make many calls (if you want the phone for occasional short calls and possible emergency use). You can purchase a phone with SIM card for $49 or $99. Incoming calls are not free (they are $1.25/minute) and outgoing calls are expensive ($1.25/min national, $1.50/min to the US/Canada). But, you do not pre-purchase minutes; calls are charged to your credit card.
Read more - www.mobalrental.com
Callback World is not a cell phone service, but can be a useful adjunct to any phone plan that does not charge you for incoming calls. With Callback World you register a phone number (it can be a cell phone or landline) and are able to make calls to the US relatively inexpensively. Calls from cell phones are more expensive than landlines. Rates vary by country and can be seen on their website. At this writing, for example, a typical Callback World rate from a European cell phone to the US is between 24 and 56 US cents a minute. From a landline it is generally under 10 cents a minute. There is no signup fee and no service charge.
As the name implies, this is a callback service. In order to use it, you call the special access number (from your previously registered phone number) and hang up before a connection is made. The service recognizes your number and calls you back. Then you follow the prompts to enter the number you want to reach. To your phone this appears as a free incoming call. You pay only what Callback World bills you, on your credit card.
Although there may be cheaper ways to call home from Europe, one special feature of Callback World is that it can provide callers back in the US an easy way to reach you while you are traveling. When you register your phone number with Callback World, they will give you a unique PIN number. To reach your European phone, the US caller dials the Callback 800 number and enters your PIN at the prompt. This will ring your phone in Europe, and the US caller will pay nothing. The call is billed to your credit card. We have found this a useful way of being able to stay in touch with an elderly relative back home.
Read more - callbackworld.com
Use SKYPE on Your Computer to Make and Receive calls
This is a great solution, but only works if you have a broadband internet connection. Plus it is not a cell phone - you have to be at the computer to make and receive calls.
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