iPhone in Europe: Information for AT&T customers

Posted in: Practical Info


How much will it cost to use an American iPhone in Europe? Read on... Photo: Tourst Republic
How much will it cost to use an American iPhone in Europe? Read on... Photo: Tourst Republic

Note: This article is part of a series on Using an American iPhone in Europe… without Going Broke.

AT&T offers a number of international phone and data packages for Americans taking their phones abroad. The day before take-off, I called and spoke to a customer service representative about my options.

Two weeks later I’m still “processing” that conversation. Let’s just say there are a lot of variables at play, including whether or not you expect to use your iPhone abroad to a) place and receive international phone calls, b) send and receive text messages, c) send and receive emails, d) browse the web and e) use iPhone applications.

Each of these points carries its own possible traps and, of course, AT&T offers a “package” to address each issue.

Just want to make calls on your iPhone from abroad?
The joy of settings.

If you plan to use your phone to make and receive calls, you can opt for an AT&T Europe Travel Minutes package. These come in three sizes, with better per-minute rates the more you buy: 30 minutes for $30, 80 minutes for $60 and 200 minutes for $120.  Any minutes used beyond what your package offers will cost $1.  Since minutes normally cost $1.50 each, these packages can offer considerable savings, especially if you plan on making a lot of calls.  Still, they’re not exactly cheap.

Don’t forget that receiving a call will also cost you—even if you don’t answer it. If the call connects to your phone and rings, it’s billable.

Important: If you choose to only make and receive calls abroad, don’t forget to deactivate your data roaming. (See more tips for how to set up your iPhone when traveling abroad.)

Sending and receiving text messages from abroad

As for texting, it costs $.50 to send text messages in France and throughout much of Europe ($1.30 if the message includes a photo or video). However, you can purchase international text messaging plans: $10 for 50 texts, $30 for 200 and $60 for 600.

Receiving messages is a different story. With AT&T it depends on the text messaging package you have back home. If, for example, you have an unlimited text plan in the States, you will receive messages in Europe for free (but you’ll still have to pay to send them, as mentioned above).

Sending and receiving emails and browsing the Web from abroad

For sending and receiving emails, browsing the web and using applications, AT&T advises you to purchase an international data roaming package. These packages are available in four sizes, from 120 MB of international data transfer (for $30) to 800 MB of international data transfer (for $120). (Prices are per month.)

Check out the AT&T travel guide for exact rates and plans for your international destination. Also, be sure to ask any questions that you have when setting up your international data plans.

AT&T and pro-rated billing

When calling AT&T to activate any of these international plans (calling, text or data), let AT&T know your exact travel dates. You will be billed a pro-rated amount for your time abroad, but still receive the full amount of data in the package.

For example, say you’ll be in France for 15 days and buy the 120 MB data transfer plan for $30. AT&T can charge only for these travel dates, which would cut your price to $15, but you’ll still receive the full 50 MB of transfer.

Please note that while fact-checking this piece (February 2013), we spoke to several AT&T customer service representatives. Most carefully explained that the price would be pro-rated while the data package would not be cut accordingly, while one rep was adamant that this was not the case and that the amount of data would be cut proportionately. Thus, if your experience with AT&T contradicts what we’ve written here, please let us know about it in the comments section!


Also in our Guide to Using an American iPhone in Europe

Using an American iPhone in Europe… without Going Broke

Tips for Verizon Customers

Tips for Windows, Android and Blackberry Customers

Setting up your phone to avoid a billing “surprise”

AT&T vs Verizon: A comparison of international plans

About the author

Tom Meyers

About the author: Tom Meyers created and launched EuroCheapo from his Berlin apartment in 2001. He returned to New York in 2002, set up office, and has led the EuroCheapo team from the Big Apple ever since. He travels to Europe several times a year to update EuroCheapo's hotel reviews. Tom is also a co-host of the New York City history podcast, The Bowery Boys. Email Tom. [Find Tom on Google Plus]

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27 thoughts on “iPhone in Europe: Information for AT&T customers”

  1. It might be easier to pull the SIMM card out of your iPhone when you depart the USA basically turning the iPhone into a iPod Touch. Then use Google Voice or Skype app to place VoIP calls over over a Wifi network. I use a VPN service on my iPhone when using public Wifi networks so I don’t get scammed by a honeypot. A VPN service also lets your connection to the internet be any place in the world the VPN service has servers.
    For local voice calls and texts just pick up a burner phone with the minutes you will use on your trip. Email those you will need to communicate with in Europe your burner phone number.

  2. Ordered AT&T plan (phone, text, no data); was told it was not prorated but sold by the month, and if you don’t use it you lose it-it doesn’t roll over.

  3. I meant to say also that the extensions app turns your mobile into an extension of your current Vonage plan phone. And, for those who don’t know about Vonage, it’s a company that offers VoIP internet phone calling. We’ve had a plan with them for years now and love it.

  4. Has anyone used the Vonage Extension App for iPhone in Europe? I just downloaded and installed it. It says that if I turn on Airplane Mode, then enable Wi-Fi while abroad, I will be able to make calls for the same price that I can normally make them from the U.S. So, that theoretically means that I should be able to be making calls from the U.K. or France etc., for nothing, as it currently doesn’t cost me to call those countries from my land line in the U.S. with my current plan with Vonage. Has anyone tried this? I’m VERY curious to know as my wife and I are going soon to London and Paris. Thanks in advance.

  5. Nicholas Pellegrino

    Follow-up comment. I did turn my phone on again, quickly signed up for Skype and purchased $10.00 of Skype credit. Using wifi Skype worked perfectly to call the US, although I never could get a in-Ireland call to go through. That was probably my inability to understand what to dial.

  6. Nicholas Pellegrino

    Oct. 2012. After reading these posts I vowed not to use my iPhone in Europe. I then had an emergency and turned on the phone to access a phone number in Contacts so I could use a landline. I SHOULD have immediately switched to airplane mode but didn’t. I shortly received a email warning of high data usage. I turned off the phone until that evening when I contacted ATT to discover I supposedly had 14,000kb of data usage 5 hours before I was even in Ireland, a $283.00 charge. I had not received any photos, video, etc. and again, wasn’t even in country when the alleged charges occurred. The best they would do is sign me up for a $30.00 data plan and back date it. I never turned the phone on again. Arriving home I discovered the $283.00 charge was on my bill, although a phone call today apparently has corrected that. You’ve been warned!

  7. You can also send unlimited free messages between iPhones by turning on iMessage (under Settings > Messages > iMessage (turn on) and using wifi. I checked with AT&T today and they confirmed this.

  8. I am in Europe and Asia for the next 6 months and my US phone wouldn’t work here anyway since it is a cheap Net10 phone. Since I was too cheap to buy an Iphone with plan in the US, I brought my new Ipod with me to Europe, which is really helpful as long as I have Wifi. Once I am connected, I can make hour-long calls via the AP’s that Viber, Skype or Yahoo offer -the later two which have video calling of course. Texting works with all three but as far as I know, only Viber will send it to one’s phone in the US. There is another AP that is called “Pinger” (before it was “Textfree”) which will give you a free virtual US phone number but you have to either purchase minutes at 1 or 2 cents or participate in their diverse promotions.
    That said, I was able to buy a SIM card for 2 Euros in Paris and used an old phone my local friends had to set-up my local “mobile” French phone number. Then I bought 50 Euros worth of minutes from “Lycamobile” through one of the many mobile outlets in Paris and actually got another 25 Euros of minutes for free from Lyca as a bonus. Since I am not on a subscription plan, I will just have to buy more minutes if and when I run out of them but so far I still have plenty left after almost two months as I am not even being charged for receiving calls. International calls are cheap too – they only cost about 2 to 3 cents or so.
    But in order to make and receive unlimited free real phone calls to and from any phone in the US and Canada, I actually brought my small “landline” phone with me that I then plug in to my laptop via my “Magicjack” plug-in that I’ve had for a couple of years now and which works nearly anywhere in the world. That’s because it is using US servers to connect you the same way it does at home (for the yearly price of $20- you can buy the MJ gizmo at Radio Shack or online for $45).
    So, with a little planning, one, a few or all of the above choices should let you make all the phone calls you need for very little! Just remember to bring your gizmos with you and to get your plugs and 220V adapters (for the landline phone if you want one or you can bring ear phones and mic instead), you can usually get them in the same store you get your SIM card or other specialty store. However, as it was correctly stated in another comment, your laptop works on 110 or 220V as long as you have the cheap plug (as opposed to a more expensive converter that I am using for my diverse other items such as battery charger and landline phone.) I hope this helps!

  9. I have an iPhone 4g and am currently traveling in Spain for 2 weeks. What a mess! Basically, I want no cellular traffic at all – no cellular calls and no cellular data to avoid the billing horror stories that I keep reading about. I only want web access where I can use Skype, Maps, and Mail.

    As stated ‘AirPlane mode On’ blocks everything. But even when I turn Data Roaming to Off, Cellular Data to Off, and 3G to Off, I still get text messages when I switch ‘AirPlane mode to Off’. Under ‘Mail, Contacts, Calendars’ I even turn ‘Push mode to Off’ and then ‘Fetch New Data mode to Manual’. How is this possible that I still get text messages? The source of the messages is an ‘automatic web site send’ and thus cannot be using iMessage web addressing.

  10. I also was caught by AT&T’s promise – and I was careful to make *sure* during the conversation – that the data would not be pro-rated. It was. I came back to a $900 phone bill, and also experienced the joy of talking to a manager who eventually credited me for the overage.

    So, make sure you have the international features for the entire billing cycle(s) you are on vacation. (Sucks if your vacation spans cycles – you pay double.)

    Also don’t forget to *turn off the international features* when you get home! (But not until the last day of the cycle )

  11. I recently called AT&T to inquire about international rates for my trip to Europe coming up next week. I did purchase the call package at $5.99 to make outgoing calls, which the customer service agent said is prorated for the length of my stay (2 weeks), she got the exact dates of my travel from me. She also told me of the data plans, which were somewhat confusing to me, expecially because I will be on a cruise the first week of my trip. She told me that once the cruise ship is 12 miles off shore, whatever data plan I would buy from them would no longer work, and that I would have to buy the cruise ships data plan if I wanted internet access while on the ship. Also, telephone calls are the only service that is prorated, everything else will be billed for the entire length of the billing cycle.

    I chose not to purchase the data from AT&T given the information she gave me, instead I will likely buy whatever the ship has to offer, and when I am on land keep an eye out for a starbucks or other free wifi source.

    I recommend people buy the Whatsapp App for a one time cost of $2.00 you can use a texting app that actually runs off your data plan, so you don’t need to pay for additional texting packages.

  12. wondering if anyone has tryed to use http://www.viber.com to circumvent these charges for Iphones and android. All parties must be signed up but is good for a family situation to communicate back home.

  13. my daughter is going to study for the year in London and Paris- she relies on her Iphone for everything- I’m trying to figure out if I should just buy her a phone in London or can she use her iphone without it breaking the bank. Any suggestions?

    1. re Shaun’s daugther in Europe…i was told to buy a local “tracphone” -Vodaphone – type thing there and a get local city’s SIM card but to use this just for local European calls not to call back home. Use Skyp and viber for that.

  14. This article’s pro-rated billing tip is incorrect. Last year we went to France for 2 weeks, and when we returned, I canceled the world data plan immediately so I wouldn’t forget to shut it off.

    My next bill from AT&T was for more than $700. They pro-rated my data, along with the monthly price. So half the data I used was billed at the full roaming price.

    It contradicted what the AT&T agent told me repeatedly during our lengthy conversation BEFORE the trip. When I called to complain, I had to speak with a manager and endure a loooooonnnnggg detailed conversation in order to negotiate the bill down to a reasonable level.

    The lesson I learned, and will be using during my trip to Italy in May, is to leave the damn plan active for the entire month to avoid getting hosed in the pro-rated game.


  15. I have one tip to add to the discussion.

    I have travelled to Europe twice in the past year and a half with my AT&T iPhone, and both times, I wanted to be able to use it for limited contact with the states, and occasionally for location services (e.g., it’s very helpful to dial up a Google Map in a foreign city once in a while). For these reasons, “Airplane Mode” wasn’t a good strategy. You have to have cellular data turned on to use GPS features.

    But I was still terrified of people calling me while I was away and being charged even if I didn’t pick up the phone.

    So I bought an “online number” from Skype before I left. It’s a cheap virtual number you can get with basic voicemail services. The last thing I did on my way to the airport was forward my phone to that number.

    While in Europe, I was able to text back home (and other friends on the trip), get location fixes, etc….. without fear of my phone ever ringing. At night when I had wifi, I could check voicemails on Skype if I wanted to (I didn’t… I was on vacation!)

    $10 – 50 text messages from AT&T
    $25 – 50 MB data from AT&T (a location fix uses up 1MB or so of data, and you can track what you’ve used in Usage).
    $18 – Skype online number

    $53 total for a two week trip. Not exactly cheapo, but a good compromise for me.

  16. While in England can I send iPhone to iPhone text messages for no cost as in the US?
    Can I do iPhone to iPhone face time for no cost as in the US?
    Thanks for any responses.

    1. Hi Genella,

      I don’t think that sending any texts while abroad will be free, regardless of your iPhone-to-iPhone situation back home. And Facetime will require a network — and the only way to use it for free will be to go onto a Wi-Fi network.

      I’d strongly suggest that you call AT&T and verify this with them before you go. You may want to purchase the international texting plan, which will cut back on those charges, as I mentioned in the article above.

  17. I just got back from France and my AT&T iPhone didnt work at all. My husband had an galaxy android, it worked about 70% of the time. We also purchased an international data plan for the ipad. It worked sometimes while in Paris, and absolutely no connection outside the city .

  18. OMG I am going to Germany for 2.5 months and planned on doing my eBay business on my US Iphone 3GS. I would never be able to pay for that. I have AT&T. can’t use my laptop over there, cause the plugs don’t fit. 220v. these are the only options I have with my IPhone over in Germany???? help please ;-)
    danke for your time. (I am leaving the end of may)
    Marika Tarver

      1. @ Thomas Meyer
        wifi mode doesn’t work and text messing doesn’t work while the phone is on Airplane Mode. Wifi is not as open as it is in the US. I found the often the only open wifi was at Starbucks and they are not on every corner like they are in the US.

        1. Hi Angy,

          Thanks for your comment. The Wi-Fi does work in Airplane mode — but you have to turn it on. As soon as you switch into “airplane,” the Wi-Fi will be switched off. However, just turn it back on and you’re set to go.

          For texting, you’re right — you’ll need to deactivate airplane to text, as we mention in the article.


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