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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?
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